Everything but the Song: There’s always something to be said about the music of ‘Insecure,’ mostly good things
Sunday’s fourth season premiere of “Insecure” opened on a high note. After waiting more than a year to witness Issa (Issa Rae) and her funny, drama-ridden friend group, of course, the expected opening shots of Los Angeles were a delight. Yet, even better than the series’ return was the music used in the premiere.
Opening with Tyler, the Creator’s “A BOY IS A GUN” is a unique yet fitting choice. Though I haven’t quite deciphered the eerie opening sequence with the less-popular “IGOR” track in the background, it works. Passing Randy’s Donuts, a neon “good vibes only” sign, vendor booths and the main stage of what seems to be Issa’s block party, the hook, “You so motherfuckin’ dangerous” with “No, don’t shoot me down,” humming beneath, seems to foreshadow the demise of Issa and Molly’s friendship. Yet, the placement could solely be a sonic choice — more so reflecting Issa’s quirky-Black personality. She’s no Odd Future member but the protagonist of HBO’s comedy series is arguably as odd as Tyler, the Creator himself.
Anytime I hear “We were low, we were high, Jekyll, Hyde / I’ll still stay by your side,” an instant smile graces my face. If there weren’t a Mereba track in this season, I’d honestly be shocked. “Sandstorm,” the single from her 2019 album “The Jungle Is The Only Way Out,” is set to more fly-over shots of Los Angeles, as well as Molly and Issa’s self-care Sunday.
“This week, we have a guided yoga session set to the Mereba album, along with some herbal enhancements pre-rolled to perfection,” Issa said, with the song playing in the background elevating the show’s storytelling. Erykah Badu’s “Green Eyes,” Goapele’s “Closer” or Amel Larrieux’s “For Real” could have served as the soundtrack to the duo’s smoke-and-yoga session, but they would’ve missed the mark as stereotypical choices for Black women who do yoga and smoke weed. The lesser-known “Sandstorm” is a more subtle choice that resonates with a contemporary audience.
Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” was the most annoying placement in the episode. I’d hate to use the word ratchet, but it best defines Issa’s tenant who requests the club anthem during Issa’s fundraiser. Hearing the track was initially funny as Issa’s brother-turned-DJ danced behind a makeshift booth. It also added to the trainwreck that her fundraiser was becoming.
To the scene’s downfall, “All you ladies pop your pussy like this / Shake your body, don’t stop, don’t miss,” exemplifies the elements of the series that seem almost cherry-picked from Black Twitter. The selection, paired with the character who embodies it, is stereotypical and too on-the-nose. It’s an eye-roll among the other nine songs featured in the premiere, but I’m not surprised. I’m not sure if “Insecure” could survive without its caricatures.
Unpacking every song played during the “Lowkey Feelin’ Myself” episode would be nonsensical. Anyone who’s seen the previous seasons is aware of how “Insecure” consistently delivers on the music front. More importantly is how the show’s music choices are effective in complementing an aesthetic crafted over the past few seasons. Featured are unsung heroes, such as Jazmine Sullivan’s work on the title track “Insecure” or popular newcomers like SZA’s “Supermodel” ending season two’s “Hella Questions.” Never does the show feel like a drawn-out music video, à la Hype Williams’ “Belly.” Better yet, the show’s soundtrack is reflective of a new-age of Black television, highlighting familiar settings in a new way — as FX’s “Atlanta” does — while showcasing new talent and fresh ideas.
In a 2018 interview with Billboard, music supervisor Kier Lehman described the show’s musical tone: “The style of music they use feels very West Coast, like L.A. — very modern, not a throwback or a stereotype.” I couldn’t agree more, although “My Neck, My Back” is a glaring cliché. It’s representative of a new-age L.A. — it’s music I, as a 21-year-old, would listen to on a trip to Simply Wholesome or with friends at a strip of the beach in between Santa Monica and Malibu.
For a while, I longed for television to return to the tradition of celebrity musical appearances which populated ’90s sitcoms: think of Boyz II Men on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Yet when imagining a possible Megan Thee Stallion or Lucky Daye cameo, I can’t place it perfectly. It would come off as basic and another way to force celebrity culture down our throats. In lieu of this, “Insecure” gives us a selection of songs that ease us into Issa’s world and heighten moments such as her clique’s appearance at the Kiss ‘n’ Grind party. Taste is rare, especially when it comes to music. Better yet, taste is subjective. Kudos to Rae and Lehman for having it.
Ellice Ellis is a senior writing about the music industry and social justice. She is also an Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Daily Trojan. Her column “Everything but the Song” runs every other Wednesday.