When Christine Quinn makes her first appearance in the fourth season of Selling Sunset, it’s a moment of high camp. We’ve just watched a scene where — like most of the show — the other ladies in the Oppenheim Group real estate agency have been talking breathlessly about her. Now, she’s stepping out of a yellow Lamborghini to an $8 million property in the Hollywood Hills that looks like a drug lord’s palace. She’s heavily pregnant and looks impossibly glamorous, wearing a sleek black dress, a bedazzled blazer with arched shoulder pads, and a “chair purse” that she admits can’t actually hold anything.
She has attitude. She’s a boss. She means business.
Underscoring the moment is an electric bass-heavy bop with seemingly nonsensical lyrics: “Take my name out of your mouth / I don’t want to hear you talking when you’re around / ‘Cause everywhere I go it’s like you’re always there / But I don’t want to hear it / ‘Cause everybody wants a piece of what I got.”
Like practically all the music in the show, “I Got Mine” is not a song you’ve likely ever heard before. And while its lyrics may be nonsense, they somehow perfectly meet the moment — and that’s exactly the point.
“It’s ‘gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss’ vibes, 100%,” said Colby Lapolla, one of the song’s writers. “It’s been very funny to watch Twitter, and I feel like so many people have been talking about the music. They don’t understand that we know this is garbage.”
Since the latest season of the Netflix reality drama premiered last month, many fans have been wondering about the show’s “over the top” and “WILD” music. An average episode can feature snippets of around 15 songs, which usually serve as transitions as the ladies make glamorous exits from cars or tour luxury properties. They can, admittedly, all start to sound the same after a while.
“The stock music in Selling Sunset is like music from a mall in hell,” writer Bolu Babalola tweeted. “They sound like songs except really not? Distinctly genreless.”
“It’s like if someone wrote pop songs for aliens,” tweeted Lindsey Adler, a writer for the Athletic.
Parodies of the Selling Sunset song lyrics have also become something of a recurring joke online, with many mocking the seemingly random collection of girlboss buzzwords.
Carrie Hughes, the music supervisor on Selling Sunset, acknowledges the songs tend to share certain themes and sounds, but she insists they’re each unique. “It’s not really the same for me, because I work in music,” she said. “They have the same vibe, but they don’t sound the same to me.”
Hughes’ job is a big one. A 10-episode season might contain as many as 150 songs, as well as hundreds of other musical cues without lyrics. Hughes needs to listen to thousands of tracks to find the right tune that an editor can then cut footage to. Sometimes an editor needs a specific sound for an emotional moment — say, a fight or tearful breakdown — so Hughes will send along options. Otherwise, she has a playlist ready to go of dozens of “female empowerment” songs that can be used for any transition where the lyrics don’t matter. She said that showrunner Adam DiVello, who also created Laguna Beach and The Hills, has a strict rule that they never repeat a song.
“The showrunner definitely wanted ‘female empowerment’ [as a theme],” Hughes explained. “The other main word that gets thrown around is ‘feisty.’ So we kind of have two styles of female empowerment. One is just ‘helping all women,’ ‘we’re great,’ ‘we can do this,’ and then there’s more feisty, like, ‘I’m better than you’ vibes.”
“It has a very city, trendy, cool vibe that is kind of universal,” said Jennifer Smith, who worked with Hughes on seasons 2 and 3, “so it doesn’t matter if you’re watching it in the UK, you can still identify with it even if you’ve never been to LA. It’s a universal sonic texture language.”
The reason Selling Sunset is full of music you’ve never heard before is thus a practical one. It features an astonishing amount of music, and there’s only so much money to spend. “We don’t have the budget for Ariana or Beyoncé or Rihanna,” Hughes said. “We would love to, but we definitely don’t.”
To find music, Hughes speaks with various licensing companies, who themselves search for artists whose music they can sell to productions. Ty Salazar, the vice president of creative licensing for film and TV at Position Music, said his company controls the publishing rights for about 20,000 songs — 26 of which are featured in the latest season of Selling Sunset.
“I would say they’re all bouncy pop,” he said of the Selling Sunset tunes. “They are all songs with drive and swagger. Typically, they have a female empowerment lyric or feel. There’s lyrics about being glamorous, being the best — that sort of thing.”
He added, “We are always looking for what the majority of our clients need at the moment. Right now, this kind of female empowerment, drive songs with swagger is a very big need, and it’s kind of become our speciality.”
Some musicians effectively make writing for licensing companies their full-time job. Knowing what the market demands, they’ll happily work with producers to pump out a supply of tunes in exchange for being paid each time the music is featured in a show or movie. Unlike other music, the point of these songs isn’t necessarily to get played on the radio — but that can actually be somewhat freeing, said Lapolla, the musician whose song was featured in Christine’s intro scene.
“There’s not the pressure of like, I need to express myself right now. What do I want to say? What am I feeling? It’s fun to write stuff like this that is just fun,” she said.
“We still write it with the intention that we want to release it as an artist,” said Michael McQuaid, a singer who partnered with Lapolla to form a group called Girl Fieri to write more music for licensing, “but we think at the back of our heads, How do we mold it to be a little more TV-friendly?”
Most of the songs controlled by the licensing companies aren’t made to order, though. Many are just from regular musicians who’ve uploaded their songs to streaming platforms and are hoping for the best — this despite speculation from some Selling Sunset viewers that the songs are “fake.”
“It’s a very real song! We’re a very real band, and as far as I know that goes for all the acts on the show,” said Jes Marie, who is part of the group Chamie (pronounced like “chameleon”) with her husband Joe Sobalo Jr. Their song “Attitude,” produced in their home studio just before the pandemic, was featured in the final episode as Chrishell Stause tours a mansion with NBA star Thomas Bryant.
“I kind of came up with the idea of an in-your-face, female empowerment track that you could get ready to go out with your girlfriends for the night and put it on and feel badass,” Marie said. “Selling Sunset is all about the ladies. It’s strong, beautiful women selling real estate, so I’m glad they thought our track worked for the show.”
In addition to the artists being paid a modest amount (no one in this story would specify how much due to contractual secrecy), being featured on the show can lead to a respectable spike in streaming as people use Shazam to find certain songs. Some people have even curated Spotify playlists of all the music so people can vibe to a female empowerment track at home. One such playlist features 14 hours of songs, each one bright, poppy, and unabashedly lowbrow — just like the show itself.
“I described the show to people that it’s such well-curated trash. It’s my trash. I own it,” Lapolla said. “The way it’s structured — like half HGTV, half the worst Bravo show you’ve ever seen — it’s like watching a trainwreck. I love it.”
“The phenomenon around the music is so funny,” she added. “It’s a thing, but it wouldn’t work without the ridiculous music.”