In Episode 5 of Conversations With Friends, there’s a moment of quiet reconciliation between two of the central characters, Frances (Alison Oliver) and Bobbi (Sasha Lane): As two friends who seem stuck in a loop of hurting one another and acting selfishly, its a gentle, dialogue-free visual of the two women hooking their pinkies together that speaks to forgiveness. Then, “Nod” by Julianna Barwick and Nosaj Thing kicks in, and the whole moment takes flight.
Juliet Martin is the mastermind behind this moment and many others on Conversations With Friends, although she’d probably dispute that description. Speaking with Consequence over the phone, she paints a portrait of how many of those needledrop moments come together. “People sometimes have a misconception that the Music Supervisor’s entire musical vision is what shapes it,” she shares. “It’s a much more collaborative thing. Everyone on the creative team makes a valuable contribution, and they all have opinions of their own, too.”
Martin has been the sneaky magic ingredient for many other great beats of television, and some particularly memorable scenes stem from her time as the music supervisor for Normal People, the breakout BBC/Hulu hit of 2020. Much of the creative team from Normal People reunited for this second Sally Rooney adaptation, including Element Pictures, director Lenny Abrahamson, and co-writer Alice Birch. Martin, of course, approached this as a completely different project nonetheless.
“It’s a little less folk or singer-songwriter, and a bit more contemporary,” she says of the soundtrack for Conversations With Friends. “We didn’t want to fall into the world of it being the same as Normal People.” She recalls that one of the first tracks they picked felt more in the vein of that previous project, and course-corrected towards some music with a bit more “edge.” While she explains that there’s no way to “future-proof” a piece of work, it’s fun to jump into the perspective of characters like Frances and Bobbi, two women in their early ’20s in Dublin.
“I wanted to create a little world for the girls, too, that was separate from Nick and Melissa’s world,” she says. Listeners who pay close attention might notice that line, and when artists like Charli XCX, PinkPantheress, or girl in red appear, versus acts like The Knife or Joanna Newsom.
While she didn’t work with Phoebe Bridgers directly with creative input on “Sidelines,” the original track Bridgers penned for the show, she was able to provide some insight into how it all came together. Bridgers received an advance of the show and was able to spend time in the characters’ world — she then came back with the completed track. “It was just so brilliant,” Martin shares. “We knew immediately which sequence it would go over between Bobbi and Frances.”
In real life, these actors and artists are sometimes as tied up together as the characters in Sally Rooney’s distinctly human novels — Bridgers is dating Paul Mescal, who broke into a new level of stardom following his critically acclaimed performance in Normal People. Martin has maintained a relationship with Mescal since their time working on that first Rooney adaptation, and even revealed that he did his own singing live on set while filming the upcoming feature God’s Creatures, a psychological drama premiering at the Cannes Film Festival this month.
When it comes to any project, from Martin’s perspective, it’s all a conversation of its own. “You’re thinking about the scene, and you’re thinking about how the music speaks to the drama,” she shares as her rule of thumb. With plenty of drama to support in Conversations With Friends, Martin had her work cut out for her — and rose to the challenge once again.
Conversations With Friends is now streaming on Hulu.