Female Composers & Artists Are Gaining Ground in Television
As television shows with strong female points of view continue to swell, the opportunity for female artists and composers to augment TV storytelling is rising in tandem.
Show runners and music supervisors on this season’s roster -- including Showtime’s SMILF, HBO’s 2 Dope Queens, and upcoming series Killing Eve on BBC America and Vida on Starz -- tell Billboard having a female musical voice was at the top of their minds.
“I like a mix of hearing both female and male voices and so I don’t want the gender of the voice to be the reason why… but you can’t help but have female artists because the story is about women,” says Frankie Shaw, who adapted her short film SMILF into the hit series about a single mom who uses unconventional means to make ends meet. “I naturally go to women because that’s whose point of view we’re in.”
Shaw says she’s gotten half the music cues from WFMU radio show Sophisticated Boom Boom, which almost entirely focuses on female artists from varying locales and decades. Princess Nokia and Nellie McKay are among the “new to me” discoveries she’s incorporated into her show.
2 Dope Queens, the new HBO incarnation of the standup show and podcast from comedians Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, closes with a song by NY-based female rapper Nitty Scott, who was brought to the project by Williams and Robinson.
“She’s an indie artist who’s just absolutely fierce, no bullshit, who fits perfectly with the two principals in the show,” music supervisor Dan Wilcox says. “We were looking at some other more obvious choices… but I always like working with artists who are independent. It’s something that really benefits them, and there can be a little more enthusiasm on behalf of the artist involved.”
While the four Dope specials open with a Shamir song, Wilcox says it was “an important part” of the conversation to involve a female musical voice. “In this case, this might well be one of those things where somebody might hear it and say, ‘Who is this?’” he says. “And the money’s not bad for the artist. She owns her music outright, hasn’t sold off her publishing and is not signed to a label, so it’s a big win for her.”
Composer Germaine Franco “was perfect for the part” of scoring Starz’s Vida, which follows the intertwining of two Mexican-American sisters who are reunited after the death of their mother, music supervisor Brienne Rose tells Billboard.
“First of all, she is a female, which is really important because we have a lot of women involved in the show so having that perspective and voice is just an added unique part of it all,” she says. “And she’s also the only Latina composer in the [Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, music branch], which was very special.”
The series also features a slew of female artists, including Jarina De Marco, Maluca Mala, Selena and Magaly Meza. “In traditional Latin music, mariachi music, it’s very male-oriented, but the fun thing is you find a lot of this newer music and the female-fronted artists and bands become this really powerful thing we are able to show through the music,” Rose says.
BBC America’s Killing Eve, which premieres in April, packs female music cues from artists including Anna Karina, Cat’s Eyes and even Brigitte Bardot. “Creatively we thought that the show could really take a vocal on the soundtrack, and it would have been perverse for that vocal to be male when the focus is so female,” says EP Sally Woodward Gentle. “We didn’t rule out having the occasional male voice but in the end we didn’t have any.”
“From the outset, our musical vision for the show included a female voice or voices, and we explored lots of different artists and styles. It was important that the music was reflective of both of our lead characters, who are strong and complex women,” says music supervisor Catherine Grieves.
That exploration also led to the inclusion of recurring music from the band Unloved, fronted by female singer/songwriter Jade Vincent, and whose members David Holmes and Keefus Ciancia scored the series.
Creator Kay Mellor went with a Corinne Bailey Rae reboot of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” for the title track of new British TV series Girlfriends, which also features tracks by Amy Winehouse and Rebecca Ferguson.
The song “relates to the three women and reminds me of times spent with my girlfriends,” Mellor says. “I wanted a modern singer from the north of England whose music I love, to give it a more contemporary feel. Corinne Bailey Rae has a quality to her voice. I think it’s really important on a show with strong female PoV, that the song that opens the drama is sung by a woman.”
Similarly, the theme song for Mum, newly available on BBC Worldwide and ITV streaming service BritBox, is “Cups (You’re Gonna to Miss Me)” by Lulu and the Lampshades and Jean Simone, a revival of the 1931 Carter Family Song “When I’m Gone.”
“I think it would have been odd to have a male voice for Mum,“ creator Stefan Golaszewski says. “It's a show that's centrally about specifically female journeys. It was important to me to represent that in all aspects of the piece.”