Inside the Bizarre Music of Reality Shows Like ‘Selling Sunset’

There was a time when reality TV used pop music that was actually popular. Needle drops on Laguna Beach, for example, included songs by Hilary Duff, Dashboard Confessional, and All-American Rejects. Its spinoff The Hills featured songs by Pink, Rihanna, and, of course, Natasha Bedingfield.

And then there’s Selling Sunset.

Like many other reality shows of the 2010s and 2020s — Love Is Blind, Bling Empire, Married at First Sight, 12 Dates of Christmas, and countless others — Selling Sunset uses music that isn’t recognizable and is thus cheap to license. Much of these shows’ soundtracks comes from vast libraries of stock music with options for every mood, tone, and emotion.

But what sets Selling Sunset’s music apart are the ridiculous lyrics.

The actual lyrics of a song played during one episode’s main titles: “I’m not the type to break up with my kidney / So watch me while I work.”

Viewers, especially those who watch the Netflix hit with subtitles, have certainly noticed.

There’s even, apparently, a Twitter bot that “generate[s] songs using lyrics from the show’s transition music.” For example:

As it turns out, however, music from Selling Sunset and other shows come from real bands, and the songs are chosen to convey certain messages. Oh, and some of the songwriters behind these tracks seem to have no illusions that they’re poet-laureates of pop. Read on to learn more about the music behind Selling Sunset and other reality hits…

“The songs are fun, and they tend to have somewhat of a message in them.”

Carrie Hughes, the show’s music supervisor, told BuzzFeed News this December that she looks for songs that hit one of two styles of female empowerment: “One is just ‘helping all women,’ ‘we’re great,’ ‘we can do this,’” she said, “and then there’s more feisty, like, ‘I’m better than you’ vibes.”

And Selling Sunset creator Adam DiVello described the intent behind the show’s music in an interview with TIME last month. “You try to make it fun and aspirational,” he said. “It’s also dramatic, so we use the music to help tell those stories. In most cases the songs are fun, and they tend to have somewhat of a message in them.”

Sometimes that message gets a little on-the-nose, though, as Twitter user @rianphin pointed out in December: “Selling Sunset music [is] so funny. They walk down the street, and the music is like, ‘Walking down the streeeeeeeet, boss girl walkingggg.’ They have a bad date, the song is like, ‘Just left a bad date, I’m a bad bitchhhh, whoaaaaa.’ Lol, how is it so specific?”

@jackremmington I’m quite obsessed #sellingsunset ♬ original sound – jack rem x

DiVello also created The Hills, the music of which served a far different purpose. “When we did The Hills, obviously that show didn’t have interviews, it didn’t have people talking to the camera, so we really needed to rely on music to help tell the story. And that show, much more than Selling Sunset, we would rely on lyrics telling the viewer what’s going on.”

“Like, funny, but also dramatic.”

When reality TV producers don’t need a soundtrack’s lyrics to convey emotion, it’s often the instrumentation that does that work. Take the music scores of Signature Tracks, the company founded by Russell Howard, David Lasman, and Adam Malka.

If you’ve watched Keeping Up With the Kardashians, The Bachelor, or The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, you’ve likely heard songs by Signature Tracks.

Malka told Bustle in 2018 that the “pretty extensive process” of crafting each show’s sound starts with the series premiere. “Once we’ve locked the first episode [of a new series], and the network has approved it, we usually have a very solid sound palette that we can then implement in each show,” he said.

Lasman, meanwhile, explained that the team takes “creative direction” from producers and amps up the emotions of a given scene — even if it’s “like, funny, but also dramatic.”

Howard, the company’s head composer, knows how to score drama — “D-minor is probably everything that’s ever been composed in heavy tension,” he told Bustle — and comedy — “For me, a comedy cue is in … the [beats per minute] of 85.” He also switches up instruments — to give Vanderpump Rules a younger-skewing vibe than RHOBH, for example. (“Certain synths and EDM sounds, but not overbearing,” he said of the Vanderpump palette.)

“We know this is garbage.”

If there were People’s Choice Awards for trashy reality-TV music, “I Got Mine” would be a frontrunner. That song made its Selling Sunset debut in Season 4 as viewers met Christine Quinn, its lyrics matching her onscreen persona: “Take my name out of your mouth / I don’t want to hear you talking when you’re around / Cause everywhere I go it’s like you’re always there / But I don’t want to hear it / ‘Cause everybody wants a piece of what I got.”

“I Got Mine” is the work of Girl Fieri, a group that musicians Colby Lapolla and Michael McQuaid formed to create music ready-made for TV licensing. Girl Fieri is one of countless real recording acts that Hughes uses as she looks for up to 150 songs per season, according to BuzzFeed News. And because Selling Sunset requires so much music, Hughes can’t afford household names for the soundtrack.

(Other times, reality shows will use A-list songs in the U.S. broadcast and then swap in tracks by session singers for the international broadcasts to avoid expensive licensing fees. TikTok user @julespaigee detailed this practice last May, saying she was hired to create a song to replace the Selena Gomez track “Fetish” in an episode of Siesta Key.)

And when music supervisors are working with strict budgets, they rely on little-known groups like Girl Fieri, a group that molds their music to be “a little more TV-friendly,” as Lapolla explained to the site.

Lapolla also said that Selling Sunset is “such well-curated trash.” And to a certain extent, the same could be said for “I Got Mine.”

“It’s ‘gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss’ vibes, 100 percent,” Lapolla said of the song. “It’s been very funny to watch Twitter, and I feel like so many people have been talking about the music. They don’t understand that we know this is garbage.”