Aside from already being one of the best shows of the year, A24 and Netflix’s Beef boasts enough ’90s and ’00s needle drops to power an iMac G3. For millennials who were there, it’s easy to imagine the soundtrack to showrunner Lee Sung Jin’s series being scrawled in marker on a mix CD, one I’d probably have made a completely horrendous custom jewel case sleeve for on Microsoft Paint.
Lee worked with music supervisor Tiffany Anders for Beef, following her excellent work on PEN15 and Reservation Dogs, to find tracks to underscore moments of poignancy, hilarity, or deep nostalgia. Paired harmoniously with Beef’s score, composed by producer Bobby Krlic, aka The Haxan Cloak, every track picked by Lee and Anders radiates 1990s and 2000s energy. Whether a diegetic performance of Incubus‘ „Drive“ by Danny Cho (yep, that’s Steven Yeun playing live) or Hoobstank’s „The Reason“ underscoring a crucial exchange between Danny and Amy Lau (Ali Wong), every episode has a throwback treat. Maybe it’s an A24 thing — Everything Everywhere All at Once wielded Nine Days‘ „Absolutely (Story of a Girl)“ as a key theme — or maybe it’s riding the nostalgic wave of ’90s/’00s music throwbacks fueling pop culture. But it all truly works in Beef.
„That’s all stuff I listened to when I was growing up,“ Lee tells Mashable. „When I initially pitched the show back in 2019, it felt like such a novel idea. I was like, ‚It’s gonna be all ’90s and early ’00s. No one’s done it before!‘ Now, that’s the zeitgeist. But I also feel like the characters are kind of trapped in the past. They’re very stunted in their spiritual and mental evolutions, so a lot of the issues they’re dealing with, I felt were very prominent in their adolescence, at least, and also in mine.
„There’s something about the songs from that era that feel so Beef, for lack of a better word. Especially in the first half, we really wanted to pick songs that maybe back in the day didn’t get their proper shine; not necessarily on all the critics‘ lists back in 2000. But if we were all being honest, they’re bangers, they’re timeless, and they’re really great. We wanted to bring back some songs that maybe didn’t get their proper due.“
Here’s a look at all the ’90s and ’00s needle drops in Beef, and why they work so well.
Hoobastank, „The Reason“
I’m not a peeeeerfect peeeeeersooooooon, and neither is Danny or Amy. Episode 1 ends with the ultimate belter ballad, Hoobastank’s 2003 „The Reason“ — a song you’d better commit to if you pick it at karaoke. This is the type of song you would scream in your car at the traffic lights, road rage or not, valiantly attempting to hit anywhere near lead singer Doug Robb’s high notes. You might have heard the track most recently going viral on TikTok through the #NotAPerfectPerson(Opens in a new tab) challenge, which saw users posting about questionable life choices using the song — and which good sport Robb himself joined in on(Opens in a new tab).
A steadily climbing ballad of self-analysis and starting over new, the track preaches vulnerability and regret while cutting yourself some slack. So, yeah, it’s the perfect track to introduce Danny Cho and Amy Lau, two people who smile through gritted teeth before becoming their most unhinged, selfish selves through their toxic, competitive, obsessive connection to each other. Watching Amy screaming „What the fuck!?“ and chasing a gleeful Danny down her street after he pisses all over her bathroom, as Hoobastank’s uplifting mega hit swells, is one of the series‘ best moments.
Collective Soul, „Shine“
From Collective Soul’s eyebrow raise of a 1993 debut album title, Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, the alt rock band’s most popular song, „Shine,“ plays in episode 2 when Danny and his brother Paul (Young Mazino) are working out and posting thirst traps by the pool. In the scene, Danny suggests starting a new contracting business together, seemingly making peace — though it may serve Danny’s interests more than Paul’s. Danny reflects on his ex from the late ’00s, Veronica, with Collective Soul playing in the background to boost this nostalgia. And though the band wasn’t a religious group, the heavenly references in the lyrics match both Danny’s church group tank top and his vocalised intentions to return to the congregation.
Tori Amos, „Cornflake Girl“
Beginning in a scene of Amy and her husband George (Joseph Lee) making up after their gallery argument, Tori Amos‘ „Cornflake Girl“ ends episode 2 as Danny drives to Amy’s house in his vandalised truck holding a hammer and ready to do…something. A tale of friendship turned toxic, Amos‘ 1994 track from her second album Under the Pink is extremely fitting for Beef — you can’t get a more openly venomous relationship than Danny and Amy’s, but Amy and George’s connection may be subtly souring. You might have heard this one recently in another context, in Season 2 of fellow needle-dropper Yellowjackets, ending episode 1 right before Shauna decides to have a little snack on Jackie’s ear.
Veruca Salt’s ‚Seether‘ was the perfect ‚Yellowjackets‘ needle drop
Did you know Steven Yeun can sing? You bet he can. Joining the Living Glory Church group for a singalong of Incubus‘ 2000 breakthrough single, „Drive,“ Yeun sings live as Danny while playing guitar. It’s the same episode where Danny breaks down in the same church to a performance by the church’s band led by Edwin (Justin H. Min). Considering that Beef’s entire charade begins with a road rage incident and veers chaotically into existential dread, Incubus‘ lyrics are pretty fitting: „It’s driven me before and seems to have a vague / Haunting mass appeal / But lately I’m beginning to find that I / Should be the one behind the wheel.“ Yeun spoke about his connection to singing in the Korean Christian church on Netflix’s podcast Skip Intro(Opens in a new tab), saying, “I used to lead praise at church.“ Later in the series, Yeun has another moment doing just this, as Danny fronts the band singing „Amazing Grace.“
Steven Yeun breaks down his emotional church scene in ‚Beef‘
Sugar Ray, „Fly“
Someone crack open a shitty beer on the way to the coast, because Sugar Ray and Super Cat’s „Fly“ is next. Playing to open episode 4, this 1997 radio favourite scores the awkward tension of Amy driving Paul home from their first real meeting as each other. All around the world statues crumble for Paul, as he simultaneously tries his flirt on while pitching his semi-valet startup, Portable Parking, while Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath sings about bouncy, breezy love and grieving one’s mother. It’s got it all!
Limp Bizkit, „Nookie“
If you’re going to get your brother and your cousin drunk so you can sneak off to Las Vegas to see your crush, try shots of the nearest crappy liquor toasted to Limp Bizkit’s „Nookie.“ The pretty gross, misogynistic lead single from 1999’s Significant Other was the group’s first big hit, and goes perfectly with Danny and Isaac’s (David Choe) plunge into passing out as Paul steals the truck. Too easy.
Morphine, „Cure for Pain“
The perfectly hazy, lazy track for Amy and Paul’s Las Vegas hotel room silliness, Morphine’s 1993 track „Cure for Pain,“ appears in episode 4. The lyrics are quite literal for the scene, „Someday there’ll be a cure for pain / That’s the day I throw my drugs away,“ but accompanied by Dana Colley’s growling baritone saxophone, it creates a comforting space for both characters to let loose a little. Smoking weed, dropping Skittles in Coca-Cola, jumping on the bed, dancing in the dark, and eating mangosteen sprawled on the floor, it’s the first time we’ve actually seen Amy have fun in Beef, and it’s incredibly wholesome. „It was really nice to do what I want for once,“ she says.
The Offspring, „Self Esteem“
Hands down, it’s one of the best moments in Amy and Danny’s rivalry for the whole series, scored with the brattiest song out. Ending episode 4, The Offspring’s 1994 banger „Self Esteem“ blares through the silent service halls of the Las Vegas casino as Danny is caught by security after crashing Amy’s panel. Raising one finger and wagging it at his losing predicament, Amy truly enjoys this moment of victory. If she could pick a track to go with this smug win, it would probably be this very song.
System of a Down, „Lonely Day“
The angst is real at the end of episode 5, when George’s mum Fumi (Patti Yasutake) surprises Isaac’s trespassing mates in Amy’s house, leading to her falling down the stairs. The track from 2005’s Hypnotize is poignant mainly for how Lee develops Fumi’s character in this episode, experiencing severe loneliness and isolation from her family and friends, despite her outward confidence and judgmental nature. „Such a lonely day, and it’s mine / The most loneliest day of my life / Such a lonely day should be banned / It’s a day that I can’t stand,“ reflects lead singer Serj Tankian as we’re not quite sure whether or not Fumi is alive or not.
Paula Cole, „I Don’t Want to Wait“
In what might be the funniest needle drop in the series, episode 6 sees Paula Cole’s 1996 Dawson’s Creek theme song cannonball the characters into romantic will-they-won’t-they nostalgia. Simmering beneath the scene as George and Mia (Mia Serafino) all but confirm their attraction to one another, Cole’s instantly recognisable track plays on the radio in the car as they decide to call it. Lee and Anders could have picked any track for this scene, and choosing delicious, reliable cheese, they allow George and Mia to earnestly ask themselves, „Will it be yes, or will it be sorry?“
Underscoring the church group’s casual basketball league, which we already know Edwin takes rather seriously, comes Bush’s 1994 track „Machinehead.“ Marked by the song’s „Breathe in, breathe out,“ lyrics, the scene is all high fives, tank tops, and sweaty bravado, as Danny and Paul bond in victory while Edwin angrily scorns his own performance on the court.
Nothin‘ but net.
Keane, „Somewhere Only We Know“
Look, I’m already unsteady thinking about this episode ending and this song. Keane’s absolutely shameless pop heartbreaker from 2004, „Somewhere Only We Know,“ punches you in the heart in episode 7, as Amy’s world finally collapses thanks to Paul’s reactive confession to George. Rushing home to explain, Amy finds her house empty, family gone, as Paul happily meets his own family in a restaurant, completely unscathed. It’s the deepest cut yet for Amy, as is the next scene for Danny, arriving at the beautiful home he’s built for his mother, father, and brother tragically burning to the ground. I’m going to need an entire Burger King meal to process this one, despite how many times I’ve heard this behind TikTok videos.
Grant Lee Buffalo, „Mockingbirds“
Danny is absolutely spiraling, having knocked out George and accidentally kidnapped Amy’s daughter Junie in episode 8 as Grant Lee Buffalo’s early ’90s song „Mockingbirds“ plays. Lead singer Grant Lee Phillips told American Songwriter(Opens in a new tab) he wrote this song after losing his home in the 1994 Northridge earthquake: „Pick the cataclysm of your choice. That’s where it’s coming from. Although, when you stop and consider lyrics like ‘Devastation, at last, finally we meet,’ that is indeed very much the feeling one had as they walked out into the rubble of what was their home.“ Yes, I am taking this as a giant reference to the emotional and literal rubble Danny and Amy are currently sifting through.
Björk, „All Is Full of Love“
After Amy’s monologue about unconditional love fading, Björk’s delicate, gentle 1997 moody masterpiece „All Is Full of Love“ is the perfect accompaniment to the fallout of episode 9, when Danny and Amy feel more isolated, helpless, and frustratingly connected than ever before. The Icelandic icon repeating the words „You’ll be given love / You’ll be taken care of / You’ll be given love / You have to trust it,“ almost feels like Lee and Anders giving the protagonists a much needed cuddle in the midst of an absolute shitstorm. The shocking, violent run of the episode leads Amy and Danny quite literally to veer off the road together (that shot), finding themselves with no one but each other in the darkness.
Can’t live with each other. Can’t live without each other.
The Smashing Pumpkins, „Mayonaise“
Ending the final episode of the series with The Smashing Pumpkins‘ 1993 track „Mayonaise“ is a feat that wraps up the entire soundtrack in a deeply moving package. Closing that stunner of a finale, as Amy and Danny cling to each other for literal dear life, lead singer Billy Corgan sings, „We’ll try and ease the pain / But somehow, we’ll feel the same / Well, no one knows / Where our secrets go.“ It’s the perfect anthem for our protagonists.
Rolling Stone(Opens in a new tab) explains the song’s title has a fittingly vague and fact-fluctuating history:
„In 1996, an exasperated Corgan said during an online chat in Dublin, ‚You know how I got the title ‘Mayonaise’? I looked in my refrigerator.‘ He also told a Colombian radio station that it’s actually a phonetic way of writing ‚my own eyes.‘ A 1996 interview with KROQ is probably the closest we’ll get to a real insight on the title. ‚Sometimes you just gotta open up your brain and just see what comes in,‘ he said.“
That last one? That’s Beef.
Beef is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)