If you weren’t familiar with Harry Nilsson before the first season of Netflix’s “Russian Doll,” you certainly knew his song “Gotta Get Up” after it recurred on all eight of the show’s episodes — every time Natasha Lyonne’s Nadia repeatedly reawakens on the same night after dying in different ways. The second season of the series, now streaming on Netflix, doesn’t have a specific tethering song, but it serves up some choice cuts from the ’70s and ’80s, including Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” Falco’s “Der Kommissar,” Van Halen’s “Runnin’ With the Devil” and Nena’s “99 Luftballons.”
These needle drops are apropos considering the central theme of the new season is time travel — whenever Nadia takes the subway. “We wanted the music to feel authentic and line up with the eras,” says Brienne Rose, music supervisor for “Russian Doll,” co-created and co-written by Lyonne.
“Nadia is an old soul,” says Rose. “She’s complex with an erratic personality. It’s not only about how she feels now, but how she feels over the course of time in different eras, and how the music represents her headspaces and experiences. We wanted an aural expression of that.”
Rose began working closely with Lyonne on the song selections a year and a half prior to shooting — even before a script existed. “[Lyonne] is such a music person, we can talk cerebrally and get granular with the music, deciding whether we want it to parallel or contradict what’s happening on picture,” Rose says. “Sometimes she knows exactly what she wants for a scene. Other times, we try different things and go through all of the meanings of what a song could bring to the scene. We can talk about why something feels right, or doesn’t, for hours.”
Both Lyonne and Rose built playlists that cover a range of eras and styles, and sent them back and forth to each other. Rose calls the practice “immersive and fun.” Lyonne had a particularly long-running playlist that she kept adding to as she wrote, some of which she works into the script, such as “Mother” by Danzig, which is heard in the first episode. Also firmly decided upon were the reappearances of “Gotta Get Up” and Gang Gang Dance’s “MindKilla,” which hark back to the first season.
What isn’t heard in the second season of “Russian Doll” is any music later than 2011 — a deliberate decision. “There’s always going to be way more old music than there will be new music,” says Rose with a smirk, “so there’s a wealth to choose from.”