The highly-anticipated Gossip Girl reboot premiered last month on HBO Max, and one of the most widely discussed aspects of the series has been the music featured in the show! I got to talk to Rob Lowry, the music supervisor responsible for the popular needle drop moments and song selections for Gossip Girl.
Because the bulk of this job takes place during the post-production phase of the process, he says that despite the pandemic, last year he and his collaborators Emily Bender and Mia Riggins were “pretty busy, surprisingly” because “people were able to do post remotely.”
That lag in production doesn’t mean they were any less productive in their output, though: “We probably finished twenty or so projects in that year from my bedroom and in my office. We weren’t going into a post facility. We were mixing remotely. We were doing spotting sessions remotely…”
Being involved with so many of today’s top series and films, I asked him how he stays motivated and inspired to constantly be working on the next big project, and he said it’s due in large part to the two great people he works alongside; Emily Bender and Mia Riggins:
“I love what I do. Obviously, that’s a big part of it. It rarely feels like work. I have an amazing team. I have two people that work with me; Emily Bender and Mia Riggins. I think the three of us together is a really positive and creative atmosphere. Stuff does get stressful, of course. We also work on such different projects that when you get burnt out on something, you can pivot to something else.”
There have been viral tweets, deep diving think pieces, and strong points of view about the soundtrack for this show. It has to put a lot of pressure on Lowry and the rest of his team at Sweater Weather Music.
“You’re dealing with a lot of different people who have a lot of different opinions and different tastes. The one thing about music is everyone loves it, and everyone has an opinion on it.”
With input coming in from the writers, directors, producers, and other creatives, Lowry is often bombarded with opinions. He likened it to “threading a needle” and explained that “with music, it’s both exciting and can be daunting trying to take twenty different people’s tastes and opinions and make everyone happy while also preserving the integrity of the project or the scene. It’s complicated in that way.”
One question that he asks himself when it comes to curating the soundtrack and pitching songs — and one that I found especially insightful — is, “How do we create something that feels cohesive, but everyone is still excited about and everyone still feels heard and seen?”
The original Gossip Girl series premiered on The CW back in 2007, but its legacy lives on today. I mean, obviously, because we’re talking about the reboot of the show, which is extremely popular even in today’s TV landscape.
With the shadow of the OG Gossip Girl looming over the 2021 reboot, Lowry is honest in saying that he always knew it was “going to be under a microscope because of how amazing and influential the first one was. When I first met with the team, everyone was like, ’50% of this show is the music.’ And so I think everyone is aware of that. Because it’s such a big, expensive looking production, it’s so rich, and so many things, I think the music has to reflect that. The music also has to feel big and vibrant and of-the-moment, while also interweaving some older stuff and some of the bigger stuff today.”
The influence of the OG Gossip Girl is especially close with Rob Lowry, as he says gives the original series’ music supervisor, Alex Patsolvas some extremely high praise:
“Alex Patsolvas is the reason I got into music supervision and a lot of us got into music supervision. The original Gossip Girl and The O.C. and those shows were the blueprint for so many things.”
A prime example of that interweaving is how the #SilhouetteChallenge that went viral on TikTok makes a subtle appearance on the show’s soundtrack by featuring “Streets” by Doja Cat and Paul Anka’s classic “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” back-to-back with one another in Episode 2.
I asked Lowry what it was like tying in a real-world phenomenon that bridged the gap between the past and today’s classics: “I think that’s a perfect representation of the world of the music where you do have these two different artists of different generations. Doja is such a top five artist right now, so you’re able to incorporate that, but you’re also able to incorporate Paul Anka and ‘Put Your Head on My Shoulder,’ which is older generational storytelling as well.”
One aspect of the show that Lowry enlightened me on — and that I found interesting to hear from a creative perspective — is that, “every one of these episodes culminates in an event, and each of those events has its own sound. [Episode 2] is like ’50s, ‘60s, soul, jazz at the gala. [Episode 3] is like the afterparty from the play, and it’s like ‘80s stuff. For that party in Episode 4, it’s excess. Julien’s party, Zoya’s party, no expense spared, so we wanted it to sound expensive, and it does.”
After reading the pilot, Rob told me that he did a script breakdown before diving into making character playlists for each of the different characters. That’s a hefty task when you’re dealing with as many characters as a show like this.
Every Wednesday night, Rob Lowry’s Twitter notifications reach maximum capacity after he posts the titles of the songs going to be featured in the next day’s episode. The Twitter stans are rooting for their favorite songs from their favorite artists to make it in the show, so they have plenty of thoughts every week. Lowry says that “it’s one of the highlights of my week because I just love seeing the response to it!”
When new episodes of Gossip Girl premiere, it really feels like the world is tuned in to watch. Streaming has changed the way we watch TV, but this show feels like the closest thing to being an “event” that a series could be today. Lowry touched on this while we were talking, saying, “Every week when [Gossip Girl] airs, it feels like an event, and that’s so rare now… It’s really fun to have that to look forward to. All day Thursday, people are just tweeting about it.”
In addition to featuring such incredible songs at the perfectly timed moments, the show also has one of the best scores composed for a television series that I’ve ever heard. Lowry comments on how Ariel Rechtshaid has done “such a perfect job” composing the score:
“Ariel has such strong pop sensibilities, but he’s also really, really into classical and really into film score. The way that he has incorporated that and bridged the gap between some of the music… Those themes that he’s written are so catchy and just feel like the show. He has just done such a perfect job.”
“Super Rich Kids” by Frank Ocean is featured in the premiere episode, as well as the trailer for the show. So, naturally, I had to ask him about Frank and what it was like asking him to use his song in the trailer for Gossip Girl: “He has to approve it. They were literally texting his manager like, ‘Play this new trailer version for Frank.’ He had to approve since it was a remix of his song, so it had to go directly through Frank.”
Lowry had some specific songs in mind after reading the script, so he knew that “Positions” Ariana Grande, “All My Girls Like To Fight” by Hope Tala, and “A Palé” by ROSALÍA had to make it in the show’s premiere:
“Honestly, from the time I read the script, I knew ‘Positions’ was going to be the opening song for the title card song… The Hope Tala song at the beginning; it was one of the first songs I pitched for the opening. ROSALÍA for the fashion show… That creates such a crazy tension.”
When I asked him what songs he could tease from an upcoming episode, he mentioned none other than master lyricist Taylor Swift:
“There’s a Taylor Swift song in a later episode that we tried in a couple different places, and we finally figured out where it works and where it wants to be. It’s from folklore. It’s a really fun usage.”
I hope Rob Lowry finds some time to sleep in the next year or two, because he has several projects as music supervisor coming up, including:
- Netflix’s Night Teeth, film directed by Adam Randall, starring Debby Ryan, Alexander Ludwig, Jorge Lendenborg Jr., Alfie Allen & Sydney Sweeney
- FOX’s The Big Leap, series created by Liz Heldens, starring Scott Foley, Teri Polo & Piper Perabo
- HBO Max’s Love Life Season 2, series starring William Jackson Harper, Punkie Johnson, Leslie Bibb, John Earl Jelks, arian Moayed, Ego Nwodim, Kimberly Elise & Blair Underwood
- Netflix’s Strangers, film directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, starring Camila Mendes, Maya Hawke & Sophie Turner
- Paramount’s Lost City of D, film directed by Aaron & Adam Nee, starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Brad Pitt, Patti Harrison, Oscar Nunez
- Netflix’s Archive 81, series from showrunner Rebecca Sonnenshine, starring Mamadou Athie, Dina Shibabi, Martin Donovan & Matt McGorry
- Cha Cha Real Smooth, film directed by Cooper Raiff, starring Dakota Johnson
- Netflix’s Wendell and Wild, film directed by Henry Selick, starring Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele
- Netflix’s We Have A Ghost, film directed by Christopher Landon, starring Anthony Mackie, David Harbour, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Tig Notaro & Jennifer Coolidge
The Season 1 Part A finale of Gossip Girl will be streaming starting tomorrow — Thursday, August 12 — with the show set to return with new episodes this fall with Season 1 Part B on HBO Max.