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TV Music Profile: Pretty Little Liars

July 18, 2016

For this month’s blog, we thought we’d try something a little different. We’re going to take a look at music licensing in the context of a single show. What kind of music does it use? What makes its music placements successful (or not)? And how is music used to create a consistent vision for the show?

The show we’ve selected for this particular study is ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars,” currently in its 7th and likely final season. Pretty Little Liars  is the longest-running show on Freeform, formerly ABC family, and has cultivated a large and devoted fanbase.

Pretty Little Liars places a huge amount of focus (and money) on its soundtrack. Track lists for the show are a veritable who’s who of up-and-coming pop artists, and have included Lady Gaga, Pink, Florence and the Machine, Lykke Li, Selena Gomez, Colbie Caillat, Rachel Platten, Passion Pit, and The Fray.

In general, the music choices for Pretty Little Liars are informed by its audience – PLL is heavily targeted towards teen girls, and its demographic reports strongly reflect that. PLL loves to showcase female vocals in particular, and often choose songs centered on empowerment, romance, and mischievousness.

Here are 5 key musical moments from the show:

The Theme Song

The theme song to Pretty Little Liars is “Secret” by The Pierces. Interestingly, the track was not chosen by the music supervisor, but by Ashley Benson, one of the film’s stars. The song’s playful-yet-dark tone sets the stage for the twists and turns of PLL’s plotlines. The lyrics in particular could not be more well-suited to the show – “Two can’t keep a secret if one of them is dead.” A pitch-perfect intro for a drama filled with secrets, betrayal, and a hefty dose of murder.

Maya’s Death

The death of the character Maya in Season 2 Episode 25 is underscored with an interesting choice of music – “Suggestions” by Orelia. The four main characters return home to find the body of their friend, the impact of which is complemented by the lyrics – “It just takes a second for my world to come crumbling down.” The track is an interesting juxtaposition as it has a somewhat light, almost cheerful quality to it – which makes for a striking and emotional scene.

Ezra and Aria’s Kiss

Every teen drama needs romance, and every romance needs a great kiss. That kiss arrived in Season 2 Episode 17, when the characters Ezra and Aria shared a passionate moment in the rain, set to The Rescues’ “My Heart With You.” It’s a great choice of music, especially the use of both male and female vocals – telling us that both characters are feeling the same way towards each other. “Waited a hundred years to see your face / and I would wait a hundred more.” It’s a simple love song for a simple moment – a timeless combination.

The Liars are in Trouble

Not all of the show’s musical moments are heavy and dramatic. There are countless scenes where we get to see the main characters partying, laughing, and generally having a good time. Ironically, one of these moments comes when the girls are at a camp, picking up trash as a form of community service in Season2 Episode 14. The song “Trouble” by KC (courtesy of CrucialMusic) plays over the scene, a bouncy, catchy pop tune that adds some lightness to what could be a dull slog of a scene.

The Liars are Found Guilty

In a shocker of a Season 5 finale, one of the Liars is found guilty of murder, and the others are arrested as accessories. We see their devastated reactions, set to Maggie Eckford’s “Everything is Lost,” which features the repeated lyric “This is the end of me.” The audience is left wondering, is this the end? The situation seems hopeless, and the song’s powerful production and emotional vocal performance add immense weight to the defining moment of the season.

The music of Pretty Little Liars tends to fall into a single category: modern alternative pop, often with female vocals. Still, this allows for a wide variety of emotions and sounds, making for a colorful yet consistent soundtrack to the show. Simply put, the music supervisor, Chris Mollere, knows what PLL's audience wants, and gives it to them in big, satisfying doses. It’s no wonder the PLL fan base spends an inordinate amount of time tracking down every little piece of music heard in the show – these fans are using it as a way to discover new artists and connect with others. Pretty Little Liars has become, in the vein of shows like Grey’s Anatomy, a breeding ground for pop talent and a highly successful vehicle for music licensing.

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