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Utilizing the music of many young LGBTQ artists to tap into the intense emotion of teen life, Generation delivers a soundtrack worth your attention.

By Alamin Yohannes
April 05, 2021 at 10:56 AM EDT
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The soundtrack of HBO Max's Generation slaps.

The progress of beloved pairing Riley and Greta's growing bond or Chester's memorable introduction to viewers are examples of how the new series uses music to help tell the stories of its young, vibrant characters. Music supervisor Maggie Phillips and co-supervisor Andrew Brady work alongside creators Zelda, Ben, and Daniel Barnz to fill the show with music that matches its effervescent energy. The result is one of the freshest and best TV soundtracks at the moment.

Daniel Barnz is the "main creative force behind the music," according to the music supervisors. The creative team is collaborative in many ways, but he was the one who pushed Phillips to be more dramatic and lean into the teenage things she may have forgotten. "You don't want to forget how real all those emotions are for or cheapen them by being too casual about it," Phillips explains, "If you think about your first love or first heartbreak, those emotions are so intense and real, and we wanted to lean into it and push it."

"It was a fun and collaborative space because Daniel and Zelda have lots of exciting ideas, and it was a lot of back and forth to figure out what the sound was," Brady adds.

The songs are not simply music young people listen to but deliberate choices to add a sonic layer to Generation. To begin, playlists were built for many of the characters of the show. Freddie's "Banjee" and "Spin Girl, Let's Activate" by Octo Octa for Chester; "Without a Blush" by Hatchie and Phoebe Bridger's "Garden Song" for Riley, for example. Taking it a step further, they sought out new, young, LGBTQ talent when searching for music for the show.

"I remember over a year ago we had a conversation about introducing new artists, especially young — and most importantly, LGBTQ+ — artists to viewers," Phillips shares, "We really wanted to showcase artists that haven't been on TV shows before."

We dive into Generation's musical magic with Phillips and Brady by looking at some of the choices they made during Part 1.

Chester's 'Savage' serenade

Generation
Credit: Warrick Page/HBO

When Delilah's (Lukita Maxwell) baby won't stop crying, Chester (Justice Smith) finds a way to soothe the newborn: a lullaby version of the smash hit "Savage."

"We were excited to get to hear Justice sing," Brady shares, "on the other hand, 'Savage' was written into the script, and it's just such a Gen Z and millennial anthem." All the different pieces come together to provide a standout moment.

The Megan Thee Stallion record's lasting power was beneficial because when licensing a popular song very far in advance, the music could be played out by the episode's airdate. Thankfully, people love "Savage."

Nathan shows viewers how he sees Chester

Generation
Credit: Warrick Page/HBO

Nathan (Uly Schlesinger) underwater watching Chester swim to him is the end of an incredibly emotional sequence, and TTRRUUCES' "Something Inside" was the right choice to help create the epic moment.

Phillips reveals she thought it put a song that would counter the moment's drama, but Daniel wanted them to lean into it. They tried many songs for that moment, including tracks by Perfume Genius and Shura, before landing on "Something Inside."

"You see the look on his face as Chester is coming to get him, and that song let us sit with that drama and Nathan's perspective. He's in awe of Chester," Brady says, "Even the way it's shot, it all came together."

Greta and Riley's subtle love story

Generation
Credit: Warrick Page/HBO

Music was used to chart the trajectory of Riley and Greta's romantic arc. Their quiet moment during a lockdown or listening to "Door" by Caroline Polachek together on the bus on the GSA trip both had soft, mellow tracks underneath them. "The moments are much more subtle," Phillips explains, "We definitely go there with the emotion. It was just scaled back."

Dodie's "6/10" became the right choice for the lockdown scene because it had "the right amount of romance and emotion." The aim was not to suggest too much as the two teens figured out where they were headed.

Having such an established understanding of their sound allowed them to turn it on its head when they pair clash after their first kiss. After establishing their sound as a couple, it takes a darker turn with Shygirl's "O" to match Riley's devastation as she leaves Greta and hooks up with Luz. "On a music supervisor nerdy level, it was cool to take the sound in that direction as the story progressed," Brady shares.

The GSA gets its dance on

Generation
Credit: Warrick Page/HBO

When the GSA heads out of town, it was essential to capture the school trip's fun. Leikeli47's infectious track "Post That" was perfect for the job.

The students come together and bond as a unit through the Gay-Straight Alliance at school, and this trip was a joyous occasion they deserved and earned. Looking back on their own experiences of going on field trips or sports teams traveling to high school games, they knew the energy and fun that's present during those rides. Blasting music, having fun, and being a little obnoxious are all part of the fun.

Leikeli47 is an advocate for the LGBTQ community, a fitting choice for the story Generation is telling. "They're all coming from different walks of life, but they all share some commonality as part of the club, and the song shares that and still resonates in a fun, broad way," Phillips explains.

Plus, it's a fun song to dance to!

Part 1's somber ending

Generation
Credit: Warrick Page/HBO

Generation is big in emotion and storytelling, but the soft ending was something Daniel loved all along. "We got to work with [the creators] on almost every spot," Phillips shares, "Daniel felt super strongly in certain spots, and that was one of them."

The Wisp Sings track is a bit older than the rest of the show's music, but Brady that after everything the group of friends goes through in the final episode of Part 1, it plays really nicely. "For a show that really goes there, to end softly just felt like a strong choice," he adds.

Generation is streaming on HBO Max.

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