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‘Gossip Girl’: The Music Grows Up — OMFG!

In anticipation of this week’s episode of Gossip Girl, I spent a few minutes surfing its music channel on YouTube, where the featured songs of each episode are posted along with a short description of the various scenes (e.g. “Chuck and Nate lounge in grass”). A great tool for finding music, the channel has the added bonus of making songs available Monday morning, so you can hear the vibe before you watch the show.

This week, Snow Patrol provide the obligatory party track. And the Virgins’ “One Week of Danger” returns as Blair and Chuck’s unofficial theme (first heard last season over flashbacks of the infamous limo scene).

But the three other tracks set an uncharacteristically brooding tone, from the Black Keys’ banjo-tinged blues (“Psychotic Girl”), to Guillemots’ eerily tortured “Sea Out,” to White Apple Tree’s “Snowflakes,” an emotive electro-ballad that could be a sped-up version of Craig Armstrong’s “This Love” (best known from its place on the Cruel Intentions movie soundtrack). These moody, down-tempo numbers — a departure from the lively pop often featured on the show — testify to the show’s maturation from unadventurous radio-chaser to astute musical curator.

Gossip Girl‘s early episodes featured radio-friendly tracks from the likes of Rihanna, Sum 41, Joss Stone, and But about halfway through the first season, ears in charge discovered the Virgins, a blasé, cynical, and distinctly Manhattanite band with a talent for pop hooks. The show featured all five songs from the band’s self-released 2007 EP in the episode “Seventeen Candles,” a full seven months before Atlantic released their official debut. While the Nelly Furtado and Vanessa Carlton returned in the following episode, Gossip Girl had made its first significant move towards branding itself as a musical tastemaker.

The final episodes of last season, and the six aired so far in season two, have featured buzz-heavy acts like Ting Tings, Santogold, Crystal Castles, and MGMT. And that’s a good thing. But, as SPIN’s Phoebe Reilly points out about the Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist soundtrack, it’s not enough for a song to be good, it also has to serve the emotional significance of an on-screen moment.

And that’s something Gossip Girl still needs to improve on. Case in point: the show’s new soundtrack album, OMFGG No. 1 (Original Music Featured on Gossip Girl, to be released next week). The collection rightly focuses on the less recognizable — though no less catchy — tracks from Season 1. But it also points out that many of these great tunes play during the show’s impersonal montage sequences rather than its more emotionally memorable scenes.

Compare this to the Cruel Intentions movie soundtrack, one of my favorites. The intrigues-of-teen-aristocrats-in-New-York forebear to Gossip Girl splits its musical time between bouncing, scene-setting pop (Blur’s “Coffee and TV,” Placebo’s “Every You Every Me”) and tender, poignant ballads (Counting Crows’ “Colorblind,” and the above-mentioned “This Love”) that highlight, and deepen, the characters’ adolescent emotional vulnerability.

Tonight’s featured Gossip Girl songs seem to take a step in the right direction, by alternating modish singles with affecting atmospheres (also introducing a reoccurring theme with the Virgins track, a great move in my opinion). Here’s hoping that the show’s music supervisors continue down this path, and that OMFGG No. 2 reflects that change.