Mo’ money, mo’ problems: The best shows about hustlin’ in the music biz
We’re currently enjoying a moment of prestige TV opening doors to a lot of new and exciting programming. For years, a show about musicians or which featured music in any form wasn’t seriously considered to be something audiences would enjoy. About ten years ago the tide shifted; we’ve seen a boom in shows accurately portraying what it’s like to hustle in the music business – and audiences have been loving it.
For some shows, that’s meant portraying music moguls and major stars grappling with the downfalls of fame and the pressures of their artistic ambition. For others, it’s been more flipping that coin to reveal musicians on their way up and struggling as they go. But all of them explore aspects of the music industry to make for great storytelling. With that in mind, here are ten of the best TV shows exploring all that and more.
Empire (2015 – )
Created by Danny Strong (Rebel in the Rye) and Lee Daniels, Empire offers a glimpse at life of top players in the hip-hop industry. Bolstered by startling performances from a strong cast including Taraji P. Henson (Proud Mary) and Terrence Howard (Crash), the series is all about maintaining the hustle to ensure someone bigger and better – or simply more ruthless – doesn’t swipe your throne from under you.
Flight of the Conchords (2007 – 2009)
New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a capella rap-funk-comedy-folk duo gave us two perfect seasons and returned last year for an hour-long HBO special. Following the musical and life failures of Bret (Bret McKenzie) and Jemaine (Jemaine Clement), the show’s full of catchy hits, painfully relatable to anyone who has suffered as part of a mediocre band.
Jem (1985 – 1988)
We don’t care how cool you are – if you were a kid during the 80s or 90s, there’s a strong likelihood you grew up watching Jem and her all-female band The Holograms smashing the music industry. The cult cartoon featured plenty of gigantic neon hair and a spectacular array of original pop songs – but was unfortunately adapted in a horrendous 2015 reboot movie of which we promise to never speak again.
Atlanta (2016 – )
Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) is the realest up-and-coming artist to have ever been portrayed on TV. Clearly hesitant about his burgeoning celebrity and unsure of what to do with it, Paper Boi is simply there for the music and to make a bit o’ bread – all with the help of his appropriately named manager cousin, Earn (Donald Glover) and best friend Darius (Lakeith Stanfield).
Mozart in the Jungle (2014 – )
Classical music can be competitive, wild, and edgy too, guys & gals! Mozart in the Jungle follows renegade maestro Rodrigo de Souza, played by the eternally stunning Gael García Bernal, as he stirs up the New York Symphony and the loins of emerging oboist Hailey (Lola Kirke), a.k.a. “Jai Alai”. Hustling for prime position in an orchestra has never looked so sexy.
HBO’s ambitious 70s drama following the real-life story of New York’s diverse music scene was savaged by critics and only lasted one season. For music fans, however, the show offers enough of a glimpse into the formative years of major musicians that it’s still worth a watch – particularly as noted music fan Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) and Rolling Stone Mick Jagger were two of the big names behind it.
Josie and the Pussycats (1970 – 1972)
Josie and the Pussycats were and continue to be one of the greatest fictional bands of all time. They’ve become cool again thanks to Riverdale and a recent vinyl release of the beloved soundtrack from the 2001 live-action movie. The animated series, which saw the Pussycats playing gigs on tour while solving mysteries (like all bands should), is the OG experience and one definitely worth revisiting.
The Get Down (2016 – 2017)
Released in two parts, Baz Luhrmann‘s Bronx-based musical follows the burgeoning hip-hop and disco scenes of the 70s and the artists who thrived within it. Netflix canceled the show after part two, a serious shame; the lavish and vibrant series had the potential to explore a much bigger story.
Nashville (2012 – 2018)
Following the lives and many, many tragedies of emerging and fading country stars in Tennessee, Nashville hits the perfect balance between soapy salaciousness and musical grandeur. Over the years, the show has boasted an impressive cast, including Connie Britton (American Ultra) and Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), and some even more impressive musical numbers.
Garfunkel and Oates (2014)
Riki Lindhome (Million Dollar Baby) and Kate Micucci’s comedy about two twenty-something single women trying to make it as a hapless folk duo was once described by Lindhome as “Glee with dick jokes.” The second half of that statement is accurate at least: the two perform satirical songs featuring sneaky messages about the lives of modern women and some universally awkward sex quandaries.