How pop producer Ariel Rechtshaid composed the score for Gossip Girl
In case you missed it, noughties-era teen drama Gossip Girl is back.
Nearly a decade after it left the air, the show’s been refreshed for 2021 with a cast of new characters, storylines and filming locations (Bossa Nova Civic Club, anyone?). What remains the same though is its spotlight on the “scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite”, and, more specifically, a gaggle of wealthy teenagers with wealthy teenage problems, studying (sometimes) on the Upper East Side.
Much has been said about the original series in the years since it ended. Gossip Girl was renowned for its often ludicrous plots and idealised depictions of partying and private school antics. It was also loved for its soundtrack, which accurately reflected emerging music trends at the time. From indie-pop to R&B to tracks lifted straight from American Apparel shop floors, music played a vital role in Gossip Girl, underpinning each scene to gripping effect.
That said, it makes sense for the reboot – which is out now via HBO Max – to prioritise music as much as the original. Rob Lowry is music supervisor for the new series, which, so far, has blended songs from blockbuster artists like Frank Ocean and Ariana Grande with music from Junglepussy, Perfume Genius, Tierra Whack, Jayda G and more. (You can actually check out the soundtrack for each episode over on Lowry’s Instagram.)
In addition to its pop-leaning soundtrack, there’s also the score composed by Grammy-winning producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who’s worked with the likes of HAIM, Kelela, Charli XCX and Solange over the years. His role on the show marks his first time composing for TV. Despite his prior links to the pop music world, the LA native’s score ventures into more classical territory in an effort to mirror the high society lives of the show’s characters. He also tapped several frequent collaborators, including Jam City, to help him bring his vision to life. We caught up with Rechtshaid to discuss his journey into scoring, how the project differs from previous work and his relationship to the original series.
Firstly, introduce yourself and talk us through what you do?
Hi, my name is Ariel Rechtshaid. I’m a producer, songwriter and the composer for Gossip Girl.
How did you get involved with the reboot?
Josh [Safran, the reboot’s creator] asked me if I would and I accepted!
Were you a fan of the original series?
I must admit that I was on tour during those years, but could not escape the cult surrounding it.
What attracted you to working on the project?
‘New York rich kids’ is an exotic concept to me. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, specifically Van Nuys. This gave me an opportunity to step out of my zone; a chance to play with something more classical, more about power.
Was it a daunting prospect at all, given the show’s reputation and pre-existing fanbase?
I have a great deal of respect for legacy but also for pushing things forward. I guess I didn’t think about it much because my goal was to compose music that’s classic and fitting.
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How did it differ to other projects or collaborations you’ve worked on previously? Did you have to tap into new skills, or approach things in a different way?
I think the only thing I brought in with me on this project is my taste and instincts. The workflow is completely different from anything I’ve done before. The speed in which I’m writing and producing is insane compared to record making. I’m finding it very fun!
Gossip Girl, musically-speaking, broke new artists and featured tracks that later went onto reflect that particular era or pocket in pop culture history. Was this something you considered when handling the score?
I knew the show was going to be about kids-very-much-right-now and, of course, the writing would go on to reflect this era very accurately. I also knew that Rob, the music supervisor, would be on the cutting edge of music that will most certainly go on to represent this pocket of pop culture. And while I’m normally part of creating modern pop records, I wanted to use this opportunity to do something more classical. Something more tied to my perception of the history of New York high society.
How did you switch things up from scene to scene, character to character and mood to mood?
There are so many characters in this show that I couldn’t possibly have different themes for all of them. I decided to look at it more like the kids, the teachers and the parents.
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I saw that Jam City was involved and thanked you for involving him in an Instagram story. How did that collaboration come to be?
Jack is a friend of mine and frequent collaborator; I want to work with Jack whenever I can. Because I was more interested in the classical aspects of this score, I’m leaning on Jack for the pop elements.
Could you expand on that?
Historically, I’ve been used to doing most projects myself. But, with hour-long episodes each week, if I need an extra hand on producing some of the cues that are in the R&B or electronic world, Jack is my first call. Jack and I first collaborated on Kelela’s Take Me Apart album and I’ve always loved his approach to music.
Are there any other electronic music artists who are involved in a similar way?
Buddy Ross is another frequent collaborator of mine in the record making world, as well as Gossip Girl.
Are there any specific musical moments you’re especially proud of?
We’re only on episode six, [so there’s] still so much more to come. However, there’s a great scene in episode one where the teachers are walking down the hall and cross paths with two students, Luna and Monet, who flex pretty hard on the teachers. It really feels like a showdown. There’s a piece – not surprisingly – called Showdown that I love which is playing during that scene. I also love a piece called Orwellian Big Sister that plays when Kate Keller bumps into Julien on the steps on the first day of school.
Gossip Girl is available to stream now on HBO Max