When someone sets out to be the voice of her generation – or, at least, a voice of a generation – ambience is everything, and Lena Dunham knows it. The creator of HBO’s hit series Girls is closely involved in scrupulously picking the music that reflects its characters’ rapidly changing moods, from anxiety before (and during) a gynecological exam, to sentimental solitude while sitting in the Coney Island sand, alone, eating leftover wedding cake.
Every song was meticulously placed by music supervisors Manish Raval and Tom Wolfe, who have worked on many of Judd Apatow’s films and currently supervise the soundtracks for Community and New Girl.
“We wanted to play situations as real as possible,” Raval says in an interview of their collaboration with Dunham. “We are constantly exchanging music with each other. Essentially, we trade music like mix tapes.”
Here, Raval offers a track-by-track breakdown of the (decidedly mix-tape inspired) Girls Soundtrack Volume 1, out Tuesday.
1. Robyn, Dancing On My Own – triumphant scorned-lover psalm by everyone’s favourite Swedish pop star.
Volatile pals Hannah and Marnie have a cathartic two-person dance-a-thon after a harrowing night in which Hannah learns her college boyfriend is gay. “This was definitely the defining moment of Season 1,” Raval says. “Lena wrote the scene knowing she wanted to dance to that song.”
2. Fun, Sight Of The Sun – affectionate ditty sung by Dunham’s boyfriend’s band.
“It’s a love song,” says Raval of this original track recorded exclusively for the show’s second season and included as a sneak peek here. “We used it in a way that we haven’t used any music before.”
3. Harper Simon, Wishes and Stars – a gentle, acoustic take on teenage – or twentysomething – angst.
In the pilot, Hannah’s parents announce they’re no longer going to finance her “groovy lifestyle.” Cue this quarter-life crisis ballad by Paul Simon’s son.
4. Santigold, Girls – an impassioned power-jam from the always bold singer-producer.
This original song will pop up somewhere during Season 2. “She just has energy,” Raval says. “She sounds like today. She sounds like right now. That’s a really important element of the music in Girls.”
5. White Sea, Overdrawn – a chipper carol sung by L.A.-based musician Morgan Kibby.
Hannah goes to the gynecologist and makes inappropriate remarks about AIDS. “This is a really sad, scary moment,” Raval says. “We decided to go with something more up-tempo and semi-fun to play against that.”
6. Grouplove, Everyone’s Gonna Get High – a raucous rallying cry from the popular pack of pseudo-hippies.
This song actually concludes an early episode of Season 2. Raval calls it a “happy accident.”
7. Icona Pop, I Love It – crowd-pleasing pop from the in-vogue Swedish DJ duo.
Raval wanted this bouncy synth-pop hit in a Season 2 party scene even before it became the Snooki & JWOWW theme song.
8. The Echo-Friendly, Same Mistakes – a hazy ballad by an on-the-rise duo who once opened for Lana Del Rey.
Dunham asked Raval what he thought of this track, recorded by friends-of-a-friend. “That’s always the e-mail you dread,” he says. But he approved, and this relatively unknown Brooklyn band’s song closed the episode in which Hannah’s diary is stolen and read out in public.
9. Belle & Sebastian, I Don’t Love Anyone – a classic mid-1990s staple by the beloved Scottish indie rockers.
Marnie breaks up with Charlie, and Hannah tries to sleep with her boss. “The lyrics were just really good for that moment,” Raval says.
10. Fleet Foxes, Montezuma – sleepy lullaby-folk from the well-known plaid-clad rock band.
Hannah returns to her childhood home, walks in on her parents in the shower, and has sex with the pharmacist. Lyrically, says Raval, the sombre song was a good match.
11. Oh Land, White Nights – optimistic synth-pop from a Danish pop singer who’s toured with Katy Perry.
The episode ends with Hannah smiling in the back of a cab after she and Adam scream their way into coupledom. Raval says they’d wanted a slower song, but went with something upbeat because it was too dark.
12. The Vaccines, Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra) – boisterous lust as sung by the British rock band.
“There’s something about this song that’s so raw and energetic,” Raval says. “To me, that’s what the scene was when Hannah and Adam were finally in love.”
13. Lia Ices, Love is Won – a strikingly beautiful single from the American singer’s second album.
Hannah and Marnie have an explosive fight. “We felt like this was one of those moments where it did work to go very dark,” Raval says, “to really maximize the drama.”
14. Michael Penn, On Your Way – reassuring pop/rock written specifically for Hannah’s last scene of the season.
Singer/songwriter/film composer Penn (Sean Penn’s brother) wrote the score for the show, and Raval says it felt right to have him do this poignant, original song for Season 1’s finale.