When Glee opened its second season with “Audition” back in September, an in-show speech from choir director Will Schuester promised that our favorite kids would embrace more musical variety. Looking back through its offerings in the past few months, I’m not sure it’s succeeded in that mission (with one key exception). Then again, Glee‘s first season did a pretty good job of covering a lot of musical bases anyway. If we believe Will’s speech in “Audition,” Glee really wants to focus on more modern music. I suppose they’ve done that (check out “Furt,” half of which is given over to the songs of Bruno Mars), but then last season had its share of contemporary hits too; consider, for instance, the Lady Gaga episode. Overall I think Glee‘s basically maintained the fair variety it had already established for itself.
But then there’s Florence and the Machine. In a previous post there was some discussion about whether or not Glee‘s featured indie music before, but after some consideration I’m sticking to my original assertion: although the indie world’s gotten some nods in the past (particularly in last season’s Nouvelle Vague arrangement of “Dancing with Myself”), Florence is the first truly indie act to have a song on Glee. This gives the show a load of interesting avenues to explore, which I’ll talk about a little bit below.
Another thing Glee‘s done more of this year: stunt episodes. The entirety of last season had only two, featuring Madonna and Gaga. Yet at the halfway point this year we’ve already seen episodes dedicated to Britney Spears, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Christmas (okay, maybe that last one doesn’t count), as well as stunt casting that brought us Gwyneth Paltrow and Carol Burnett. I actually really like the idea of celebrity guests on Glee, as it gives actors and actresses a chance to do something outside their usual comfort zone (and sing a few songs). In practice it doesn’t always work out (Gwyneth’s “Forget You” was pretty terrible) but the idea has a lot of potential.
Here’s a run-down of all the music performed so far this season. Click on the episode titles to check out the original post which discusses the songs (except for the first two, which aired before my time with Cover Me).
THE SEASON SO FAR:
1. Audition: Empire State of Mind (Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys), Telephone (Lady Gaga ft. Beyonce), Billionaire (Travie McCoy ft. Bruno Mars), Listen (from Dreamgirls), What I Did For Love (from A Chorus Line)
2. Britney/Brittany: I’m a Slave 4 U (Britney Spears), Me Against the Music (Britney Spears ft. Madonna), Baby One More Time (Britney Spears), Stronger (Britney Spears), Toxic (Britney Spears), The Only Exception (Paramore)
3. Grilled Cheesus: Only the Good Die Young (Billy Joel), I Look to You (Whitney Houston), Papa Can You Hear Me? (Barbra Streisand), I Want to Hold Your Hand (The Beatles), Losing My Religion (R.E.M.), Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel), One of Us (Joan Osborne)
4. Duets: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (Elton John & Kiki Dee), “River Deep – Mountain High” (Ike & Tina Turner), Le Jazz Hot! (from Victor/Victoria), Sing! (from A Chorus Line), Lucky (Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat), Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again (Judy Garland/Barbara Streisand)
5. The Rocky Horror Glee Show: Science Fiction/Double Feature, Over at the Frankenstein Place, Dammit Janet, Hot Patootie, Sweet Transvestite, Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me, Time Warp (all from The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
6. Never Been Kissed: One Love/People Get Ready (Bob Marley & the Wailers), Teenage Dream (Katy Perry), Start Me Up/Livin’ on a Prayer (The Rolling Stones/Bon Jovi), Stop! In the Name of Love/Free Your Mind (The Supremes/En Vogue)
9. Special Education: Don’t Cry for Me Argentina (from Evita), The Living Years (Mike & The Mechanics), Hey Soul Sister (Train), (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life (from Dirty Dancing), Valerie (Mark Ronson ft. Amy Winehouse), Dog Days are Over (Florence and the Machine)
10. A Very Glee Christmas: The Most Wonderful Day of the Year (from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), We Need a Little Christmas (from Mame), Merry Christmas Darling (The Carpenters), Baby It’s Cold Outside (Frank Loesser), You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch (from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!), Last Christmas (Wham!), Welcome Christmas (from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!)
MY TOP FIVE:
Here’s my favorite performances from this season so far. Don’t agree? Let us know below!
5. Stop! In the Name of Love / Free Your Mind (The Supremes/En Vogue)
I’ve talked at some length about how much I enjoy Glee‘s mash-ups. They’ve done a few this season, and although I don’t think any have matched the brilliance of the first season’s “It’s My Life/Confessions” (Bon Jovi/Usher) or “Young Girl/Don’t Stand So Close to Me” (Gary Puckett/The Police), this En Vogue/Supremes mixture comes pretty close. Here Glee has done a great job of finding two songs that truly do seem to go together, and they drive that point home with a killer rock arrangement.
4. Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)
Amber Riley (who plays Mercedes) has had a pretty great run of episodes this season, and I had no doubt I’d be picking one of her songs for the top five. Though there’s a lot of honorable mentions (“I Look to You,” “River Deep – Mountain High,” “Sweet Transvestite”) I had to go with her take on Aretha Franklin‘s soul-infused folk cover. Glee likes to joke that Mercedes’ sole job is to belt out a couple high notes from the background in each song, and sometimes that’s true, but whenever she gets a lead vocal Amber tends to deliver spectacularly.
3. Hot Patootie (Meatloaf, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
It’s Uncle Jesse singing Meatloaf… I don’t know what else to say. I can listen to this song over and over again and not get bored of its enthusiasm, its abandon, or the fact that it’s Uncle Jesse singing Meatloaf.
2. I Want to Hold Your Hand (The Beatles)
Like Amber Riley, Chris Colfer’s (Kurt) stepped into the spotlight pretty significantly this half-season, and he’s got a number of breakout performances under his belt. For me, though, nothing beats this heartfelt rendition of the Beatles’ first American hit.
1. Sing! (from A Chorus Line)
An odd choice for #1, perhaps, but I think Glee really hit the jackpot on “Sing!” With this song, the show attempted a number of novel feats, most importantly giving lead vocals over to the severely under-utilized Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) and the never before or again utilized Mike Chang (Harry Shum, Jr.). The show really outdoes itself in working Mike into a routine in a non-dance capacity, especially in a number that actually thrives on his admittedly weak voice. Besides that, Glee acts fairly sharply in incorporating a number from Chorus Line, a musical to which it has a number of thematic ties. Finally, and most importantly, this performance bleeds exuberance, an emotion central to understanding Glee‘s appeal.
WHAT’S TO COME:
Thanks to the Internet, we already know a few things. One: the post-Super Bowl episode features a mash-up of Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller” with some other song. Two: Maroon 5 and Destiny’s Child songs will be making their appearance soon as well.
Rumor-wise, the web’s been rumbling for awhile of a Bruce Springsteen-themed episode which actually stars the Boss. We got a little taste of what that might sound like at last year’s Emmy’s. In case you couldn’t tell from my post on Darkness on the Edge of Town, I’m a gigantic Springsteen mark, and an episode like that would make me very, very happy.
Besides that, again I want to emphasize that the inclusion of indie music in “Special Education” might lead to some interesting song selections down the road. A.V. Club critic Todd VanDerWerff joked in his latest Glee review about a New Pornographers-themed episode (curiously a reference I also made in my write-up for “Special Education”), and I wonder how far off that might be. Granted, the New Pornographers are perhaps a little too obscure, but what about groups like Arcade Fire, Spoon, or MGMT? If arranged correctly, a show choir rendition of a song like “Wake Up” could totally rock.
Do I have much hope it’ll happen? No, not really. But “Dog Days Are Over” is the first real signifier of Glee expanding its musical horizons this season, and indie music offers Glee a lot of untapped potential.
Oh, and while we’re at it, how about some Whitesnake?
Glee comes back right after the Super Bowl, and so do our roundups!