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

Meredith Scardino and Renée Elise Goldsberry on crafting Girls5eva's catchy original songs

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

Every single Girls5eva song is a bop. The first season of this Peacock musical comedy dropped in its entirety on May 6. It features multiple original tracks that successfully adhere to the show’s surreal comedic vibe, captured in groovy beats and quirky lyrics. The show centers on four members of Girls5eva, a pop band with a one-hit wonder in the early aughts. Two decades later, they reconnect for an opportunity to reinvigorate their musical career. Series creator Meredith Scardino, whose work includes The Colbert Report and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, tells The A.V. Club she was interested in writing about women in her age group, and she spent time thinking about the most intriguing setting to tell stories about female friendships. “I noticed how girl groups were reuniting. I saw the Spice Girls were doing a tour without Posh, and it occurred to me that I grew up in a time when there were all these other boy and girl bands who were a blip for a second and then they were gone,” Scardino says. With Girls5eva, she was excited to explore the possibilities of this band getting another chance at being relevant.

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The show stars Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Paula Pell, and Busy Phillipps as Dawn, Wickie, Gloria, and Summer, respectively. Girls5eva broke up in 2000, and they lost their fifth member, Ashley (Ashley Park, seen in flashbacks). To make their grand return, they must once figure out their voice together as adults with varied life experiences. “They have arrested development because of this huge thing that happened to them when they were younger, so for me it’s an interesting ground to talk about all of the things in the ’90s when I came of age,” Scardino says. “It’s also firmly rooted in the present and set against the hyperbolic pop world.”

The comedy infuses ’90s nostalgia with modern day pop music. Scardino wrote most of the lyrics herself with Jeff Richmond, who is the composer and one of the Girls5eva producers along with Tina Fey (to whom he’s married). “It was interesting to write the band’s past work. It was certainly easier because Girls5eva were part of the factory pop thing where they never met the songwriter. They went in, did a recording session and sang something, then it was over,” Scardino says. Episode three of the show, titled “Alf Musik,” reveals that their manager used a Swedish songwriter (Stephen Colbert in a cameo), so the result was songs with inappropriate messages. To combat this, Bareilles’ Dawn decides she will write an anthem for “things that aren’t perfect but are still great.”

Scardino knew right away how vital it was to show this growth. For her series’ initial pitch, she made an entire Girls5eva CD to reflect the band’s status when they became a hit in 1999. The disc, complete with cellophane wrapper, has a purple cover featuring a silhouette of five women with the words “W.O.R.L.D. D.O.M.I.N.A.T.I.O.N.” printed on it. The back of the CD has a made-up track list, with songs like “No SPF 4 UR Heart (Gonna Get Burned)“ and “Coco Beef.” It’s even priced with a fake $1 sticker. Scardino says she “made all this crap because it felt like a fun way to say this is where they were and this is the level they were at with songs. It was all catchy but not rocket science and mainly it wasn’t coming from them.”

Sara Bareilles, Busy Phillipps, Ashley Park, Erika Henningsen, Renée Elise Goldsberry
Sara Bareilles, Busy Phillipps, Ashley Park, Erika Henningsen, Renée Elise Goldsberry
Photo: Heidi Gutman/Peacock

The theme song itself is a banger. “Famous 5eva”—also the first track on Scardino’s concocted CD—is the song that brought Girls5eva to fame. Scardino thanks Richmond for making it such an earworm. “The evolution of that song is that I wrote the refrain in the pilot with that stupid number game about ‘Gonna be famous 5eva, cause 4ever’s 2 short, gonna be famous 3getha, cause that’s 1 more than 2getha,’ and he just ran with it,” she remarks. “He started playing around with it and we created a full song out of it. [Richmond] was the driving force.” The cast, including Erika Henningsen as young Gloria, melodiously belts out lyrics that are extremely 2000, like “Driving in our Lexus/Life really affects us” or “Shoe shoppin’ with my sisters, the Louboutins left blisters/That sales girl was really cute, I accidentally kissed her.”

The bigger challenge for Scardino and team was how to create the music for Girls5eva in the present day. “It has to come from a more authentic place. It’s originating from them today, so it’s more earnest and not toxic,” she adds. “We asked Sara Bareilles if she would be willing to help out and write for us, which she did. It was cool and evolved very organically.” Bareilles, a Grammy-winning singer and songwriter, has previously starred in Waitress on Broadway and in Little Voice on Apple TV+. Renée Elise Goldsberry, who delightfully plays the diva-like Wickie Roy, who’s Dawn’s best friend, tells The A.V. Club she was excited to collaborate with these artists. “There is such a casual brilliance to Jeff Richmond and his team, to Meredith as a lyricist, and obviously to Sara Bareilles,” Goldsberry says. Bareilles wrote “4 Stars,” the new song by Girls5eva that helps them find their strength as a band today.

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The official track list of the show has nine songs, and is now available on various music streaming platforms. It includes a genius Simon And Garfunkel parody called “New York Lonely Boy,” sung by The Milk Carton Kids with music and lyrics by Scardino and Richmond. For “Dream Girlfriends,” Girls5eva sings and films in a dingy abandoned mall to announce their return. One of the fake songs from Scardino’s original pitch is “Don’t Worry (Our Dads Are Dead),” which became a lyric in “Dream Girlfriends.” Scardino says they “ended up making a lot of songs out of such snippets.”

The Girls5eva cast goes all in on the absurdist zingers, in dialogue and lyrics, their chemistry elevating the original songs. Goldsberry was pleased that the show put each of the band member’s in the spotlight. “What was beautiful in this instance is there is no end to the supply of step out moments of these characters,” she says.

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Goldsberry is known for her Tony-winning performance in Hamilton, and her TV roles in One Life To Live and The Good Wife. But the Peacock show gives her an opportunity to shine as a comedic performer. “I was a huge fan of the genre and familiar with the style but not familiar enough, so I definitely re-binged Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” she recalls. “With the music of this show, it was like iron shepherding iron, if you believe there is any iron in me. I felt so grateful to be able to work and learn from all them, they are all just so iconic by themselves.”

Staff Writer (TV)