Netflix’s new sensational teen drama, XO, Kitty, arrived in May 2023 and has since gone to become a smash hit with audiences around the world. Blending the very best of teen and K-drama, what made XO, Kitty even more enjoyable was the series’ great soundtrack and score. We recently had the opportunity to discuss the score of XO, Kitty with talented composer pair Shirley Song and Jina Hyojin An.
XO, Kitty is the brand new spin-off series of the extremely popular Netflix film franchise To All the Boys, from creator Jenny Han. The series is centered around Lara Jean’s little sister Kitty, who journeys to South Korea to reunite with her long-distance boyfriend and begins her new life at a prestigious boarding school.
If you’re interested in the music of XO, Kitty, we’ve covered all of the songs from the season 1 soundtrack.
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Prior to working on XO, Kitty, collectively Shirley Song and Jina Hyojin An have worked on the music of multiple Netflix projects, including, A Tourist’s Guide to Love, The Princess Switch 3, The Red Sea Diving Resort, and Tales of Arcadia.
How did you both first become involved with XO, Kitty?
In our initial talks with showrunners Jenny Han and Sascha Rothchild, they mentioned they wanted composers who were familiar with the world of Kdrama and its style of music. We exchanged our musical ideas with them and eventually found out that we were officially on board XO, Kitty just before they left for Korea to shoot the show. We were involved earlier on in the production period as Anna Cathcart (Kitty) needed to hum a melody from a baby diaper commercial that we were to write and record. Alas, the jingle for “Poopy Baby” was born!
How would you describe your score for the series?
It’s a very different score to what we’re usually used to scoring in that it’s a lot more contemporary! The score not only needed to compliment all the great Kpop needle drops, it also needed to pay homage to the KDrama genre. We wanted to not only convey the hustle and bustle of modern-day Korea but also wanted to reflect how Kitty, our lead, has grown up so much since ‘To All The Boys.’ She’s navigating through teenhood, love, sexuality, heartbreak, and family and so our score weaves through the young, fun, and fresh moments of nostalgia and sentiment.
Did Jenny Han, and any other producers or directors have an idea of what they wanted from the score? Or were you given the freedom to experiment?
They’ve mentioned many specific K-drama shows as references. Especially the songs that were featured and how they bring out the nostalgia and feel of the show even till now. These Kdrama references were the shows we grew up watching, so it was really fun to revisit them and incorporate some of that style in XO, Kitty.
We’re so thankful for Jenny and Sascha for trusting us and also letting us experiment and come up with the sound for XO, Kitty. We knew, apart from the KDrama moments, that the score still needed to be modern and youthful, and fun!
We had to create a love song OST which is a huge characteristic of KDramas. And fun fact, Jina sings on it! So keep your ears out for her singing in Kitty and Dae’s love song!
K-pop is one of the biggest genres of music in the world right now and plays a significant role in the music of XO, Kitty. What influence, if any, has K-pop had on your careers, and did it have any impact on the way the score was composed for XO, Kitty?
Jina: Growing up in Korea, everyone in my class talked about K-pop (I also went to an international school in Korea just like Kitty). Each of us had our favorite boy bands, our favorite member. We would jot down lyrics in our notebooks (We didn’t have smartphones back then) to sing along with each other. Back then, Wonder Girls, Big Bang, and Girls Generation were HUGE! I remember dressing up as Wonder Girls for Halloween with my squad. And of course I have a couple of favorites nowadays as well. I loved seeing some of my favorite K-pop songs playing throughout the show like Black Pink and BTS. Kudos to the incredible music supervisors Lindsay Wolfington and Laura Webb!!! And of course, we did our best to incorporate the style in our score to make the score sound more cohesive with the songs throughout the show.
Shirley: Despite the fact that I’m not Korean, I had so many Korean friends way back when I was in high school who kept me updated on all the latest K-pop music. So, when we had to score XO, Kitty, it was the perfect excuse for me to blast all the K-pop music on my playlist! (You should also see my K-pop dance moves that I bust out when I’m alone in the house.)
K-pop is a huge part of the soundtrack for XO, Kitty, so Jina and I definitely wanted to make sure we captured elements of it and channeled it in a way that made sense when used as underscore for the scenes. We use a lot of uptempo beats, bubbly synths, hard-hitting bass lines…
You have worked on a number of projects together, including multiple projects for Netflix. What are the benefits of composing the music for a movie or television series as a duo compared to working solo?
Shirley: Other than the fact that it gives us an excuse to text, call, and FaceTime each other every day (Yes. Every day…) it’s nice to have a support system. There’s always moments where one of us writes a cue and the other would listen and have ideas to make the cue even better! We pass our music back and forth and by the end of it, we’re able to create something that neither one of us would have been able to if we were just writing by ourselves. Two brains are better than one…right? Well, that’s my theory anyway!
Jina: It’s an amazing feeling when you’re working on version 5 of a revision, still not getting approved. Then Shirley takes over and gets it approved right away. It can get depressing working alone in our own creative caves, so it’s great to have each other to collaborate with and feed off each other’s creative energy. You grow faster than you would doing things by yourself.
As self-proclaimed “partners in crime” what has been the driving force behind working as a team?
Shirley: We’ve always been great friends who were very supportive of one another and have respected each other’s craft, musical talent, and sense of humour. When we first moved out to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film/TV composing, it wasn’t always smooth sailing, but we had each other. We went to film festivals and events together, and also, we both ended up working for the Danna brothers (composers Jeff Danna & Mychael Danna) so we were also able to closely witness how they work together as a team. It just sort of made sense and happened very naturally for the two of us to team up.
Jina: I’ve always been a huge fan of Shirley’s music back in college. And to be working together has been amazing. She never fails to pleasantly surprise me with her approach. It’s also A LOT of fun doing things together as a team. We laugh more than we should during the most stressful crunch times. We often laugh until our tummies hurt. I feel that’s something special because we keep each other sane as we navigate through life in Hollywood.
What can we expect from the score of Exploding Kittens, your next Netflix project?
Exploding Kittens has been so fun to write for so far! Matthew Inman and Shane Kosakowski, our showrunners and our director Brian Sheesley are comic geniuses who make us laugh constantly.
What is your biggest source of inspiration as to why you both wanted to become composers?
Jina: The money in my bank account? JK JK! I grew up playing the viola in orchestras, playing keys in musicals, and singing in bands. In college, one day I’d be in a rehearsal with the band Dream Theater playing metal music. The next day I’d be in a rehearsal with the Indian Ensemble!! I loved playing with musicians from all around the world. My favorite college professor, Eric Reasoner once told me that film composers need to be like chameleons – be able to musically adapt to any story around the world that we’re telling. I loved that about film scoring and I get to bring my experience playing different genres into what I do. Every project we encounter is another fun challenge musically and a way to get to know people and their stories. It’s like a fun little adventure opening doors, completing missions, and leveling up – and on the way we get to meet amazing collaborators/friends.
Shirley: I used to act when I was a kid, all the way up to college because my grandparents were theatre directors, playwrights, and actors themselves. So at a young age, I was on stage performing in plays and skits. Around the same time, a six-year-old Shirley also started tickling the piano ivories.
When high school came around, my parents sent me to a school that had an incredible music program and it was there where I had one on one and group composition classes. My composition teacher, James Humberstone, suggested to me that I should pursue a Bachelors in Music Composition degree at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. And thus, began my composition journey!
While pursuing my composition degree, I was also still acting in theatre on the side. So I knew that I wanted to pursue a career where I could combine the love I had for music and drama/storytelling!
Also, I still remember how I felt when Chinese composer Tan Dun won the Oscar for his “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” score. It was inspiring because it made me feel like pursuing a career in composition, as an Australian Chinese, was achievable!
Lastly, Team Dae or Team Min Ho?
Shirley: Oh goodness – this is so difficult! I love Dae, I just have this soft spot for him! But then again, we haven’t seen a committed Min Ho yet…so for those reasons, I’m going to choose… Min Ho.
Jina: I am.. Team Min Ho! I’m all for that skin product-providing boyfriend XD JK I’m married! Love you Roro!
One last last question, specifically for Shirley, has Clifford helped with any of the bills yet?
Shirley: Clifford is my not-so-big, medium-sized, brown-black dog who is completely ball and toy obsessed. And to answer your question … no! He lives completely rent-free and hasn’t earned a single dime! What a life.
All ten episodes of XO, Kitty are available to stream on Netflix.