With ‘I Saw the TV Glow,’ A24 is pushing into movie soundtracks

Every generation has its iconic movie soundtrack. The curated collections of songs that accompanied films like The Breakfast Club, Reality Bites, and Garden State took on cultural lives of their own, thanks to their ability to distill each movie’s ethos into the best kind of mixed tape.

More recently, the Barbie soundtrack turned original songs from Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, and others into Billboard-charting hits. But Barbie was an outlier: It’s rare, these days, to encounter a soundtrack that doesn’t simply function as a promotional tool for a studio, but actually allows for cross-pollination between music and movie fans.

“I remember seeing commercials on MTV constantly for movie soundtracks,” says Jane Schoenbrun, director of the new A24’s movie, I Saw the TV Glow. The coming-of-age horror film, which hit select theaters Friday, is set in the 1990s and filled with cultural touchstones from that era. Schoenbrun says they wanted to emulate the movies they grew up watching, ones that “integrated music more fluidly into the movie, rather than the songs being relegated to the end credits or opening credits.”

[Photo: A24]

For the film, which follows awkward TV enthusiasts Owen (Justice Smith) and Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) as they connect over a fictional (and spooky) teen drama, Schoenbrun and A24 brought in 16 artists to contribute original music to the soundtrack.

The result is an album that mirrors the movie’s blurry nostalgia for the 90s and early aughts. The lead single is a cover of Broken Social Scene’s “Anthems for A Seventeen Year-Old Girl” by Singaporean glitch-pop artist Yeule. The line up of artists for the other songs range from from cool-girl powerhouses like Caroline Polachek and Phoebe Bridgers to Philadelphia DIY scene stalwarts like Alex G and Frances Quinlan.

Set from 1996 to the mid 2000s, I Saw the TV Glow recalls an era when albums were still the dominant way of consuming music. The setting was part of why Schoenbrun felt “this was the right movie to put energy into making a soundtrack that could stand the test of time.”

Schoenbrun wanted to approach the film and the soundtrack “like twin creative projects with the same emotional DNA at their center.” They add, “I just don’t know if that’s how studios are thinking these days.”

Director Jane Schoenbrun with actor Ian Foreman [Photo: Spencer Pazer, Courtesy of A24]

A24 is certainly thinking that way. The I Saw the TV Glow soundtrack—with its 14 original songs and two covers—is the indie film company’s most ambitious effort to use music as a marketing tool. But it’s not the first.

In 2021, the company created its own music imprint, A24 Music, to release the original score for the Joaquin Phoenix movie C’Mon C’Mon. The score, by Bryce and Aaron Dessner of the National, also included vocals from Feist. Since then, A24 has released curated soundtracks for films like Zola and worked with Charli XCX for original songs for 2022’s Gen Z horror-satire Bodies Bodies Bodies. It has also tapped Charli XCX and super-producer Jack Antonoff to write and produce original songs for the forthcoming film Mother Mary.

A24 executives say that the music imprint is focused on supporting its film and TV releases. But some of its projects take a more oblique approach to promotion.

[Photo: A24]

Last year, the studio re-released the landmark Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense in 4K. On May 17, A24 will debut a Talking Heads tribute album, Everyone’s Getting Involved, with 16 of covers from artists that include Miley Cyrus (“Psycho Killer”) and indie musician Sabrina Teitelbaum, also known as Blondshell.

Teitelbaum says part of A24’s strength is its increasing ability to build on the connection between music and movies. “I think there’s a lot of room for [the studio] given the angle that [it has] into the crossover between music and film that’s so emotional,” she says.

A24 has “cultivated a mainstream audience that’s willing to give something left-of-center a chance,” says I Saw the TV Glow’s Schoenbrun. This ability to bring somewhat outré ideas to larger audiences is, in part, what drew Schoenbrun to the studio. A24 has created an “expansive umbrella,” Schoenbrun says—one that’s getting larger with every film, TV show, and soundtrack it launches.