The conclusion of season two of the HBO series that has taken the world by storm prompts a reflection of the deep-rooted and heavy topics that Euphoria is renowned for depicting. This season’s vivid portrayals of substance abuse, grief, depression, and a host of other mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing afflictions tap into some of the most difficult, unglamorous, and often not talked about, aspects of the human experience. With this, the show has generated a host of controversy over its representations of drug use and abuse and mental illness, though many argue that this controversy stems from society’s discomfort with raw depictions of what rock bottom can look like. This has opened up worldwide discussion about mental health portrayal in pop culture and how effective storytelling can create relatable content for not just the good, but also for the bad and the ugly. One of Euphoria’s most powerful aspects of storytelling lie in the abilities of the show’s composer, Labrinth, and how his music highlights the battles with grief, depression, and substance abuse that plague the show’s main character, Rue.
The final scene of season one shows Rue’s descent into a drug relapse, accompanied by the now Emmy-winning song, “All For Us,” which showcases the style of music Labrinth has curated for Euphoria; one that mixes gospel, choral, and orchestral elements with more techno and electronic sounds. The choral elements of this song literally come to life in this scene with an actual choir surrounding a crumbling Rue, creating an elaborate series of choreographies that metaphorically represent Rue’s mental state and her spiral back into addiction.
The elements of bigger and more powerful pieces like “All For Us” are continued in season two, where it seems that Labrinth uses these emotion-evoking orchestral ballads to mark pivotal moments in Rue’s storyline, which started with the relapse scene in season one. In episode four of season two, just before Rue is forced to start getting clean, she is deeply consumed by her addiction and enters a scene that mirrors the gospel and choral themes of the season one finale. Labrinth even makes a cameo in this scene, where an exhausted Rue, in her imagination, enters a church where he is singing the unreleased song,“I’m Tired,” to her, repeating the lyrics, “Hey Lord, you know I’m tired.”
Viewers get an insight to how low Rue’s depression is bringing her, amplified by her drug addiction and the grief of losing her father a few years prior. The song is about being at rock bottom and evokes feelings of being so exhausted that all you want to do is give up; the lyrics echo the thoughts of those struggling with afflictions such as depressive disorders, substance abuses, and extreme grief. Rue is tired of living, tired of being addicted, tired of missing her father, tired of not recognizing herself in the mirror; the scene as a whole depicts her raw pain, exhaustion, and grief, and is arguably one of the most powerful scenes of this season. Not only does the music help to facilitate sympathetic feelings of pity for how hard Rue’s life has been, but also empathy from viewers who have been able to relate to her situation and know just how defeated she is feeling.
This song makes a reappearance at the very end of the finale episode, when Rue decides to fight the good fight to be on a better path, this song makes another appearance, with Zendaya singing the latter half of the song, changing the lyrics from “Hey Lord, you know I’m tired,” to “Hey Lord, you know I’m trying,” and “Hey Lord, you know I’m fighting,” giving the song a more hopeful second half, echoing a desire to“stay”and a desire to live a healthier life, despite not knowing exactly how to get there. The change in these lyrics resonated with a lot of viewers who have been on their own journeys to recovery rom depression and substance abuse, where at their lowest points, they felt exhaustion and pain, but once deciding to get on a better path they start to see flickers of hope.
Though the depictions of Rue’s battles are heavy, graphic, and raw, they are powerful in the way that various battles she faces resonate with the personal battles of the viewers who watch the highs and lows of her journey. I personally believe that the way that the show depicts mental illness allows viewers to empathise with characters in whom they see their struggles in a way that other more positive shows on the air do not. The music that accompanies Rue’s journey, and the show as a whole, are meant to evoke further heavy emotion and empathy that the scenes create, and is critical to their artistic expression of mental illness.