HBO has a penchant for really long opening sequences, and the premium network’s latest triumph Big Little Lies continues this trend of agonizingly lengthy credits. It’s a montage of images of the ensemble cast driving around Monterey, California or playing dress-up at a party, of little kids bouncing around and wistfully looking out of windows, of slo-mo shots of waves crashing and couples having sex. The Esquire team is split on the credit sequence—there are those among us who think it’s great and those of us who think it’s lame. We’re in agreement, though, that the song that plays throughout is goddamn beautiful.
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And if you think those opening credits are long, the actual song is much longer. Clocking in at nearly 10 minutes, “Cold Little Heart” by British soul singer Michael Kiwanuka is an expansive, melancholy ballad from his 2016 album Love & Hate. The section fans will recognize from the show doesn’t even start until after a four-minute build up of strings and a choir. In theme and tone, it fits nicely with Big Little Lies—a show about passion and hatred and the fine line between the two. But it’s also a good primer for the soundtrack for the show at large, which focuses primarily on young, sometimes unknown soul singers.
It’s a musical motif throughout the show, which Big Little Lies music supervisor Sue Jacobs described to Vulture, that is “all about tension, the whole push and pull of all of the music as a counterpoint. Big Little Lies is dark and has a very dark story at its core. Yet on the surface, it all looks so beautiful.”
That’s a perfect way to describe Kiwanuka’s opening song and the other music in Big Little Lies—Leon Bridges, Alabama Shakes, St. Paul, and the Broken Bones—that is most often played through Madeline’s youngest daughter’s iPod. She has impeccable musical taste for a kid. And this is what a good soundtrack can do: capture the tone of a show and help tell the story without using nostalgia or major hits as a crutch.
The music—combined with stunning performances from Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern—makes Big Little Lies one of the best TV experiences of the year. Sadly, unlike its lengthy opening, it’ll be ending after an all-too-brief seven episodes.