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The Best TV Show Soundtracks Since 2000

The music chosen for a show can make or break a viewer's experience. From the opening theme to the score to diegetic sound, the best TV shows have soundtracks that not only set the atmosphere and theme, but also revive interest in old favorites or introduce audiences to new talent. 

Dozens of incredible TV show soundtracks have met these criteria since the year 2000. Take for example "Stranger Things" Season 4, which helped Kate Bush earn over $2 million on her decades-old song "Running Up That Hill" thanks to the key role the track played in series regular Max's character journey. TV show soundtracks have also contributed to the popularity of several new artists and underappreciated genres: HBO's "Insecure" recently featured musicians like Nnena and Saweetie, for example, and Fox's "The O.C." brought indie rock into the zeitgeist in the aughts. 

Here's a rundown of some of the best TV show soundtracks since 2000. We couldn't fit everything on this list, but honorable mentions go to the depressive psychedelia of "Russian Doll," the rap-soul mix of "Atlanta," and the '80s dance hits of "Pose." 

The O.C. (2003–2007)

Showrunner Josh Schwartz has created many musically iconic TV shows over the past two decades, including old and newer hits like "Chuck," "Hart of Dixie," and Marvel's "Runaways," but his best TV show soundtrack by far was the one he helped curate for "The O.C." As "The O.C.'s" music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas has said in multiple interviews, Schwartz always intended for music to be like another "character on the show." Patsavas and Schwartz had several songs produced exclusively for the show, including Nada Surf's vibrant cover of "If You Leave" and Matt Pond PA's recording of Oasis' original track "Champagne Supernova," which help define the iconic Spider-Man kiss scene between fan-favorite couple Seth and Summer in Season 2. 

Not only did the show's soundtrack perfectly complement the emotional impact of many scenes throughout the series, but it also featured live performances from tons of great bands like The Killers and Death Cab for Cutie. Other musical highlights (from a list of dozens) include Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek" (which you may also know as the song sampled by Jason Derulo for his hit "Whatcha Say") playing in the aftermath of Marissa's rushed decision to shoot Trey in Season 2 and Patrick Park's "Something Pretty," which played during Seth's grand (and very public) confession of love to Summer in Season 1. And let's not forget the classic theme song, "California" by Phantom Planet. You can find the full track list for the show here

Insecure (2016–2021)

"Insecure" has had one of the best TV show soundtracks in recent years. Its success is due in large part to creator Issa Rae and music supervisor Kier Lehman's commitment to featuring young Black artists. In fact, "Insecure's" musical sensibilities were so strong that Issa Rae was inspired to create her own record label imprint, Raedio, which has a program for emerging artists. 

The show opened up a world of opportunity for artists of color who might not have otherwise had the chance to blossom into the success they've found since being featured on the show. SZA, Saweetie, Tyler the Creator, Nnena, Odd Future, and Frank Ocean (all incredibly innovative and/or up-and-coming rap and R&B musicians) have had songs on the show's soundtrack, and a few others have written songs exclusively for the "Insecure." Rapper Kari Faux wrote and produced "Top Down" for the scene in Season 1 where Issa and her friends are driving to Malibu, and Sasha Go Hard's Season 3 feature "Golden Pussy" is an iconic remix of Issa's original track, "Broken Pussy," from Season 1 that plays during Molly's birthday party. You can find a full list of "Insecure's" tracks here

Scrubs (2001–2009)

When you think of great TV soundtracks, "Scrubs" probably isn't the first show that comes to mind, but its use of music is deceptively brilliant, and don't be surprised if it introduces you to some obscure tracks that end up being your favorite songs. From its first season to its last, "Scrubs" was 85% pure comedy and 15% stark emotion. You could watch almost a whole episode about J.D.'s attempts to escape the attention of a cringe-y patient and find yourself misty-eyed for Doctor Cox's lost patients in the last five minutes. 

How did "Scrubs" manage to bounce between these two moods for over seven seasons? Mostly the musical stylings of creator Bill Lawrence and his wife Christa Miller, who also served as the music supervisor for the show. Zach Braff, one of the show's stars, was also involved in picking some of the music used, and later became known as something of a tastemaker for crafting the soundtrack to his 2004 indie hit "Garden State." Listen to Braff and Donald Faison's podcast for details on the inception of the show's iconic theme song ("Superman" by Lazlo Bane) and find a fabulous array of indie music for any mood in this master list of songs used in the show.

Stranger Things (2016–)

"Stranger Things" is a little different from a lot of the other shows on this list in that the majority of its music comes from its original score produced by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. Most of the time, the only melodies the show needs to maintain its playful-yet-spooky vibes are Dixon and Stein's retro-inspired synth sounds, but that's what makes it all the more impactful when the show creators, the Duffer brothers, decide to use era-appropriate songs for certain moments in the show. 

Obviously, Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill," recently featured in "Stranger Things" Season 4, has had a whirlwind comeback from its moderate 1980s success, but pretty much every song used in the show has been iconic. From The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go" representing the bond between brothers Will and Jonathan in Season 1 to Dustin and his girlfriend's adorable rendition of the title song from the film "The NeverEnding Story" in Season 3, music has always played a critical role both in the development of "Stranger Things'" characters and in anchoring the show firmly in nostalgia. Find a full list of tracks here

Grey's Anatomy (2005–)

Nowadays, "Grey's Anatomy" is the epitome of a primetime soap—it's been running new episodes for over 15 years—but there was a time when it was a cutting-edge TV drama. "Grey's Anatomy" has always had an impeccable soundtrack and still does, but the emotional and cultural impact of its musical sound was at its height during the early seasons. The show's angsty, eclectic soundtrack provided an emotionally resonant backdrop for the beautiful doctors of Seattle Grace. 

Often, a well-placed song cemented a scene in the memory of viewers everywhere. Who could forget the chilling sound of Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" as Izzie, sobbing, is pulled away from Denny's side by her friends after his sudden heart failure? Or Ingrid Michaelson's beautiful ballad "Keep Breathing," which played during Cristina's breakdown in Burke's apartment after he left her at the altar? "Grey's Anatomy" often made a point of featuring young women artists like Michaelson, Tegan and Sara, Anna Nalick, and many more. While most of its most memorable musical moments are dramatic and somber, the show's first music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas, also found the perfect balance between whimsy and pop for its lighter scenes. Find the full track list here

Euphoria (2019–)

"Euphoria" is only two seasons into its story, but much like "Insecure," it has made an impression with its youthful soundtrack featuring new musicians and rising stars. What sets "Euphoria" apart from many other teen-centered shows is its embrace of a very zillennial sense of ennui and existential dread in its atmospheric music choices, as well as its sufficiently depressing plot. Music supervisor Jen Malone has populated "Euphoria's" soundtrack with songs from all genres and has balanced the need for pop and upbeat dance music with the show's quieter, angsty side. 

"Euphoria" has featured artists like Yung Baby Tate, Jozzy, Lolo Zouaï, Megan Thee Stallion, Rosalía, and many others, some of whom were practically unknown before their work was used on the show. The show has also featured older music, including tracks by Sinead O'Connor and Steely Dan. The show isn't interested in verisimilitude and the soundtrack reflects that; the songs featured aren't necessarily what your average Gen Z-er listens to. As Malone put it in an interview with The Ringer, "We have no parameters about the genres or the time period." 

In addition to the average 15-20 tracks featured per episode, "Euphoria" has an incredible score composed by musician Labrinth, who wanted the vibe to be "semi-magical but semi-crazy and semi-psychotic," as he told Rolling Stone. You can find a full track list for "Euphoria" here

Ted Lasso (2020–)

"Ted Lasso" is an exceptional show that has taken many audiences by storm. It makes sense that its soundtrack would relay the same emotional vibrance and variety as its storytelling. "Ted Lasso" focuses on what it means to be human. As a result, its music is more organic than many other shows; it often feels like the music is prescribed for each character, and evolves alongside their own growth into new stories and feelings. 

The show is scored by musician Marcus Mumford, who's the perfect man for the job considering how much he centers emotional contemplation and expression in his work. Mumford's song, "Forever," which plays during a scene where Ted's relationship with his wife is coming to an end and then another where Keely and Roy's romantic relationship is just beginning, is revelatory and functions beautifully as a segue. Other brilliantly utilized tracks include "Hello" by Martin Solveig and Dragonette, "Loving Is Easy" by Rex Orange County, and "She's a Rainbow" by The Rolling Stones. You can find a full track list for "Ted Lasso" here, and learn more about the secret behind the soundtrack's musical success here on Looper.

Gilmore Girls (2000–2007)

Amy Sherman-Palladino is another show creator for whom music is essential to their storytelling. Carole King actually recorded a new version of her hit song, "Where You Lead," for "Gilmore Girls'" title theme so that it would better reflect the importance of a mother-daughter relationship. From Season 1 Episode 1, the show is populated with classic tunes derived from many genres and decades as well as a fantastic and unapologetically feminine score of "La La La's" performed by singer Sam Phillips. Rory's best friend Lane is the music-obsessed avatar in the show, but Rory and Lorelai often define themselves by their favorite bands and musicians as well, with constant references to artists like David Bowie, The Bangles, Smashing Pumpkins, Macy Gray, and many more. XTC's "Then She Appeared" is the perfect backdrop for Rory and Jess's first kiss as a real couple in Season 3, Dave's rebellious moment playing the guitar riff from David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" at Mrs. Kim's church gathering is comedic gold, and "Wedding Bell Blues" by 5th Dimension provides an appropriately jubilant (yet still foreboding) sound for Emily and Richard's vow renewal in Season 5. Someone could probably write an entire book about the relationship between "Gilmore Girls" and music, but in lieu of that, here is a full list of tracks from every season of the series.

Letterkenny (2016–)

There are a lot of things that many fans don't know about "Letterkenny," a Canadian cult-favorite comedy from Crave that streams on Hulu in the U.S., but one of them is that the show is essentially an amalgamation of creator Jared Keeso's favorite things, such as rural Canada, hockey, wordplay, dogs, attractive people, brawls (aka 'scraps'), and, lucky for us, indie dance music. While this may not sound like a recipe for a great show, Keeso, and his co-creator Nathan Dales, have turned their project into a sleeper hit, and a lot of that is thanks to the many slow-motion scenes backed by unique beats and frantic melodies. Not every song featured in the show has come from indie Canadian musicians, but most of them have, and you will definitely find your next favorite dance track watching this show, whether it's "Okay Okay" by Girlfriend Material or "Fineshrine" by Purity Ring. Always up for a good tune? Check out the show's full track list here

Derry Girls (2018–)

"Derry Girls" is a truly original, truly hilarious coming-of-age show set in Northern Ireland during the conflict between the IRA and the British government in the 1990s. Available to stream in the U.S. on Netflix, the show is beautiful because it centers on the experience of regular, funny teens during a time of great upheaval in their homeland. The soundtrack to "Derry Girls" is like a '90s time capsule, including hits like Alex Party's "Don't Give Me Your Life," Corona's "Rhythm of the Night," and CeCe Peniston's "Finally;" the Season 2 episode "The Concert" even features the mania surrounding boybands (in this case, Take That) during the decade. The most important band featured on the soundtrack by far is The Cranberries, a group of musicians that came from Ireland in the '90s and gained worldwide popularity. Their song "Dreams" serves as the emotional bookend to Season 1 and the moment in Season 2 when the girls find out about the peace reached between the IRA and England is backed by their haunting track, "Zombie," which was actually written about the conflict in question. Find a full list of "Derry Girls'" great '90s throwbacks here

Mad Men (2007–2015)

We've written before about "Mad Men's" iconic theme song, but it's not the only musical element that has helped make it such an iconic TV show. Most of "Mad Men" was subtext and atmosphere, and the meticulously crafted 1960s setting was perfected by the soundtrack. The show applies music to devastating effect from Season 1 on. Peggy's Season 1 dance to Chubby Checker's "The Twist" defines an important moment in her problematic relationship with Pete. In Season 2, Sterling Cooper attempts (and fails) to capture the charisma of Ann-Margret singing "Bye Bye Birdie"—an electric, decade-defining musical moment. Jessica Paré's Season 5 performance of "Zou Bisou Bisou" as Megan Draper is probably the most iconic musical moment of the show. The show also features new covers of old tracks by artists like The Decemberists and old classics from the likes of Bob Dylan, The Kinks, and even The Beatles. Every musical choice builds tension that mirrors a tumultuous decade.

Peacemaker (2022–)

Some TV soundtracks are good not because they feature certified bangers but because they're so true to their characters. "Peacemaker" is the most recent show on the list, but even with just one season under its belt, the show has managed to revive a near-dead and much-derided musical sub-genre: hair metal. Showrunner James Gunn's vision began with "Peacemaker's" title credits, which include a choreographed dance of the entire cast to Wig Wam's "Do Ya Wanna Taste It," which literally prevented Wig Wam from falling into a career death spiral

Gunn made sure that the entire soundtrack of the show was drawn from mostly obscure hair metal and glam rock bands and albums from the '80s and '90s. His commitment to one genre helped define the sound for "Peacemaker" and endear the audience to the titular character, whose childish excitement about the bands featured on the TV show soundtrack sets him apart from his horrific, joyless father. There are many great tracks of note, but the best musical moment in the season is definitely the invasion of a police station by a swarm of alien butterflies, set to the song "Monster" by Reckless Love. You can find the full soundtrack for "Peacemaker" here