Alicia Keys – 3 Hour Drive
Lin-Manuel Miranda – Wait For It
R.E.M. – Losing My Religion
Ty Dolla $ign – LA
Based on the podcast of the same name and narrated by Hrishikesh Hirway, Song Exploder is a well written, intriguing deep dive into the process of writing music. Although there’s only 4 episodes to choose from, powerhouse artists lend their voice to explain how certain songs have come together and the inspiration behind them. The result is something that will almost certainly appease music fans whilst also delivering a unique documentary series in the process.
The first episode looks at Alicia Key’s collaborative effort with Sampha, ‘3-Hour Drive.’ From the fascinating concept of not using hi-hats to the lyrical meaning behind some of the powerful words, the episode is the perfect introduction to music composition.
From there, the rest of the series casts the spotlight on Lin-Manuel Miranda, R.E.M and Ty Dolla $ign. To be honest though, almost everyone will jump to “Losing My Religion” and the bizarre way this song came together. Each of these episodes bring something new to the table though, with all 4 ending with a performance of that chosen song in its entirety.
This final point is probably the single most genius part of this documentary. After learning about the riffs, the lyrical content and the history behind each of these songs, the performance is given new life and meaning. Of course, music fans and those who understand the colloquial terms will get a lot more out of this but this one is still very accessible.
The documentary combines archival footage with smooth rotating shots or close-up talking head segments. Hrishikesh essentially acts as the guide, moving the conversation across to certain topics that are both interesting and open enough to allow the artists to do all the talking.
With only 4 episodes, Song Exploder feels like a teasing glimpse of what could be to come from Netflix. There’s a lot of potential with this one to produce a full-length series with plenty of other artists coming to the foreground.
If this is renewed for a second season, I’d like to see this dive into the realm of electronica and heavy metal to give this more variety. For now though, these 4 episodes deliver a fascinating deep dive into the musical process and show the fluidity and creativity that goes into creating these songs. If you’re a music fan, you should definitely check this one out.