The 'Underground' Soundtrack Features Music Hand-Picked By John Legend That May Not Be What You Expect
WGN America launches its new historical drama chronicling the journey of a group of escaped slaves on March 9. It's understandable to assume that you'd already know what to expect when it comes to the Underground soundtrack. I mean, it's set during the 1800s, so that means coded songs, spirituals, and the occasional banjo, right? Wrong. Series creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski are more interesting than that and wisely brought on one of their fellow producers, John Legend, to oversee the music. And, while he does include spirituals and folk songs, Legend also brings modern music to the Underground soundtrack.
"We're altogether trying to create a soundscape that fits with the show's urgency and power," Legend said in a featurette, as reported by Billboard. That means songs that you would never expect to hear during the historical period, like Kanye West's "Black Skinhead," or "I Got Shoes" by Johnny Cash. Legend elaborated on these choices to USA Today, saying, "[We] wanted to establish a tone that we weren't afraid to make this feel vibrant and fresh and not simply another period piece ... And part of the way we did it was through the music."
I totally get it — contemporary music makes audiences excited to hear what comes next, adding another layer of anticipation into the viewing mix. Of course, Legend is no stranger when it comes to putting contemporary music on the soundtrack to historical dramas. He and Common won an Oscar in 2015 for "Glory," their original song from Selma, which was set in 1965.
Legend told USA Today that, even though they were written well after the 1800s, the content of the songs are still fitting with the show. "You see how important songs were, even as coded language, to help guide people on the route to the North," he said. He explained to the newspaper that this is especially true for "Heaven's Door," the theme song for the show, which was written by Angelique Cinelu and Curtis Richardson and performed by Alice Smith. "[It's] about trying to figure out how to get to the promised land."
Everyone has their personal preferences when it comes to pop culture, but I actually really love it when TV shows and movies mix historical time periods with contemporary music. That trailer for The Great Gatsby that has Jack White singing U2's "Love Is Blindness"? Amazing. The use of Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" in Peaky Blinders ? Outstanding. I'm seriously happy Legend is doing this for the Underground soundtrack and hope other period pieces follow suit.