Today is the 20th anniversary of Sex And The City’s premiere on HBO, and you know what that means: think-pieces! Just about every outlet has covered the anniversary in one way or another, and I couldn’t help wonder: aren’t we all just think-pieces waiting to be written?
A tutu-clad Carrie Bradshaw walked onto our television screens 20 years ago, admiring the New York City skyline and getting splashed by a car driving through a puddle to the tune of a jazzy marimba. The show’s creator Darren Star told Entertainment Weekly that he wanted a “Latin, cocktail-themed vibe” for the now-iconic theme song. “I went to Virgin Records and found the ‘Space-Age Bachelor Pad’ music section and thought that might work,” he said.
There’s a lot to be said about Sex And The City’s corny, tongue-in-cheek nuances, but its soundtrack set the over-the-top tone and kept it somewhat self-aware. Music supervisor Dan Lieberstein made the city sound like a nonstop party. Girls’ night out was Diana Ross and Cher. Fancy cocktail parties were Daniele Luppi and Frank Sinatra. Summer days, Fatboy Slim and Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child In The City.” Dinner dates were accompanied by sensual piano scores. Lieberstein’s selection was spot-on for the show’s cast of caricatures and their glamorous lives.
For those unfamiliar with the show, who have probably stopped reading by now, Carrie was an outspoken sex columnist (and a wealthy Manhattan socialite, a baffling combination). Her misadventures were dramatic and she often spoke in hyperbole and pun. In other words, she was a completely unrealistic character with problems you could (often) relate to, apart from magazine photoshoots gone wrong and Parisian love affairs. She and her three friends presented dramatized “types” of women — Samantha the sex-enthusiast, Charlotte the good girl, Miranda the cynic, Carrie the romantic realist — with enough traits for viewers to identify with. But the music helped solidify the show as an exaggeration.
Sex And The City has gotten a lot of flak since its original airdate. As we’ve grown more “woke,” people have often dubbed the show misogynistic or “bad for women.” But I tend to agree with the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum, who calls this logic “a classic misunderstanding stemming from an unexamined hierarchy: the assumption that anything stylized … must be inferior.” Stylization is key here. Carrie’s formerly mentioned photoshoot is set to shi-shi “fashion music,” squelching electronics and quick boom-bap beat. When she sees the final product, suspenseful synths surge and the camera moves in on her horrified expression. “Cool As Kim Deal” by the Dandy Warhols and “Honey White” by Morphine make cameos in the first season episode “Valley Of The Twenty Something Guys” as Carrie wanders through a club, unaccustomed to the rock n’ roll music kids are listening to these days.
In every episode, Carrie writes her column on a laptop facing a window like a parody novelist. Depending on the score and Carrie’s “I couldn’t help but wonder” of the day, this window could be either hopeful or gloomy, but it was always cheesy. Electronic musician Jon Hopkins (whose latest album Singularity made Stereogum’s Best Albums Of 2018 So Far list) even contributed a few tracks for these dramatic writing sessions. Samantha, who is straight, has a fling with a Brazilian woman during season 4. Their first night together was awkward, and Bebel Gilberto’s “Tanto Tempo” heightened the discomfort. Elsewhere in the series, Muzak follows the girls into a sex shop as they peruse vibrators and a goofy organ-guitar melody plays when they have a crash-intervention for Charlotte’s masturbation addiction.
Even the way the characters talk about music is funny. “You have nothing to sit on but you have your records and a turntable,” Carrie says to her on-again-off-again-boyfriend Big while unpacking boxes at his new apartment. He replies, “I know what’s important,” minutes before the two are swing-dancing to “Moon River.” Carrie thinks the song is “corny,” Big says it’s “classic.” In one episode, Carrie meets a jazz musician and struggles to hide the fact that she doesn’t really like jazz. Her friends tease her for liking the “jazz man.” Big snaps and whispers, “Carrie likes the jazz man, jaaaazzz!” Carrie later admits to the “jazz man” that she thinks jazz is “too all over the place.”
But the most memorable musical moment of the Sex And The City franchise is Carrie’s epic runway fall, set to Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real.” The fashion show was meant to show models alongside “normal people.” Carrie is one of the “normal people” and her tumble makes that clear. The crowd shares a collective gasp. “Oh my god, she’s fashion roadkill,” Carrie’s friend Stanley remarks as Heidi Klum struts around her. Instead of accepting defeat, she picks herself up, supported by her inner monologue and Cheryl Lynn’s soaring confidence. Silly as it may be, the scene gives me goosebumps to this day. The final scene of the series was another goosebump-worthy moment; “You Got The Love” plays while Carrie reflects on the people we meet and the marks they leave. Sex And The City knew it was corny, and right from the opening “do-do-do-do,” we were in on the joke.