The 15 Best, Worst And Most Questionable Songs From ‘Glee’
Will Schuester should not have allowed a lot of the Glee club's songs to take place - and more than a few of his own.
Gleeks and recovering Gleeks, it’s been a decade since Will Schuester first blackmailed a showering quarterback into singing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, and pushed pop culture into new directions.
Despite running for six seasons and featuring more than 700 musical performances, it’s easy to forget just how monumental Glee was.
Beyond its new songs charting on the iTunes chart each other week, the show spawned worldwide live tours, a wide-release concert film, a spin-off reality TV show and (sometimes ill-advised) music careers. It also roped in big name actors like Gwyneth Paltrow, Helen Mirren and Whoopi Goldberg, alongside broadway stars and singers like Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth and Ricky Martin.
As with many of Ryan Murphy shows, Glee was chaotically ambitious. It averaged six or so performances an episode, all the while progressing the plots of the 15-or-so main characters. This didn’t always work — arguably, from season 2 onwards, it simply did not work at all. But regardless of its sustained quality, the show remains beloved by queers, misfits, and musical theatre geeks across the globe.
Not only was the show a landmark in LGBTIQ representation, and centred the traditional ‘others’ of the world. And while it didn’t always quite land (remember that dream episode where Artie learns the Glee club wouldn’t exist without his wheelchair?), it did something many shows didn’t at the time: it tried. Thankfully, Murphy has learnt since, adopting a ‘For Us, By Us’ approach, as seen in the cast and crew of Pose.
Glee was also unashamedly geeky, cheesy, and occasionally, just plain dumb. Which makes looking back at its legacy more than a little hit and miss. Here are the best, the worst and the most questionable Glee performances, showcasing the show as its brightest and most messy, often the two being the one in the same.
#5 ‘If I Die Young’, The Band Perry (S5E3)
In 2013, the show was filming its fifth season when actor Cory Monteith died of an overdose.
In ‘The Quarterback’, the show paid tribute to the actor and his character, Finn, by having the characters sing tributes to their suddenly departed classmate — including a highly emotional performance by Lea Michele, Monteith’s on- and off-screen girlfriend. But it’s Naya Rivera’s performance of ‘If I Die Young’ that hits hardest; it’s understood that her mid-performance breakdown was scripted for the song’s end, but she didn’t make it.
The scream she lets out is incredibly cathartic for the characters, actors and audience alike. It’s a fitting tribute, and a reminder of the show’s ability to pack heavy hitting moments among the mess.
#4 Britney Spears feat. Madonna, ‘Me Against The Music’ (S2E2)
This made me, a cis-gay male, a lesbian. Brittany and Santana’s relationship was arguably a lot more complex than Blaine and Kurt’s — and fun too.
The show did a lot of tribute episodes focused on one artist (and a big shout out to Jane Lynch’s version of ‘Vogue’), but the Britney Spears one was a highlight — and even featured Spears herself.
It plays with the song’s music video without just re-creating it, as the show often fell into, and bests the pop star’s forced sapphic tension.
#3 ‘Singing In The Rain’/’Umbrella’, Rihanna feat. Jay-Z (S2E7)
Sorry Tom Holland, but this is the definitive ‘Umbrella’ performance.
This does what the show does best — ridiculous sets, performances that make no sense, and a mash-up that loosely pushes the plot forward. Why do teachers Will and Holly (Gwyneth!) take the lead in this performance? Fuck the kids!
#2 ‘Teenage Dream’, Katy Perry (S2E6)
Darren Chris improved Glee ten-fold, so it’s no surprise he’s among the show’s most successful alumnus. It was hard to pick just one performance by him.
And while attention must be paid to his cover of Whitney Houston’s ‘It’s Not Alright/But It’s Okay’, it’s the cover of ‘Teenage Dream’ by Blaine and the Warblers that stands among the show’s greatest.
It’s just iconic Glee — utter auto-tune perfection which, somehow, is both the coolest and lamest thing in the world. Kurt and Blaine have just met, and for the former, he’s enamoured at first sight. Can you blame him?
#1 ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, Journey (S1E1)
The song that sent 1000 ships to war — and by that, we mean thousands of awkward kids tried to form Glee clubs.
Glee‘s pilot is its best episode by far, and this song sees it at its fullest potential. They revisited it several times throughout the show, but the first performance is perfect.
#5 ‘Gangham Style’, Psy (S4E8)
This performance is Ryan Murphy’s least favourite from Glee, having gone on the record to say he was “mortified’ they did it. “I will say, like, not our finest moment”, he told Andy Cohen in 2017.
It’s also a bit of a shame that this song is one of the few led by Tina Cohen-Chang — an actress who rarely got a solo on the show, bar here.
#4 ‘Let’s Have A Kiki’/’Turkey Lurkey Time’, Scissor Sisters (S4E8)
The whole New York storyline had some rough spots, but nothing rougher than this Thanksgiving episode mash-up of a holiday classic with the Scissor Sisters’ already questionable ode to ballroom slang.
Lea Michelle saying “hunty” will haunt my dreams for the rest of my days.
#3 ‘Friday’, Rebecca Black (S2E20)
To be fair, this is the sort of song the Glee club would cover at the prom; it’s the kind of cringe joke theatre teens commit to till the end.
#2. ‘The Chipmunk Song (Christmas, Don’t Be Late)’, Alvin And The Chipmunks (S5E8)
Sometimes it feels like Glee didn’t think about its audience much, and whether they’d enjoy sitting through a novelty song. Sometimes, it actively hated them.
#1 ‘What Did The Fox Say’, Ylves (S5E7)
Remember this 2013 viral song? Me either.
Glee decided to cover an annoying novelty EDM-track with puppets and barnyard noises. It sucks — even Lea Michele agrees.
#5 ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’, James Brown (S1E21)
A pregnant Quinn (Diana Agron) sings James Brown during Glee club’s ‘Funk Week’ (yikes!) to talk about how she’s oppressed as a pregnant teenager.
It’s supposed to be incredibly cringe — she brings in a whole troupe of unwed pregnant dancers, plus several characters express their discomfort before Mercedes (Amber Riley) watches on in horror. At the song’s end, the club hug Quinn — except for Mercedes. Ooft.
#4 ‘Thong Song’, Sisqó (S1E8)
When guidance counsellor Emma’s fiancé, football coach Ken, wants their wedding song to be Sisqó’s ‘Thong Song’ — a song he could ‘shake his money’ to — Will offers to help her work out a way to incorporate it in.
This show made Matthew Morrison sexy rap a lot at its beginning, and they, um, shouldn’t have.
#3 ‘Barbra Streisand’, Duck Sauce (S2E18)
When Rachel considers getting a nose job to advance her career, Kurt convinces her to not by reminding her of her idol, Barbra.
“Perhaps if my words don’t inspire you, a song will,” he says — before they dance to DJ duo Duck Sauce’s huge song from 2010, ‘Barbra Streisand’. Sure!
#2 ‘I Still Believe/Super Bass’, Mariah Carey/Nicki Minaj (S4E16)
In an episode called ‘Feud’, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) interrupts Blaine’s Mariah Carey ballad by busting out Nicki’s candy-cotton hit — outfit and all.
my therapist: jane lynch rapping 'super bass' on glee can't hurt you
jane lynch rapping 'super bass' on glee: pic.twitter.com/fNGO1GBioK
— jared richards (@jrdjms) May 22, 2019
#1 ‘Push It’, Salt-N-Pepa (S1E2)
Incredibly cringe, the New Direction’s cover of this Salt-N-Pepa classic is a completely inappropriate choice to perform at a school assembly. Artie rapping is the whitest thing in the world — and while that’s obviously the point, for better or for worse, this shows Glee at its peak Glee-ness. Awkward, endearing, wonderful and painful, all at once.
All seasons of Glee will be available to stream on Netflix Australia + New Zealand from June 30.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.