Courtesy of HBO

March 10, 2022

‘Euphoria’ Classics for Your Main Character Playlist

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There’s nothing a Cornell student with a main character complex loves more than finding a new song to add to their monthly playlist. Along with new makeup styles and drugs to try, Euphoria provides its viewers with a stand-out soundtrack for every episode. 

The first season of the HBO show featured a unique sound; nearly all of its tracks were by British artist Labrinth, including hits such as “All for Us” and “Still Don’t Know My Name.” Labrinth’s sound characterized the first season of the show. The second season, which finished airing on Feb. 27, freshly boosts the show’s unique sound with 60s and 70s classics.

Euphoria’s soundtrack in Season 2 is repopularizing classics and reframing their sounds in a contemporary context. When my friend asked if I liked Gerry Rafferty after I played “Right Down the Line” (1978), I had to tell her no, I just love Euphoria. Songs like Rafferty’s and “It Never Rains in Southern California” by Albert Hammond (1972) have become the dreamy soundtrack to the Euphoria viewer’s life. Even in the rainy February Ithaca landscape, these tracks pull listeners into a dreamscape of Euphoria emotions and glitter.

Although there’s nothing new about young adults feeling like main characters and consuming classic rock, Euphoria’s soundtrack stands out by contrasting old sounds with contemporary imagery and themes. Since the show first aired in 2019, its costumes and make-up turned characters’ trippy looks into trends that have largely stuck around. Glitter and rhinestones are Euphoria classics — in the second season, the characters’ contemporary looks remain while the sound has shifted to vintage.

Euphoria viewers are used to eating up upbeat songs while they sit on the edges of their seats. This season’s soundtrack cushions high-intensity scenes — in the first episode, Bo Diddley’s 1972 song “Look at Grandma” plays over the cold open: a flashback to the dangerous behavior of a fan-favorite character’s grandma. Fez, a drug dealer in the present-day, appears as a child tagging along with his grandma to her drug deals. The music contributes to the consumability of the show by bringing levity to its darker themes.

The same episode layers Steely Dan’s 1972 song “Dirty Work” over another risky drug deal, and the song’s light and rolling sound contrasts with the high stakes situation. Rue, the main character and a recently-relapsed opiate-addict, finds herself in the middle of the action. She objects to being forced to strip down during the drug deal by reminding the aggressor Brucie that she is only in high school. The song’s relaxed tone clashes with the darkness of a high school student taking a dangerous situation lightly. 

The show’s music also helps viewers connect with their own experiences. The soundtrack contributes to people referring to their “Euphoria era,” as viewers identify with the show’s sounds and themes. In a particularly emotional scene in Episode 3, “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS plays over villain-turned-lovable character Cal’s flashback sequence of his gay coming-of-age story. In the first season, Cal spewed traditional family values and homophobia despite secretly sleeping with men; in the second season, the show humanizes his character with a flashback of his falling in love with his best friend. The INXS song links the 90s colorscape and setting with Euphoria’s usual contemporary imagery. Now, INXS is seeping into the present-day playlists of college students enacting their own coming-of-age journeys. 

The season features numerous other artists from the 60s through the 90s such as The Doobie Brothers, Townes van Zandt, Sharon Cash and Mazzy Star. For every decade to which viewers return, the show gives them the thrill of thinking they “discovered” a song. Sometimes viewers might not even know that they heard their new favorite song by Daryl Hill & John Oates on Euphoria; the show’s influence is so widespread that its soundtrack has become the backdrop to young adults’ lives, whether they know it or not. On TikTok, in car rides and in common rooms, Euphoria’s music has become a constant. 

The popularity of the season’s soundtrack may be a reflection of the resurgence of other decades’ trends: corduroy, bell bottoms, platforms and bucket hats, to name a few. The musical element of 70s, 80s and 90s revival is another point of commonality among young adults and Euphoria fans in particular. The show’s soundtrack has created something that viewers have in common, as if you’re in the know when you recognize someone playing Gerry Rafferty.

Kiki Plowe is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]