Jeff Richmond is no stranger to composing wacky, hilarious songs (see: “30 Rock,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), but it was as slightly different story when it came to “Girls5eva.” The Peacock series stars Sara Bareilles, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Busy Philipps and Paula Pell as the four surviving members of the the titular ’90s girl group (Ashley Park‘s Ashley, “the fun one,” died swimming off the edge of an infinity pool in 2004) who reunite to give it another go after their one hit, “Famous 5eva,” is sampled by a rapper, Lil Stinker (Jeremiah Craft). Because music is part of the central premise of the show, it was important for Richmond to make Girls5eva’s tunes sound as authentic and authentically ’90s/’00s pop as possible.
“The first thing that I wanted to accomplish was that we were going to be able to hit all those notes, that it sounded legitimate, that there was verisimilitude toward that sound of the ’90s,” Richmond shares at Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: TV Composers panel (watch above). “These middle-aged ladies have to decide what are they gonna do with their lives at that point? There is this honest thread that’s going through the whole series, so we wanted the music and the songs at the beginning of the series to sound like they were still part of the music industry that builds and kind of manipulates bands and sounds, and who that’s for and how they sell on a global scale. But as the girls start to write their own songs throughout the series, we wanted the tunes to sound more honest that by the time we get to the eighth episode, we’re in a little bit more of the world of Bareilles, who’s writing one of the songs for the group.”
To capture that sound, Richmond, who also composed the score for the comedy and serves as an executive producer, listened to tons of music from that era when boy bands and pop princesses ruled to study the chord progressions and how to master writing a “hook that people just loved.” The other tricky part of the equation was to also make the songs addictive earworms for today’s audience.
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“I always find that when I’m doing it myself, sitting at the piano and kind of building a song with somebody that sent me some lyrics or whatever, I just want to shape it until I feel like I like it and it’s something I wanna hear over and over again. And I don’t ever wanna back away from that,” Richmond explains. “Sometimes in pastiche … you can fall into real patterns where [you go], ‘Well, this sounds enough like it, so we can move on.’ But what you’re missing is not taking it the one more step. It sounds enough like it, but it’s also catchy. It’s also got a current little sound to it that makes people wanna hum it today, not just back in the day. But that’s how we looked at and approached all of those songs: make it something that we really like and we really enjoy.”
The “Girls5eva” team also took it one more step by churning out full versions of the songs, something they did not do for most of the song snippets on “30 Rock” and “Kimmy Schmidt.” A soundtrack was released featuring nine tracks, including Girls5eva bangers “Dream Girlfriends,” “Space Boys” — the hardest one for Richmond to write a full version for — “4 Stars,” the song penned by Bareilles, and the Simon & Garfunkel-inspired and acutely accurate “New York Lonely Boy,” performed by The Milk Carton Kids.
“Girls5eva” hasn’t been renewed for a second season yet, but Richmond, who won three Emmys for “30 Rock,” already has some ideas. “One thing we might be doing is try to write a bit more full-length material in the beginning as far as songs go,” he says. “Story-wise, you don’t want them to get too successful too quickly, so I’m sure Meredith [Scardino, the creator] has plans for that. And I would love to see the Andrew Rannells‘ Boyz Next Door guys come back. I would like to hear some more group stuff from them.”
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