The One Thing Friday Night Lights Got Wrong

August 28, 2012 No Comments »

I loved Friday Night Lights, but I didn’t watch it until the whole show was over and off the air because I thought I wouldn’t particularly enjoy it. I grew up in East Texas. My high school was Friday Night Lights and I wasn’t crazy about the experience in total, so I thought I didn’t need to watch a TV show about it. I was wrong, FNL was amazing and, obviously, much more emotionally tuned-in than my actual high school experience.

There was one thing they didn’t nail though, specifically in Season One: the music. The show pulled the aesthetic of using Explosions In The Sky from the movie, which was fine. That was an atmospheric thing, using a Texan rock band. But when they opted to also insert pop music, it was a deeply inaccurate representation of what Texas high school kids would have been listening to.

In the first episode alone You heard a cover of “Black Betty,” songs from Beck and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and, weirdly, Saliva. The one thing they got (almost) right was rising country singer Jake Owen.

From there the season featured way too much indie rock. Songs from TV on the Radio, the Black Keys (circa 2006 before they were as mainstream as they are today), Camera Obscura, Beulah, Kasabian, Iron and Wine, Spoon, the Gossip, Le Tigre, Clinic, Ryan Adams all made the cut. It’s like a list of artists high school students in small town Texas have probably never heard of, more than an appropriate show soundtrack.

Dillon, Texas, the fictional city where the show was set, would have been in West Texas a few hundred miles west of Austin. Best known as The Desert. The middle of nowhere. There were undoubtedly some kids looking to the Internet for cool, outsider music. They were aptly represented by Landry Clark and his band, Crucifictorious.

From the jump off, I was wondering where the country music was. And the hip hop. And the classic rock. Because those genres, by and large, are what would have scored the lives of the kids we saw.

The lack of country music, even used as score, was a massive oversight. It should have been on every time they were in a bar. Every time there was a party in a pasture. Every time someone was driving in a truck. Every time there was a community gathering. Every time someone ate in a restaurant. That’s what goes on in small town Texas establishments, because country music is family safe. It can play in every hardware store, every Alamo Freeze and every Applebee’s in the world without a worry about something not-Christian popping up.

A bit of research would have turned up any number of Texas artists who’d be great to license and very cheaply. Artists who make their entire living touring around Texas, playing every beer joints to BBQ joint, dance hall and gas station that will have them. They’re artists kids in Texas would know know and probably would have been to see. Kevin Fowler, Easton Corbin, Pat Green, Josh Abbott, Rich O’Toole, or the Eli Young Band — these guys make their living on songs about being drunk and covers of rock songs from the 60s, 70s and 80s.

And, by the way, Texans are really proud of their ability to make a living spending most of their time playing exclusively around Texas. It’s a big, important deal to support them to fellow Texans and even small towns will see a concert from Roger Creager twice a year. When the only other thing to do in town is drive in circles around the Alamo Freeze (in real life, the Sonic), you go see Roger Creager.

Instead, when Texas music did make the show, it was of the cooler, Austin-ier/Americana variety: Heartless Bastards, Walter Hyatt, the Gourds. Also appreciated but it’s just not the same.

Thinking like a line producer or music supervisor, hip hop presents a problem for absolutely any production it scores. It is the most difficult and expensive music to clear because of the samples it inevitably includes. They’re a part of the art form, but for every song within a song you add another line to the list of publishers and stakeholders who have to sign off on use of the track – and who could potentially drive the total cost of use up. Having one small publisher hold a track hostage and drive up the price is not unheard of on any music track, but an especially prevalent problem when you’re trying to place hip hop in TV and movies. That can make using even local, homegrown artists prohibitive.

Hip hop also has a higher price tag because of its popularity. If you want to get a track from Eminem, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg – you’ll have to pay a premium because they’re among the most successful artists in the world. But 2006 also saw throw away hits from Chamillionaire, Chingy, Akon, E-40 and any number of tracks that might have cleared at a lower price point. If hip hop didn’t make it to the show because it cost too much, someone should have done a better job planning the music budget. But having a television show that featured the mash up of black and white cultures in high school football and not using hip hop music as a point of mutual agreement is a massive oversight.

It’s a hard balance to use so much Explosions In The Sky and other ambient music, which is exclusively what the film used, and mix in popular music. But Friday Night Lights did feature one of the biggest songs of 2006, Justin Timberlake‘s “SexyBack” with two appearances in the season, as well as one Rihanna non-hit.

Here’s the thing: in small town Texas, high school students aren’t that cool. The show did such a great job writing their worldview. It could have done a better job reflecting it aurally.

Texas forever.

A version of this originally appeared on thecourtneyesmith.tumblr.com

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