Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.
In “I Kissed a Girl,” Santana (Naya Rivera) grapples with being forced out of the closet while the show’s two elections (Kurt Hummel for student body president and Burt Hummel for Congress) enter their last days. Meanwhile, the competition between the New Directions glee club and rivals the Troubletones cools down as the groups come together to help Santana through her identity crisis.
Before we get too deep into this week’s episode, we need to backtrack a bit to our previous entry. I had mentioned how much I enjoyed last episode’s closing Adele mash-up, “Rumor Has It/Someone Like You,” and apparently I wasn’t the only one. Besides commenters and friends of this site, the music-buying public also voiced their support, giving Glee its best-performing single by far in a long, long time. “Rumor Has It/Someone Like You” hit number 11 on the U.S. charts; the next highest-charting song from this season, a cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” didn’t even crack the top 40 (it settled at 59). The last Glee song that did so well was actually one of their original numbers from the middle of season two, “Loser Like Me.” The last cover to rival the Adele mash-up’s performance was “Forget You,” which you may recall unfortunately featured Gwyneth Paltrow. Not a bad accomplishment for Glee‘s 300th song then, eh? Perhaps that mash-up signals a return to a more pop-oriented soundtrack after a first few months dominated by musical numbers.
If I’m right, “I Kissed a Girl” certainly continues that trend. Here we have another solid variety of music, all drawn from different parts of the pop world — you’ve got a few modern hits for the kids, a reworked ’80s classic, Glee‘s first foray into old-school country and two songs that I put in the “oh, that!” genre, by which I mean they’re songs you would have once heard on the radio a lot that seemed to disappear. Obviously this isn’t a very strict categorization, but I love being reminded of songs I used to know, and for me that’s something Glee hasn’t done all season… that is, until it brought out Melissa Etheridge and k.d. lang.
The stated musical theme of this episode is songs “by girls for girls.” If your mind goes straight to “lesbian music,” put the brakes on a second. While a couple of these songs could be considered girl-on-girl love ballads (Etheridge and lang in particular), three of the tracks are basically female empowerment anthems (one problematically so, but more on that later) while the remainder’s sung from one woman to another begging her not to steal a man away. However, it’s worth noting that while this episode doesn’t only feature lesbian music, at least half its performers identify as members of the LGBT community or its allies. That connects nicely with the episode’s themes of homosexuality and coming out. I would be curious to hear from any LGBT readers, though, whether you thought this episode actually short-changed or even trivialized Santana’s coming-out process by blowing through it in 44 minutes. If so, do you think it’s because the show has tread this ground before (with Kurt in seasons one and two)? Did that make you enjoy the episode any less or more?
While more qualified people than I debate that point, let’s look at the music!
Perfect (Pink cover)
The episode’s music kicks in with this rendition of a 2010 Pink single. The song’s harmless but uninspired, though I must admit I’m kind of tired of hearing it (at least one TV show uses it in its promos, and I’m all burned out). We do get a pretty cool verse of Blaine (Darren Criss) sing-talking, though, so that’s something.
BONUS: AHMIR, the “number one R&B group on YouTube,” recorded a soulful version of this song for an anti-bullying video. It does have about a million views, so maybe they’ve earned that claim.
I’m the Only One (Melissa Etheridge cover)
Here’s our first “oh, that!” track, from Etheridge’s 1993 debut album Yes I Am. Lead vocals go to puck (Mark Salling), who’s been getting a lock of work this season, especially in the rock world (check previous performances of Foreigner and Van Halen). I’m a fan of his vocals, and he has just a bit of a snarl (while still being primetime-friendly) that lends itself nicely to that genre. It’s put to good use here; it strikes me now, 18 years after I first heard the song, just how much longing Etheridge feels for her scorning lover, and Salling conveys that aptly.
BONUS: In true testament to this song’s pre-Youtube status, there are seemingly almost no covers of it available online. Therefore, please enjoy this really strange computer company promotional video featuring a weird parody/cover of the song all about Electronic Product Definition. The woman in the video REALLY sounds like Etheridge. In fact, it may really be her voice. What do you think?
Girls Just Want to Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper cover)
Man, this was weird. Apparently, this cover’s based on the Greg Laswell version from Confessions of a Shopaholic. Having never seen that movie, I wasn’t expecting a contemplative piano ballad to be made out of this celebratory Cyndi Lauper track. To be blunt, it doesn’t work. This song’s lyrics are ridiculous, and it’s impossible to divorce them from the original’s goofy, synth-laden context (its case is not helped by an opening piano riff cribbed from the Eagles’ “Desperado” and a verse structure far too similar to Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home”). “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” doesn’t support solemnity, and watching Finn (Cory Monteith) try to squeeze any bit of pathos he can from these lyrics is awkward and painful. This is the kind of thing you expect to see on YouTube, not in a primetime show (or, I guess, a major motion picture). This one gets a big old “pass” from me.
BONUS: Until tonight, Relient K delivered the most awkwardly earnest version of this song I’d heard.
Jolene (Dolly Parton cover)
Wow! Glee‘s got two surprises up its sleeve here — not only does the show tackle classic country for the first time ever (what up, 1973?) but Coach Beiste (Dot Marie Jones) takes only her second run at lead vocals. The first, last year’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” could get away with her kind of sing-talking through it, but for Jolene she’s got to actually form some notes some those vocal cords of hers. It’s hard to tell how processed Jones’ voice is here, probably because we’ve never heard her do this before, but it sounded alright to me. It’s also interesting to see how each character’s built in part through their musical tastes. So far, we know Coach Beiste really likes Dolly Parton and George Thorogood. That kind of says a lot.
BONUS: If you were watching The Voice earlier this year, you would’ve seen contestant Vicci Martinez deliver a crazy-passionate version of the song.
I Kissed a Girl (Katy Perry cover)
I think Glee does something kind of interesting with this song, turning it from a mindless pronouncement of empty sexual flirtation to a full-on anthem of female/lesbian empowerment. That’s done more through its staging than the actual performance, but man, I’m impressed they can salvage such a terrible, terrible song and actually give it some meaning. Speaking of the staging, check out the reaction shots from the boys in the choir room, especially Damian. Maybe they don’t have lesbians in Glee‘s version of Ireland.
BONUS: Here’s a weird one… British punk pioneers The Vibrators released a cover of this song in 2009. Why any band in the 33rd year of their career feels like that’s a necessary move is anyone’s guess.
Constant Craving (k.d. lang cover)
This 1992 cover gives Glee its second “oh, that!” moment. It’s also Naya Rivera’s second lead vocal of the night; she took charge on “I Kissed a Girl,” but this song’s vulnerability is more suited to Rivera’s passionate pipes. For the second verse, Shelby (Idina Menzel) takes over and does an equally excellent job; these two should sing together more often. It’s pretty bold for Glee to take on an adult contemporary hit from almost two decades ago, but I think the show pulls it off admirably. If nothing else, how often do Glee songs feature an accordion?
BONUS: Alternative piano rocker Charlotte Martin recorded a spacey, almost trip-hop take on lang’s track for her 2007 covers album Reproductions.
Tune in next week for a brand-new set of Glee covers!