'Scandal': Shonda Rhimes Explains the Final Season Premiere's Key Change

Here's a hint: It wasn't something viewers could see onscreen.
Richard Cartwright/ABC

[This story contains spoilers from the final season premiere of ABC's Scandal.]

ABC's Scandal opened its seventh and final season with some major changes: Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) is now well into her presidency and Olivia (Kerry Washington) is pulling all the strings as her chief of staff and the head of black-ops group B613. Between all the backroom dealings, there's one major change that viewers may have missed: the Shondaland drama's music.

The first six seasons relied almost exclusively on classic soul and funk music from the 1960s and '70s — think Aretha Franklin's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Dr. Feelgood"; Stevie Wonder's "All in Love Is Fair"; Bill Withers' "Lovely Day"; and Diana Ross and Lionel Richie's "Endless Love" — but the season seven premiere featured not one, but two classic hip-hop tunes from the late '80s.

Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" (released in 1989) and Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock's "It Takes Two" (1988) were both proximately featured during Thursday's "Watch Me" installment, marking a major shift in Scandal's soundtrack.

To hear Scandal creator and showrunner Shonda Rhimes tell it, the double-dose of '80s hip-hop doesn't mean the show's signature sound will permanently change.

"You're not experiencing a sea change; it’s not that we’re not going to be using '70s music, it’s just simply that I always search for music that feels right me … and for this episode it felt right for me," Rhimes tells THR.

Alexandra Patsavas, the veteran music supervisor who has worked on Scandal and Grey's Anatomy for years, tells THR there was a simple reason that she and Rhimes landed on "Fight the Power" and "It Takes Two" for the premiere. "[They are] immediately recognizable but also impactful, strong and infectious [songs]."

"Shonda asked me to delve into the incredible offerings of '80s hip-hop and rap," Patsavas says. "Exploring a time period and genre is one of my favorite aspects of music supervision."

Meanwhile, the prolific showrunner — whose Thursday primetime lineup of Grey's Anatomy (now in its 14th season), How to Get Away With Murder (in its fourth) and Scandal has its own "TGIT" marketing campaign — notes that it's too soon to know if the '80s hip-hop will continue throughout the final season.

"It just felt right for this episode, in this moment," Rhimes says when asked if the song selection was meant to reflect Olivia's (Kerry Washington) powerful new role.  

Meanwhile, The Album Leaf's "The Light" — the unofficial/official theme for on-again/off-again romantic favorites Olivia and Fitz — was, like the show's now-former president, absent from the opener. But the inner gladiator in Patsavas certainly hopes the Scandal favorite will be return for another spin before Scandal wraps its run. "I am not sure yet, but a girl can dream," she says. "I can't hear 'The Light' and not think of Liv and Fitz."

Meanwhile, leading lady Washington says that Olivia is trying to do things differently as the head of B613. "She has seen a lot of people in these same positions make mistakes that she doesn't want to repeat so she is trying to be in this position of power and have it be a place of service, have it be a place where she is doing what's best to defend and protect and uphold this democratic republic."

Scandal airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.