From Twin Peaks to The OC, a great soundtrack can elevate any TV series. Insecure is just the latest example – and with all its seasons now streaming on Neon, Laumata Lauano talks us through her favourite needle drop moments.
Straight up: the Insecure soundtrack is fire. I’ve known this since Issa Rae’s character Issa Dee rapped ‘Broken Pussy’ to the beat of ‘Bossy’ by Kelis in the show’s very first episode. From songs that elevate a scene’s impact, to tracks that pull you into the scene, the show knows how to utilise the hits we know and the hits we’re about to know in order to craft a damn good soundtrack.
As much thought has clearly gone into the soundtrack as into the scripts, with music supervisor Kier Lehman collaborating on the song choices with a team including creator and star Issa Rae, the directors of each episode, singer-songwriter-producer Raphael Saadiq and even, in the first season, Solange Knowles.
Disclaimer: taste is subjective and the following songs chosen by yours truly stuck out to me long after the opening scene of season one, episode one – which incidentally is where we begin.
‘Alright’ – Kendrick Lamar
The very first scene of the series hits with a bang, to the tune of K.Dot’s iconic ‘Alright’ from his 2015 opus To Pimp a Butterfly. A song about the realities of Black life, it’s become an anthem for a generation, played or chanted in multiple protests against police brutality since 2016 and recently seeing renewed prominence with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s also an indication of where the show is heading. As we will come to discover, Insecure isn’t just a rom com but also an exploration of Black politics and issues of social justice.
With its lyrics steeped in the history of injustice rapped over a buoyant beat, ‘Alright’ sets the tone of the show. The moment you hear the intro, with Kendrick’s spitting lines from Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple – “All’s my life, I had to fight” – you get a sense of the energy that will come to characterise the show. Insecure uses a lot of music from artists based in LA, where it is set and shot. Who better than the quintessential contemporary LA rapper to start the show?
‘Case of the Ex (Whatcha Gonna Do)’ – Mya
I love a good throwback track, and it seems like the Insecure team do too – season one and two in particular have a number of classic tunes in the mix. After a heavy breakup in the fourth season, the familiar intro of Mya’s 2000s track about a creepin’ ex foreshadows something to come between Issa and Lawrence. “It’s after midnight and she’s on your phone,” Mya sings as we watch Lawrence react to Issa’s Instagram story. The song is an inspired choice: who hasn’t wondered what their significant other would do if their ex was trying to get back into their life? It’s also a regular theme of the show that things can get messy when characters’ pasts reemerge in their presents.
While Rae and Lehman highlight unknown and up-and-coming artists, introducing us to new music with each episode, they also give audiences a throwback every now and then in order to honour artists they love. Nostalgia is a great feeling, even if it’s invoked by a song about your current boo’s ex trying to get their ins with your partner.
‘Top Down’ – Kari Faux
While the show’s music team loves to use throwbacks and well known artists, it also highlights plenty of up-and-coming artists. Kari Faux was commissioned to write and produce ‘Top Down’ specifically for the season one finale; it’s the song that plays as Issa and her friends are driving to Malibu. “Cuz I’m popping, I really got it, ain’t got no options,” Faux raps over the scene, transporting the audience back to the days when you and your own friends would cruise together, whether it be last weekend or half a decade ago.
Lehman has said he often reaches out to artists for unreleased or sneak-preview music, then makes Rae a playlist she and the show’s editors can pull from. For ‘Top Down’, though, it was Rae who reached out to Kari Faux over Twitter. Having music made specifically for a show like Insecure is risky, as there’s a chance it may not connect to the audience in the way creators intend it to. In this case though, it was probably a safe bet that a show based on Rae’s own experiences would be well-matched with a track by an artist she clearly feels a connection to.
‘Golden Pussy’ – Sasha Go Hard
Because every Insecure episode needs a bad bitch anthem. Continuing the show’s tradition of featuring independent Black female artists, in the third season finale ‘Broken Pussy’ from season one is remixed into ‘Golden Pussy’ by Chicago underground icon Sasha Go Hard. It plays during Molly’s birthday surprise for Issa and the minute I heard it, I thought “ayyy it’s ‘Broken Puss’ – wait, no it ain’t”. It’s a good callback moment; their friendship is in a better place than in season one, and with the transition from the first season’s broken pussy to the third’s golden, the song reflects that – even if it isn’t Issa rapping it to the crowd.
In a show that highlights the Black female experience without fetishising it, tracks like ‘Golden Pussy’ get the balance, and the vibe, just right. You gotta hope that no matter what is being thrown at our characters their inner bad bitch will always triumph – and so far, it seems to be working for Issa Rae.
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