‘Euphoria’ Composer Labrinth on Season 2 and Working With Zendaya

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not seen the first six episodes of “Euphoria” Season 2.

Labrinth doesn’t necessarily consider himself a composer.

“I know I am, but I don’t look at myself that way,” the 33-year-old tells Variety. “I’m just transmitting energy that I hear and see and feel.”

Indeed, when most people think of a score, they likely hear music that is purely instrumental and orchestral. But Labrinth’s “Euphoria” compositions push that envelope, often incorporating his lush vocals and quick-witted raps. Though it’s atypical, the score fits perfectly in the world of East Highland, where teenagers navigate a dark world of lust, drugs and violence. Labrinth gives credit to show creator Sam Levinson for seeing “dimensions in me that maybe I didn’t see,” and views himself as a songwriter, producer and composer rolled into one, akin to Burt Bacharach.

“There was a time when composers and producers were almost in the same place,” he says. “I would maybe look at myself in that lane, where it’s like, I get inspired with a song as well as an orchestral piece or a sound. I use every angle of what I do to convey an energy.”

Over the past two seasons, Labrinth’s atmospheric, genre-twisting score has become just as much a phenomenon as “Euphoria” itself, earning him a 2020 Emmy win for outstanding music and lyrics for “All for Us” as well as a music composition for a series nomination. And as Season 2 has taken off, with its first episode marking the strongest digital premiere of any episode of an HBO series, enthusiasm for the show’s original music has only grown stronger.

“The music’s not over for people, and I think that’s what we figured out in the show,” Labrinth says. “As soon as Season 2 came out, the first score was, like, in the charts.”

Part of that is no doubt thanks to TikTok, where Gen Z has taken to discussing the show constantly, often with one of Labrinth’s songs playing in the background. As of Feb. 19, the hashtag “Euphoria” has about 26 billion views and songs from the Season 1 score like “Forever” and “Still Don’t Know My Name” have over one million videos under them, each. So it’s only fitting that Labrinth and Levinson decided to repeat some of the same motifs and themes in Season 2, such as “Nate Growing Up” in Episode 1 and “All for Us” in Episode 6.

“I actually remade music for the whole show, like I was doing different cues and stuff, but it just kind of felt like it was okay for this music to be there,” he says. “We’re not over it, and I feel like the audience isn’t either.”

However, there are plenty of new tracks in Season 2, notably “I’m Tired,” a gospel-inspired song prominently featuring Labrinth’s powerful vocals backed by organs. The song is particularly special to Labrinth for two reasons: he got to make a cameo in Episode 4 to sing it live, and he wrote it with Zendaya and Levinson.

Labrinth’s appearance in the show comes while Rue (Zendaya) is having a drug-induced come-to-Jesus moment in which she fantasizes that she is in a church. Labrinth sings “I’m Tired” as Rue hugs him tightly, imagining that she is instead embracing her late father. The cameo came about after Labrinth’s manager, Adam Leber, suggested the idea to Levinson — before “I’m Tired” even existed.

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Screenshot courtesy HBO Max

“I think [Sam] just loved merging those two worlds and to be like, ‘Here’s the music appearing in the physical form,’” Labrinth says. “It [was] just kind of impulsive and Sam was like, ‘Okay cool, I’m going to record you in two days. We’ve gotta get the song ready for that time.’”

Labrinth then sprang into action, with Levinson suggesting he consult Zendaya on the song since it would be playing in such a personal scene for her character.

“She was like, ‘Check out this scene, this is what we’re talking about.’ Then I [sang], ‘Hey lord, you know I’m tired.’ And then she was like, ‘Oh shit!’ And we just started writing the song,” he says. “It was all of that impulsive inspiration, you know? And then being in the scene, I was like, ‘I haven’t performed for a while and I’ve not been on American TV before or been an actor before — oh shit, what do I do?’ I [was] like, just be in the moment. And I know what Rue’s character is going through, so I was like, ‘Zone in and let go of your own issues.’”

When it came time to film the scene, Labrinth had the song pre-recorded, but decided to sing live to make it seem as authentic as possible. “Sam’s a sucker for gnarly rawness, he just wants the realest thing he can get. And so he was like, ‘Lab, just sing,’” he says.

Labrinth praises the creative freedom Levinson has given him, encouraging him to write music solely when he is inspired, as opposed to directly to a specific scene.

“The main approach with most of the music on the show is Sam is like, ‘Lab, just make what the fuck you’re making. Don’t let no one get in the way of what you’re making, just do what you do.’ It’s like he’s going to a record shop, and I’m the record shop,” he says. “Especially being in the music industry, sometimes you can feel pushed to do something that people are expecting to hear, whereas Sam’s just like, ‘I want to hear the weirdest shit in your hard drive.’”

At the beginning of production on Season 2, Labrinth sent Levinson a folder with several ideas that could be fit for the show, including “Yeh I Fuckin’ Did It,” a song with a blood-pumping rhythm that would eventually soundtrack Rue’s anxiety-inducing chase scenes in Episode 5. Labrinth explains that he originally wrote it with Fezco (Angus Cloud) in mind, drawing on “a traditional trap or hip-hop record” but finding “the weirdest angle of that.” But it was Levinson who placed the song behind Rue’s running scenes. Labrinth immediately knew they had found the right place for it.

In fact, Labrinth compares his experience this season to Rue running through the streets of East Highland, saying there have been “a lot of obstacles personally” — including a scare where he thought he had lost his hearing.

“My ears just decided at one point, like anytime someone spoke to me I couldn’t hear anyone. I was like, ‘Shit I can’t make music anymore.’ I was literally like, ‘My career’s over,’” he says. “I had to rest my ears to get it back. I think this season has been, personally, as much as a rollercoaster as it’s been in the show.”

But for Labrinth, the creative partnerships he’s continued to forge with Levinson and Zendaya have made it all worth it.

“We’re all going to the edge of what we can get in our fields,” he says. “We all spiritually, creatively and personally understand each other.”

As for the upcoming finale on Feb. 27, Labrinth stays mum on what to expect sonically, but offers: “I hope you guys bawl your eyes out in a very good way.”

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