These days, a show’s soundtrack can play as big of a role as its characters. Songs fill in the gaps where dialogue can’t and evoke specific emotions in scenes that may otherwise get overlooked.
But which soundtracks do it best? Below, find our ranking of Spotify’s most popular TV series playlists from recent years.
10. Cobra Kai
If you’re looking for a soundtrack that’s a blast from the rock n’ roll past, look no further than the music for Cobra Kai, which is based on 1984’s The Karate Kid. Hits by rock icons like Poison, Def Leppard and AC/DC, along with newer tracks by Bruno Mars and Yungblood, make a grand backdrop to karate montages — but at least one missing song makes the soundtrack feel incomplete: Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best Around.”
9. Killing Eve
Music plays a defining role in Killing Eve. Described as both a “spy thriller” and a “dark comedy,” the show’s underground/alternative soundtrack is varied in some regards. “When I was approached to do Killing Eve,” composer David Holmes told Flood Magazine, “I said two things: one, the music should be female-led, and two, whatever country we’re in, it should have music from that country.” Both those things are true — but at the same time, Holmes’ own alternative trio Unloved takes up a good chunk of the BBC series’ official season three playlist.
With Donald Glover as creator and star, of course FX’s award-winning dramedy Atlanta has a fantastic soundtrack. The show from the actor/musician (whom music fans will know better as Childish Gambino) follows an aspiring rapper, which yes, means rap drives the show’s nearly 10-hour playlist. Kendrick Lamar, 6LACK, 2 Chainz and Migos are just a few big names featured — but unexpected sounds are thrown in the mix as well, including pop tracks by Dua Lipa and Troye Sivan plus soulful offerings by Stevie Wonder and Donnel Pitman.
7. Stranger Things
It’s hard to talk about Stranger Things without mentioning its nostalgic ‘80s soundtrack. Songs reminiscent of shopping malls, puppy love and neighborhood bike rides define its synth-pop sound, alongside a supernatural score composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. From pop to rock, highlights from the Upside Down include songs you can always count on hearing at a karaoke bar: Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Don McLean’s “American Pie,” The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” TOTO’s “Africa” and countless tubular ’80s tracks.
6. Normal People
Though you may not know all the names that fill Normal People’s playlist, a listen is sure to get a new face on your personal queue. It’s a near perfect complement to a series that follows a couple in a small town in Ireland, with tracks by bigger names like Frank Ocean, Selena Gomez and Imogen Heap effortlessly fitting in with thoughtful indie beats. Whether you’re listening on your commute to work or a lazy Sunday morning, hitting skip is unlikely in this soundtrack to Hulu’s hit limited series.
5. Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies’ playlist is exactly what you’d expect from a show that takes place in oceanside town in California, but that’s not a bad thing. As tracks from Elvis Presley (plus a King of Rock and Roll cover by the show’s own Zoë Kravitz), Fleetwood Mac, Diana Ross, Leon Bridges, Sufjan Stevens and more move the mix, you almost forget you’re listening on a streaming player. Instead, close your eyes and dream of dancing to your turntable, barefoot in a beach house with a glass of Merlot in hand, as the Pacific Ocean’s waves crash along the coastline.
With a playlist coming in at 22 hours long, it’s safe to say music is a huge part of Insecure. With the series’ end in December 2021, the show’s music supervisor, Kier Lehman, explained her goals in combining music and storytelling to Rolling Stone: “There may be a story in the song that people connect with, but when we connect it with this story that they’re already kind of really invested in in this show or a movie, it really makes a deeper connection and helps people remember this music in a new way.” Incorporating artists both well-established (i.e., Drake and Cardi B) and new (Leikeli47 and Emanuel), the mix is a detailed picture of the rap and R&B scene today.
3. Sex Education
Filled with hits from nearly every genre and every decade since the ‘60s, Sex Education’s playlist is nostalgic perfection. People of all ages can reminisce about the ups and downs of high school as they listen to vocal stylings by The Beach Boys, Al Green, The Replacements, Britney Spears, Sugar Ray, blink-182, Katy Perry, Drake and so much more. It’s seriously bop after bop — and the four-hour mix leaves listeners ready for what’s to be added in seasons to come.
POSE does a lot right — but it’s the soundtrack that transports viewers into the heart of New York’s 1980s underground ball culture. Featuring a number of hits by music legends Donna Summer, Aretha Franklin, Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross and more, you can’t go wrong with this mix — especially when you’re in the mood to groove (and feel fabulous doing it).
At the heart of Euphoria is its characters, but it’s the soundtrack that keeps its heart beating. When words go unsaid, music swoops in to do storytelling’s job. The 247-song playlist spans the decades and genres, featuring artist from Billie Eilish to 2Pac to Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Additionally, the show’s composer, Labrinth, produces a powerful score that brings Zendaya herself on for a couple of tracks. As a whole, the mix simultaneously feels like anxiety, loneliness, heartbreak, anger and utter bliss at the same time — but that’s high school, right?