Euphoria’s biggest breakout star? Labrinth

As Euphoria season two wraps up, Jenessa Williams reflects on the way that social media has harnessed its soundtrack, and the musical stars it is reintroducing.


When Dominic Fike got announced as the latest cast member of HBO’s Euphoria, it was somewhat inevitable that music would be a huge part of the season’s success. Having captured the hearts of an international nation with the viral success of his 2018 single ‘Three Nights’, he was the perfect fit for a show about complicated teenagerdom; the thrills and spills of love, life and narcotics. As Elliot, the slowly developing foil to Zendaya’s Rue and Hunter Schaffer’s Jules, he was a welcome interrupter, and a great way to introduce a deeper sense of music to a show, fleshing out the way that audiences relate to TV. 

When fans lovingly roasted and praised ‘Rue’s Song’ in equal measure, the lingering guitar serenade from the Season 2 finale, Fike shared the funniest memes and comments on Instagram stories, actively engaging with the stan-era feedback that has ballooned the show’s popularity. Far from taking it personally, he recognised that fans cared; that a character song that incited such powerful reaction was a total mission accomplished, a sign of how deeply he had sold the role.  

Fike may have been the breakout musical star of this year’s series, but he is only part of its success. Without Labrinth, there would be no ‘Rue’s Song’; there would likely be no Euphoria as we know it. Once best known for his 2010 ‘Pass Out’ collaboration with Tinie Tempah, the Hackney-Born artist is making a new name for himself as the sensitive soundscaper to all of drama, hysteria and highly-inappropriate-for-school behaviour, complementing its strong thread of humanity. Composing for the show since it began, he has truly come into his own with this series, understanding the characters and writing for them in a way that shows dexterity, subtlety and ultimately, virality. At time of writing, four tracks from the Euphoria soundtrack are sitting pretty in the TikTok viral selection; season one track ‘Forever’ has been used on 183,000 Instagram reels and ‘When I R.I.P’ nearly 40,000. It may not seem like unprecedented amounts, but for relatively short snippets, not officially promoted as singles or played via radio, it is evidence of how deeply the show is resonating with a Gen-Z audience, even with its strongly adult themes.  


Having told the press that he was briefed by show director Sam Levinson to create a world that sounded like “if Kanye produced a Danny Elfman [score],” Labrinth’s music always nails the brief. It is dark and often brooding, but rich in the kind of main character energy that makes fans want to translate it to their own lives, to take it in and write their own story amidst the folds of hard-edged R&B and spacey soul. His original score work perfectly compliments the decisions taken by music supervisor Jen Malone, balancing unsettling 80s throwbacks with opportunities for new music discovery; the 90’s Hip-Hop that frames the party scene in Episode 1, Cassie karaoke-singing to Sinéad O’Connor’s ‘Drink Before the War’, Lexi playing hyperpop hit-in-waiting ‘Haunted’ by 100 Gecs’ Laura Les. Utilising a great many genres and eras, it is never patronising about what teenagers might like, but gives them space to make their own choices, to tune in and out of the character arcs they care about best. ‘Pick Me Up’, an original Labrinth collaboration with James Blake, is also a special highlight, rolling over the credits as something of a balm to a particularly emotional Episode 4. 

Speaking of emotion, and of Episode 4 in particular, there is no denying that Zendaya is the undisputed acting star of the season. A woman who very much deserves her second Euphoria Emmy (fingers crossed), she is the character you always root for, willing her along her complex journey of recovery. Her acting chops are well established, but when she duets ‘I’m Tired’ in Episode 4’s church scene, with Labrinth guest-starring as a preacher, you are reminded that she is also a great musical talent, co-writing the track in much the same way as she co-wrote season one closer ‘All For Us’. Currently trending in the top twenty viral moments on YouTube, ‘I’m Tired’ is the masterwork of the series; spiritual and saddened but with just enough hope to carry itself through. Fans are campaigning for its use as a single, and for Zendaya to reprise her old music career, building upon the release of her 2013 post-Disney solo debut. With her star ascending so rapidly in the last few years, you can fully imagine her using this opportunity to rebuild her pop star name, safe in the knowledge that there would be a huge legion of fans behind her.  

Like Skins, The OC and even The Inbetweeners before it, Euphoria is an example of how great teen TV can be when it gets its music spot on. By highlighting its musical talents so effectively within the show, Euphoria has created new life for its stars when they step outside of it, pre-building a strong listenership. Dominic Fike is gearing up for his second solo album and Labrinth must surely be thinking about his third, re-energised by the success of his various composing projects. Zendaya, who told press back in 2019 that she wasn’t planning on making another album or giving up on the anonymity that acting affords her, feels like less of a given, but with the success of ‘I’m Tired’, it is very possible that she might change her mind. Either way, the respect that a show like Euphoria has given back to the delicate art of soundtracking opens some very exciting doors for creatives. Who needs conventional single releases to be a success anyway? With ‘event TV’ firmly back on the map, the possibilities feel pretty endless.  

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