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The first season of Fox’s Empire was only 12 episodes, but in that short amount of time, the show delivered a number of memorable elements, from Cookie’s (Taraji P. Henson) quotables to her signature looks and, of course, its Timbaland-produced music.
The breakout drama from Danny Strong and Lee Daniels has featured a wave of buzzy music: From Hakeem’s (Bryshere Y. Gray) earworm single “Drip Drop” to the many versions of “You’re So Beautiful” to the track that started it all in the pilot episode, Jamal’s (Jussie Smollett) “Good Enough,” The Hollywood Reporter asked the cast and creators of Empire to select the song they thought most defined the show’s groundbreaking first season.
“No Apologies” — Jussie Smollett & Yazz
The first single that was released from Empire, done so before the show had even premiered, despite the fact that it came from the second episode of the series and featured quite a few story spoilers. Grace Gealey (Anika) felt it was a track that embodies Empire as a whole because “it reflects how we’ve approached a lot of the topics. We’re not sorry for none of it. We had some things to say, and we’ve said them!”
“Tell the Truth” — Smollett
“It’s the most emotional, raw song, and it also speaks to all the lying that goes on in this show, in this family, and how at the essence, everybody just wants to be living in their truth, whether it’s accepted by everybody or not,” Kaitlin Doubleday (Rhonda) said.
“Drip Drop” — Yazz featuring Serayah McNeill
Gray told THR the quintessential song for Hakeem specifically was this raunchy single he and his sort-of girlfriend, definite collaborator Tiana (McNeill) released. “It embodies who Hakeem is. It’s very sexual and stuff like that; he’s a sexual person!”
“Good Enough” — Smollett
Smollett noted that this song was extremely representative of Jamal’s “struggle and journey for the season and said so much about where he was.” Strong seconded the notion, adding that the main story of the season was about the father/son dynamic between Lucious and Jamal. Jamal was the son most like Lucious, but he was also the one Lucious understood the least. Lucious needed to get to know his son for the man that he was, not the stereotype in his head. “I think that’s quintessentially what the story has been about this season: a father/son relationship [in which] the father doesn’t accept the son for who he is and the son is trying to get his father to accept him,” Strong said. Daniels pointed to this song, too, noting that it was a moment in the pilot where everything this show is about from a filmmaking perspective collided. “It was a combination of Timbaland doing his thing where his world met my world met the cinema,” Daniels said.
“Remember the Music” — Jennifer Hudson
Trai Byers (Andre) chose this number from the end of the season not because it connected with his own storyline but because he felt it was one song that was relevant for everybody — on the show and off. “It’s a song about identity; it’s a song about growing; it’s a song about troubles and trials and tribulations and being able to overcome them to find yourself,” Byers said.
“You’re So Beautiful” — Smollett
Perhaps the biggest number in Empire‘s freshman run was this one. Not only was this song the lone track released to represent the eighth episode, but there have been multiple versions of it, too. Smollett pointed to this track as one that “clearly represents where Jamal is now, and that’s a beautiful thing.” Showrunner Ilene Chaiken explained the beauty in it being how far Jamal has come in his openness with his sexuality, as well as his ability to be a truly legendary artist. “I love the song — it gives me joy, but I also love the way it told a story,” Chaiken said. “We knew that Jamal was going to come out by singing — by doing a cover and changing the gender pronoun. We didn’t know in the beginning that it was going to be one of his father’s songs, but as the stories progressed, we came up with the idea of making it one of Lucious’ songs to create all of this extra drama around it. As Danny was getting ready to write this episode, we had already recorded ‘You’re So Beautiful,’ and there was a specific request for a song like that — a song for Jamal that was more upbeat, a more pop sensibility after he had done so many great, soulful R&B ballads. We were getting close to the end, and we hadn’t used ‘You’re So Beautiful,’ so I said [we should] make it the coming-out song, but then we had to go back and make an old-school version and a family version, too.”
What was your favorite song of the season? Sound off in the comments below and stay tuned to The Live Feed for more Empire coverage after the season finale.
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Thomas Brodie Sangster