Friday, March 31, 2023

Superhero Stories Take Off in Emmys’ Music Categories

Not so long ago, composers doing “genre” material — horror, science fiction, fantasy — saw an Oscar or Emmy nomination as a longshot, namely because voters didn’t seem to take those projects seriously.

But times have changed. Six of the 11 nominees in Emmy’s two narrative-fiction music categories have some element of sci-fi, fantasy or horror, in addition to two of the nominated songs, two main-title themes and four of the music supervision nominees.

Why the turnabout? Variety asked several of this year’s music nominees for their thoughts, and each offered a slightly different answer.

“When you talk about awards recognition, a lot of the time it’s really about what’s in the collective consciousness,” says TV Academy music governor Jeff Russo (“Fargo”). “Genre films and television shows have been at the top of the collective consciousness for a number of reasons: The types of stories being told are escapism, and we’ve needed a lot of escapism over the last two years. Those projects evoke a lot of emotional connectivity, and they rely heavily on music to help tell their story.”

Christophe Beck (“WandaVision”), whose previous Emmy win was for a genre show (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” 23 years ago), cites the “world-building” aspect of writing music for the supernatural. “As a composer, you can really draw on all your creative powers to create musical worlds that are as ambitious and as fantastical as the visual worlds they’re meant to accompany.”

He points to the success of “Game of Thrones,” which won back-to-back Emmys for composer Ramin Djawadi, as a tipping point. “That was such a cultural phenomenon, with amazing storytelling and incredible acting,” says Beck. “A lot of us are riding on the shoulders of the achievement that show represents.”

Christopher Lennertz, nominated this year for a song from the subversive superhero series “The Boys” — also recognized in the drama series category — thinks the worldwide successes of such comic-book movies as “Black Panther,” “Wonder Woman” and “Captain Marvel” have led to an awakening of awards voters.

Says Lennertz: “This year, there was a seismic shift. There is a distinct move towards a more diverse, more deep and true representation in genre material. At the same time, you have a generation of voters who were writing for genre films and TV 15 years ago. This next generation is all about representation and fairness.”

Lennertz adds that “voters changed, society changed,” and the notion of “superhero stories” is now very different from what viewers experienced decades ago. “We now have the latitude to make less-predictable genre shows and movies, and we were rewarded this year for taking those chances.”

Kristen Anderson-Lopez, a twotime nominee for the songs she and Robert Lopez wrote for “WandaVision” (the title song, in different versions reflecting TV themes from different decades, and the surprise hit “Agatha All Along”), says Marvel “is known for out-of-the-box, daring kinds of storytelling” and that “WandaVision” is, “at its very core, about grief.

“When you think about what this year is, and what we’ve all been through, we all have deep trauma around all of the loss, and every way that we’ve been robbed of what normal life was,” she says. “And yet [the miniseries] processes it through the bright Technicolor, stylized, love of the TV lens. I think that was also how all of us were processing our grief. We could watch ‘Bridgerton’ and ‘Ted Lasso’ and ‘WandaVision’ and ‘Falcon and the Winter Soldier.’”

Pictured: Jeff Russo


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