Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jeff Richmond on the making of Girls5eva’s “New York Lonely Boy” and more

Paula Pell, Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Busy Phillipps in Girls5eva
Paula Pell, Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Busy Phillipps in Girls5eva
Photo: Heidi Gutman/Peacock

Jeff Richmond, the ace composer known for his Emmy-nominated 30 Rock theme song and Tony-nominated original score for Mean Girls, has added to his accomplishments with Peacock’s Girls5eva. Richmond, who also produces the show with wife Tina Fey, composed the musical comedy’s funny, catchy original songs in collaboration with series creator and lyricist Meredith Scardino. In talking about their partnership, Richmond tells The A.V. Club that it was a dream, and Scardino took charge of the lyrical content: “She knows how to find the joke within the style we are trying to emulate of this 90s girl group.”

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The show centers on four women trying to revive their once famous band called Girls5eva. Richmond says the process of working on the songs was a collaborative give-and-take, and that they were inspired by Spice Girls, En Vogue, and Destiny’s Child, among others. The pair previously worked on Fey and Robert Carlock’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, another quirky comedy with a memorable theme song to boot—it’s hard not to belt out “they alive, damnit!” along with Mr. Bankston (Mike Brett). Richmond composed that track as well, one whose lyrical absurdity matches the Girls5eva opener, “Famous 5eva.” Richmond says they had a helpful template or concept to start off with for both songs. “With Kimmy Schmidt, we knew it would be a personified retelling of the story with Mr. Bankston, so that framework gave us permission to run the ball with the refrain, the ‘damnits,’ and bending his dialogue,” he says. “Similarly, with Girls5eva, once we had written their first and only big hit in ‘Famous5eva,’ we knew we had our title sequence to introduce the audience to the show. Both are strong choices people can recognize and enjoy.”

Besides a banger of a theme song, Girls5eva has eight other tracks on the playlist, including the popular “New York Lonely Boy.” Richmond says it was the easiest song for him to compose. “I grew up on Simon & Garfunkel, and I knew exactly what the song was supposed to sound like when I read it on the page. I played it, recorded it in my own voice because that’s the process of making a demo for everyone to listen to,” he says. “I was delighted when I got The Milk Carton Kids to be record it.” But if this was the easiest, which was the toughest song to compose? Richmond quickly answers with “Space Boy,” a fun track but only a sliver of it is used in the episode. “We recorded that first and it was the challenge of ‘alright, we have 3-4 bars, but now we’re going to do this whole song at the last minute so we can put it on the album. I remember wondering what this going to be, some kind of David Bowie pop anthem slash space odyssey slash sexy shooting for the moon kind of thing,” Richmond says.

The show’s all-star lineup includes Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Paula Pell, and Busy Phillipps as the core members of Girls5eva in present day, but when Richmond and Scardino began working on the music, they hadn’t all been cast yet. “What was super helpful when we began getting them onboard is that we realized we had people who perform musically and comedically,” Richmond says about the ensemble’s talent to pull off their surreal songs. “We knew Renée would give us crazy riffs and we knew that’s how her character, Wickie Roy, would be identified, so we could make her a diva who riffs. We had Sara who can sweeten everything, she’s got the loveliest voice. I’ve worked with Busy for her late-night show and knew she has an undiscovered pop voice. Paula, I’ve known her for like 106 years, and I’ve written more with her than anybody else,” he shares. “I also have to mention Erika Henningsen (young Gloria) and Ashley Park (playing the band’s fifth member in flashbacks). I’ve worked with them solidly during Mean Girls and knew I could count on them to make the band sound young and pop music-like.”

While the cast brings their individual melodies and voices to the music, the process of harmonizing effortlessly as a girl group isn’t as simple, especially because Richmond says they only had a few opportunities to get into a room to rehearse. “We recognized where people’s harmonic strengths were,” the composer tells us. “Busy is a good singer but her character, Summer, isn’t supposed to be as good so we made sure she was always on melody or following Sara’s part and we gave her a funny step-out with her feminasty phrase,” he says. “I knew we had people with particular strengths and certain people who need a little more guidance, but I was amazed at how quickly they jelled together as a girl group.”

Staff Writer (TV)