When it comes to Insecure, the music is just as liable to get Twitter buzzing as much as any relationship twist. Issa Rae has said that the music each season is basically an extension of her personal playlist, but that in no way shortchanges what Kier Lehman brings to the table. The veteran music supervisor has been a part of the show since day one, helping establish its reputation as a series where audiences keep one hand hovering over the Shazam button—so much so that it’s become a sought-after destination for artists to break new music. Four seasons in, Issa and Kier are working overtime to stay one step ahead of the audience and our expectations. There is still such thing as a placement that’s too obvious, or worse, not new enough.
In Season 4, the music sets the mood even moreso than usual as the episodes find the characters in maturer but also more emotional places. With that, we figured we’d check-in with the ever-busy Kier—who’s gearing up to work on Space Jam: A New Legacy, following his recent work on Queen & Slim and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse—to get his perspective on the season, the specific challenges it presented, as well as get some teases for big musical moments to come in this last half.
So the block party episode was a big undertaking, but was it kind of a break for you since most of the music was diegetic sound in this case?
No, that was a lot of work. I saw the script and I was like, “Oh boy. Okay, here we go.” So that was a lot of setup because I oversee all the music that’s on-screen, too. So I was like setting up all those performances, clearing all the songs, getting the artists to come get their wardrobe done, figure out what the band is going to be on stage, how we’re going to record their performance. So there’s a lot of pre-production involved in that. Then we still had, basically, the same amount of music as a normal episode on top of the music and the performances. So it was an extra big episode.
Would you say that was the peak of your work for this season or is there still an ace up your sleeve for the back half?
Getting past that was a big hump. It’s always a lot, but it was back on kind of normal track [after that].
I was talking to Issa a couple of weeks ago about the music that she’s been listening to in her personal life and she mentioned that she doesn’t like to answer that question because the show is an extension of her personal playlist. What is the process like for you supervising for this show since it’s so personal then? Has it changed since the show began?
It’s a conversation between me and Issa and sharing music with her. We’ve done a few seasons now, so we worked out a process that works well for us as far as me sharing music with her and the editors and starting to place things in the episode as we start working on it, and then developing that through the various versions of the episode as they cut it and recut it.
I start giving the editors music, they’re working with it as they’re cutting it together. She sees the version of it. She takes stuff out, puts things in that she’s been thinking about and wanting to use. Then we get back together and talk about it again and we go through and see, if there’s stuff that we’re still not happy with. I send her some more options. Sometimes I might suggest a few ideas for a scene and she’s not satisfied yet. So then she’ll come back to me like, “Hey, can you try these three things?” So we’ll go kind of just back and forth that way.
How does the story affect the music selection in a general sense? Watching this season, you get the sense that the characters have matured a little bit. Does that mean maturer selections? Some of the chill like Steve Lacy, Tyler, The Creator songs create a more grown up mood.
Yeah, I think we’re really intentional about using the music to tell the stories, set the mood, lyrically speak to the characters in their dialogue. So it definitely is a reflection of where the story is and where the character is and the different characters are kind of in their storyline.
From the outset, the show’s always had a position of being cutting edge in terms of contemporary music. Is it still important to stay forward-facing and make sure you’re incorporating newer artists?
Yeah, it’s really important still always, and I think it’s something we’ve become known for and we want to keep pushing forward and developing that part of the show and the soundtrack. It’s a challenge as far as getting music in ahead of time that was going to be “on time” when the show comes out.
One of the things that we did this season more than we had in the past was actively work with artists to create new music with the show in mind so that we were creating a lot of the music ahead of time, so that we could release it with the show. That helped us be ahead of the releases and also use our creative direction to influence some of the music that was being created.
When Issa and I were talking about music, she mentioned that Giveon as someone that she’s been really into and she actually ended up removing another selection that she had in place of a new EP he was putting out just because she was connecting to it so deeply.
Sometimes songs will live in there for a while and then something will come through that just feels really important to include in the show. So sometimes at the last minute, things will get replaced like that. Part of it is being on time when the show comes out, but also things that really connect with us—with Issa especially, things that connect strongly with her, [it’s] important to make sure that that’s represented in the show.
Are there any new artists, or fairly new artists, that you’ve been excited to feature on the show?
I was really excited about St. Panther. That was somebody that I discovered a few months ago and just felt like to play for the show. I think Kirby was somebody who really found her voice over the past year. We’ve been hearing the music that she was working on and about to put out. She appears a few times this season and was one of those voices that became a…how do I describe it? It’s like, each season, we have artists who we’ll feature a couple of their songs in a couple of different episodes. So they become artists that the voices are really connected to the show. So she became one of those artists for season four.
It’s funny you say that, because thinking about the series overall, I’ve always noticed a lot of Tyler. I know Issa’s been very vocal about how much she loves IGOR, so it was dope to see songs from that album across this season.
I think there’s probably one of his songs in every season, at least two and three. People like TT the Artist, who we have coming back, her music’s featured this season. BOSCO. So we definitely stayed close to some of our key voices and brought some new ones in.
Tyler is a good example of how you guys sometimes use music as a storytelling device—I want to say it was the marathon episode where “Boredom” was used to reset the narrative for each character’s separate storyline.
Right, right. We kept playing it a few times each time we reset the story and I think his lyrics and a lot of his stuff just really speak to the stories and the lives of these kinds of characters.
New music is always fun, but people were very excited to see a throwback like Mya’s “Case of the Ex” in a recent episode.
We don’t get to do that very much. I’m trying to think of the best way to explain. We don’t feature a lot of throwbacks or older big songs. I think a lot of that has to do with budget, but also creatively, we found our sound and our style early in season one where we established this discovery and independent artists and LA artists and female artists. So we definitely focused on that, but I think this season, Issa really wanted to try to explore how we can incorporate some of those songs that get people excited or remind them of something that’s very familiar or things that they can connect it to their past and things like that, so people have a nostalgia for them. I think it was season three with the Teedra Moses song, people went nuts over that. It’s like bringing back those things that people remember and connect with, and putting it in this context of new stories can really be powerful.
Was there a selection or a moment, be it this season, or just the series in general, that you guys figured would be a big challenge or a big risk for the audience?
There’s an episode that calls for some different music than what we are used to, it’s got a different feel to it, musically. It’s not like a huge departure, but it’s a little bit different because of the episode .
Do you have an overall favorite selection from the series, like a really special moment, whether it was new or it just was fun, you’ve always wanted to play somewhere?
Oh, wow I think probably my favorite moment that comes to mind [is] episode 10 [of this season]. So I can’t really tell you, but there’s a special montage with some really beautiful music in it. It’s from one of our favorite artists. It’s a beautiful montage of some really impactful images that just like…it hits me when I watch it. It took me a couple of times of seeing the episode actually [to] really see what it is, but I don’t think the audience will have a hard time seeing it. But I think one of the things about this season in general is, the emotions, I think, are heightened. There’s more touching, emotional moments than we’ve had in the past. I think then musically, we support those moments and we reflect those moments in some really beautiful ways. And that one in particular really touches me when I watch it and think about it. I love the combination of the music and the images that we put together.
[Another favorite] was the Jidenna song “Feng Shui,” the opener of episode three. I love that song so much and was hoping that we would be able to find a good spot for it. Issa responded really strongly to it, too. I was really excited about the placement and then the fact that we got to have it on the soundtrack and put it out it was just really rewarding. Also because Jidenna’s a friend of the show and somebody who was close to the show. I like all the songs on the soundtrack, but that’s probably my favorite and one that I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing that all summer.
Switching gears, I know you’re working on Space Jam and I’m sure you can’t say too much about that. But just in a general sense, what was it like stepping up for this considering Space Jam’s almost just as well-known for its soundtrack as it is for everything else?
Big shoes to fill for sure and a high a bar has been set for what the music of that movie is, but I think one of the great things about working on a project like that is that people are excited to be involved in it. So artists are … want to contribute, want to be a part of it, want to do what they can to, to write for it, and be a part of the soundtrack and all that. So that’s kind of exciting part of it and the thing that, I think, will help us kind of continue to reach the bar and raise the bar on what a Space Jam soundtrack could be. It’s early, as you can imagine, but it’s something that we are working on and really excited to share in a year from now.