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Before Umbrella Academy’s showrunner writes the fight scenes, he picks the songs

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How do you wind up with a Swedish cover of Adele?

umbrella academy season 2: klaus and his cult sing a song Photo: Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

The Umbrella Academy season 2 starts with major shifts in the series: the Hargreeves siblings are now in Dallas in the 1960s instead of “The City” in modern day, the color palette is golden and bright instead of dark and angsty, and the siblings generally get along with each other. If there’s one constant between seasons, it's all of the off-kilter bangers on the soundtrack.

One of the first season’s most iconic, unexpected song choices is They Might Be Giants’ “Istanbul” playing as Five battles time-traveling assassins in a donut shop. Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman,” and “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows” all followed in other big action moments. There are some memorable songs that fit familiar tropes, like the scene where all the siblings jam out separately to “I Think We’re Alone Now,” but for every couple of those, there’s also a Phantom of the Opera medley playing over a montage of the kids growing up.

The newly arrived second season doubles down on the music, filling the episodes with songs that really shouldn’t work over their respective scenes, but somehow totally do.

The season opener kicks off with three tracks just in the first few minutes, but the take-the-cake moment comes when Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” plays as the Hargreeves siblings team up to stop Soviet soldiers from invading Dallas. The second episode features Perry Como covering the classic Cinderella song “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” over scenes of the villainous Handler waking up from a coma and waltzing back into the Commission.

Showrunner Steve Blackman says picking the music key to his creative process, but the way he decides which tracks go into the show is pretty different from how it’s typically done in the industry.

“I sometimes will be listening to a song and then I imagine a scene,” Blackman says. “Very early on, I’m thinking, ‘I want to put this song over a fight scene,’ and I work that into the script — which is often backward. A lot of people add music after the fact. I work the opposite way. A lot of times, it’s organic. I’ve got a great music supervisor, Jen Malone, and we work together. I pick a lot of songs myself, because I love doing it.”

Season 2 also features a Swedish version of Adele’s “Hello” by singer My Kullsvik playing as a group of Swedish assassins send their fallen brother off on a Viking funeral. It’s one of those moments where the music starts and it takes a split second to realize exactly what song is playing, since the melody is familiar, but the words might not be to non-Swedish speakers.

But perhaps one of the season’s greatest choices comes at the end of episode 7. Eccentric Klaus, who accidentally started a cult sometime in the 1960s and speaks to his people in song lyrics, tries to flee from his passionate followers. One begs him for some last words of wisdom, and he says “Oh my God, we’re back again. Brothers, sisters, everybody sing! We’re gonna bring you the flavor. We’re gonna show you how.” His lyrical recitation immediately segues into “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” playing, as the Swedish assassins attack Allison and Klaus stumbles to the alleyway where Luther and Five are waiting for him.

“I love how you can have contrasting scenes,” says Blackman. “You can have a fight scene and then you have a happy song. ‘Istanbul’ is a perfect example. Backstreet Boys shouldn’t work on that fight scene, but it does. It works really really well.”

Correction: This story previous stated Umbrella Academy’s music supervisor was John Malone. It has been corrected to Jen Malone.

The Umbrella Academy season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.