20 Streaming TV Shows For Music Lovers On Lockdown
Depending on where you live in the United States, turning the calendar from April to May means entering the second or third month of an indefinite period of social distancing. With little other choice in the way of entertainment, people have naturally turned to streaming TV to fill the time and to escape from the increasingly bleak news. Deciding among the available options can be overwhelming, however, and even a trending phenomenon like Tiger King can fall off the radar in an instant.
More than a way to burn through the hours cooped up at home, though, television can be a vital vehicle for music discovery. With the recent arrival of a Spike Jonze-directed Beastie Boys documentary on Apple TV, the ongoing Bachelormusical spin-off Listen to Your Heart and the upcoming release of Damien Chazelle's modern Parisian jazz tale The Eddy, now is as good a time as ever to stream TV with an ear towards the soundtrack.
From the stories of real-life musicians to scripted series with great music supervision, here are a few categories of music television to brighten your lockdown — and maybe inspire your next playlist.
Stories About Music And Musicians
Beastie Boys Story(2020)
One part live storytelling performance, one part career retrospective and one part tribute to late Beastie Boys MC Adam Yauch, Beastie Boysstory is as form and genre-agnostic as the influential band that it profiles. Spike Jonze's documentary is centered around the two living Beasties, Adam Horowitz and Michael Diamond, re-telling the story of their journey from New York hardcore scene teens to international rap party boys to the boundary-redefining hip-hop artists they eventually became.
Streaming on:Apple TV+
The Eddy is the first foray into television for Damien Chazelle, writer and director of Whiplashand La La Land. Chazelle is responsible for some of the most memorable onscreen depictions of jazz performance in the last decade, and The Eddy-- starring Andre Holland as an American musician struggling to keep his Parisian jazz club open — promises to continue the streak. The series premieres May 8.
Streaming on: Netflix
No one makes docuseries more sweeping, meticulous or detailed than those of Ken Burns. His most recent project is Country Music, an eight-part exploration of the distinctly American art form's long history. The series is a must-watch if you are a longtime loves of all things country and western — and if you are an "anything but country" type, the care and precision of Burns' storytelling might just show you the error of your ways.
Streaming on:PBS Passport, Amazon Prime
Nashville's six seasons told a soapy tale of drama, betrayal, jealousy and country music, set of course in the genre's capital. T Bone Burnett — who helped spark the modern Americana renaissance with his deftly curated O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack — was the show's music director for its first season, and stars as noteworthy as Lucinda Williams and Patty Griffin contributed songs. If you're interested in high drama, industry shenanigans and honest-to-goodness great original country songs, look no further.
The Get Down(2016-2017)
A one-season Netflix drama, The Get Down follows a fictional group of aspiring rappers, DJs and artists in the South Bronx, just as hip-hop is taking root in the late 1970s. In their quest to make a dent in the nascent form, interact with real-life hip-hop founders Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa — or at least actors playing them. It's a fun, fast-paced watch that showcases some classic hip-hop and also functions as a light history lesson on the origins of a style that has taken over the world.
Wu-Tang: An American Saga(2019)
If you're already a fan of the most important group ever to come out of Staten Island, then the sell for a TV show dramatizing the beginnings of the Wu-Tang Clan is easy. If you're not, the RZA-helmed biographical drama Wu-Tang: An American Saga functions as an excellent primer for how unique the group's music was and still is.
Flight of the Conchords(2007-2009)
The trials and tribulations of "New Zealand's fourth most popular folk parody duo" trying to make it big in America made for a mashup of sitcom and musical rarely seen befre when the show arrived in 2007. But the real key to Flight of the Conchords is that the songs of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie aren't just funny — many are deeply catchy, even out of context. (If you're not a French speaker, "Foux Du Fafa" could be an upbeat lounge single from the 1960s.)
Shows With Great Soundtracks
Now in its fourth season, Issa Rae's Insecurehas developed a well-deserved reputation for picking out new hip-hop and R&B tracks that fit its moods perfectly. It's also extremely bingeable, a combination of sharp comedic writing and hook-you-in drama. For a crash course on some of the best R&B released since 2016, you could do much worse than making your way through Insecure and writing down every song you hear.
Streaming on: HBO
With needle drops on classic rock mainstays like David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix alongside contemporary artists like Y La Bamba and Omar Apollo, this new spin on the 2000 filmis anchored by exactly the kind of painstakingly eclectic soundtrack you'd expect from a show about the owner of a record store. It's also a story made to inspire spirited music debates with friends, which can be a blast even when it's happening over a video call.
There is perhaps no single showcase for the depth and scope of the late Adam Schlesinger's musical prowess better than Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: The Fountains of Wayne songwriter wrote or co-wrote 157 original songs over the show's four-season run. If you want a sense of why music communities were so particularly devastated by his loss, making your way through Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and the smart, genre-hopping tunes in each episode is a great place to start.
Considering it is written by and stars Donald Glover, one of the brightest and most multifaceted talents in music and Hollywood right now, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Atlanta is full of smart music references, clever song placements and perfectly deployed rapper cameos. If you're a fan of contemporary hip-hop, the show is worth watching just for the season-one Migos appearance. Plus, the fictional trap banger that instigates Atlanta's plot is pretty good in its own right.
Babylon Berlinis a German neo-noir set in Weimar-era Berlin, more specifically in its bars and nightclubs. The show's creators took capturing the era's music so seriously that they assembled a 14-piece band to record the soundtrack and perform in the nightclub scenes — and in turn, that group has now become a serious touring orchestra in Germany.
Twin Peaks(1990-1991, 2017)
David Lynch's cult classic about a myserious murder in an eerily insular town in the Pacific Northwest is surreal, perplexing and impeccably scored. The theme song and most of the soundtrack is ambient synth-driven pop tunes do much of the heavy lifting in establishing the show's atmosphere. If you exhaust the two seasons from the early 1990s, the series was also revived for one year as Twin Peaks: The Return in 2017, available for streaming on Showtime.
Streaming on: Netflix, Hulu, Showtime
Samurai Champloo is a critically acclaimed but short-lived anime from 2004 whose influence you might recognize in a certain corner of hip-hop today. The late Japanese production titan Nujabes wrote the show's opening and closing themes as well as much of the soundtrack, and the combination of sleek animated visuals and his signature melodic, sample-heavy hip-hop struck a chord that still reverberates today. If you have ever studied or relaxed to a lo-fi hip-hop beat, you can thank the work that Nujabes did on this soundtrack.
Streaming on: Hulu
For better and for worse, no show makes more creative use of pop music than Westworld, HBO's often thrilling, often frustrating, always confusing dystopian sci-fi western. To help create the show's eerie both past and future atmosphere, Ramin Djawadi scored it with old-fashioned player piano reimaginings of popular music. At their worst, the songs are too on the nose and make the show into a game of "Name That Tune." But at their best — like the season-one transformation of The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" into a sweeping Ennio Morricone-style orchestral epic — they create exhilarating moments of recognition that draw you further into the scene and put familiar songs in a new light.
The Americans (2013-2018)
Credit to NPR Music contributor Hanif Abdurraqib for inspiring this pick. It can be difficult for a historical drama to pull off pop song placements that don't feel too obvious or too clever, but The Americans manages to thread the needle, setting thrilling scenes of '80s Cold War espionage and betrayal to a smart mix of massive hits and hidden gems from the era.
Streaming on: Amazon Prime
The Last Dance(2020)
You'll need to have at least a passing interest in basketball to get anything out of The Last Dance, ESPN's 10-part documentary epic covering Michael Jordan's final year with the Chicago Bulls, but the show will more than reward you musically. So far, each episode has featured at least one absolutely immaculately paired montage — from the earth-shattering ease of Jordan's early career highlights set to Eric B. & Rakim's equally casually jaw-dropping "I Ain't No Joke" to Dennis Rodman jumping into the stands to the tune of the Beastie Boys' "The Maestro." The series is airing Sundays on ESPN, and will come to Netflix July 19.
Streaming on:ESPN, Netflix(after July 19)
Bonus Section: Competition Shows
The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart (2020)
As one contestant — who presumably has not watched the 2017 Bradley Cooper film all the way to the end — sums up in a trailer, the appeal of the newest Bachelorspinoff is simple: It's a reality TV A Star is Born. Combining two of the most tried and true reality formats, Listen to Your Heartis both a dating show and music competition, in which single musicians couple up and then perform duets to impress a rotating series of celebrity judges.
Rhythm + Flow (2019-Present)
Featuring Chance the Rapper, Cardi B and T.I. as judges — as well as guest appearances from Snoop Dogg, Anderson .Paak, Fat Joe and others — Rhythm + Flow pits up-and-coming rappers from across the country against each other for $250,000 and the exposure that comes from impressing so many famous faces. If you don't mind a spoiler and want a taste of the talent competing on the show, here's a link to the most recent music video from the first season's eventual winner.
The Masked Singer (2019-Present)
By now, you are surely familiar with The Masked Singer, the Korean game show concept turned worldwide phenomenon in which celebrities in elaborate disguises sing karaoke and only reveal their true identities upon elimination. It's a bit of a mess — the format and rules seem to change between episodes, and it is never fully clear what the judges actually do — but as a pure streamable spectacle it is unmatched. The inherent mystery makes it an extra-fun watch with a group, and you'd be surprised how much seeing an unknown celebrity belt out a pop favorite from underneath an oversized animal mask can take your mind off of troubling world events for a little bit.
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