Pop

Bringing Billie Eilish to 'Bridgerton': How the Netflix Show's Epic Classical Covers Came to Life

Bridgerton
LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

Bridgerton

On Dec. 25, Netflix gifted fans with the Duke of Hastings, Daphne, Lady Danbury, and the rest of the Bridgerton characters in its latest period drama. The Regency-era series has garnered hype for its diverse cast, elaborate costumes, and its Gossip Girl-meets-Pride and Prejudice storyline -- as well as a popular soundtrack that has even inspired trends on TikTok

With eight episodes to binge, viewers were quick to recognize pop hits -- such as Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” and Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” -- performed by classical string instruments. In one NSFW episode, a string version of Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” soundtracks one of the show’s steamiest scenes, with the cover quickly becoming a favorite among fans.

As Hollywood turns to string covers to bolster their projects (see also: Westworld's long history of orchestral covers, and the usage of Britney Spear's "Toxic" in Promising Young Woman), groups such as Vitamin String Quartet (VSQ) and composer team Duomo are in high demand.

Beyond the buzz on social media, the Bridgerton Covers From The Netflix Original Series EP reached No. 1 on the Classical Albums chart (dated Jan. 16) with 4,000 equivalent album units earned, according to MRC Data.

Below, the VSQ’s Leah Zeger (one of the concept group’s rotating violinists), Leo Fynn (brand manager), James Curtiss (A&R), and Duomo’s Daniel Belardinelli and Axel Tenner discuss the crossover between pop and classical, creating music to entice the pop listener, and working with legendary music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas.


How did your involvement in Bridgerton come about? 

James Curtiss (VSQ): They reached out to us in the first quarter of 2020. We've worked with [Alexandra] Patsavas before on a couple other projects. We had a really great placement in Gossip Girl for Blair's wedding a few years ago. That was the first time we worked with her. We've built a reputation as the go-to string quartet for this kind of material of combining really elegant string with modern repertoire. They came to us with a brief of what they were looking for. They wanted music that was kinda romantic. Epic, but modern. Female-driven. 

Daniel Belardinelli (Duomo): We got involved through Position Music, who released our album Berlin:Redux and helped us decide which covers to arrange and record, including “Wildest Dreams.” With Bridgerton, Ty Salazar, who handles pitching film and TV at Position, connected with Alexandra [Patsavas] and the Netflix team and made it happen -- with Taylor’s blessing, we’ve been told. 

What was it like working with the legendary Alexandra Patsavas? 

Belardinelli (Duomo): We’ve never had the pleasure of working with Alexandra before, so this was definitely a highlight for us. She’s music royalty in the industry, and we’ve been fans for a while. Her work on Mad Men was just brilliant. We may or may not have sent her dozens of unsolicited emails trying to present and pitch our music back in the day. 

Curtiss (VSQ): She's such an icon that we don't get to work with her as much as we'd like to! They're always great. They're always open to ideas. They're always open to hearing what repertoire we have. On Gossip Girl, her team wanted a particular song, but the publisher wasn't allowing it, so they picked a new one we didn't have. And because we wanted to work with them, we ended up recording that song especially for the show. 

Leo Fynn (VSQ): One of the most important things we do is curation and creating a thread that folks can follow with regard to what's popular. Patsavas does the same thing in her realm. There's an awareness of each other and there's these collaborative moments that can happen really easily and naturally. 

Duomo's cover of "Wildest Dreams" originally appeared on the 2018 album Berlin:Redux. Why did you choose to cover Taylor Swift?

Axel Tenner (Duomo): Position Music initiated this through our A&R Jake Versluis. We originally wanted to do only darker rock songs, but they suggested doing half and half. So our second album, Berlin:Redux features more recent, pop hits in contrast with songs from Nirvana, Muse and Radiohead. We took the interesting challenge and released a total of 10 songs.

Did you expect the buzzy response to your cover of “Wildest Dreams?”

Tenner: Obvious pun intended: not in our wildest dreams! Here’s where the vision of the music supervisor and A&R comes in. The song choice was so unexpected, yet subtlety connected to the story and audience. In an instant, boom, everyone got it. We’re loving the comments about how people will never listen to that song in the same way again. And we agree!

The song plays for three minutes in the show. How did you react when you watched the scene? 

Belardinelli (Duomo): Not gonna can’t lie, it’s always great to hear your music on the screen. This scene takes it to the next level for us in terms of audience reach. We’re really proud and humbled, and thankful to all involved -- including Taylor for the lovely song. I just started watching the series, but I confess to skipping to episode six for our scene. And it’s a jam.

After the success of the Bridgerton soundtrack, have any of the artists you covered reached out to you? 

Belardinelli (Duomo): Not yet! But how cool would it be to re-record Taylor Swift’s hits with orchestral arrangements by Duomo? Taylor camp, you in?

Curtiss (VSQ): I haven't seen anything yet. Fingers crossed we'll hear something soon!

For those who don't know about the licensing process, do you have to ask permission from artists or their labels before releasing cover songs?

Tenner (Duomo): Luckily for us, Position Music handles all the details of this process. As far as we know, you technically don’t need permission to release a cover. Though you do need to obtain a mechanical license, which nowadays might be provided by some distributors and aggregators. That’s the first step, but it’s not that complicated. Now, using that new cover on a film or TV show does need approval from the artist and publisher, but this is usually handled by the music supervisor. 

Fynn (VSQ): That's a solid part of our business -- making sure that everyone gets to have their part in the success of something like this. Yeah, we cover all the licensing and clearances. We like to think of it as expanding the conversation around the piece of music. We're trying to create something new while celebrating an original and sparking extra interest around it. 

What has it been like to see the Bridgerton's charting success, both on Billboard and on Netflix? 

Belardinelli (Duomo): That means the world is going mad … mad for Bridgerton! It feels a bit strange, to be honest, and humbling. It’s technically a crossover of styles. But if it helps turn new audiences on to classical music or get more people interested in playing an instrument, we’ll proudly take our small share of this success and use it as inspiration to continue releasing original music and classical covers.

Curtiss (VSQ): I would say that I knew it was going to be somewhat successful because it's a Netflix and Shondaland production. But none of us were expecting this. We've been featured on soundtracks before, but on Bridgerton, they were foregrounding the music, which the audience has latched on to.

How do you feel about your role in introducing classical music to a younger or different audience? 

Curtiss (VSQ): I tend to think about the pop listener before the classical listener. In terms of how people find us, they're looking for something else. They're looking for an Ariana Grande song, but then they stumble upon our version. We need to make a version that is compelling for the Ariana Grande listener, and hopefully that carries over to an interest in classical music.

Covering modern pop music allows us to be a little weirder than your average classical act. When you're making a string quartet version of a hip-hop tune, a lot of hip-hop isn't built around string melodies. It's built around mood, rhythm, and sometimes tonal elements. The challenge of making that is one of reasons why we like doing this stuff. 

Leah Zeger (VSQ): My favorite thing to do is play for people in a setting where no one has been up close and personal with a string instrument played well. It's electric. There's something magical about playing pop covers for people and hearing them say that it's the most incredible version.

Can we expect to hear more of your music in a possible second season of Bridgerton

Belardinelli (Duomo): Well, that would be amazing! We’ll keep sending unsolicited emails to Alexandra and the producers, ha. We have a full album of other relatable covers and will be releasing some really cool ones very soon, too -- including “La Vie En Rose” by Edith Piaf and hits by Alanis Morissette and Katy Perry. We like to think it’s possible that you’ll hear more of us in the next season.

Curtiss (VSQ): We hope so! We're pitching that. We'd like to not only place more music, but to also create music that doesn't exist. We'd like to work with them hand in hand to figure out songs and repertoire for whatever they craft for the second season. That would be a big thing for us.