They Set the Mood for ‘Bridgerton’s’ Steamy Sex Scenes—and Skyrocketed to the Top of the Charts
Vitamin String Quartet, the group behind the show’s instrumental versions of pop hits, are enjoying unprecedented success. Their next ambition? Getting on camera in Season 2.
It’s barely been three months since the worldwide premiere of Netflix’s steamy period drama Bridgerton, which was quickly snapped up for a second season after obliterating previous streaming records when it was crowned the company’s most-watched original series.
Leads Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor have seen their careers propelled by the show’s popularity, with Dynevor landing Glamour UK’s digital cover and an ad campaign, while Page hosted Saturday Night Live and was cast in upcoming films Dungeons and Dragons and The Grey Man.
It’s also given a boost to Vitamin String Quartet (VSQ), the dynamic group behind the show’s instrumental versions of pop hits “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande, “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish, and “Girls Like You” by Maroon 5. So much so that VSQ surpassed more than 1 billion streams and its Bridgerton soundtrack album claimed the No. 1 spot on iTunes six weeks in a row.
Although accustomed to previous TV recognition, with songs featured on Gossip Girl, Westworld, and Modern Family, and knowing the hype around a project involving Netflix and executive producer Shonda Rhimes, the group's A&R director James Curtiss and brand manager Leo Flynn both laugh at how they were still blown away by the level of success they saw.
“It's almost like it should have been obvious in a way,” Curtiss said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “We've talked about this a few times…. but we didn't know it was going to be this transcendent.”
“It’s such a mind-boggling number,” Flynn added. “We have a large catalog, over 20 years making these records and it's a tribute to all the listeners out there. A billion streams doesn't happen in a moment. It caps 20 years of folks staying, coming back, and checking out all our new records all the time and so we feel very grateful for all that.”
Curtiss agreed, citing the group’s extensive catalog that dates back to 1999, saying, “After all the album releases, live performances, video content, and other television and film placements that also yielded some pretty positive numbers throughout the years, but Bridgerton pushing us over the threshold was fantastic.”
It was a perfect marriage, as Curtiss and Flynn explained the mission of the group’s music is to create a feeling of intimacy and romance—something the show is definitely not lacking. (Certain sex scenes were apparently so titillating that they wound up on adult entertainment sites.)
VSQ’s numbers were mostly featured during ballroom scenes, where Regency-era society members swirled around the floor in pastel-colored gowns, adding to the overall whimsical and romantic atmosphere of the show. The songs also worked perfectly to add a sense of modernism and familiarity to the show, which is set in 1813.
Citing his first passions as theater and cinema, Curtiss said he already envisions any rendition of a song in a cinematic sense. “I tend to, when we're making these records, think as much about how they feel as much as they sound musically,” he explained. “I tend to use storytelling techniques when I think about the dynamics of a performance.”
But the overall impression that an instrumental version of a song brings is the main driving force of the string quartet project, which is produced by CMH Label Group and features a rotating cast of players, producers, and arrangers.
“We've been saying lately that our mission with VSQ and the recordings, if there's anything aside from the repertoire that's different about this string quartet act, is that we are really looking to achieve a certain kind of modern intimacy with the sound and the feeling,” Flynn said.
“It makes sense that in the show, in these ballroom scenes when the characters are literally up against each other and going back and forth, that the music works there and helps provide that atmosphere and that feeling.”
Flynn points to Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” as being a perfect example of that notion, all starting with the intent of creating a sense of intimacy for the listener and knowing when a melody would “sink in deeply, wonderfully, and beautifully into the strings.”
“It’s so gratifying but it doesn't feel like a big surprise when it gets dropped into this great moment in a show and it all comes full circle,” he said.
VSQ worked with Bridgerton music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas in the past for Gossip Girl. When she approached the group on behalf of the Netflix series, she wasn’t set on any song in particular; she only detailed the direction the show was heading in and had a general list of songs that could work.
It’s very likely that VSQ will team up with Bridgerton again for Season 2, which follows the storyline of eldest brother Anthony, played by Jonathan Bailey, and his romantic interest Kate, recently cast as Simone Ashley.
“I am expecting as much because we were just approached about collaborating on some song ideas already,” Curtiss said. “They have been very receptive to how well a lot of these more modern hits were used in the first season, so they really want to dig into the releases that we put out over the last two to three years to see what else they can find in there.”
“So not giving away anything yet, other than talks have just started with us about what could potentially happen in season two. We are trying to see if there are tracks they want to commission [or] if there's something that we don't have and if they want it. We're also trying to see if we can get on camera this time.”
Both Curtiss and Flynn agree that seeing a 350 percent increase in streams stems from listeners re-exploring and having different experiences with songs they already love, and therefore creating a connection between musical genres.
To Curtiss, he feels there’s a certain “romantic element” about stripping away lyrics to get to the heart of an “ethereal melody or something that drives the song.”
“It's more about that familiarity with something that drives them, that compels them as far as a beat or a melody,” he explained. “For [people] to discover that this music that is around them day-to-day, that has been sort of again recontextualized in a chamber setting, that has a profound effect.”
“When someone does a cover version that isn't just a token version but really brings something new, interesting, and unique to it, that's a great experience for a listener,” Flynn added. “It should be mind-expanding and create curiosity, and I think that's fun.”
But beyond just pop covers, VSQ tackles rock and hip-hop songs too, including “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, and even TikTok viral tunes such as “The Box” by Roddy Rich and “Blueberry Faygo” by Lil Mosey. No genre is off-limits but rather decided on by the music Curtiss and Flynn personally like and songs that will stand the test of time, while also keeping in mind what will challenge their players as musicians.
“We are looking for those pieces that we think will have something to offer the strings and the performers,” Flynn explains. “Something greater than the sum of the parts and that there's potential for something that's transcendent. We look for that, we listen for that.”
“Also, it has to be something you're going to enjoy breaking apart, something that's fun,” Curtiss adds. “Hopefully something that might also be a bit of an experiment. A lot of pop music now is based less around melody and more around mood and vibe because a lot of pop music now is influenced as much by hip-hop and electronic music as it is by sort of standard pop melodies.”
“Sometimes you got to sit there and figure out how you're going to do these strange voicings and odd samples, things that don't immediately sound like, ‘Oh, I know how that's going to sing on a violin!’ There's a lot of criteria that goes into it. But I think first and foremost, it has to kind of be fun for Leo and I to want to take it all apart, break it down.”
And while fans are waiting for the next season to drop on Netflix (filming starts sometime this spring and no release date has been set just yet), Flynn says VSQ is planning to roll out an extended version of its latest hits of 2020, due to increased interest in their covers.
“A lot of it is driven by the fans and the requests that came about because of Bridgerton and the added exposure and interest in VSQ,” he says. “So that's a fun project for us and a bit of a thank you to everyone for listening, tuning in and caring.”