Another gut-wrenching season of The Handmaid’s Tale has concluded and once again it’s one of the most talked about shows on television. Whether it’s the horrific events that transpire in Gilead, the rise of the resistance, the superb acting, or the dramatic music, this season of The Handmaid’s Tale delivered more of the strong storytelling that earned it last year’s Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series.
Known for the bold music choices favored by showrunner Bruce Miller, The Handmaid’s Tale often uses songs to call back to pre-Gilead times, or provide June’s tongue-in-cheek commentary on the events. Music supervisor Maggie Phillips, who joined the show for season 2, has created her own playlists full of the music June would have been listening to before the Gilead takeover in 2012. These songs give June another voice and means to communicate with the audience while Offred is forced to stay silent.
The show also features end credits songs to great effect, giving viewers a loaded moment to process the events and emotions of the episode they’ve just seen. Whether it’s emotional tone, lyric thematic tie-ins, or even absurdist juxtapositions, each end credits song is carefully considered (and sometimes hotly debated behind the scenes) and selected to provide additional commentary on the episode.
The music choices have been hotly debated all across the interwebs, too, and they’re clearly making an impression with viewers and getting them talking. Along with think pieces about “This Woman’s Work” and multiple songs on the THR/Billboard TV Music Charts (May 2018 and June 2018), The Handmaid’s Tale continues to be one of the most popular shows on Tunefind.
We caught up with Maggie to walk through her favorite music moments from this season.
Maggie Phillips: The first song back in Season 2 starts my list off – “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush. I had initially pitched “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” for the end titles of the same episode, right after June rips out her ear tag and declares her freedom. But, that got Bruce [Miller, showrunner] thinking about Kate Bush and he decided to put her under the hanging scene. I called him after I saw it to picture, telling him it was a bold choice and cautioned that it would get people talking, but that made me excited. It was a controversial use – some people loved it, some hated it. Honestly, I see both sides of the argument. But, ultimately, it was an arresting scene and most importantly, got people talking about Kate Bush. And for that reason alone, it’s one of my favorite placements.
MP: “Hate” by Cat Power at the end of the 4th episode is another one of my favorites. I love Cat Power; I’ve loved her since Moon Pix. She’s been with me my whole adult life and is one of the first artists I thought of when I found out I was hired for Season 2. It’s a perfect ending to that episode, plaintive and despondent.
MP: I love “Heading Home” by Julianna Barwick at the end of the 5th episode. So tender and intimate – perfect for that moment when June wakes up, literally and figuratively, and speaks to her baby in utero, vowing to protect her.
MP: Another favorite is “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” by X-Ray Spex. It was originally going to be “Gloria” by Patti Smith – one of the first songs I put on my initial Season 2 playlist. Patti Smith had given permission, but we couldn’t get an answer from Van Morrison after repeated attempts, so we were forced to replace it. It was a last minute idea that I really didn’t think Bruce and the other producers would like, thought it might be a little too obscure or too punk, but they loved it!
MP: I think “Consideration” by Rihanna and SZA at the end of the 9th episode ranks – who doesn’t love Rihanna? And, it’s pretty unexpected here. I feel like some of the more abrupt or surprising tracks this season come straight from June’s playlists Pre-Gilead. They act like her voice overs, and this is a prime example. As is Santigold’s song in Episode 3 and perhaps even Kate Bush in the first episode.
Maggie also shared a few additional favorites from The Handmaid’s Tale season 2.
〉Full list of songs featured in The Handmaid’s Tale