There Is Still Time: The Euphoria, Dysmorphic Fantasia and Nostalgic Terrors of the I Saw the TV Glow Soundtrack

In our latest Digital Cover Story, director Jane Schoenbrun and musicians Francis Quinlan, Florist, Bartees Strange, Maria BC, King Woman, L’Rain, The Weather Station, Drab Majesty, Proper., Sadurn, and Sloppy Jane reflect on how the A24 flick’s music might endure as a necessary, generational collection of timeless songs. [SPOILERS BELOW]

Movies Features Jane Schoenbrun
There Is Still Time: The Euphoria, Dysmorphic Fantasia and Nostalgic Terrors of the I Saw the TV Glow Soundtrack

From beginning to end, I Saw the TV Glow measures itself through escapism. Jane Schoenbrun’s new film starts with a young boy, Owen, mesmerized—or frightened—by the blue, pink and purple hues of a parachute draped over him and his gym classmates. A skylight sits at the top, telegraphing white light above a dozen bodies. It’s foreboding, uneasy. If you’re trans or nonbinary, maybe the color palette stuck out to you immediately. If you’re cisgender, perhaps a flicker of memory from a quieter, less complicated time washed over you. Maybe you found yourself flirting with both sides of the spectrum, letting the relics of your gender and your past intertwine. Behind the vibrancy, a song rings out: yeule’s cover of Broken Social Scene’s “Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl.” The viewer likely doesn’t know it yet, but the “Used to be one of the rotten ones and I liked you for that / Now you’re all gone, got your makeup on and you’re not coming back” lines have been reclaimed as something not sinister, but expressive, liberating and, quite possibly, excruciatingly familiar.

But, in that same breath, I Saw the TV Glow measures itself through the act of hiding, too—hiding in the fantasticals of corny comfort TV, hiding in the safety of a complicated but freeing friendship, hiding deep within yourself. Schoenbrun’s centers their vision through the stirring and familiar fictional television show, The Pink Opaque, which showcases the mythical, telepathic bond shared between its protagonists, Isabel and Tara. Together, the two characters rebel against the torturous violence of Mr. Melancholy. Folks who either were teens in the 1990s—or became acquainted with the decade’s culture through binge-watching—will recognize the Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style shots of the show. Truth be told, it elicits parallels to any coming-of-age drama of the era, hinting at everything from Are You Afraid of the Dark? to Dawson’s Creek to Goosebumps and beyond.

What exists at the core of I Saw the TV Glow, however, is the connection between Owen (Justice Smith) and Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine), whose memories of their idealized lives as Isabel and Tara manifest in episodes of the show itself. I Saw the TV Glow is a trans fable rooted in the dichotomy shared between two people who experience strikingly different fates: Owen is stuck in the suburbs, unable to shed his cisgender presentation and live his desired life as Isabel and trapped by an all-consuming and growing bout of asthma; Maddy runs away from her abusive stepdad and vanishes around the same time The Pink Opaque is canceled, only to return with a get-up strikingly similar to Tara’s. It’s a nostalgia, and a reality, that is painful to interact with. “My process is a bit strange, in that the movie will be these fragments of images, ideas and questions that I am obsessed with exploring for myself as much as anything,” Schoenbrun says. “[I Saw the TV Glow] was about unpacking [my] childhood and how much, at the time, the sub-genre of teens fighting monsters in ‘90s TV meant to me—and how much of myself I hid in them.”

“And [I unpacked] that, alongside my relationship to the suburban environment that I grew up in, from a lot later in life and from this moment after my ‘egg crack,’ after I had finally started to unrepress and began a gender transition,” Schoenbrun continues. “Looking back on all of those experiences and that place where I was, and re-evaluating my relationship to fiction and also my relationship to the fiction that is the suburbs and the fiction of normativity and home that it offers—all of that was swimming around, I think, for a long time emotionally.”

King Woman’s Kristina Esfandiari, who wrote “Psychic Wound” and “Bury,” connected with Schoenbrun’s past and how they chose to interrogate it in the screenplay through Owen’s arc. “I always felt very odd growing up and very uncomfortable in my body,” Esfandiari says. “Hearing Jane’s story about their upbringing and their transformation into who they are now really hit me so hard. I actually got super emotional talking to them when we first met. It caught me off guard, because I didn’t really know them. When we were talking, I was like, ‘I really feel like I’m meant to be a part of this.’ So, when I wrote the song, it just came naturally because a lot of the themes in the movie were things I have experienced and really related to.”

I Saw the TV Glow

And those themes, connections and experiences linger beyond viewings. There is a scene where, after a time-jump, an older Owen—who is now an adult and, allegedly, has a family—buys a flat-screen television and, thanks to the wonders of streaming, decides to binge all five seasons of The Pink Opaque for the first time since high school. But he is quickly dismayed by how uninteresting the show is now that he’s older, and the film choice has sparked much discourse online. “The idea of a TV show that gets canceled and ends in a horrific way, and this foundational trauma that lodges itself in the subconscious of a character who can’t move on or can’t enter his real life because he feels like these characters that he loved so much on this show are stuck somewhere needing his help—it took a long time to find the right narrative structure and the right form to talk about everything I wanted to talk about,” Schoenbrun says.

Was Schoenbrun trying to warn us about the stuff we liked as children not needing some kind of cultural reappraisal decades later? Or is their point more in line with The Pink Opaque’s decline in retrospective quality being an example of Owen’s own furthering suppression of his true gender identity? As his breathing troubles continue to mount as we watch him all the way through middle-age, the distortion of reality and internal worlds—and those psychological and metaphysical angles being used to further shape the trans and queer stories within—resonated with Emily Sprague of Florist, who penned the standstill, singular “Riding Around in the Dark.”

“[Schoenbrun] and I talked a lot about liminal space and how this reality is not really what it seems,” Sprague says. “And Jane is so committed to articulating that through film in really powerful ways that I found inspiring. We talked about the parallels between my songwriting and those ideas, so it felt like it was the perfect recipe of all these themes and feelings and really intense emotional conflict—all while being this marriage between film and music, which is something that I was really, really passionate about as a young person when I was getting into music. We just connected on a lot of different levels, in terms of the real emotional and universal goals of the whole project and life and art itself. I immediately knew how I was going to approach it, because when I read the script, I felt so connected to it—so many things that really brought me back to a time in my life that I actually have never really written music about.”

But it was that initial connection, the cord between Owen and Maddy’s hearts, that has transcended. “Two adolescents in a very intense relationship bonding over this TV show,” Bartees Strange says. “That’s all I needed to see [to write my song], because I remember that feeling. You meet a kid in sixth grade who also likes Inuyasha and nothing else matters about their life or your life. Y’all are best friends now, period. And in the pressure cooker of being the only two people like you in a neighborhood, or in your school, and that’s the only person that understands this that you really relate to—that feeling was so clear to me.” His song, “The Glow,” was inspired by the act of being entranced by a television screen and by remembering life as a kid just trying to survive life’s monotony. “A TV show or a great record or a great friendship can break you out of that,” Strange continues. “I wanted to write something like, ‘I can barely recall before I saw this. There was my life [before] and there was my life after I saw this show.’ When I thought of the glow, or the things that happen that make you different, that was what I was chasing.”

Maria BC, who wrote the song “Taper,” which plays out in the background as Owen’s dad calls The Pink Opaque a show “for girls,” especially connected with the film, Schoenbrun’s presentation of gender trauma and the blurred fault lines between conformity and survival (“You’re so hard to find, caught up in the weeds and tangled wires,” Maria sings. “Our fate is a compromise I follow with half a mind”). “I read the script and thought ‘Taper’—a song I’d happened to have written the week before for a loved one—resonated with some of Jane’s ideas, especially Owen’s character arc,” Maria says. “He sees what he wants and needs—to feel close to Maddy, or someone like her, and to live a trans life—but it all just seems too impossible, too daunting, too far away. So he douses the first and packs it in. The need never dies, though. The word ‘Taper’ means contradictory things, I think—that’s why I like it. The night both abates desire and refines it, sharpens it to a point.”

Frances Quinlan—the frontperson of the Philadelphia band Hop Along—was connected to Schoenbrun through Alex G, who they toured with years ago (and has done the score for the director’s breakout film We’re All Going to the World’s Fair in 2021 and, now, I Saw the TV Glow). Their song, “Another Season”—which they made with Kyle Pulley from Headroom—plays out after the film’s brutal, resounding last scene concludes, washing over the credits by blowing air back into your lungs. When writing lyrics to go on top of Pulley’s Portishead-style drumbeat, Quinlan pulled memories from their past, especially being 15 and getting their learner’s permit and listening to Radiohead’s Amnesiac while driving along backroads in their hometown:

“I think, when someone’s hoping to impact through visuals and through sound rather than explanation, I’m really drawn to things like that. The more I understood what the film was going to be, I just grew increasingly blown away by what was being made,” Quinlan says. “To hear what a coming-of-age film could be—because I’m pretty used to them all tending to have a similar premise—and to hear that it was approached from a ‘90s standpoint, when I was beginning to come of age, was extremely meaningful. I watched a lot of television growing up, and becoming increasingly aware of possible reasons why I was so enamored with a lot of shows and fantasy pieces, too, I’m still processing it myself. The more I spoke with Jane, the more the work and the meaning grew and grew for me, personally.”

Proper. bandleader Erik Garlington found himself resonating with the idea of how queerness was digested in the 1990s and why he didn’t come out until he was in his 20s (“How much longer can I ignore the apparition knowing at my door?” Garlington sings on “The 90s”). “Early on, I was like, ‘I don’t know how to put it into words,’” he says. “And then you get to 15, 16, like, ‘Okay, great. I know what the problem is and now I’m mortified.’” Garlington grew up in Mississippi, and his family is from Florida, South Carolina and Georgia—aka not a great environment to be attracted to men in. “It’s terrifying, so I wanted to draw on that real life horror story that so many people live through and put it in a nice, crisp, three-minute, upbeat package,” Garlington continues. Though Proper.’s song comes and goes in the film like a flash, its inclusion speaks volumes beyond a box office. “It feels like being seen,” Garlington exclaims.

The Weather Station’s Tamara Lindeman spoke at-length with Schoenbrun about the idea of 1990s television, and the director offered up a simple prompt for the musician: “If you were the band playing in the bar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, what song would you play?” Lindeman admits that her relationship to that decade isn’t a happy one. “It’s not an era that I remember with fondness,” she says. “For whatever reason, what my mind caught onto was the factor of melodrama. That is something that I think has stayed with me about the ‘90s, or that time in music.” Rather than reach backwards into inspirations from her own life, Lindeman tempered “Moonlight” with evocations of the colors and visuals that were in a PDF Schoenbrun had made of the TV Glow’s aesthetics. Made with Ben Whiteley, it sounds like a Weather Station song, rife with cinematic, synth-driven soundscapes. Lindeman was picturing someone with their hoodie up, walking through the suburbs at night. What she came up with was, as Schoenbrun aptly describes it, “nocturnal.”

I Saw the TV Glow

The suburbs play a massive part in I Saw the TV Glow’s emotional and physical arc. It’s a picturesque and complicated and, often, non-diverse mock-up of the American Dream—something we’ve seen in films like Lady Bird, American Beauty and The Breakfast Club, and those stories are told within the context of the narrators yearning to exit the homes that trap them. It’s paradoxical, how so many of us have fantasized about getting out of the suburbs by stepping into those very same worlds—which were almost always depicted more beautifully on the silver screen but could, in equal numbers, kill and other us just as quickly. Schoenbrun’s desire to work through their own relationship with media and how they dealt with feeling like an outsider in the suburbia they grew up in runs rampant throughout I Saw the TV Glow, too.

“This genre that I also love very much, which is the teen-angst, cult-classic kind of genre—the kind of movies that, when I was 15, I would rent from the video store and make my entire identity—I wanted to make one from this lens and purview of figuring out my identity later in life than most people do,” they say. “I knew that the tones that I was speaking within were the tones of teen angst. One of the best things about that genre and those movies is that they tend to come with iconic soundtracks, from John Hughes to Gregg Araki to Donnie Darko to Garden State. I knew that it would make sense for this movie to have a soundtrack that was more than just ‘promotional’ for the film—that it could be its own document.”

“I love soundtracks,” Quinlan says. “It’s not the kind of thing that everyone pays attention to, and I didn’t really consider that when I was younger. The fact that I owned the Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack and the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack—I didn’t realize that that was a particular style or type of thing to like. When you make something that has that dynamic—where the sound is chosen so specifically, the way that Jane chose the contributions—to think about how that extends beyond the film, like ‘Oh, this is something that you can revisit,’ it’s exciting.”

Though I Saw the TV Glow revolves around Owen and Maddy’s obsession with—and integration into—The Pink Opaque, Schoenbrun’s third directorial endeavor was always going to include a pivotal soundtrack indebted to the grungy, now-archaic yesteryear of Clinton’s America. The film itself is bursting at the seams with decades-old references and imagery—like Black & Milds, technicolor chip bags, baggy outfits accentuated by striped tops, all of which feel dated yet still exist prominently now. But the campy, practical effects of Mr. Melancholy conjure flickers of A Trip to the Moon, and the Pink Opaque villain’s name is a nod to the Smashing Pumpkins’ magnum opus, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Nu-metal hero and Limp Bizkit headmaster Fred Durst makes an appearance as Owen’s disturbing dad; contemporary alt-rock darling and Snail Mail bandleader Lindsey Jordan stars as Tara. The Pink Opaque is an homage to a compilation album of the same name released by the Cocteau Twins; Echo & The Bunnymen play a role in the sound, both in the “Bring On the Dancing Horses” energy of Drab Majesty’s track “Photograph” and the use of “The Killing Moon” in the film’s opening scene. “I’ve been listening to Echo & The Bunnymen for 100 years, so it’s embedded in my DNA,” Deb Demure quips. “I wanted to capture the emotional content I was deriving from the dialog. I wanted ‘Photograph’ to sound like a triumphant love song, but with some intrigue or mystery and a slight dash of spooky.”

I Saw the TV Glow

The accompanying soundtrack features 14 artists, all of whom explore varying states of youthful angst, intangible longing and identity crises. When Schoenbrun was working with music supervisors Chris Swanson and Jessican Berndt from Secretly Group and A24’s music team, they “tried to make sure they were curating an experience that could feel like [their] heart.” So, they pulled ideas from their favorite musicians to fit every genre they could while letting the artists bring their own perspectives to the table. “I’ve never curated in the music space before, but I’ve done a lot of film curation,” Schoenbrun says. “Something I took from my experiences is, when you’re working with a lot of different artists, everyone has their own process that they’re most comfortable with that lets them make their best and most personal work.”

Likewise, inspirations and motivations germinated from all over: Sprague read the film’s script; Proper. and Frances Quinlan were given moodboard images to reference; Lindeman received a PDF of the film’s outlined aesthetic; Taja Cheek, who performs as L’Rain, was originally going to give her song “I Killed Your Dog” to Schoenbrun, but instead was given the idea of “electricity” as a prompt, shown a rough cut of the film and invited to sit in on a Foley session; Sadurn’s six-minute song was a demo from the band’s forthcoming second album; Drab Majesty leaned into the Donnie Darko parallels; Strange read the premise of the movie and was immediately hooked.

“It was about giving each artist exactly how much they wanted and needed to make the right piece of this larger tapestry,” Schoenbrun continues. “I offered to send the script to anybody who wanted to read it, and others took a look at the pitch-deck to get [familiar with] the vibe and tone. I talked with each artist and made many of them curated, 10-song Spotify playlists. Each one was very individual to each artist. I really wanted to guide lightly, however I could. When I was sending music to Kris from King Woman, there was a lot of Sinead O’Connor on there, a lot of femme-grunge. When I was sending music to Frances from Hop Along, I was putting a lot of trip-hop on there, [saying], ‘I love your music, and I would be really curious to hear what you did in this sub-genre.’”

Schoenbrun refused to play it safe with any aspect of I Saw the TV Glow, and that oozes into the soundtrack and the conversations it might spark around taking risks on smaller, “out-there” artists. Cheek, whose experimental music has often been labeled “cinematic,” acknowledges that it’s been difficult to break into film music—aside from scoring—as an off-the-beaten-path creative. “I think the truth of the matter is that a lot of directors are very conservative,” she admits. “It is a different language. I think people who are music enthusiasts and who work in film, they’re able to see the connections. I was talking about this with Jane, where I was like, ‘I think that film editing is so similar to sound editing—the way that you think about it and the mechanics of it.”

“But, unless you’re talking to someone who has a real interest in and knowledge of music, I can understand people wanting to be more conservative, because it’s a different language and you use different words to describe what you want,” Cheek continues. “I think this is one of the first times that I have worked with someone who isn’t a musician by trade. But every time Jane would say something about music, I knew what they meant and what they wanted. It felt very clear and intentional. I think there’s a lot of us that are interested in this work, and it’s been hard to find the right entry point.”

The I Saw the TV Glow soundtrack is especially distinctive for its variety—and yet, it’s the most cohesive soundtrack released in the last 15 years. And every song gets used for at least a moment in the film; no musician’s contribution doesn’t fit. It’s a unicorn in that way, in how it matches the precise thematic unity that films like Garden State, Adventureland and Juno lent to their soundtracks in the 2000s. From rising superstar Polachek, whose current monthly listener count is at 2 million, to Proper., whose count remains at 19,000, Schoenbrun’s refusal to turn towards the most famous musicians for material in their A24 debut is refreshing. “I wanted to bring something really special to the soundtrack,” Strange says. “And when I heard who else was going to be on it, I was like, ‘Okay, this isn’t a “bring your fourth or fifth best song” [moment], this is “go hard, because people are about to go hard.”’ I was like, ‘I want to do something that’s different.’”

“So many of my favorite soundtracks could, hopefully, introduce people who loved the movie to a lot of artists, hopefully introduce people who love artists on the soundtrack to the movie, and expand the emotional experience of watching the film into another medium,” Schoenbrun adds. “I am and always have been a gigantic music nerd. Growing up, music was as important, if not more important, to me than anything else—in terms of media that I loved and clung to, in the way that Owen and Maddie clung to television. Getting to roll up my sleeves and be this curator/creative ringleader at the center of this process was a childhood dream come true. I said it during my first meeting with A24—‘I want to make the best soundtrack ever.’ I really wanted to give it the space, energy and love that it deserved on its own terms.”

“I think Jane is doing something cool, trying to bring back the really good ‘indie soundtrack’ movie, which we haven’t seen in a minute,” Sadurn’s Genevieve “G” DeGroot echoes. “When we saw the early edit of I Saw the TV Glow, we were all really viscerally affected by it. It felt very powerful, and I thought about it for so long afterwards. And that was just an early edit. It feels like a masterpiece, in a lot of ways,” DeGroot’s bandmate, Amelia Swain, adds.

“I remember finding out about bands through TV shows and movies as a kid,” Strange adds. “Remember [Polaris’] intro song for The Adventures of Pete & Pete? That shit was crazy. I hadn’t heard anything like that before and, when you’re young, you’re scanning the world for things that are you—and movies and TV shows are a way you do that. And if there’s music in it that makes you feel something, your ears perk up. That’s really cool about this soundtrack—all these people that are extremely successful, amazing, talented artists but, in the mainstream context, are probably unknown. This is a great way for people who are looking for something else to find something else, and the stamp of A24 legitimizes us in a way that we might not have been legitimized before.”

“It’s like, ‘This is it, this is the community. We can all just hang out and grab a beer and talk as friends. This is what I want to do, as long as everyone has fun,’” Garlington says. “It’s that punk ethos of ‘nobody wins if we don’t all win.’ And then I saw how many of my friends are on the soundtrack after the fact, and it felt like such a communal experience that everyone dreams of. I think it’s definitely going to inspire a lot of people to be like, ‘That’s possible for me. I want to do that,’ and then really see what the world holds for them.”

I Saw the TV Glow’s musical and narrative arcs collide as Sloppy Jane’s song “Claw Machine” saunters into frame. When Maddy reappears in town, she and Owen go to a bar on the outskirts of town—and it’s at this moment that she explains to him that they are actually Isabel and Tara, that the existence they’ve long believed to be real is, in fact, not, as Sloppy Jane’s Haley Dahl croons an absolutely stunning ballad. Dahl’s old bandmate Phoebe Bridgers, too, makes an appearance onstage with her, and the whole scene plays out like something you might have seen at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks. It’s Lynchian from beginning to end, and Dahl singing “I think I was born blue, I think I was born wanting more” sets Owen’s destiny aglow, as he unlocks moments of his own repression—including him trying on a dress at Maddy’s house. If Julee Cruise was David Lynch’s muse, then perhaps Haley Dahl is Jane Schoenbrun’s.

“The ‘90s were the heyday of the film soundtrack—it was much more of a thing back then for a movie to get a blockbuster soundtrack full of original songs from rad artists,” Schoenbrun says. “I loved my fair share of soundtracks growing up. It’s a trope of ‘90s television that all of the characters on the show hang out at a club in their small town—whether it’s Peach Pit or the Bronze—and, for some reason, in their small town, all of the bands on Interscope are coming through to play their new single. I really wanted to be playing on that lineage as well.”

The diegetic track draws from Dahl and Bridgers’ high school traumas, including the latter getting into a car crash—which is referenced in the last verse (“The worst part of the car crash was talking to her dad. I said I wasn’t scared, but I was thinking it”)—and the former’s troubled relationship with the internet. “It’s about an abstract sense of longing I had as a teenager—I think a lot of people had as a teenager,” Dahl explains. “I would lie in bed at night feeling like I violently missed someone or violently loved someone, even though there wasn’t anyone I was visualizing. It was more the idea of a someday, someone, or a time where I could have agency to meet other people I relate to and how that person had their own shitty teenage experience somewhere else right now, and I would meet them someday.”

“It also touches on some of my early ugly relationships with screens,” Dahl continues. “I grew up in the Tumblr era, where the pro-ana eating disorder and dark, icky parts of the internet were some of my earliest interactions. Also, the constant issue where you thought you were talking to other teenage girls, and that’s who you’re sending a photo of your stomach sucked in to, but it’s probably a pedophile old man somewhere. It’s a dark line, but it’s really true to my early-screen relationship. And I think probably a lot of people, unfortunately.” Sloppy Jane’s “Claw Machine” parallels a theme that Schoenburn explored in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, where the main character Casey (Anna Cobb) gets attached to a man online who watched her play a horror game that he feared was taking over her mind. Schoenburn likes to engage with the damages that dependencies on fictional media can have on people.

Originally, “Claw Machine” was meant to serve as an interlude between childhood innocence and adult reality, but Schoenbrun was so mesmerized by seeing King Woman perform “Psychic Wound” live that they ended up making space for Kristina Esfandiari to perform it onscreen (as well as write an original track, “Bury,” for the soundtrack). The way it unfurls in the final cut serves as a dream dissolving into a nightmare. “That scene in the club is the center of the movie. We’re leaving a nostalgic and colorful childhood behind and basically starting our descent into hell,” Schoenbrun says, grinning. At the bar, Esfandiari coats themselves in black and white gothic makeup and delivers guttural howls as Owen spirals into unrepression. “It was pure magic. You could tell that something important was about to happen,” Esfandiari recalls about being on set for their scene. “I looked over the script, so I had a rough idea of what it was gonna be like. But then, seeing it in the movie—seeing myself in a movie like that, it was so cool.”

The I Saw the TV Glow album will endure as groundbreaking, especially for indie musicians who otherwise might not be getting soundtrack or sync opportunities. These songs will make noise forever, and you can tell that the 14 artists on the tracklist see the doors about to break open for other filmmakers to follow in Schoenbrun’s footsteps. “I think what Jane is doing right now, with the soundtrack and the belief behind it, it has to be paving a way,” Sprague says. “It really is making a statement, and I think the story of the movie and the context—how it’s experimental, it’s telling a really scary version of the trans, queer coming of age—and featuring these indie musicians and having their stories really be a part of the film’s world, as well—it’s a lot to take in at once, but I feel like it’s what the world needs. I think it’s going to become a signpost for what can come after this. Everything about the movie and the soundtrack is brave, and I hope that people feel like that is an option for film. It’s an option to collaborate in this way with artists and not just play it safe.”

And Schoenbrun’s hands-off approach, where they let the artists guide themselves towards whatever conclusion was speaking to them, is an exercise of trust that should not be brushed off. “I have friends who do soundtrack work, and the difficulty of it is you’re trying to fit a piece of music to a very specific scene with specific pacing,” Lindeman says. “Making something before the filmmakers did and then having a filmmaker work it into the film was so freeing.” “I always say that you can tell when a director is really invested in music,” Cheek echoes. “You can see it in the cuts, you can tell by the way that music is being treated. And I definitely felt that way with Jane, for sure. There was clearly a lot of care that was put into all of this and the way that they interacted with me as just one small part of a very large soundtrack project. That was really mind-blowing for me. They showed me a rough cut of the film and talked me through it and asked me what I thought. This is my first ever real soundtrack contribution, but it seems like a really rare thing for a director to do. It’s holistic.”

“With [‘Riding Around in the Dark’], I really believed in the vision of [the film] and the trust between Jane and I,” Sprague says, echoing Cheek’s nod to Schoenbrun’s holistic approach to collaboration. “When we started talking about the process, they basically said, ‘Just go for it and we’ll keep talking.’ It felt so comfortable, and it felt so natural to make something that was really made both for this and inspired by it and something that I feel proud of, as a song. It didn’t feel like it was a gig, or something. I wanted to give it as much care as I would give anything that was going to become a Florist song. It was a great environment to do that.”

Garlington likens the end result to what he envisioned the indie scene would be like when he started playing music 20 years ago. “From day one, [Proper.] has been a band that cares about everyone having a good time and not grinding and not living on the road and not taking pay-to-play opportunities,” he says. [Being on the soundtrack] definitely feels like a gratification that, okay, maybe we do have something here. We’re an opening band, and we’re very happy to be able to be like, ‘If we keep doing this at this level until we die, we will feel like we are on top of the world.’ For a band like us, that has 10,000 monthly listeners at any given moment, it feels like that hunger of ‘Okay, now let’s see what else we can do now that there’s a door open.’”

Having a song in an A24 film can be a huge career moment, especially for smaller artists, which is why a band like Sadurn relinquishing the rights to a song like “How Can I Get Out?” speaks so greatly to the care, intent and passion that Schoenbrun radiates. “It was hard to sign away a song—that would otherwise go on the next record that I was writing—to another project and to say, ‘This is for this project and we’re not gonna put it on our record,’” DeGroot says. “That’s a big deal for us. We only would have done it for a very cool project that we thought was really special or important.”

Not only is I Saw the TV Glow now a torchbearer for the modern-day soundtrack, but the film is going to be a crucial text for queer and trans people for generations to come—and that includes the music, too, which is brimming with queer, femme, trans and POC artists who’ve found themselves in the film’s 100-minute runtime. “I’ve seen the movie three times and it’s one of my favorite films ever,” Garlington says. “It’s just so much representation, so much good storytelling, so much great visuals. It just happened to work out that our first time in this type of arena was something that I naturally would have flocked to in the theater, anyway.” Schoenburn’s story, of coming out and transitioning later in adulthood, has already started to resonate, as well. “I think what Jane made is so important and valuable to any age, certainly, but also to late bloomers,” Quinlan says.

The film deploys everything from body dysphoria to the wretched misconceptions of nostalgia. The Pink Opaque goes from being about badass teen psychics to being about ordinary neighborhood kids “defeating” malicious ice cream monsters with soup. The version of the show Owen once adored was one centered around Isabel and Tara, but that version ended with the two characters separated from each other, imprisoned by Mr. Melancholy and buried alive with their identities and existence canceled. We don’t know what is real in Owen’s world and what is a figment of his imagination in the wake of his continued, suppressed transness. The sixth season of the show is Owen accepting and acknowledging his true destiny. The sixth season of the show doesn’t come, at least not within the parameters of time that Schoenbrun elects to welcome us into. It’s text and subtext intertwined like the symbol written on Isabel and Tara’s necks.

But just as there is a passageway for Owen to enter and relieve his suffocation, Schoenbrun has left enough grace for the rest of us to breathe within the bookends of yeule’s glitching lilt and the open chest cavity like a lighthouse rebelling all that wants to slowly kill you. “My world can also exist in the world of the film,” Sprague concludes. There is a moment when, as Maddy walks away from Owen for the last time, viewers see “THERE IS STILL TIME” written in chalk on a suburban street—as if to say it’s never too late to find your own finale. It’s never too late to seize your own agency. I am in I Saw the TV Glow and so is yeule, Frances Quinlan, Caroline Polachek, Florist, Bartees Strange, Maria BC, King Woman, Jay Som, L’Rain, The Weather Station, Drab Majesty, Proper., Sadurn, Sloppy Jane, and you, and you, and you, too.

Matt Mitchell and Olivia Abercrombie are Paste‘s music editors.

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