Nearly 2 million people tuned into HBO for the season finale of Big Little Lies on Sunday night, per Variety, and when considering the network’s streaming platforms, HBO GO and HBO NOW, that number looks more like 3.1 million. So despite mixed reviews on the season as a whole, some of which questioned its very purpose, TV watchers showed up—even if it was just for Laura Dern.
And as it happens, folks are also showing up for the series’ music in big ways. The unofficial Big Little Lies Spotify playlist, which contains songs from both seasons, has a follower count of 600,000. That’s more than those of Jim James and Charles Bradley, two artists featured on the official Season Two soundtrack, combined. Both seasons use a heavy dose of neo and classic soul, modern indie-folk, some alternative rock and a touch of funk. That’s all textbook HBO: Other network dramedies like Girls, Insecure and Barry are similarly soundtracked. So why do we care about these Big Little jives so much?
Maybe because it’s 2019, we’re all exhausted and Renata dancing her still-rich ass all over her massive patio-with-an-ocean-view to Diana Ross’ “It’s My House” is a damn mood boost. And that’s just one in a whole season (actually, series, but the Season One soundtrack is worth its own tribute) of juicy musical moments. Big Little Lies is the visual equivalent of a bar of dark chocolate: rich, sweet-tooth-inducing, cravings-curing fodder. And the music is the caramel filling, or maybe the sea salt crunch: flavor amplifiers.
This season’s performances by powerhouses Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and the whole lot are phenomenal, but faced with such a choppy and seemingly pointless plot, we really just tune in for this show’s endless stream of sweet nothings: feisty meet-ups at coffee shops that could pass for fairy houses, Renata dishing it out on the daily to Gordon, kids being cute kids, disco costumes, long stares out big windows with even bigger glasses of red wine, toy trains, ice cream food fights (or lack thereof) and memes upon memes upon memes. And also music.
Season Two isn’t the first time Big Little Lies’s music supervision team hit it out of the park. The theme song from Season One, which carried over in a slower acoustic version to Season Two, is Michael Kiwanuka’s sensual and slightly eerie “Cold Little Heart,” and it’s now easily the British musician’s claim to fame.
The rest of that season’s best soundbytes are courtesy of Madeline and Ed’s precocious first-grader Chloe, who inexplicably has the taste of a craft-beer-drinking Gen Y SPIN subscriber. She throws on Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” in a limo full of tennis moms and daughters on the way to a birthday party. She plays Frank Ocean in the car and St. Paul and the Broken Bones on the family TV. In one particularly moving scene, she even comforts distraught classmates with Leon Bridges’ “River.” Paul Janeway and co. saw a boost in streams for their plug “Grass is Greener,” “Super Rich Kids” acquired a whole new meaning and American audiences fell in love with a six-year-old tastemaker. Everybody wins.
In Season Two, we (sadly) have less moments with Chloe and her mature jukebox, but there’s still enough great music to account for some of the season’s best moments. The most entertaining by far is the aforementioned Renata scene in which she dons a red suit for a magazine shoot and mouths “It’s My House” into the camera, dancing and power-stancing all the while. Chloe’s older sister Abigail gets her own moment in the spotlight when she moodily listens to Portishead in a bedroom decked out with Sub Pop posters. Shailene Woodley’s Jane cuts loose to Sufjan Stevens’ “Mystery of Love” (originally written for another masterwork in aesthetics, the 2017 film Call Me by Your Name) on the beach as waves crash indifferently to the shore. It’s a brief escape from Jane’s ongoing parenting crisis and PTSD, and it’s one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole season.
Cassandra Wilson’s strange and gorgeous cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” opens the season. Jim James and Leon Bridges both penned new originals for the show, two songs that are worth listening to entirely on their own. And in the finale, which was mostly a letdown that leaves us pretty much back where we started the season, Willie and Paula Nelson’s version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” soundtracks a gushy montage of all the characters’ storylines becoming fully realized. The soundtrack is nearly perfect—it never hits a sour note, always supplies the right sound for the mood and entertains endlessly. You know it’s a truly great soundtrack because it works both on the show and on its own.
All that being said, this season had a lot of issues, not least among them its very existence, which I’m still not sure was necessary after the first go-around: a triumphantly beautiful, suspenseful and perfectly adequate adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s book. Season One was satisfying, but now I just have a stomach ache from all that dark chocolate. So I’m really not hungry for a Big Little Lies season three—unless, of course, it’s just Renata sashaying around Monterey in more brightly colored suits, bossing everyone around and being generally over-the-top, all to the sound of a groovy disco soundtrack. Now that, I’m still craving.
Big Little Lies: Music From Season 2 of the HBO Limited Series is out now digitally. The CD is out Sept. 6, and the vinyl Sept. 27. Big Little Lies Season Two is currently streaming on HBO.