How ‘Promising Young Woman’ Delivers on the Promise of an All-Female Soundtrack


Last year, Killing Eve season 2 showrunner Emerald Fennell approached Sue Jacobs, a 30-year veteran music supervisor for films such as Little Miss Sunshine and American Hustle, with a lofty task: secure a handful of massive pop hits for Fennell’s upcoming directorial debut, Promising Young Woman.

Fennell already had a lengthy playlist of songs she wanted in the film — including Paris Hilton’s “Stars Are Blind,” Charli XCX’s “Boys” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic” — and Jacobs helped her secure those three. But she also knew that the movie’s “super low” independent budget would create challenges.

By August 2019, Jacobs was sending screeners to major labels; two months later, Capitol Records signed on to distribute the soundtrack, thanks to her longstanding relationship with Capitol Music Group’s evp of soundtracks and A&R, Anton Monsted. The film also resonated with Capitol’s vp of creative sync licensing, Jenny Swaitowy, who says she appreciated Fennell’s take on female revenge in the #MeToo era (the film chronicles a woman, played by Carey Mulligan, who tricks men into taking her home from bars and clubs only to teach them a lesson). With Capitol onboard, Swiatowy set up screenings for about 20 of the label’s artists, from newcomers to arena acts, all of whom were women.

Working under a three-month deadline, about half the usual time, Swaitowy secured a lineup of rising Capitol stars including alternative-pop artists Cyn, Fletcher, DeathByRomy, Carmen DeLeon and Donna Missal. Though a slate of up-and-comers wasn’t Swiatowy’s initial goal, Jacobs says it perfectly fit her mantra: “Independent film is the place to break artists.” Swiatowy also tapped female producers Alex Hope (Troye Sivan), AG (Rachel Platten) and Jenn Decilveo (Andra Day), as well as Grammy-winning engineer Emily Lazar (Beck), to master the soundtrack.

Only one man appears on the just-released Promising Young Woman soundtrack: composer Anthony Willis, who Fennell knew from high school and won the team over with his eerie theme song idea; but his standout composition is a chilling orchestral arrangement of “Toxic,” which is featured in the film’s final act (a different version by Italy’s Archimia is featured in the trailer since Willis came on later). “You’re hearing a strange and horrific piece of music, and creating a connection to a song that’s so fun and well-loved,” says Willis. “My first instinct was, ‘pop music turned on its head.’”

Now, even though the initial April release of Promising Young Woman was postponed due to the coronavirus, Swiatowy hopes that when it finally comes out on Christmas Day, the film “shakes some reality in front of people.” As for Fennell, Jones says, “I think she wakes up every day pinching herself that all this music ended up in her movie.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 28, 2020, issue of Billboard magazine.

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