The story of lovelorn Robyn “Rob” Brooks (Zoe Kravitz) traversing an odyssey of heartbreak in Hulu’s High Fidelity is told, in part, through music – after all, Rob owns a record store and has an encyclopedic knowledge of modern hits and retro classics. This would seem to present a tall task for music supervisors in charge of building the show’s sonic foundation, but for veterans like Manish Raval and Alison Rosenfeld, it made the job all the more exciting.
Across ten episodes the pair helped construct the vibrant music-filled life of Rob and her record shop co-conspirators Simon and Cherise as they love, learn and live in New York. The series, which uproots the classic 2000 film set in a Chicago record store and implants it in contemporary Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is both the story of a person reckoning with dissolution of a relationship and a case study in how we use music to understand ourselves, others, and the world around us.
Rob, imbued with Kravitz’s readymade style and chill, is a picture of eclectic millennial cool, unwinding to Ann Peebles with a cigarette in one instant, geeking out over a rare Bowie LP in another. As Raval and Rosenfeld explain, curating a world of songs that were wide ranging but that also truly felt personal was an expansive process. “I think this project has set itself apart from everything else we do, just because of the sheer amount of music,” Raval says. “Whether it’s in the record store or in Rob’s mind or coming off of Rob’s voiceover, there were so many different things to be addressing at all times.“
The first episode in particular was a challenge for the team, who had to choose songs that musically helped establish the show’s world and set the tone for the rest of the series, as well as finding tracks that paired logically with a very plot dense pilot.
For the 30-minute series opener, Rosenfeld says they featured about 20 songs, and each individual cue was incredibly potent. There’s the acrid bite of Satan’s Rats’ “You Make Me Sick,” the 70’s British punk cut that plays while Rob’s in the throws of post-breakup dejection; the daffiness of Frank Zappa’s “Bobby Brown Goes Down” as Rob remembers a short-lived adolescent crush; all the way to the almost painfully dulcet “Didn’t I” by Darondo as Rob recalls the feeling of falling for her greatest heartbreak, Mac. The first episode soundtrack is a microcosm of the show itself – an excavation of this character’s turbid romantic history and a roaming survey of 20th and early 21st century pop music, not unlike one you might get browsing the stacks at a record store like Championship Vinyl.
Luckily, Rosenfeld and Raval had some help from the show’s star herself, who sent playlists back and forth and weighed in on almost every music decision. “The first time we got a playlist from her, we were like, ‘Oh my god. This is awesome. This is pretty much everything we like!’ Raval says.
Many songs heard throughout the series were handpicked by Kravitz herself. One such track is “Lonely” by Soul and R&B journeyman Swamp Dogg, which Rob cues up at the beginning of episode six during a busy Saturday at the shop. The song is taken from the Muscle Shoals crooner’s 2018 release Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune, which was co-produced by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and while it’s somewhat of an unusual choice, it’s exactly the type of eccentric selection a millennial crate digger like Rob might make. “I love that song. I immediately went out and bought the record after I heard it from Zoë,” Rosenfeld said.
The very next episode features some of Raval and Rosenfeld’s most exciting handiwork. The opening scene finds Rob out dancing at a small club with her maybe love interest Clyde [Jake Lacy]. “It was just scripted as an Afro funk band is playing. That’s all we have to go on,” Raval recalls. He and Rosenfeld had to find music that fit this billing and would lend itself to having dialogue spoken over it. After some searching, they landed on “Jbiti” by Brooklyn’s Kaleta & Super Yamba Band. They’re the musicians jamming out onstage as Rob turns to assure the camera that her and Clyde are “just friends.” It was one of the most memorable moments of the series for Raval; “We just went looking for that style of music and we found this incredible band that can play on camera!”
High Fidelity presented somewhat of a departure from the usual course of action for Raval and Rosenfeld, who usually work with newer artists.
“This was a show where it didn’t matter what was happening right now. It’s not like, ‘What’s coming out on Spotify this Friday?’” Raval explains.
Rosenfeld adds, “We made an effort to make the music as eclectic as the characters and as current music listening habits are for young people.” This meant that the team could reach for older classics and more obscure international cuts, while also dipping into recent cult favorites like PTAF’s “Boss Ass Bitch.”
Ultimately, they saw their work as a tool in service of the story and storytellers of High Fidelity. “There was just nothing for us to do but completely just be a support system; to get them whatever they needed or whatever Zoë wanted to fulfill this character and this show,” Raval says.
For Kravitz and High Fidelity, Raval and Rosenfeld crafted the perfect playlist.