I have to watch a lot of media for my job, and very often there isn’t time to watch multiple hours of television before having to interview a composer about their work. But in the case of Andor, the latest addition to the Star Wars universe, I was hooked and did in fact watch all 12 hours of the compelling backstory of Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna). I interviewed composer Nicholas Britell for two Variety pieces — one announcing his involvement, the other discussing his approach to this unusually novelistic saga — and finally interviewed both Britell and showrunner Tony Gilroy about their years-long collaboration on the project for an SCL event.
Ninety-year-old John Williams, who has hinted that his music for Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans and the forthcoming Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny will be his last for films, still can’t seem to slow down. In December, he recorded a new three-and-a-half minute piece for ESPN’s coverage of the College Football Playoff National Championship, airing Monday. I broke the story for Variety on Thursday and it quickly became one of my most-read pieces of recent months.
Once in a while my editors at Variety will commission an essay on a topic of current interest. They asked for two in December, and I found both fascinating: A long piece looking at the progress, or lack thereof, that women composers have been making in film and TV music; and a second, somewhat lighter in tone, about the current popularity of television themes — mostly on the streaming services — and how they seem to be more memorable lately.
A few years ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ music branch — the approximately 400 composers, songwriters and music editors who decide the Oscar nomination slate for songs and scores — returned to an old practice: the “shortlist,” a way of winnowing down the vast number entered (this year, 147 scores and 82 songs) to a manageable few. I follow this process closely and chronicle it for Variety. Here is an early prediction of the score lineup, looking at 22 possibilities; here is my exclusive on the score and song disqualifications; here’s a full list of the songs that were eligible; and here is a quick analysis of the shortlists themselves, announced on Dec. 21. (I had earlier investigated the idea that the Doja Cat song in Elvis might be disqualified — and it was.)
Every year, mostly in November and December, Variety asks me to see a nonstop barrage of new movies and interview their composers. This year’s crop included Justin Hurwitz for Babylon, Marcelo Zarvos for Emancipation, Chanda Dancy for Devotion, Nicholas Britell for She Said, Ludwig Goransson for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Hildur Guonadottir for Tar, Terence Blanchard for The Woman King, Michael Abels for Nope, Benjamin Wallfisch for Thirteen Lives, and Michael Giacchino for The Batman.
This year the Recording Academy finally added a category for game music soundtracks. It’s a far more important issue in the composer community than ever before, considering the vast number of games being played and the high quality of music now being composed for them, by some of the most talented people in the industry. I discussed the upcoming Grammy competition in a Variety story here, previewed the possible nominees here, and unveiled the actual nomination slate (along with all the other Grammy nominees in the visual-media field) here.
I don’t often get to write about one of my favorite jazz artists: Vince Guaraldi, once famed for his Grammy-winning “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” but now best known for his scores for more than a dozen animated Peanuts specials of the late 1960s and early 1970s. His Charlie Brown Christmas album is said to be one of the best-selling jazz albums in history, and to our great surprise, the original 1965 recording sessions were recently unearthed. Craft Recordings, which owns the old Fantasy record label, has issued an expanded Charlie Brown Christmas album with extra tracks in a number of formats. My piece for Variety includes new interviews with Guaraldi biographer Derrick Bang and Jason Mendelson, the son of longtime Peanuts TV producer Lee Mendelson.
Werewolf by Night, which debuted on Disney+ in October, was among the best-reviewed Marvel projects in ages. It really was fun, and the surprise to many was the identity of the director: Michael Giacchino, Oscar- (Up), Emmy- (Lost) and Grammy-winning (Ratatouille) composer. He talked about the experience with me (he scored it, too!) for this story. Giacchino was later named Variety’s composer of the year — considering his massive recent success with the music for Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Batman, Jurassic World: Dominion and Lightyear — and the publication featured him in a conversation with his friend J.J. Abrams, which I recounted in this story.
Some of today’s most compelling scores are on television, and for science-fiction and fantasy projects. This year’s crop was especially interesting, and I explored several of them in stories for Variety: Bear McCreary talked about his grand-scale music for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power; Amie Doherty and Ramin Djawadi discussed their scores for She-Hulk and House of the Dragon, respectively; Laura Karpman regaled us with the complexity of recording Ms. Marvel; Natalie Holt and Hesham Nazih talked with us about Marvel’s Loki and Moon Knight; the composers of Severance, Foundation and The Book of Boba Fett chimed in on their special challenges; and Nami Melumad talked about the latest Star Trek series, Strange New Worlds. Nicholas Britell talked with us twice about Andor, first in announcing his involvement, long kept under wraps; and after the series debuted, although he was still reluctant to give away any secrets.
No sooner do we finish Oscar season than Emmy season is upon us. But it’s always fun if a bit of a scramble to see as many television shows as possible before interviewing their composers for Variety and the SCL. We looked at the superstars vying for Emmy song nominations here; the nominations in all seven of the Television Academy’s music categories were announced July 12. My analysis of the nominees, particularly the lack of superstars in the song categories, is here; more importantly, the diversity among this year’s nominees was notable. I discussed every nominee in all seven categories here; and the winners were finally announced on Sept. 3 and 4. My one regret: that my favorite TV song of the year, Mick Jagger’s Slow Horses theme, wasn’t even nominated — especially after I went to a lot of trouble to get him on the phone for an exclusive story.