'GLOW' Music Supervisor Bruce Gilbert on Wrestling Show's Nostalgic Sound: 'It Was Like an '80s Dance Party'
Some of the biggest hits on GLOW -- Netflix’s new series about professional female wrestlers -- aren't on the mat. Instead, they’re part of the delicious soundtrack to the series set in 1985.
From Scandal’s defiant “Warrior” to Journey’s “Separate Ways” and David Bowie/Queen’s “Under Pressure,” much of the music on the show sounds like a cassette mixtape from a time capsule of the era’s most memorable songs.
But music supervisor Bruce Gilbert also craftily throws in lesser-known cuts like “We Don’t Get Along” from the Go-Go's or Rick Derringer’s “Real American” to keep from lulling people into their own memories of leg warmers and mullets.
“The super hits are undeniable and unavoidable. Because these songs carry so much nostalgia for so many of us, you run the risk of distracting the audience with one of their old favorites. I think we were able to avoid that by being really selective about when we let the bigger songs play,” Gilbert tells Billboard. “And then the real fun comes with finding the lesser-known jams to play in other spots. We made a conscious effort to use songs sparingly and not overload the show with music. I really didn't want to bombard the audience.”
To craft the right tone for the show -- think tracks with a bit of a bite; no Air Supply, please -- Gilbert and the show’s creators, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, began sending each other their favorite songs from the era. “It was like an '80s dance party over email,” Gilbert says. “The show sort of emerged fully formed. It felt pretty effortless, and it turns out we all love a lot of the same stuff.”
One agreed-upon point given that the cast, other than Marc Maron, is almost all women was to make sure plenty of female voices were represented in the music. “It was definitely a conscious decision to showcase female performances from the very beginning,” Gibson says. “That was my starting place, for sure.”
Most of the licenses came together quickly, even for Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out,” with one exception that Gilbert won’t divulge, though he can’t help but slightly poke fun. “There was one song we really wanted as our main title theme but weren't able to get approval in time for our final delivery,” he says. “It was what we had [temporarily put in] before we settled on ‘Warrior.’ I don't want to out the artist because I'm sure they're already regretting not giving us the go-ahead.”
Gilbert’s partner in crime is the show’s composer, former Shudder to Think frontman Craig Wedren, whose synth-based score totally recalls the days when Reebok Pumps, Alf and the California Raisins ruled.
“I love Craig so much. He's an '80s freak who spits out candy-coated synth hooks in his sleep,” Gilbert says. “We've worked together in the past, but this is by the far the most fun we've ever had. I would go to his studio where we would take turns playing DJ for each other, sharing our favorite songs from the period, some of which would inform the score and others that would ultimately find their way on to the soundtrack.”
Gilbert works on a number of shows helmed or created by women, including Jenji Kohan’s Orange Is the New Black (Kohan is an executive producer on GLOW) and Transparent and I Love Dick, both created by his ex-wife Jill Soloway, and appreciates the collaborative aesthetic they bring.
“Working with Jenji on GLOW and multiple other projects is a dream. She makes everyone feel like family. Liz and Carly do the same. I don't know if that's because they're all women or because of Jenji's unique influence,” he says. “I suspect there is something about working with female creators that's fundamentally different, especially during production, for the actors and crew. I hear that a lot from the cast and crew on Transparent and I Love Dick. I know Jill Soloway very deliberately creates a loving and nurturing environment on set and in post [production]."