The best TV soundtracks of 2016

From Atlanta to Stranger Things, its been the year that small-screen sounds have finally caught up and arguably surpassed their big-screen equivalent

Black Mirror: San Junipero

Charlie Brooker described the songs that populate Black Mirrors most humane and heartbreaking episode as that rotten egg of descriptions: guilty pleasures. All the music I said I hated, I secretly loved all of it, he said. Nostalgia, with its memory-blunting effect does that to us, ripping away the layers of cynicism and replacing it with a soft-focus glimmer.


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San Junipero was a story about the power of love, how it exists in reality and cruel fantasy. The music in the first part of the episode was from 1987 and full of processed drums, staccato drum machine patterns, vocal tics. At the time it was considered too robotic by some, but the melancholic soul in Belinda Carlises Heaven is a Place on Earth and TPaus Heart and Soul was underlined by Brookers narrative that spoke to the sad whisper of fleeting lost love. PE


For a show that seems to exist outside of time, Westworld certainly leans heavily on familiar music, though with a small twist. Recognizable songs such as Soundgardens Black Hole Sun and some of Radioheads most well-recognized tracks are reimagined and performed (in the diegetic world of the series) by a self-playing piano. The song choices are often on the nose and telegraph certain explosive scenes (Radioheads Motion Picture Soundtrack, with its lyrics Its not like the movies, they fed up on little white lies plays as Maeve realizes shes a host), but Westworld gets away with it because of the gimmick. While the piano covers have received most of the press attention, praise should also be heaped on to Ramin Djawadi for his score a complex blend of traditional western motifs and atonal sci-fi music. Djawadi is best known for writing the music for Game of Thrones, and yet again hes created the ideal sonic accompaniment for a world that seems both so far away and so relatable. DS

The Girlfriend Experience

The dull, regurgitative trend of TV shows based on films offered up something of a doozy this year with a chilly, challenging series based on Steven Soderberghs lo-fi tale of a high-end escort. One of its many fascinating elements was a menacing score from Upstream Color director Shane Carruth, who gives the show a sinister background hum, pushing us to queasily wonder just when the drama will give way to full-on psychological horror. The moment never truly comes, at least not explicitly, but were kept uncomfortably dangling on the edge nonetheless as we travel deeper into a conflicting world of power and sex with a lead character questioning whether or not shes a sociopath. Theres a Fincher-esque cool to the series and rather than giving us a poor mans impression of Trent Reznor, Carruth comes up with something fresh yet dripping in dread. BL

Stranger Things

With his Molly trilogy, John Hughes cemented the role that a soundtrack played in a film. [Songs have] to come out of the action. Its got to talk about the characters not the story, it has to augment that action, he told MTV. In his films songs were empathetic, thoughtful and complicated. In other words, they were another character. Of the few Hughesian things Stranger Things intuited, this was one of them. The opening sliver of monolithic synth was two parts John Carpenter, one part Glass Candy and a perfect accompaniment to the architecturally precise font used in the credits. Some key moments were accompanied by glitter ball 80s pop reframed as musical harbingers of gloom (Modern Englishs I Melt With You playing at the pool party before Barb is taken) or poignant pieces of the puzzle (the Clashs Should I Stay Or Should I Go). Others, like New Orders epic instrumental for Ian Curtis Elegia, were songs that played on dual emotional levels mirroring the visible world and the other, the Upside Down. PE


Considering Atlanta is ostensibly a show about a rapper trying to make it in arguably the most important city for hip-hop in the world, theres surprisingly little rapping in the show itself. (There are the odd rap cameos, like when trap trio, Migos, appear as wood-dwelling drug dealers). But that doesnt mean the soundtrack isnt dominated by rap music, which is carefully curated to bolster the action and provide winks and nods to those who truly know their Atlanta music heritage. The process involved a collective of people making suggestions, including Donald Glover, and then music supervisor Jen Malone and music consultant Fam Udeorji who sometimes had to go to ridiculous lengths to get the songs licensed. The payoff was that they helped craft a soundtrack that elevated one of the best new shows of 2016. Sometimes the music is used to make hyper-local references and check which audience members know their OJ da Juicemans from their OJ Simpsons. But sometimes its used just for laughs, like when Paper Boi sings along to Cheryl Lynns gloriously camp Encore. LB

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Ditching a show and letting another network pick it up is the new letting your partner move on to be with someone who will love them more. It worked with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt graduating from NBC to Netflix and also with Showtimes decision not to go forward with Rachel Blooms gonzo musical romcom. This year has graced us with both the second half of the first season and the first half of the second, and while the song and dance numbers might be less frequent as the show progresses, theyre still as sharp and enjoyably demented as ever. Given the cutesy sheen, its often easy to forget how dark Bloom is willing to go, but songs like You Stupid Bitch (about intense self-loathing) and Gregs Drinking Song (about alcoholism) joyfully and smartly remind us whats underneath the gloss. Shes moved past a potentially limited conceit and post-Glee, continues to subvert what we expect from TV show-tunes. BL

Halt and Catch Fire

Music supervisor Thomas Golubic might have one of the hardest jobs in TV assembling a soundtrack for a series set in the 1980s that doesnt use the tired cues we all associate with the time period. The first season features songs from well-known groups like the Human League, Berlin, XTC, the Clash, plus more obscure acts like Big Boys and X-Ray Spex. By season three, as the characters have matured and musical tastes have changed, you might get a Billy Joel track side-by-side with Marxist Christian band the Housemartins. Golubic has performed the music supervisor job for numerous AMC shows, including the Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, and is also the mind behind the memorable soundtracks for HBOs Six Feet Under. While official soundtrack releases are not available for Halt and Catch Fire, AMC and Golubic put out character-specific playlists for each season, which quickly put you in the mindset of the high-achieving computer mavericks of the late 20th century.


There are music consultants and then there are music consultants. Getting Solange Knowles to come on board as an adviser on Insecure must go down as one of the coups of the year and gave more kudos to a show that already had hat-tips from all the right places. Issa Raes HBO series pulled it off, and like Master of None whose music consultant Zach Cowie managed to bring the pathos to Aziz Ansaris dramedy by using indie disco numbers Solange brought extra emotion to the everyday work frustrations and imploding relationships of Raes drama with contemporary rap, funk and hip-hop. Drake sits alongside Blood Orange and DAngelo, and the laidback LA feel comes via natives of the city, including contemporary funk maestro Dam Funk, Long Beachs own Vince Staples and mystic bass noodler Thundercat. Oh, and an arguably even more impressive feat was getting <a href=”″ data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Raphael Saadiq to compose the score. There are individual Spotify playlists for those who want to delve deeper and recreate the whole thing in their Fiat Punto or Toyota Camry. LB

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