For many fans, The Bold Type is more than just a show. It’s an affirmation of their lives, and their ability to overcome adversity. For music supervisor Rob Lowry, it was one particular song that connected him to that vision: “Confident” by Demi Lovato.
“I think just as a song it’s a perfect representation of what the message of the show is,” said Lowry. “The fact that that’s what Sarah [Watson] was listening to [when she wrote the pilot] just kind of embodies what the show has represented and what we’ve tried to accomplish with the soundtrack, but also I think what Sarah has tried to accomplish with the story arcs.”
“It’s about being comfortable with who you are and being confident about it and owning everything. Owning your job, owning your sexuality and your friendships and your relationships and your individuality,” shares Lowry. “Also I just think musically that that triumphant, anthemic pop sound was very empowering and representative of the message of the show.”
That pop sensibility and focus on empowerment have defined the soundtrack to the show. Even when the characters are struggling, Lowry uses songs that show a progression. From a darker, minor beginning to “an anthem that lifts you back up.”
One of the show’s powerful anthems is the Grace Carter song “Silence.” When Kat is being harassed online in episode 3, Lowry uses the song to illustrate not just the crisis, but Kat’s ability to move beyond it.
“It feels kind of like a sad song initially and Kat’s kind of dwelling in this world where she’s being harassed and doesn’t quite know what to do. But it’s also a turning point in which she decides to be proactive about it, rather than continuing to engage these trolls and give them what they want. It’s kind of about taking what’s happening to her and turning it up on its head and empowering herself.”
The song echoes the way Kat moves beyond the harassment by collaborating with another target to create a PSA and call out the trolls. Lowry sees the song as representing a turning point in Kat’s storyline. “In terms of her taking all of these negative things and negative energy that’s been happening to her and becoming proactive and really taking a bad situation and making it something positive, which I think is a lot of what this show is about.”
One thing that helps Lowry connect with the show’s vision is his own relationship to music. Lowry is a musical omnivore, who loves pop for its openness and emotional expressiveness. “I don’t really believe in guilty pleasures,” says Lowry, “Why would you feel guilty about something you enjoy? I just think that’s ridiculous. I just think it’s a weird way to keep yourself gated in or keep other people gated out. I have been very open about my adoration for pop music for a long time. That’s why The Bold Type has been so fun, because I find something to love in everything.”
That willingness to engage with different types of music on their own terms have given Lowry incredible range. His projects have spanned the gamut from the surreal romantic comedy Man Seeking Woman, to The Intervention, for which he received a Guild of Music Supervisors nomination, to the whimsical Huck Finn Update and indie classic, Band of Robbers. He’s every bit as enthusiastic about unusual and edgy sounds as he is about the polished sonic sheen of a show like The Bold Type.
“Band of Robbers used the craziest music,” Lowry says. “We used like yodeling music from the 30s, we used Japanese pop from the 70s, kind of all over the place. It’s good to find something you enjoy in everything, whether it’s obscure or whether it’s a number one single, It should just be about your direct relationship with the song. It’s like, do you like it? Cool, you don’t have to listen to it in secret in your bedroom. You can tell people you like it. It’s okay.”
For the Bold Type, Lowry has drawn on his broad musical knowledge to add sonic diversity and emotional complexity to the soundtrack. He described fan favorite, “No Talk” by Lowell as an outlier that’s “a little bit more raw, maybe a little bit more abrasive than some of the more melodic, sweet, kind of polished pop stuff that we’ve used.”
“Lowell’s been around for a few years and I’ve always been a fan. The director of that episode was Jamie Travis and we were talking about music and he was like, ‘I love this band Lowell, I wonder if we could use one of their songs?’’ recalls Lowry. “She hadn’t released anything in a couple years so I reached out to her label to see if there was anything up and coming and they sent me a few songs and ‘No Talk’ immediately was like oh, yeah, this is the song. I sent them through to Jamie and he was like, ‘’No Talk.’ This is it.’”
The song was perfect for episode 5, highlighting Kat’s internal struggles in her relationship with Adena. Lowry says it’s one of the few songs to focus solely on conflict and angst without trying to bring in a brighter note.
“It’s a big moment for her, because she doesn’t know what she’s doing or what she’s feeling and she just kind of goes for it. She’s not good with relationships and so I think she’s kind of having a little bit of an identity crisis in the moment in terms of how she and Adena are moving forward.”
The tone of the song helped play up that struggle, said Lowry. “It’s great, it feels like an old Tegan and Sara almost. It’s melodic, but it feels almost like an acoustic punk song. Yeah, it just worked really well and people obviously responded to it, which was great.”
However, Lowry also exults in the poppier moments of the soundtrack. One of his favorite moments is the Selena Gomez song, “Hands to Myself,” played in episode 2, when Jane kisses Ryan in the art gallery.
“I really do love the Selena Gomez ‘Hands to Myself’ moment just because it just nailed every narrative that we were trying to tie up at the end. Everything about it musically, the build, the lyrics —it just felt special from the moment we put it in. It was just like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s it.’ I loved that moment.”
While the series tends to feature mostly female vocals, there are a few exceptions, including one of Lowry’s favorite moments, from the end of episode 5 with the Banners song “Someone To You.” Lowry says, “In this sequence, the montage changed so much. We tried so many songs in there and when that hit, it was just like the energy in it was just so, so perfect and the lyrics, obviously, were incredibly appropriate.”
“It did a really great job of kind of tracking everyone’s journey, specifically tracking Sutton’s journey,” shares Lowry. “Sutton asking for the raise and then threatening to walk is one of my favorite moments of the series. Then the song is obviously highlighting Kat’s emotional journey and it kind of building and building to her making this decision [to be with Adena] and the song ends and Adena lets Kat know that she’s moving to Paris. You’re so amped and then you’re just so deflated. It’s just the perfect, the most crushing moment. I think that song was the only thing that could have done that.”
Another of Lowry’s favorites: Leon’s ‘Surround’ playing at the end of episode 7, as Kat and Jane jump into the tub to comfort Sutton.
“Sarah [Watson] kind of wrote the perfect moment with the three girls getting into the tub and as I was reading it I was binging on the song because it was just released,” says Lowry “I’m like, ‘Here’s this new song from Leon.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, shit, this is in this scene.’”
Sometimes, getting the right song for a particular scene doesn’t happen that easily, including a pivotal scene from episode 9. Weaving together Kat and Adena making love in their pillow fort in the airport with scenes of Sutton and Alex having their steamy encounter, Lowry featured a song called ‘Lit the Fire’ by Canadian pop singer Ralph.
“This was a really, really incredibly difficult scene because it seems like it’s the same thing: it’s two couples having sex. But the scenes could not be more different in terms of the emotional chord behind them. Whereas Kat and Adena are pretty much falling in love, Alex and Sutton – particularly from Sutton’s perspective – are primarily just kind of indulging passion on a whim.”
“You’re trying to tell these very two different narratives with a song and kind of trying to hit sexy and romantic and dangerous all in one piece of music and it’s kind of hard because some of those things contrast each other. No exaggeration, we probably tried 50 or 60 songs here. It was really difficult and we just landed on something a few days [before the episode aired].”
Another challenge was soundtracking a big moment coming up in the season finale on September 5th. No spoilers here, but Lowry promises that it will be worth the wait. (Update: The finale featured a gorgeous new version of “Quiet” by MILCK. Check our our interview with MILCK and Rob to get full details.)
“I literally cannot imagine anything else there. If, for whatever reason, it wouldn’t have worked, I don’t know what we would have done. I would have been at a loss. It’s just a perfect moment,” shares Lowry.
Currently The Bold Type is waiting to hear whether they’ll be picked up for another season. Judging by the reaction from both fans and artists interested in being featured on the show, it should be an easy decision for the studio.
In the meantime, Lowry has plenty of projects coming up. The Seth Rogen show Future Man, starring Josh Hutcherson, is premiering on November 14th on Hulu. He also is working on a new called Miracle Workers, created by Simon Rich — the creator of Man Seeking Woman. It premieres on TBS in early 2018.
Tune in for the season 1 finale of The Bold Type on Tuesday, September 5th at 9/8c on Freeform. And we’ll see you back here for full details on that big featured song.
〉Check out the full list of songs featured in The Bold Type
〉Check out the official playlist for The Bold Type on Spotify
〉Follow Rob on Twitter @robertlowry