Way back in the day, the best song one would hear on a TV show was the theme song. But somewhere along the way, Hollywood stepped their game up in the music department. Shows quickly found a way to not only keep our attention with drama on-screen but also through their careful selection of modern and old-school mainstream hits and indie jams woven between scenes. Now, no longer do we have to rely on the radio to hear new music. All we need to do is turn on the TV, whip out our smartphone and Shazam away to discover our next Spotify obsession.
From HBO’s Insecure to Netflix’s Luke Cage, here are 21 shows with soundtracks we could listen to over and over again.
It’s not really a surprise that FOX’s primetime drama about a hip-hop music mogul and his family would feature good music. But, what makes Empire‘s soundtrack list so different from other shows is that it includes plenty of original tracks recorded by the cast. Case in point: Fans will be singing Hakeem Lyon‘s catchy and corny “Drip Drop” until probably the end of time.
2. Grey’s Anatomy
There’s a reason this show won a Grammy! For a Grey’s fan, watching the show week after week is not an easy feat. We suffer through multiple deaths, breakups, plane crashes, hospital shooters, bombs and that’s just in the first few seasons. Adding literal insult to injury, but in a weirdly good way, is the music. We’ll never be able to listen to The Fray‘s “How to Save a Life,” without thinking of this show again.
3. The Bold Type
Freeform‘s newest girl-power dramedy is a fabulously fun show that effortlessly showcases what it’s like to be a twenty-something working in the New York City magazine industry. But beyond the strong examples of female friendships, something else keeps us coming back for more: the music. The soundtrack is perfectly curated with the right songs always seeming to play at the right time. Like when Jane, Kat, and Sutton scream their stress at the subway train, then proceed to dance it out, while The Strumbellas‘ “Spirits” rings in the background.
4. Scream Queens
While our favorite Kappa Kappa Tau sorority sisters were only on air for two seasons, it’s undeniable that the show’s soundtrack was on point. Laced with plenty of pop culture references every episode, of course, the music had to be equally as memorable, i.e TLC‘s “Waterfalls” and Taylor Swift‘s “Shake It Off.”
It’s well-known that Insecure has one of the best soundtracks of any TV show around. Creator and star, Issa Rae once joked that even if her show turned out to be a ratings nightmare, the soundtrack would “be fire.” And so far, she’s delivered (though it’s been a smash hit with audiences, too). On top of plenty of drama between Issa and her BFF, Molly, the HBO comedy has gifted us with killer music fromSZA, Jazmine Sullivan, Bryson Tiller, Frank Ocean, and more. We’ll be blasting this soundtrack until next season’s premiere.
What would a show called Atlanta be without a bomb-ass soundtrack? Shot in the birthplace of many hip-hop greats, it’s only right that the FX comedy feature music from OutKast, Gucci Mane, 21 Savage, and Migos. The songs effortlessly blend into the scenes to help set the mood or express how characters are feeling. For example, when Earnest isn’t allowed to purchase a kid’s meal at a fast food restaurant in the third episode (we’ve all been there), he retaliates by sneaking soda in a water cup meanwhile Kodak Black’s “SKRT” acts as a celebratory anthem for his (very) small victory.
Music is the center of this musical drama, as it follows a young, poor singer named Star, who will do anything to be, well, a star. Much like its sister show, Empire, Star features plenty of original music from its main girl group, Big Trouble. Additionally, prominent singers in the music industry take a spot on the show and help bring the show’s soundtrack to life — like Luke James, who stars in a recurring role during season two.
8. Luke Cage
Marvel‘s unkillable inner-city superhero is pretty badass. That means he needs music that is equally as badass. Featuring a blend of soul and vintage Brooklyn hip-hop, the show’s soundtrack perfectly compliments the title character’s “gentle giant” personality.
9. This Is Us
If you’re looking for a soundtrack to cry your eyes out to, you need look no further than This Is Us. The music in this melodrama, which follows the lives of a family from the ’80s to the present day, is nothing but tearjerking. Indie tunes from Cat Stevens, Gene Clark, Memphis Slim and more compliment and counterbalance the ridiculous amount of sweet cheesiness the NBC hit has to offer.
10. Stranger Things
Most people never really pay any attention the music in fantasy shows or movies, just the action. Well, that was until Stranger Things. In fact, the show’s ethereal, haunting first-season soundtrack garnered two Grammy nominations for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. A++++.
For six seasons, this show explored the messy-but-hilariously-relatable lives of its four female leads, while also giving us some of greatest music moments in TV history. From MGMT and Feist to Beyoncé’s “Halo,” this HBO show’s soundtrack stayed packed with anthems that instantly made you feel like you could take on anything.
Who didn’t love Glee for its ability to transform our favorite pop ballads and Broadway faves into juicy moments of drama? “The Boy Is Mine” turned Mercedes and Santana into enemies over a guy. “Don’t Stop Believing” became a declaration of love and friendship. And Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” set the tone for the moment where Kurt saw hope and light in Blaine. Don’t even get us started on the Madonna episode. A soundtrack to our lives, indeed.
Break out the bell bottoms! HBO’s newest show Vinyl is another one of those shows that’s all about music, which means the soundtrack has to be on point. Blending together some of the best 1970’s rock, hip-hop, punk, and disco, this musical drama will have you feeling like you just stepped back in time.
If you’re a fan of this hit Starz TV show then know that the soundtrack is absolutely everything. From the moment it begins, fans can’t help but be enthralled with the music. Raise your hand if you sing 50 Cent and Joe‘s “Big Rich Town,” every single time the opening credits begin to roll? Us too. Additionally, an electric mix of up-and-coming artists, chart-toppers, and musical legends, create the ultimate backdrop for this urban crime drama.
15. Broad City
In just a few seasons, Broad City has become one of the funniest female-led comedies on-air. But beyond its bold and occasionally crass humor, the Comedy Central show is an excellent resource for discovering indie and random hit music that’ll make you instantly want to get up and dance.
16. Master of None
Talk about a wide taste in music! Aziz Ansari’s hit Netflix series includes music by everybody you could think of from David Bowie to Tupac to John Legend. Literally, there’s something for everybody and the soundtrack compliments the episodes great. Plus, John Legend literally performs in an episode so… musically (and otherwise) this show is pretty phenomenal.
17. Big Little Lies
Setting the tone for the secret-filled atmosphere of HBO’s limited series Big Little Lies is a smörgåsbord of soul music from acts like Michael K., Leon Bridges, Irma Thomas and show co-star, Zoe Kravitz. Like a good supporting character on the show, the music fits seamlessly into the plot in a way that isn’t overpowering for the viewer. And once each episode wraps, you’re left wanting more.
18. Jessica Jones
This Netflix original series chronicles the life of one of the darker Marvel characters, the mysterious Jessica Jones, who’s still reeling from her former superhero life. A mysterious character deserves an equally mysterious soundtrack and Jessica Jones‘s features sultry jazz songs and indie hits perfect for listeners who need a break from the mainstream tunes every once in a while.
19. The O.C.
This ’00s coming-of-age teen drama served as an emotional guidebook for viewers who may have been going through similar stressors: social isolation, emotional pitfalls in relationships, addiction, and even loss. But beyond the relatable themes, The O.C. was known for creating a mainstream platform for indie rock bands like Death Cab For Cutie and Beck.
20. One Tree Hill
Just like The O.C., One Tree Hill introduced indie rock groups to a wider, mainstream audience alongside its plot of teenage angst. The show’s soundtrack was a special, perfectly curated piece that blended joy, romance, and teenage melodrama with ease.