What do Lizzo, Maggie Rogers, and Sigrid have in common? Aside from releasing breakout albums in 2019, each artist has had her music featured on the third season of Freeform's hit dramedy The Bold Type. Part juicy journalism drama, part Sex and the City-esque comedy, the series — which chronicles the lives of three besties working for a glossy women's magazine in Manhattan — has resonated because it tackles vital issues that young women face today, like sexism, cancel culture, and Internet harassment. But the show also shines thanks to its soundtrack — like The O.C. and Grey's Anatomy before it, The Bold Type uses fresh and relevant tunes that weave into plot lines, making the music a central thread of the show's fabric. Notably, that thread spotlights women in ways no other series on television is doing.
In April, the show's music supervisor, Rob Lowry, tweeted, "We only use artists on #TheBoldType that identify as a woman or non-binary (there are very few exceptions). Yes, this is purposeful. I had to fight for this creative decision. It is important." His mentions were promptly flooded with positive feedback from some fans who had already picked up on the show's female-driven soundtrack, and others who hadn't. After all, Lowry had never explicitly acknowledged that creative decision, but as he recalled to MTV News a few weeks later, he wanted to highlight the fact and make it known that The Bold Type's musical blueprint puts it in a league of its own.
Lowry, who has worked on The Bold Type since the series premiered in June 2017, didn't set out with the intention of exclusively using music made by women. In fact, about half of the songs used in the pilot episode were by male artists. But as the show found its footing over the course of Season 1, its musical identity began to take shape.
"If I was working on a show that took place in 1972, I would only want to use songs from 1972 or beforehand. I see Bold Type and the soundtrack playing a role in the show in a similar way," Lowry explained. "This is a show about strong women, diversity, identity, empowering yourself, and feeling comfortable in your skin. So it only makes sense that the people soundtracking the show would also be women talking about these things."
Lowry gives the example of a scene from the second episode of Season 1, when Kat proves herself an invaluable friend by gamely helping Jane get a Yoni egg unstuck from her vagina. "What does a male perspective and voice have to comment on that situation?" he asked.
Showrunner Amanda Lasher recalls that when she joined The Bold Type for Season 2, Lowry and series creator Sarah Watson were keen to continue evolving the women-powered soundtrack, because the audience was "really responding to it." She explained, "I think that there's a depth to the feminism and the female lens of the show. The more levels it's baked into, the more it's going to resonate."
While music may be an afterthought for some television shows, Lasher described it as an integral component of The Bold Type. It gives real-life context to the progressiveness and inclusivity viewers see onscreen.
"Everybody is cognizant that they're working on a show that has a point of view and is portraying women in a way that is empowering and that's intentional," she said. "And I think, more than some of the other shows I've worked on, people are really proud of the message that The Bold Type is putting out there, so they bring a thoughtfulness to their choices."
That's not to say that the team's music strategy went immediately unquestioned. As Lowry indicated in his tweet from April, he faced some "resistance" from higher-ups who worried that his music choices were too monotonous.
"I remember there was a scene in particular where we got a note about, 'Why isn't there a male vocal here?'" Lowry recalled. "Because it was all women singing, I think some people felt like it was just a wall of music and you weren't really able to differentiate between the songs or the vocals or the sound. Which is kind of silly to me, because when you hear a Dua Lipa song, you know that's not Camilla Cabello. That's a pretty bland note, and it's kind of a lazy note."
And while the team's creative decision does, technically, restrict them by giving them fewer options for songs, Lowry has never felt hindered by it, simply because of the sheer quantity of music available. "It does put us in a box in a sense, but to me, it's exciting. I like the challenge," he said. More importantly, it's a challenge with a purpose — that creative decision, he says, is about heightening and deepening the narrative of what's happening onscreen, especially because the show is "telling underserved stories." It also has ripple effects behind the camera; the stories seen onscreen are supplemented by the stories of female artists sharing their own music, their own words, and their own experiences.
Singer-songwriter FLETCHER, whose song "Gold" was featured in Season 1, told MTV News, "The fact that it's a show about the female perspective and female stories, who better than to have narrating the storylines and the music behind it than female and non-binary artists? There's not enough women on radio or on playlists, and I love that this show is a space for female artists like myself."
Part of the way the show shares those stories of female and non-binary artists is by using their music intentionally. This season, for example, there's an episode called "Plus It Up" that centers around an elaborate Queer Prom fundraiser. The episode featured primarily LGBTQ artists and specifically women of color, like Lao Ra and Kehlani. Doing so enhanced the story being told onscreen while also highlighting underrepresented artists and sharing their music in a way that took their own identities into account.
As Lowry conceded in his tweet, there are exceptions to the show's "women only" music rule. In the third episode of Season 3, there's a storyline involving Alex, a male writer at Scarlet who takes a hard look at his dating life after realizing he's the subject of a viral #MeToo exposé. During a pivotal scene for him, the song that plays is "I Know" by the male electronic producer Bayonne — it was a musical choice that fit Alex's perspective and the scene's transition, Lowry explained. Exceptions like that are few and far between, though, especially now that the show's musical DNA is firmly established. To hear Lowry explain it, "female-driven" is only part of that identity; more than anything, it's about the feeling the music conveys.
"Even talking about how we only use female artists, I'm not entirely sure how to say that because 'female' is not a genre; it's not an identifying factor for a piece of music," Lowry said. "But obviously, women being at the forefront is a huge part of it. Beyond that, a lot of [our music] does feel anthemic. It feels empowering. These songs have a lot of emotions packed into them. For a lot of them, we do the goosebumps test, where it's like, did that song give you goosebumps in that moment? If it didn't, we're going to find something better."
That litmus test has given way to some of the series' most thrilling musical moments to date, from Selena Gomez's "Hands to Myself" playing over Jane and Pinstripe's first kiss, to MILCK's "Quiet" soundtracking the climactic Season 1 finale that shined a light on sexual assault survivors. This season, the music has only continued elevating — Lowry scored a coveted Taylor Swift sync, and the premiere episode featured a performance from Betty Who, appearing as herself. Who is a longtime fan of the show, and she explained to MTV News why it's important to her that the show uses art in a thoughtful way.
"It's so fucking cool. I love that the show is so progressive and they care about their impact in the choices they make," she said. "They don't have to. [Lowry] could just pick whatever songs he wanted and nobody would think about it twice because nobody does music by female artists only. But they were like, 'No. We have the opportunity to do something that's important. Let's do it.'"
Last week, Freeform announced that The Bold Type has officially been picked up for Season 4, meaning fans are in for more of Jane's digital drama, Sutton's styling schemes, and Kat's political prowess. Accompanying it all will be Lowry's carefully curated soundtrack, and while he has lofty goals in mind for future seasons — he'd love to do a musical episode and is gunning for a Carly Rae Jepsen cameo — the first priority is keeping the show's unprecedented musical mission reverberating.