There’s a good chance if you’ve seen even just one episode of Netflix’s new Tina Fey-created show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, you’ve also found yourself humming its auto-tuned theme song long after the fact. In fact, even if you haven’t seen the show, there’s still a chance you’ve heard, and heard about, the show’s earwormy opening.
The show’s premise, about a group of women rescued from an underground apocalyptic cult, is introduced immediately via a news report that then becomes an Songify-the-news-style song during the first episode.
It’s only in the show’s second episode you realize the song–which memorably starts with the word, “unbreakable”–is more than a one-off gag of the neighbor’s news interview of the girls being rescued. The song has gone a long way to set the tone for, and to draw even more attention to, the hit comedy, and it was a creative collaboration between the show’s producers and The Gregory Brothers, the Internet’s foremost names in autotuned news, and the creators of such phenomena as The Bed Intruder Song.
Fey and show co-creator Robert Carlock wanted from the outset to have the show’s opening song revolve around a news account of the rescue told through auto-tune, so it wasn’t an accident that way the audio and visuals came together. Fey and Carlock first wrote the eye-witness account given by the neighbor character Walter Bankston, which was then reversed engineered by picking out words to form the hook of the song.
“It was a very powerful statement and a very simple statement,” explains show producer Jeff Richmond, who is also the theme song’s composer. “But that’s the stuff we pulled out of the interview to actually lay within a beat, to lay within a chord structure, to build into the refrain of the song that became the actual theme song.”
Even though the auto-tuned news approach was planned, having The Gregory Brothers add their flair to the track wasn’t. The Gregories landed on the project they say, via “random, small-world connections.”
The group worked on the track through December, after all 13 episodes had already be shot. One of the challenges was taking all of the extra scripted interview that was shot and figuring out which parts would actually be used during a fictional news cast.
The most important thing, of course, is the vocal treatment,” says Evan Gregory. “The instrumental arrangement of the first verse and the chorus were already in place, and that makes it feel like the show– it’s perfect for that–and we added a bridge for the two choruses that functions as a second verse.” On the one hand, he says, it was a technical exercise, “but it’s also a songwriting thing where if you have a charismatic singer with an emotional delivery, people are going to connect to the song the same way they do an emotional performance by a pop singer. If we got that right, the song was going to work.”
And it did. The theme song has earned a lot of attention for its unique (and ridiculously catchy) approach, but if listen closely you might also notice something else interesting. From the moment Richmond heard the premise he immediately thought of it in terms of a throwback to older television themes.
“I felt like, ‘Oh, it’s a Green Acres, it’s Beverly Hillbillies, or a theme song based in the ’60s, where you caught the audience up on exactly where the story was or how the story began by singing the story to them,” he says.
It’s subtle and condensed, but that same story telling approach is there–albeit in an upbeat and light-hearted way. Richmond also adds that now most broadcast networks can be dismissive of theme songs. “They don’t want to take up the time for them, I don’t think.”
The Unbreakable theme isn’t around just because the show was picked up by Netflix, however. Being on-demand versus broadcast wouldn’t have changed having the song included or its approach.
It would have been stuck in your ear regardless.