By Shannon Carlin
Having a song featured on an episode of Girls can be a career defining moment. Just ask Icona Pop.
After using the unknown Swedish duo’s song “I Love It” to soundtrack a season two party scene in which Hannah (played by show creator/writer/executive producer Lena Dunham) tries cocaine for the first time — in a see-through neon mesh top, none the less — the track immediately found a spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
Since Girls premiered in 2012, it has mixed things up by using songs from established artists like Beyoncé, underrated favorites like Robyn, newbies like Angel Haze, cheesy ’90s acts like Duncan Sheik and legends like Judy Collins — who played herself in an episode from last season — to set the scene for the coming-of-age comedy. And according to Billboard, in just two seasons the HBO series has shown its as influential, if not more, than Glee when it comes to the musical zeitgeist, helping new and old songs, including Oasis’ 1995 hit “Wonderwall,” find a spot on the charts.
Last year, the show even premiered a few exclusive tracks from the likes of fun. and Santigold — both of which ended up on the Girls- Volume 1 soundtrack — along with a previously unreleased cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Going Down” from Vampire Weekend that accompanied a cameo from the band’s lead singer Ezra Koenig. Getting exclusive tracks from well-known artists is something the show plans to do even more of this season.
But while Dunham is the voice of the show — and at this point, let’s be honest, a generation — it’s Manish Raval, the show’s music supervisor, who curates the series’ song syncs for her. Before this upcoming season, Raval sent her weekly mixtapes filled with songs that he thought she might like. Dunham did, writing a lot of those mixtape suggestions into season three.
Raval first started music supervising in high school, soundtracking plays for his friend Jake Kasden, who would later call on Raval when he started directing films like Orange County, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Bad Teacher, all of which Raval helped supervise. His first real paid gig, though, came after college when the music consulting firm he interned for hired him to work as a music coordinator on the 1996 Farrelly Brothers movie, Kingpin.
Seventeen years later, Raval seems to be the go-to guy for finding the right song in movies like Donnie Darko and last year’s Fruitvale Station, along with television shows like Community, New Girl and The Crazy Ones. But Raval’s heart belongs to Girls, referring to the show as his full-time job. Part of the reason why he loves working on the series so much is the show’s open door policy when it comes to choosing music.
“We feel like a good song is a good song,” Raval said of the show’s wide musical range. “I feel like we do it in a way that doesn’t make it feel schizophrenic or like, ‘Oh my God, this show lacks direction.’ I feel like it’s pretty organic to the characters and to the moment. To me that’s all a testament to the writing. I think when that stuff’s good, it makes everything around it good as well.”
With the show’s two-episode premiere set to air this Sunday (January 12) at 8 p.m. on HBO, Raval chatted with Radio.com about what fans can expect to hear in season three, why he’d never turn down Randy Newman, and how Rihanna helped make Icona Pop happen.
Radio.com: With Girls, do you read the scripts and then find music, or do you start pulling music before they even start writing?
Manish Raval: Girls is a full-time job, whether we’re shooting or editing or on hiatus, we’re basically working on Girls and talking to Lena all throughout the year, whether she’s on vacation or she’s working. What we did before this third season, which seemed to be the most helpful, is we were just sending weekly mixtapes to Lena and Judd [Apatow, executive producer] and Jenni [Konner, executive producer] and the producers and the editors. It expedited our process where it was like, ‘Oh great, if we get this music to Lena while scenes are being written, they can listen ahead and while they’re writing, say, “Let’s put that one in the scene.”
So most of the music that we hear this season was actually written into the script?
Having now finished the season, for the most part, 60 or 70 percent of those songs written in the script made it in. We are the music supervisors, but it’s very much a group thing. We want to make sure we fulfill Lena and Jenni’s and Judd’s vision. We want to support them. These are their characters. We’re their voices.
How does the music featured in season three differ from the previous two?
It’s the same sound, same vibe, but one thing that’s different this season is we’ve had the luxury of getting people to contribute brand new songs for us. We had Miguel write us a new song. We have a new one by Jenny Lewis. We have a brand new Lily Allen track. A brand new Christina Perri track. We were able to get our hands on a brand new Beck song, which he just finished for his new record and gave to us to put on the show before the release of his album. We were in a fortunate position where we were able to get access to a lot of great songwriters and bands to give us new material or write us new material for the show. A lot of that stuff will appear on the soundtrack, which we’re working on right now.