Musical Month Week 3: CHRISTIIIINEEE

Back when I wrote the first post for Musical Month, I had a deep inner crisis over which song deserved the number three spot for “Be More Chill.” Though I knew “Do You Wanna Ride” deserved the spot just as a song I enjoy listening to, I also desperately wanted to talk about “I Love Play Rehearsal,” a short, sweet little song that does an absolutely fantastic job of characterizing Christine. In the end, it came down to the fact that I felt like I had a lot more to say about “I Love Play Rehearsal” than “Do You Wanna Ride,” so it merited its own post. This post, actually!

Yes, Christine is probably the best character in “Be More Chill” (besides Michael). For a character who doesn’t actually have that heavy a role in the actual plot, she remains a character motivation for Jeremy, and an important one at that.

Wait, the female love interest who does nothing but be the character motivation for the leading guy? Hasn’t that been done over and over and over and over (and over and over) again? Isn’t it playing along with that idea that women are merely actors in a story dominated by men?

Oh yes, that’s very true. But allow me to make a case for Christine. While I don’t know if I can say that she’s the perfect example of a woman with agency in a musical (as I said, she doesn’t do a whole lot), I do think she gets excellent characterization. It would be easy for “Be More Chill” to sideline her as the adorable, quirky love interest she is – always just a bit out of Jeremy’s reach, but still lovely and perfect – but instead she’s made out to be a person with feelings, and it’s not until Jeremy realizes that that he “gets the girl.”

I also have to commend “Be More Chill” because Christine appears in maybe, like, three songs? And she still manages to be a really interesting, complex character. So let’s talk about her solo number, “I Love Play Rehearsal,” and what it implies about her character.

{CHRISTINE}
I love play rehearsal
Because it’s the best!
Because it is fun.
I love play rehearsal
And I get depressed as soon as it’s done.

So, what is there to say about this song except… it’s adorable? Well, a lot (obviously, as I’m writing a whole post about it), but it is also incredibly adorable.

But besides establishing the adorable tone, this verse sets up a motif we’ll be following throughout this song. Escapism! Christine uses play rehearsal as an escape from the rest of her life, explaining why she gets “depressed” as soon as it’s over.

It’s also worth noting the tone she sings these lines with – namely, the difference in enthusiasm between the second and third lines. “Because it’s the best!” is cheered, while “Because it is fun,” is toned down purposefully, as if Christine is trying to remind herself to remain calm. Considering she is saying all of this to Jeremy, a guy she has never talked to before, the audience can assume she doesn’t wish to come off too enthusiastic to a guy she’s just met – she’s self-conscious about her enthusiasm.

But not depressed as in like kill yourself depressed
No, I’m not into self-harm
Dude, I swear, here check my arm!

In another telling verse, Christine makes it a very specific point to tell Jeremy that she is not depressed, or suicidal. It’s such a quick and desperate point that I would be surprised if it wasn’t meant to imply the opposite.

This brings me to another important point about Christine in “Be More Chill.” As I mentioned above, she doesn’t play that huge of a role in this musical. Honestly, this makes sense to me, since the story we’re presented is Jeremy’s, and one of Jeremy’s biggest character flaws is the fact he doesn’t seem to care all that much about the problems of other people.

This is directly stated in his treatment of Michael and Brooke, but I think it applies to Christine too. The implication that she might be depressed or suicidal here is basically skipped over by the musical, and I think that’s on purpose. Jeremy doesn’t care about Christine in any way other than as an object of his affection, a prize once he finally becomes “cool.” So, we only get implications of Christine’s problems, because Jeremy doesn’t notice and doesn’t care, and so neither does this story.

See, I just use the word to emphasize a point,
Show the passion I have got
I am passionate a lot.

Christine’s passion is another important part of her character we’re given in this song. Christine is actually one of the only characters to have a defined “passion” in the musical, except maybe Michael with his love of retro products and video games. I think that sets her apart as slightly more mature than the rest of her classmates, assured enough in herself that she knows exactly what she loves to do.

The other characters spend most of their time concerned with the drama of their high school life, while Christine seems to flit above it all. She’s not pegged as one of the “popular crowd,” but she also gets attention from Jake, who is one of that crowd. I find that interesting when compared to Jeremy, who is absolutely obsessed with his status in high school, but loves the girl who seems pretty disconnected from it all.

I have mad, gigantic feelings,
Red and frantic feelings,
About most everything
Like gun control, like spring,
Like if I’m living up to all I’m meant to be.
I also have a touch of ADD.

Where was I?
Oh, right!

I love the juxtaposition of the two things she names as passions of hers. Gun control and spring… doesn’t that just say so much about her? Passion for the political and the downright fluffy. Precious.

But anyway, we get a little more implication of depth and conflict in Christine’s life in these lines. She wonders if she’s “living up to all [she’s] meant to be.” From this line, we can assume she’s probably a very self-determined person, with an image of who she needs to become one day.

I love play rehearsal,
Cause’ you are equipped with direction and text,
Life is easy in rehearsal,
You follow a script so you know what comes next.

These lines also reveal an interesting motivation for Christine. Her love of how the script provides direction for life speaks to a discomfort with the unpredictability and difficulty of real life. This matches up pretty well with Jeremy’s motivations, actually. Like Christine alludes, he also seeks an easy answer to life’s problems.

That’s a pretty easy way for Jeremy and Christine to connect right here, but as I’ve mentioned a few times at this point, Jeremy is currently too wrapped up in his own problems to notice Christine’s. He’s not even able to recognize his own problems in hers! That will change as the plot of the musical progresses but… yeah.

Anywho the point that I’m getting to is sometimes life can’t
Work out in the way
It works out in the play
Like the only time I get to be the center of attention,
Is when I’m Juliet or Blanche DuBois
And can I mention?

That was really one of my best roles,
Did you see that?

These lines continue with the idea that Christine longs for an easy solutions for life’s problems, but then implies that Christine also longs to be “the center of attention.” I already briefly talked about how Christine doesn’t seem to factor into her school’s popularity hierarchy, but it’s interesting that despite this, she still longs for attention.

Also, I can’t help but look into the two roles she namedrops. Juliet is something that comes up again later in the musical, so I can discount it as a story beat, but Blanche DuBois is especially notable, especially since she calls it “one of her best roles.”

Blanche DuBois is a formerly wealthy southern belle who comes to live with her sister and her sister’s husband in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Without spoiling the plot of that excellent play, Blanche is an incredibly complex character who ends up slipping into a state of insanity. It’s a really intense role for a high schooler to play, and I can’t help but think that it not only speaks to Christine’s talent as an actress, but also perhaps her connection to the character?

I think later parts of the musical confirm that Christine deals with mental health problems of her own, so I think that she connects so deeply with a role like that.

And no matter how hard I try,
It’s impossible to narrow down the many reasons why-y-y,
I love play rehearsal.
I happiness cry whenever it starts!
It’s just so universal
Getting to try playing so many parts.
Most humans do one thing for all of their lives,
The thought of that gives me hives!
I’ve got so many interests I wanna pursue,

And another interesting point about Christine! I really love the concept of loving acting as a way to escape from yourself. I’m not an actress, but I am the daughter of two actors and the granddaughter of an actress, so I’m acquainted with their mentality well enough, I’d think. I also think writing has a similar appeal. I love sitting down and writing about other people and worlds for a while. It’s a wonderful form of escapism.

But anyway, Christine reveals she has a lot of interests beyond acting, but acting gives her access to all of them. It’s a rather fascinating approach to interests. It implies that Christine would be doing so much more if she had the time, but uses acting as a way to efficiently explore all her many interests. It sheds more light on her insecurities regarding whether or not she’s living up to all she’s “meant to be.”

And why am I telling this to you?
Guess there’s a part of me that wants to.

These two lines get reprised in “A Guy that I’d Kinda Be Into.” I mention this because I think they take on a different meaning if you consider the context the reprise adds. At this point, the audience is meant to think this means Christine might be harboring secret romantic feelings for Jeremy. However, “A Guy that I’d Kinda Be Into” reveals that these lines show more platonic feelings for Jeremy. She trusts him without knowing why, a fact that isn’t enough for selfish Jeremy at first, but eventually becomes a basis for their relationship.

Back to play rehearsal,
My brain is like ‘bzz’
My heart is like ‘wow!’
‘Cause we’re here at play rehearsal,
And it’s starting,
We’re starting,
It’s starting,
Soon.
Oo

Not much more to say, just more cute lines.

Overall, “I Love Play Rehearsal” is a really fascinating introductory song for Christine’s character. It explores her love of theater as an escape and as a way to explore many of her passions. It touches on her inner worries and motivations. And it also, in a low key way, points out Jeremy’s character flaws and the way they align with hers, setting up their relationship throughout the musical.

While I don’t think Christine is a perfect example of female representation in a musical, what strengths in her character exist are unique and worth celebrating.

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Musical Month Week 1: Picking Favorites

For no real reason other than I thought it would be fun, I’ve decided that October will be Musical Month! All month, I’ll be writing posts about musicals. For the first week, I thought we’d take more general look at musicals and songs from musicals I love.

I would call myself a casual musical fan. I’m generally last to the party when it comes to appreciating them. But for those select few I really love, I’ll listen to them over and over again and excitedly sing them with friends.

To be frank, my first plan for this post was going to be a sweeping Top 30 of all songs in musicals but… after trying my hardest to compile a list of all my favorites, it became clear to me that it was a near impossibility. I think songs from musicals are even harder to rank than regular songs, because in a lot of cases I judge them differently from song to song. They often depend heavily on context of the the story, and staging, and the way I connect to the characters singing that song… it’s just hard to put everything on a level playing field. So, instead, here’s my three favorite songs from a few of my favorite musicals. I hope this provides a suitable alternative and a good opening to the month.

(As a note: I will most likely not be talking about specific plot details in my reviews. However, be warned that the songs could contain spoilers for the musical as a whole. In addition, for some of the songs, it’s kind of impossible not to spoil things a little in the review. I’ll try my best, but be warned.)

Be More Chill

“Be More Chill” is still more or less an underappreciated fave. It first appeared on my radar because it often gets compared to the monumentally popular (and honestly a little overrated) “Dear Evan Hansen.” To be quite frank, “Be More Chill” is like “Evan Hansen” in the same way apples are similar to oranges. Both musicals about high school, both fruits. But otherwise, completely unlike one another.

If I were going to compare this musical to any other musical, I’d compare it to “Heathers.” They both take a dark, funny look at high school drama. Both create intrigue by introducing fantastical elements to the generally overplayed setting. Both feature a dissatisfied protagonist who gets taken advantage of by a malevolent but seemingly helpful force. Also, both are excellent musicals.

If you love “Heathers,” or just think you’d enjoy a unique twist on the usual high school coming-of-age, try this one out.

(Shout-out to my boyfriend Kirby, who finally convinced me to listen to this musical. I’m gonna see if I can convince him to come out of his cocoon and help me write a post for this month focusing on it. Stay tuned!)

3. Do You Wanna Ride?

I had a hell of a time figuring out which song would take the number three spot. Finally, though, I had to look deep within myself and determine which song it was that could so easily implant itself into my head on a near daily basis. And wow, this song is ever catchy.

I love how straight it’s played. There’s no doubt that the subject matter in it is goofy but the sensual performance of Lauren Marcus and Katlyn Carlson creates the kind of beautiful dissonance that really sells its humor. Plus… those vocals are gorgeous! I’ve never heard the word “Pinkberry” sung in such a pure, pleasant way.

This song is short, but it really leaves an impression.

2. The Smartphone Hour (Rich Set a Fire)

Big ensemble numbers can be pretty hit-or-miss for me. I feel like a lot of times they can just sort of exist as a means to move the plot forward. In that way, they can sometimes sacrifice quality for story. That’s not always a bad thing, but it does make for some forgettable songs.

And then there are those beautiful ensemble numbers that stick with you forever. This one does that and more. I’m not always a big fan of the “darn millennials and their ding dang social media” idea, but I feel like this song doesn’t fall as easily into that trap. It’s certainly critical of the quickly-spreading and salacious nature of social media in teenage lives, but it doesn’t do that by being preachy. Instead, it presents the scene as it is and allows the audience to draw their own conclusions.

It’s funny, dark, fast-paced, and a little overwhelming. The instrumentals and the vocals are top notch and only serve to heighten the emotions and ideas being presented. It’s a beautifully-written song, and serves as a great microcosm of the strengths of the musical as a whole.

1. Michael in the Bathroom

To no one’s surprise, everyone’s favorite song from this musical is also my favorite. George Salazar, man. George freaking Salazar. His voice is just beautiful. It’s perfect for Michael – very “nerdy” – but it’s also emotional, and dynamic, and just… ugh.

This was the first song I heard from this musical, and it really piqued my interest. It’s just so cleverly written. It’s so relatable (anyone who has even a shred of social anxiety would definitely agree.) It’s so darkly funny. (Are you picking up a pattern in the songs from this musical?) It characterizes Michael so perfectly. A character who has mostly played second fiddle to Jeremy and is then discarded gets his shining moment and it’s unforgettable.

If you listen to no other song from this musical, listen to this one. There’s just so many moments you can’t possibly miss… the builds, the “Knock-knock” part, Michael breaking off mid-sentence in a sob, the sarcastic finality of the last lines… it’s all so good. I have a hard time describing it because it’s really something you have to listen to. Listen to it. You’ll agree, I promise.

(By the way, if you’re interested in admiring George Salazar’s incredible vocal talents and his range of emotion check out this video. Just ignore the horrible lady cackling throughout the entire performance.)

Heathers

Ah, Heathers.  A movie I haven’t seen, a musical I adore. For those familiar with the cult-classic movie, I’m sure you already know what this musical is about, but for those who don’t, it involves high school drama and MURDER MOST FOUL. It’s a dark, funny, emotional journey filled with deep, complicated characters. It’s also absolutely ridiculous at times.

It’s not a musical I would recommend to everyone, but if you can enjoy the sort of jokes that make you feel bad for laughing, you’ll find a musical chock-full of showstopping numbers you’ll never forget. I had a rough time sorting through a million favorites on this soundtrack.

I plan on writing a post later this month about some of the fascinating themes contained in this musical, but it’s a dense beast with a lot of fascinating places for analysis. For that reason, I think it might be my favorite musical of all. Maybe. Don’t quote me on that.

3. Lifeboat

While giving a villain a backstory isn’t exactly groundbreaking, I have to hand it it “Lifeboat” for being so unapologetic about it. Okay, sure, Heather McNamara is not exactly the biggest villain of this musical, but she is complicit in a lot of awful things. Yet, this song is slow and beautiful. It explains her motivations so well without really explaining it all. It’s an extended metaphor that explains so much about McNamara both explicitly and implicitly (I mean, it speaks volumes of her fear of being honest about her situation that she never outright states what is going on, using the lifeboat metaphor instead.)

Similar to “Michael in the Bathroom,” “Lifeboat” is poignant for how relatable it can be for someone with deep, terrifying anxieties. However, I think the thing that makes it stick out the most in my mind is how dynamic it is – leaping from quiet piano ballad to loud, turbulent wailing. It’s moving and incredible, and provides a fascinating view on one of this musical’s fascinating characters.

2. Meant to Be Yours

Speaking of fascinating characters… oh JD. I have a lot to say about JD, but that’ll be for a later week. The true antagonist of “Heathers,” JD is one of those characters you either hate to love or love to hate. Either way, he’s a fascinatingly complex character, and “Meant to Be Yours” is his breakdown, his villain song, his master plan. It’s frenetic and surprisingly happy-sounding, even as he speaks about blowing up his school and murdering hundreds.

I love the vocal performance of this song. There’s so many points where the vocals say so much more than the lyrics do, and I think that’s one of the best parts of this song. Certain lyrics are screamed, certain lyrics are crooned, and it all goes together to paint a startling, complex image of a deeply troubled individual.

And even if others might disagree… I love how explicitly this song states how unhealthy his relationship with Veronica is. I very much appreciate when a piece of media is self aware about the harmfulness of the tropes it follows. No one with an ounce of critical thinking could listen to this song and truly believe they’re a happy couple.

(Well, except for those YouTube commenters but… YouTube commenters are barely human anyway.)

1. Dead Girl Walking

It’s songs like these that make me wish I was a better singer. I’d belt this song all day if I could. It’s intense and unforgettable. And yeah, it’s about terrible decisions, but it’s the most beautiful, powerful song about terrible decisions ever.

I count it as a major accomplishment for this song that I can love it so much even though it’s entirely about sex. Even as it is about sex, and does contain some rather lewd jokes (not the worst in this musical, though), it also has a lot to say about Veronica’s character. We know her to be smart and savvy, but it’s fascinating to see how easily she’s fooled into maybe the worst decision of her life just due to the normal pressures of high school.

The insights into how she views JD as beautiful on the inside is interesting in hindsight considering the content of the rest of the musical. Is she wrong? Or did JD never get a chance to be better? Who knows, but the audience gets to ruminate on it. I think “Heathers” is notable for how frank and honest it can be about some very heavy subjects historically mishandled by media, and this part of the song is just a microcosm of this fact.

And, okay, it’s fun. It’s a fun, catchy song, and it’s so well performed, and everyone should listen to it! Well… everyone within reason.

Hamilton

What is there to say about “Hamilton” that hasn’t already been said thousands of times? It’s just so good. It’s one of those rare media phenomenons that deserves every inch of praise it receives. It’s a monument of fantastic writing and storytelling. I already wrote a whole post about this musical when I went to see it in Chicago, and while I can say it doesn’t define my daily life as much as it used to back then, I still look back on this musical as the behemoth of my junior year in high school it was. I remember whole bus rides to and from marching band competitions belting the songs with my best friend. I remember sitting around a bonfire in my backyard assigning different roles to friends so we could perform the songs right then and there (we all had the lyrics memorized, anyway).

I’m sure just about everyone who will listen to “Hamilton” has, but if for some reason you haven’t, do. It’s going to go down as a classic in history, for one, but also it’s just amazing. I would pay a lot to go back and listen to this musical again for the first time. You’ll learn things, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you might even feel a little patriotic. I know, crazy, right?

3. Non-Stop

This was another difficult third song to assign, but I think I cheated a little with this choice. “Non-Stop” kind of combines all the best elements of all the songs in the first act into a fast-paced act one finale. So in picking this song I kind of picked them all.

Remember what I said earlier about ensemble numbers? This is another good one. It’s vast and grand, and ends the first act on such a high note. There are so many great moments: Hamilton’s “I was chosen for the Constitutional Convention!”, Burr and Hamilton’s conversation, Hamilton being a butt in court, George Washington, basically everything Eliza and Angelica do in this song, the ending part where everyone is singing and you want to sing along but you can’t pick which part to sing along with… wait, what was I talking about?

Oh, right. “Non-Stop.” Er… well… let’s talk about that ending, though. The chaos, and the twisting of “I am not throwing away my shot” to become a forboding omen hanging over Hamilton’s head. It’s masterful and sets the stage so well for the tragedy of act two. Just amazing.

2. Burn

I was going back and forth over whether I wanted to pick “Helpless” or this one for the second spot. Eliza is unabashedly my favorite character in this musical, so there was no way I was leaving out one of her two solos. But it eventually came down to emotional impact and just why I love Eliza so much that finally helped me make the decision.

I read a post on tumblr recently that discussed how “Hamilton” is the story of narrative control. It is a constant battle for who gets to tell the story. However, it’s Eliza who seems the most content to stay out of the battle. She purposefully makes herself a part of her husband’s narrative, content to stay in the background and do her best to help out.

And yet, it is in this song that Eliza first decides to take control of her role in the narrative, by forcefully cutting herself out of it, and taking with it many of the positive information about her husband. She exercises her power in the only way she feels she can. It’s powerful and beautiful and it’s a great precursor to the ending, where it’s revealed that it was through Eliza’s efforts that Hamilton’s name is ultimately kept alive. She’s a fantastic historical figure and an incredible character in this musical.

But as for the song itself… what can I say? Phillipa Soo is a goddess, and her vocals are perfect. The song is sweeping and tragic and beautiful and also kind of badass. A masterful work.

1. Satisfied

“Satisfied” has always been one of my favorites – from the beautiful piano in the background, to Angelica’s clever, rapid-fire lines, to the really fascinating motif of “rewinding” time and regretting your actions, it’s clearly a strong point of the musical. But that was all it was for me, “one” of many favorites.

And then I saw this song live.

It’s hard to describe to you in words what it was that made the difference from listening to this song over and over and seeing it live so huge for me. I have some suspicions, mostly involving what was happening in my life at the time I saw it, but regardless of what it was, it moved me to tears. The staging was just so beautiful, and the music and the vocals of the actress playing Angelica struck me to my core. I had definitely expected to cry at the performance, but I hadn’t expected to cry so early on.

Either way, it will always be a high point of the musical for me, perhaps my favorite part. The emotions of regret and nostalgia evoked by this song are just so gut-wrenching, and every part of the song comes together to make you feel every twinge of pain Angelica feels.

I don’t know if listening to the soundtrack will ever be able to match the experience of seeing it live at that very moment in my life, but I’ll never forget it. It’s the reason this song is my favorite in this musical, and most likely will be for the rest of time.

Legally Blonde

I think of all the musicals represented on this post, “Legally Blonde” is probably the most… light-hearted. It’s sort of a guilty pleasure of a musical, but I can’t help but love it. It’s certainly goofy, but it has a lot of heart and surely appeals to my “rah rah feminism” core.

It’s a classic, really! How can I argue with a classic? It’s a musical with music that never fails to make me happy. I have a hard time really saying much more about it. It’s a very simple joy of a story. For that reason, my reviews of these songs will most likely be a little shorter than the rest. There’s just not much to parse here besides pure enjoyment and amusement.

3. There! Right There! (Gay or European)

I feel like even if you aren’t familiar with “Legally Blonde,” there’s a good chance you’re familiar with this song. I’d call it infamous. It’s certainly erm… heavy handed with its portrayal of a gay man, but I still can’t help but enjoy the overwrought drama of it all. I want to acknowledge that this song is not exactly the best example of respectful LGBT representation but… okay, it’s funny. It’s funny and I enjoy it. I’m so sorry. So very, very sorry.

2. Whipped Into Shape

I’m not a big fan of diet and exercise video culture, but come on. This song is just so catchy. The lyrics are catchy and clever, and I find the way they connect her exercise routine to her possible guilt in the murder of her husband is hilarious. Plus, for those who have actually watched this musical, the way the actors perform the action of getting “paused” by Professor Callahan is so well done. Speaking of – I absolutely adore Professor Callahan’s interjections. The contrast between his parts and Brooke’s create a kind of dissonance that makes this potentially one-off number an absolute star on this soundtrack.

1. Legally Blonde (Reprise)

My choice for the top spot is almost entirely based on the fact that Vivian is maybe one of my favorite characters in this entire musical. Her beginning part in this song makes me so happy. Women supporting other women… dumping their awful frat boyfriends and becoming successful lawyers… what’s not to love? Also, basically everyone who deserves it gets their fun happy endings. (Paulette and Kyle!!!!) This is a triumphant song that gets everyone in the audience happy and bopping along. It’s just so good. Listen to it and try to keep a smile off your face. I dare you.

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

The most recent favorite on this list, “Great Comet” is most certainly a musical unlike any other. It barely rhymes, and it shares more similarities with an opera than with a musical. And yet there’s something so irresistibly charming about it. Perhaps it’s that the characters are all so very alive and complicated, or that the music so often defies regular rules in order to make a thematic point. No matter what it is, it’s an experience unlike any other.

I’m forever sad there’s a very slim chance I’ll ever see this musical live, because it involves its audience more than any musical I’ve ever heard of. Actors dance around the audience, offer them food and drink, and dance with them. Honestly, that’s a microcosm of one of the biggest strengths of this musical. Despite its dense source material (War and Peace, anyone?) it’s inviting and never too pretentious. In fact, it’s much the opposite. It states what is going on in the characters’ heads outright with great simplicity.

And it’s that grand simplicity that endears this musical to me, I think. If you do anything else, take a few hours out of your life and listen to this journey.

3. Prologue

Remember what I said about this musical going out of its way to be inviting? “Prologue” is the song that makes that abundantly obvious from the get-go. It’s essentially a cheat sheet for the characters and the story in song form, presented outright to the audience as a tool for remembering everyone, as well as their relationship to each other. It accomplishes the monumental task of introducing everyone to the audience through repitition – think “Twelve Days of Christmas.” It’s very effective.

Plus, it breaks the fourth wall and pokes fun at itself. The musical is fully aware that its very premise makes it sound too complex and pretentious for an audience to enjoy, but this song welcomes everyone into its story, and sets the stage for what the musical will be. Friendly and inviting and relatable and unabashedly human.

Considering how very “utility” this song is, it’s honestly a crime how good this song is. It has no business being as catchy or as delightful it is! I’ve listened to this song so many times, sung it out loud in the car with friends so many times… and it’s just a list of names! In song form! What the heck?!

2. No One Else

I cannot even begin to guess how many times I’ve listened to this song. There’s just something about it that compels me to hit the repeat button over and over and over again. And that’s especially surprising considering it took me quite a few listens just to have this song click for me. But once it did… oh man.

I guess it helps that I adore Natasha’s character, and I think this song really highlights a lot of the fascinating things about her. Her childish naivete, her idealism, her wide-eyed wonder at the world… all is present in this sweet, crooning melody. The song takes on an even more fascinating meaning once you’ve gotten to the end of this musical, but I don’t want to spoil anything.

The lyrics are intimate and honestly adorable. I love seeing Natasha’s lovestruck view of her fiance. Plus, that ending… perhaps one of the most brilliant endings of any song. Such a unique gut-punch. Ah. So good.

1. Pierre & Natasha

If “No One Else” punches you in the gut, “Pierre & Natasha” grabs your heart, rips it out, stomps on it a few times, and shoves it back into your chest. This is the song that had me in literal tears the first time I listened to it. (Of course, this was in public, sitting on the floor in Woodburn Hall… yeah.)

It’s a very subtle song. The instrumentals are just a few piano notes repeated. And honestly, that’s all this song needs. The focus is absolutely on the lyrics, the heartbreaking conversation between Pierre and Natasha. And of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the only spoken lines in the entire show. These lines are particularly brilliant for how earnest and honest they sound once the melody has been stripped out of them. Ugh, just brilliant.

I have a lot more to say about what I feel this song means for both Pierre and Natasha’s characters, but I’ll save that for a post later this month, I think. But Tl;dr… I think there’s a lot more to this song than just romance. But hey, we’ll get to it.

Next to Normal

On the subject of being moved to tears by a musical… here’s “Next to Normal”! This musical is a brilliant study of a family affected by mental illness. To say much else about the plot would take away some of its impact. The characters are incredibly real, so flawed and beautiful and deeply fascinating.

I’ve always admired how grounded this musical is. It wants to depict its characters as realistically as possibly, both the good and the bad. And though that truth is ultimately pretty sad, it also doesn’t revel in its tragedy too much. Ultimately, it’s actually a hopeful musical.

I feel like a lot of musicals try to make themselves into one or the other – unabashedly positive or unbelievably tragic. “Next to Normal” toes the line between, choosing instead to be honest always. And that’s really the tear-jerking part. It’s too real, man. Too real.

3. Superboy and Invisible Girl

Probably my favorite character in the entire musical is Natalie, the daughter. It’s pretty obvious why – I mean, age-wise, that is. She’s a really well-written teenage girl in a genre of music that doesn’t always lend itself to well-written teenage girls. I feel like this song is a fantastic representation of her depth and how much the musical values that depth.

Unfortunately, a lot of the great things about this song are tied into the biggest spoiler in the entire musical, so I won’t go too into detail about the meaningful lyrics and interesting motifs present in the song. However, I can talk about how it sets up more of the conflict between Natalie and her mother, which I think is one of the most intriguing parts of the entire musical.

This was also the very first song from this musical I ever heard! It was enough to intrigue me into investigating the rest of the musical further, so that of course earns it brownie points.

2. Who’s Crazy / My Psychopharmacologist and I

Although, in my praise of Natalie, I forgot how great Dan is as well… and Diana, of course, the powerhouse and center of conflict in this musical… ahhh!

This song represents one of the biggest strengths of this musical, representing deep, complicated conflicts between characters musically, often through competing and combining musical motifs. In this song, we see the conflict between Diana and Dan. I love how well it demonstrates Diana’s relative disregard for her husband’s emotions through her focus on her medication as Dan stresses about her.

And that brings me to a second point. This musical is never fully clear on who the audience should root for among the cast. Diana goes through so much with her mental illness, and feels Dan doesn’t understand her, and yet Dan is doing his very best to provide for her while also not feeling any support from her anymore. There are arguments for both sides, and both sides are represented equally.

1. Hey #3 (Perfect for You Reprise)

Oh wait! Is Henry my favorite character? Oh no, Henry might be my favorite character… Okay, every character is my favorite character. But Henry. I love Henry. Henry is kind of the outsider of the cast, the only one not a member of the family. His relationship with Natalie is another really excellent and complicated part of the story. His somewhat awkward conversations with Natalie progress steadily throughout the musical until he becomes one of her most important supportive figures, and it’s a joy to see.

This song is the culmination of this musical, where we get to see some hope for Natalie in the future. While her parents are resigned to their unhappy relationship, this song makes it clear that Natalie doesn’t have to consign herself to her parents’ fate. It’s beautiful how this song emphasizes Henry’s support of her no matter what as a true indicator of how much they care for each other.

Plus, the music is simple and pretty, tying this subplot together in a beautiful little bow. A beautiful bow that makes me cry like a child.

Waitress

I talked about how wonderful Sara Bareilles is in my Women in Music post, so when I heard that she wrote a musical based on a lightly successful romantic comedy movie of the same name, I was all in. And “Waitress” feels like the musical version of Sara Bareilles’ whole career. It’s simple and romantic and sweet and ultimately positive. It makes me want to jump up and dance (and also eat pie).

Despite the cherry tone, “Waitress” has a cast of really interesting and flawed characters. It plays with the idea that happiness doesn’t only come from the most perfect situations. It instead preaches happiness through finding happiness in the life you’re given. It’s a lovely message for a lovely musical.

3. Opening Up

And nothing sells this tone immediately like the opening song. You get your introduction of most of the major characters, as well as the idea that everyone in the musical is unhappy with their lot in life but willing to work to better themselves. That’s admirable, and it’s also expertly depicted in this cheery opening number.

I love how every character gets their own little line or two that hints at their character conflicts. Jenna and Becky implies that they’re willing to do what she must to derive pleasure from her “small town” life, Dawn remarks on her comfort with sameness, suggesting she’ll have to learn to be brave… plus, pie! Gotta love that pie motif.

It’s a sweet, upbeat song that works so well to introduce this sweet, upbeat musical.

2. She Used to Be Mine

And now we take a hard left into the tearjerker of the musical. The show-stopper. The one everyone remembers. And honestly, it’s pretty easy to tell what makes this song the bombshell it is. Jessie Mueller’s original version is so subtle at points, but then grows to a powerful crescendo, but every version of the song has its own emotional value.

The idea of looking at oneself in the third person is an idea that really appeals to me. After all that’s happened to her, Jenna steps out of her own person and laments the parts of her life and personality she has lost. It’s such a beautiful concept, and it’s performed so well and so emotionally that even if you’re not liable to cry over songs, you’ll still probably get close.

And like, just watch the performance from the Tonys. Watch how vulnerably Jessie Mueller performs it. It’s just, ugh. It’s so good.

1. When He Sees Me

And now, for the song that makes me really cry. Embarrassingly enough. Or not? I can’t actually figure out if how hard I relate to this song is something to be ashamed of or not. Either way, Dawn’s conflict over making herself vulnerable without knowing all the facts is so relatable.

And I mean, this song is adorable. Kimiko Glen’s little southern twang tied with her sometimes ridiculous worries over her blind date plus the romantic backing instrumentals of the song ties together in the most adorable package. Plus, her friends’ mostly futile attempts to talk her off the ledge is hilarious.

Again, I have to point to the performance of this song. Dawn dances with random patrons of the diner, swooning and swaying to her own vulnerabilities… ahh it’s so sweet. It makes me sob like a baby, really. Ugh.

And that’s where we end it for now! I was planning on writing a lot more on a few other songs from musicals I didn’t get a chance to talk about… but this post is already a monster so I’m not gonna continue. But never fret! More musical coverage is coming this month! Stay tuned!

The Boys are Back – “One Foot” Review

So I’d say it’s been a pretty good birthday week.

It was actually on Monday, my real birthday, when I first saw Walk the Moon’s vague announcement-of-an-announcement coming today on their Twitter page. I wasn’t sure whether we’d be getting an announcement of an album or of a song, but I was excited about any information about my favorite band. After all, since their last album “Talking is Hard” they’ve been more or less missing in action. (For good reason, but still.)

So, I turned on my Twitter notifications and lo and behold, right before Spanish class this morning, I got the news. They’re back! Today, they dropped their new single “One Foot.” I’ll get more into it, but spoiler alert, it’s good.

(Ah how I missed Nicholas Petricca’s lame dance moves.)

Now first off I’ll say to anyone who is concerned about Walk the Moon’s more rock-influenced style being put aside in order to pursue more “mainstream” styles, I wanna remind them that this is the first single off of their new album. In vein of “Shut Up and Dance,” “One Foot” is definitely the kind of song that’s meant to be radio-friendly and danceable. And honestly? That’s not a negative.

I think Walk the Moon does a lot of things right (obviously, they’re my favorite band) but one of those things is that their explorations of pop music are never shallow. Such is the case with “One Foot.”

It has dense, well-written lyrics with some fun rhyming conventions. As a lyrics fan, this song gets a big A+ for me. I love the riff in the second verse where the lines all start to rhyme with “dust.” It’s clever and fun and fast-paced and I’m a big fan. I also love the “King of Nothing at All, Queen of Nothing at All” motif. It’s a pretty lyric.

As far as instrumentation goes, I was a little disappointed at first. I felt like a lot of the instrumental choices mirror a lot of the stuff you hear on the radio nowadays, especially the kind of squeal-ish repetitive electronic sounds. Honestly though, after my third or fourth listen, I found myself making peace with them. They at the very least jibed with the spacey sound of the rest of the track, and I trust my boys to use even overplayed tools and instruments well.

Of course, the vocals are spot on. I could spin posts and posts and posts about how much I love Nicholas Petricca’s vocal work, and he’s done it again with this song. His voice is always so clear and fun and lively, and it works so well for this kind of dance track.

Overall, I’m satisfied with this comeback. I think this song has the makings to catapult Walk the Moon back into the public spotlight, which is exactly what they need. And they definitely haven’t sacrificed quality. I still felt like I was listening to a Walk the Moon song when listening to this track, and honestly that was all I really needed.

I don’t want to spend too much time on speculation because it doesn’t in the end do much good, but I do have to comment on where I think their next album is probably going. Based on this track as well as what we’ve heard from “Tiger Teeth,” which has already been more or less confirmed to be on the album, I think their next album is going to have a bit slower of a sound. “Talking is Hard” is an album full of frenetic songs, focusing on energy and fun. While I definitely think that characteristic Walk the Moon energy will be present in this new album, I think we’ll be seeing them slow down and look inward a little more. I think that’s a great thing for them.

I’m anxiously awaiting more information about the future of this band, and there’s no doubt I’ll be writing more about them as we hear more.

A Lyrical Analysis of “Pork Soda”

Well, look at the time! Looks it’s time for another lyrical analysis.

Yep, I did this once before, and it ended up being a really fun little stretch of my analytical muscles. It was really only a matter of time before I came back with yet another song to meticulously dissect because what’s more fun than that? Nothing, obviously.

Like last time, I come to you with a song that has really struck me for its incredibly deep and clever writing. However, this time the lyrics are a little bit more ambiguous. As with all analytical readings, this is simply my own opinion of what the lyrics mean. Your interpretation or the actual interpretation could be wildly different! And that’s okay.

Glass Animals’ “How to Be a Human Being” is an album already filled with, er, unusually-written songs. They certainly like to stick to an off-kilter style, but it’s also a goldmine for interesting lyrical readings. “Pork Soda” is my personal favorite of the bunch, both musically and lyrically. Despite its bouncy, goofy sound and lyrics, it’s a surprisingly sad song about loss and confusion. Sounds like a good time! Let’s get to it!

(Also, just to let you know, I will be addressing the… unique title. Don’t worry. We’ll get there.)

“Somewhere in South End when you were fun
You took my hand and you made me run”
We begin the song with a flashback, tipped off to the listener via the past-tense language and also the light vagueness of it all. We’re not exactly where this scene takes place, just “somewhere.”
So, yeah, it’s vague, but what information can we glean from this line? A lot of information, actually. First of all, we know something has happened to the relationship between the speaker and the person they’re speaking of. After all, they’re speaking of this person being fun… in the past tense. Clearly something has gone down.
In addition, we can perhaps assume a few things about the relationship based on how the speaker points out the subject of the song being the one to take their hand and make them run. It suggests a sort of childlike innocence, yes, just two children running and holding hands, but also that the speaker was not the one driving the relationship.
“Up past the prison to the seafront
You climbed the cliff edge and took the plunge”

It’s no accident where the speaker is taken to by the subject of the song. Past the prison suggests freedom, bypassing a common symbol of restraint, opting to run instead to the seafront to dive off a cliff. It’s a wild disregard for safety, plunging forward with the backdrop of the crashing sea.

It suggests a lack of care, a enthusiastic yet ultimately doomed plunge.

If you’re wondering, yes, this is very meaningful for the rest of the song.

“Why can’t we laugh now like we did then?
How come I see you and ache instead?”

One of the biggest motifs of this song is the constant questions the speaker asks. However, for all the questions, there is a distinct lack of answers.

I think, beyond that, these lines more or less speak for themselves. The innocent, excitable relationship that once existed between the speaker and the subject of the song is gone now. They don’t laugh like they used to, and now all the speaker feels is a hollow ache.

“How come you only look pleased in bed?
Let’s climb the cliff edge and jump again”

The first line here is the only line thus far that has suggested anything other than a platonic relationship between the speaker and subject. I think this is important. It suggests that the relationship between the speaker and the subject was once very rooted in friendship, a friendship built, judging by the first lines, on a childlike sense of adventure. Now, however, the only time the speaker sees the same happiness in their partner is when they’re having sex. It’s a wild change from what once was, also connecting perhaps to an overall loss of innocence.

The speaker wishes to go back to the simple times, however even their wish seems ultimately futile, since it only suggests they plunge off the cliff face again. The speaker seems to acknowledge that even if they were to recapture the reckless joy their relationship once had, it would still end up failing, falling.

“Pineapples are in my head
(Pineapples are in my head)
Got nobody ‘cos I’m brain dead
(Got nobody ‘cos I’m brain dead)”

These are the lines that sparked my interest in looking into this song’s meaning and lyrics as a whole. What do they mean?

Well, nothing. They mean nothing at all. And that’s what’s important. This once close relationship is drifting apart, and the speaker can’t figure out why. Nothing seems to make sense. These nonsense lines portray the confusion and lack of distinct reason behind the end of this relationship.

I also think the last line “Got nobody cos’ I’m brain dead” expresses a lot of personal frustration the speaker has with themselves. It’s been suggested that it was the subject of the song that tended to lead in their relationship, but now that they’re no longer invested, the speaker is left feeling dumb. They feel they can’t take charge now and express their sadness over the end of the relationship, perhaps because they never had power in the first place.

“Somebody said that I’m a fuckin’ slum
Don’t know that I belong”

These next few lines start to spiral into each other, and I think they perhaps mirror the thought process of the speaker, slowly spiraling into despair over their lack of power to fix this relationship that’s so important to them.

These two lines further the idea from the lines before, that the speaker feels powerless and lonely. They feel they don’t belong anymore, and can’t do anything about it. I think it’s interesting, though, that this information is attributed to an unnamed “somebody.” I wonder if perhaps that “somebody” represents the paranoia of the speaker, thinking everyone around them can see how pathetic they look. This may suggest self-confidence issues in the speaker in the wake of this failed relationship.

“Maybe you’re fucking dumb
Maybe I’m just a bum”

Here the speaker considers blaming the end of the relationship on the subject of the song, but instead returns back to those same self-conscious thoughts from before. I think this even further proves that these lines represent a thought spiral, chaotically contradicting each other and changing on the drop of a dime.

“Maybe you’re fucking scum
Don’t you go psycho chum”

Now we return to hatred of the subject of the song. You’ll see once again, though, that the tone of the speaker’s thoughts changes in the next lines.

I want to take special note of the second line though, calling the subject “chum.” I think this once again connects to how heavily based in friendship it seems this relationship used to be. Now, though, the person is so unrecognizable from the friend and lover they once had, the speaker calls them “psycho.”

“I want you for the world
I want you all the time
(Stop!)”

And yet, it’s clear the speaker still really loves the subject of the song. These two lines are the first to really agree with each other, but it’s here that the speaker cuts off their own thoughts with a “stop!” It’s clear that these two thoughts are the most painful for the speaker to consider. The fact that they still love the person they’ve drifted apart from is something they cannot even allow themselves to think. So, the “spiral” stops abruptly, and the song fades into instrumentals for a bit, as if resetting, before getting back to the chorus.

“Pineapples are in my head
(when you were fun)
Got nobody ‘cos I’m brain dead
(you made me run)
Pineapples are in my head
(to the seafront)
Got nobody ‘cos I’m brain dead
(she took the plunge)”

Once more we return to the confusing and meaningless end of a relationship, but now we have a repetition of some earlier lines. There is one difference now, though, and that’s that the speaker refers to the subject for the first time in third person. It very clearly signifies a disconnect between the speaker and the subject. They’ve removed themselves from the scene of the subject plunging off the cliff, passively describing it as their confusing, muddled thoughts repeat.

So, how is our speaker coping with the loss? By removing themselves fully from any past connection. And how well does that go? Well…

“5000 footsteps in your wet dress
Back to the house with your arms around my neck”

…Not very well, it seems. The lyrics lurch unceremoniously into another flashback. It’s pretty vague. Why is her dress wet? Where did they come from? It’s left up to the audience to interpret. However, the lack of information suggests that, to the speaker, this scene needs no set-up. It’s ingrained in their mind. They don’t need to remember the exact details, just the feelings of the subject’s arms around their neck and her damp clothing.

“We drank pork soda with tangled legs
I won’t forget how you looked at me then”

And hey, I said I’d explain the title! Here it is. “Pork Soda” seems to be a reference to these happy memories the speaker shares with the subject. It’s a weird detail, for sure, but unforgettable. It suggests that this relationship, for the speaker, is too strange and also simultaneously comforting to forget. Even through their confusion and their sadness and their attempts to demonize or remove themselves from their past lover, this memory remains.

It’s no coincidence that this memory is the first lyric that has suggested any returning affection from the subject to the speaker, either. This memory is a memory of love, what once was.

(Also, as a side note, according to Dave Bayley of Glass Animals, the title came from a woman he met with a tattoo that said “Pork Soda.” It was apparently a reference to a pork dish made with coke. I can attest that pork cooked with a can of coke in a crock pot is DELICIOUS, and I assume that is the dish the tattoo referred to.)

“I know I’m no sweet prince of love
Those times when we got drunk”

And this happy memory triggers yet another spiral of thoughts, but this one actually goes somewhere. We start with the speaker justifying their own flaws in the relationship, calling out how they weren’t exactly the most romantic person. In addition, it seems that getting drunk was something they did a lot, which harkens back to all that earlier recklessness in the relationship we discussed.

“Maybe Jamaica rum
Maybe some Jonnie Dub
Maybe you still think of us
Phone buzz, and still I jump”

Our speaker gets sidetracked a bit with the memories of those drunken times, but eventually jolts back into the present. They suggest that there’s still a part of them that hopes the subject will change their mind, which leads every phone buzz to make them jump, hoping it’ll be the subject calling to reignite the relationship.

“Why don’t I say it then?
I want you all the time”

And we return to the motif of questions, but now the question is to the speaker themselves. They wonder why they can’t just tell the subject how they still love her and want to be with her.

“Why can’t we laugh now like we did then?
How come I see you and ache instead?
How come you only look pleased in bed?
Let’s climb the cliff edge and jump again”

And thus, we return to these questions. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, there are no answers. Our speaker is left to continuously fight these repeating thoughts with no end in sight.

“Pineapples are in my head
(Pineapples are in my head)
Got nobody ‘cos I’m brain dead
(Got nobody ‘cos I’m brain dead)
Pineapples are in my head
(Pineapples are in my head)
Got nobody ‘cos I’m brain dead
(Got nobody ‘cos I’m brain dead)”

And we are left with that lingering sense of confusion and lack of meaning.

This is a really tragic song about a special, loving relationship ending for no real reason. But the way it communicates that confusion – through nonsensical lyrics as well as the off-kilter instrumentation – is really fascinating to me. I hope you enjoyed this analysis as much as I enjoyed writing it.

And hey, maybe next time I’ll do a happier song!

(But probably not.)

 

“In Flesh and Blood and Self-Hate” – Top 20 “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Songs

On recommendation from two different friends, I recently sat down and watched the CW’s TV show, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and… let me say, it quickly became one of my all-time favorites. It’s basically everything you could want in a show – funny and dramatic with a cast of diverse, well-rounded characters who develop and change. Plus it’s a musical! I couldn’t recommend this show enough, but in lieu of an actual review, I decided I’d count down my top 20 favorite songs from the show. I thought it would be a fun way to talk about the show as a whole by focusing on arguably the best aspect of it – the music.

This was… a difficult list to say the least. There’s a lot of fantastic songs in the show, and I made some cuts from the list that honestly broke my heart. So I wanna do a quick shoutout to the songs that didn’t quite make the cut: I Have Friends, Research Me Obsessively, Ping Pong Girl, (big spoilers for the last two and nsfw language on the last one) Rebecca’s Resprise, and It Was a Shit Show. I also want to say that some of these songs will contain spoilers for the show. If you plan on watching the show, (which, oh my god, please do, it’s on Netflix, do it), I would advise overall to skip this post and just go watch it, since I can’t promise even the non-spoiler songs will stay clean when I get to talking about what makes them great. In addition, I’ll tag all nsfw content, including language and sexual content, you know, for the kiddies.

Without further ado, my personal Top 20 songs from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”!

20. Where’s the Bathroom

I think one of the strongest aspects of this show is its characters. While there are a lot of characters with… ahem, flaws, every character in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is relatable and understandable. There are no true villains.

Still, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” spends a lot of time hyping up Rebecca’s mom before we even see her, mainly through Rebecca’s own perspective. For a while, I expected her to be the villain. After all, before even offically meeting her, we learn she was a controlling, overbearing presence in Rebecca’s life, who accepted nothing less than perfection from her daughter. She’s a pretty negative force in the show, even before the audience meets her, so when the episode rolled around that introduced her it only made sense that she would have a spectacular entrance. And… yep, she did, with this boisterous, hilarious song.

I think Rebecca’s mom is one of the underrated characters of this show. While she never really gets a redemption for her role in Rebecca’s past trauma (nor, arguably, does she really deserve one), her role in Rebecca’s current life is fascinating. I think this song does a great job at reflecting her well-meaning but ultimately jarring and misguided attempts to help her daughter. It also works so well in this incredible episode, the one that establishes the rocky but ultimately positive present relationship between Rebecca and her mother.

This song is hilarious, introduces a really fascinating character incredibly well, and maintains that, I guess, Jewish flair that I’ve come to expect from Rebecca’s family whenever they’re involved in musical numbers? It’s all very charming.

19. Love Kernels

Warning: Kind of spoilery, very light sexual references

This video is kind of astounding in its quality. I mean, the video even jokes about how much production budget was spent on this one number… but holy crap is it ever worth it. This video is beautiful, and nails the genre it’s trying to parody. I love the mix of absurd and serious imagery in this video.

Speaking of that, though, I think one of the strengths of this show as a whole is its ability to seamlessly mix comedy and tragedy. It’s one of the greatest examples of dark comedy I think I’ve ever seen, and while I don’t think this song is the best example of this, it certainly could be categorized as such. Rebecca is so earnest in her joy over her relationship with Josh, and yet it’s clear to the audience that she knows deep down that he’s not as into the relationship as she is. And that’s… tragic. To think that Rebecca puts all the effort and optimism into it anyway, even knowing that it’s mostly not reciprocated… well, it makes this song hurt a bit.

This is not by any means the most tragic song of the bunch either, but enjoy the beautiful aesthetics and slight heart tug this song provides anyway. Also… the song is just great overall. It just sounds really polished and… yeah, this is a good song.

18. Math of Love Triangles

Warning: Slight sexual references, kind of spoilery

I think it’s a hard sell to say one particular song in this show is the funniest, but this song made me smile at so many points. It’s really layered, so I’m gonna go into it all briefly. On the top layer, they absolutely nail the parody, as usual, because Rebecca looks and sounds just like Marilyn. The video itself is such a specific visual but it works so well – the striking blue of the background and Rebecca’s dress plus the obviously nerdy garb of all of the background singers… visually, it’s unique and memorable.

On the second layer, we have Rebecca’s delusions. A lot of songs in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” play with the idea that Rebecca is not always totally in touch with reality and this song is… overt. The whole humor of it is Rebecca is clearly not seeing the reality of the situation and is blinded by her excitement over her imagined “love triangle” with Greg and Josh. That’s symbolized by her exaggerated stupidity regarding triangles and her focus instead on making them into some sort of sexual symbol. It’s an odd metaphor, but it really works well in this context.

And finally, shimmering beneath the surface is that slight criticism of the idea that women are the most sexy when they’re dumb and naive. The baby voice, the obvious playing dumb, coupled with the really childish sexual language in this song makes fun of the idea that women are at their sexiest when they’re most childlike and innocent, and I’m super glad that’s being called out for how ridiculous it is.

Plus… puns. Gotta love those puns.

17. His Status is Preferred

Warning: Slight sexual references

I really love Paula, and I’m sad she didn’t get more songs that made this list, so I had to include my favorite of hers. Paula tends to go for the big showstoppers, but I love this one for her because it’s still got that showstopping quality but it’s paired with the smooth, jazzy instrumentals. Her vocals are gorgeous and I just love her.

The song is in reference to a one-off fling she has with a minor character, but I still think it has a lot to say about her character as a whole. It speaks to her boredom, and her longing for an adventure, for something more, something exciting, in her life. I think that longing is what makes her a lot more than a sidekick to Rebecca, and makes her a really relatable and wonderful character in her own right.

I don’t have much else to say about this song… it’s just good. It’s good and you should listen to it, and then watch the show. Watch the show.

16. Women Gotta Stick Together

Warning: Some swearing, sexual references

Ahh Valencia. How you play with the audience’s emotions. I know I said earlier that Rebecca’s mom is the first villain of the show if there is one, but Valencia also kind of is too. But also not? It’s pretty nuanced. While she’s clearly set up to be an antagonist of sorts – rival for Josh’s love for Rebecca, in the same vein, her first episode sets her up as a surprisingly sympathetic character.

It’s no secret that Valencia’s distrust of other women is based on her negative experience as a teenager with other girls tearing her down. Valencia has had no prior proof that other women will help her in any way, and that belief drives her negative behavior in the present.

So this song? It’s… well it’s kind of tragic, actually. You can read into it for it’s humor, and yeah, it’s funny, but it’s also really sad in a way? Even as she symbolically leads a crowd of women in song, it’s clear in the lyrics that Valencia doesn’t trust any of them. And considering how her character develops throughout the show, the show as a whole seems to take the stance that women are human – they aren’t saints, but they aren’t demons either. Valencia learns to overcome her mistrust and this song remains as a criticism of using either extreme as fact.

15. We’ll Never Have Problems Again

Warning: Spoilers

Remember what I said earlier about Rebecca’s delusions? Oh yeah, here we are again with the delusioniest of them all. Now, Josh is along for the ride! I think the disco genre is perfect for this song. It’s delightful and happy, yet the whole time you can tell that there’s anxiety beneath the surface.

That’s what I love about this show though. Nothing is just one thing… none of the songs exist only for the sake of songs. This song drives home Josh and Rebecca’s delusions and unhealthy belief that their relationship is invincible with every part of the video – the flashy set, the way too extra outfits, Rebecca’s really heavy makeup… it all comes together to tell the audience something about the characters and the situation.

Plus, it’s a catchy song. I keep saying that they nail the parody, but, I mean, they do here too. They always do.

ALSO that live fade out though.

14. I Gave You a UTI

Warning: Sexual references, like, a lot of them.

Okay so this song… this song is… okay, yeah, yeah I know. It’s gross. And it is the first Greg song on this list! Get ready to see a lot more of him in this list. I think this is kind of the wrong song to sing his praises, so I won’t since we’ll get to that, but… yeah I love Greg.

And this song had to grow on me a bit. It came across the first time as kind of just a funny, absurd song, and that it certainly is. It’s stupidly catchy too, and it’s really fun to see the normally cynical and sad Greg so happy and excitable. But there’s… a bit more to it than that.

First of all, I love Greg and his vocals and they’re on full display here. But I also think this song is characterizing. Like I’ve talked about with Rebecca a few times, there’s a note of delusion to this song. Even as Rebecca continuously lectures him on the fact that her UTI is nothing for him to be excited about, he’s excited anyway. That speaks to his insecurity – he wants some reason, any reason, to believe he’s in control and in power when in reality he’s always been the one chasing after Rebecca. Also, that toxic masculinity being pointed out and made absurd. Yep.

But… you know, all that being said, I’m happy to see him happy too. I wish I could say it was because of the deep metatext or the social commentary but gosh I just am glad to see that boy happy, dumb and slightly problematic as it may be, ha ha.

13. What’ll It Be

See, Greg can (and most often is) serious too. I sort of forgot all about this song when making this list initially, but I came across it again and it’s so earnest and beautiful I had to include it. Greg’s character is unique because – more or less – his arc is complete in the show as it is. He desperately wants to get out of West Covina, and he does. He escapes, and on top of that, is shown to be aware of and working on combatting his alcoholism.

Compared to all the rest of the characters of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Greg seems to be the only one so far to actually address and really work to solve his problems. However, up until that point, he acted sort of as an audience stand-in. He’s cynical and aware of the absurdity of the situations presented in the show, yet he carries an admiration for Rebecca that even he admits is misguided. I think this song really shows that latent relatability to his character.

While I doubt most of us have been stuck slinging beers to “soccer MILFs” in a town near but not that near to the California coast, I’m sure all of us have had moments where we felt the world had failed us. I know personally I think all the time about how the world is a game that seemed constantly rigged against me, and this song perfectly reflects those frustrations and those longings to break free and find something more.

It’s beautiful, powerful, and sung by one of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” best vocalists in my humble opinion. What more do you need?

12. JAP Battle

Warning: The video says explicit for a good reason, and also some sexual content.

I know I have a problem with admiring songs for my deep interpretations of their inner meaning, but I promise the top of this list has some just… purely fun songs here too. Like this one!

I really, really like Audra Levine. She doesn’t show up very often and gets more mentions than actual appearances, but she’s a really interesting foil to Rebecca in the fact that while Rebecca was off chasing her “California dream,” Audra lived the life that the audience could suspect Rebecca would have lived had she stayed in New York. And Audra is… well, certainly proud of that life, but the show seems to suggest that there’s something missing.

Sure, from a societal standard, Audra is more successful than Rebecca. She works for a more prestigious law firm, she’s engaged to another successful person, and she ultimately wins the court case in this episode. But it’s heavily suggested that Audra’s outward happiness does not equal inward fulfillment.

But all that aside – this rap battle is hilarious. It’s filled with clever wordplay, it’s engaging and exciting. I think if you want to jump into any of the songs without having seen the show first, this one is a good one.

(Also, mad shout-out to the West Covina crew behind Rebecca during this whole video. That one part that Josh scoots past on the rolling chair… and Daryl basically, like, the whole video. Just, Daryl.)

11. The Sexy Getting Ready Song

Warning: NSFW Language, some sexual content.

This song is one of the first in the entire show and it was this song that really convinced me on the show’s philosophy and format. I had never never seen the process of a woman getting ready depicted in such, honestly, gory realism. (Literally, in some cases). I mean, the backup dancers and Rebecca are shown dancing in spanx! Honest-to-god spanx. Have you ever seen spanx shown on mainstream television ever?

For real though, this song is hilarious. It’s so real, so relatable. It’s clear in this song – and, really, in the whole show – that the best and most realistic stories about women are written by women. Plus, they can be enjoyed by everyone, not just women.

Soapboxing aside, this song is catchy, smoothly written and has a great music video to match. (Especially the scene with Rebecca awkwardly dancing in her undergarments while the rapper freaks out about her getting-ready process.)

10. I Could If I Wanted To

Remember how I talked about how great Greg is? Well… a lot of what’s good about this song is due to what I’ve already said about Greg. His struggles to be something beyond a bartender in the town he grew up in conflict with his inherently lazy nature and his alcoholism, and this song addresses that conflict. It explains a lot of Greg’s mindset, and in an honestly super entertaining way.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have an actual name for the genre this song is parodying, and yet I enjoy this parody of that genre anyway. It’s honestly hilarious. My friends and I like to quote the part with the dad to each other all the time. Plus, that final comedic beat… “You’re an idiot.” This song doubles not only as a comedic part of an already hilarious show, it’s also a character study.

Works on multiple levels? Yep. Memorable and amusing? You bet’cha?

Clear bias for Greg? What-

9. We Tapped That Ass

Warning: NSFW language and sexual content (…obviously). Also, spoilers.

There’s a pure and simple reason why I enjoy this song, and there’s a deeper reason. I’m gonna start with the deeper one, just because.

As I’ve talked about a few times, one of my favorite parts of this show is the balance between dark drama and comedy. This song represents a really dark part of Rebecca’s life. It’s also right before she literally burns her apartment down. You couldn’t tell that just by listening to this song though – it’s gleeful, hilarious, and upbeat. And yet this song hits on a very specific type of self-consciousness. A gleeful, joking, inward sort of self hatred that manifests at your lowest point. It’s the act of laughing at how terrible you feel you are.

This song is the epitome of that feeling. In the depth of her self-loathing, Rebecca imagines the ghosts of her mistakes and is unable to mistake their gleeful “tap-dancing” all over her house.

That’s the deep reason why I enjoy this song. The simple reason, though, is because of Greg and Josh. While they’re not actually *there* in the context of the show, it’s still a joy to see them sing together because they never do in the actual show. Watching them sing and dance together is a rare treat and one I sincerely enjoy. Even if the humor is crude.

8. West Covina (Josh Reprise)

The original “West Covina” was the first song in the entire show, and it’s a delight, but I really, really love this reprise of it. It’s a turning point for both Josh and Rebecca. Before, Rebecca’s obsessive admiration for Josh seems one-sided and unlikely to ever be reciprocated. Yet, after her moment of coming clean to Josh and his friends, he is the only one to remain behind and relate to her longing for a place that is sunshiney and happy.

And, knowing West Covina, knowing Rebecca, the audience knows that both of their points of view are… well, they’re slightly over-optimistic. And yet it is this beautiful, hopeful reprise that makes the audience see their point of view. In a world that so often normalizes cynicism, it’s rare to see two spots of bright hope.

Are Josh and Rebecca in the right? Well, not entirely, and the show doesn’t try and depict them as such. Yet, their opinions, misguided or no, are shown in this song. Rebecca’s blind love of Josh and Josh’s blind love of West Covina… both are perhaps misguided, and yet they’re sincere.

7. I Give Good Parent

Warning: Explicit language, sexual content.

I’ve heard this song a million times at this point and I still couldn’t possibly explain to you what the title means… and yet this song is delightful. The music video is hilarious and such a well-done parody (as I… keep saying). The rap is hilarious and clever, and the chorus is so honestly and legitimately catchy that it gets stuck in my head.

Huge major shoutouts to Josh’s mom, who is just a riot in this song. Lourdes Chan is a lowkey fantastic character. There are so many visual and auditory gags in this video that I can’t even begin to praise them all. And honestly, I would love to, but it’s really better to just watch the video. Get the song stuck in your head. Join me.

6. I’m Just a Girl in Love (Season 2 Opening)

So listen up. Here’s my hot take. The season one intro is great. It’s charming. But it can’t even hold a candle to the season two intro. The season one intro certainly sums up the premise of the show well, in a very straightforward, no-frills kind of way. This intro takes it to a whole new level.

It represents so many core themes of the show. On a surface level, love in popular culture, and how it’s so often used as a handy excuse for so many unhealthy behaviors. And then there’s mental health, the key word being “crazy,” and the all-too-common view that mental health issues are quirky or cutesy. And then, of course, there’s the delusions of Rebecca herself. Her own rationalizations of her behavior.

It’s multi-layered and represents the show perfectly. Plus, the video and song itself are fun and never get stale or tiring. Simple, effective, meaningful. That’s what you need for a perfect intro. And this intro is perfect.

*BLAM!*

5. You Stupid Bitch

Warning: I’m unsure whether or not this constitutes as spoilers so… better safe than sorry? Also, NSFW language, obviously. Look at the title.

It’s not often that you find a song that feels like the songwriter dove into your thoughts and plucked out a piece of your inner dialogue, so when you do, you gotta talk about it. Or, at least, I do.

And no, I don’t say that to illicit sympathy. I don’t think I’m alone in relating to this song. I think it’s a fairly common thing for one negative thing to set of a spiral of unrelated negative thoughts in people. And yet I’ve never seen this phenomenon represented so brutally and honestly in a TV show or… anywhere, really.

Rebecca is an incredibly real character. I think this song is one of the best examples of this. It’s in the little things – the song itself, of course, but also the way she wears the slim-fit dress even without the tiny waist that usually is seen as a requirement to wear that kind of dress. Or in her little interjections, the “Sing with me!”, the “Yes! I deserve this!”. I’ve met Rebecca. I am Rebecca. I know so many Rebeccas. I think we’re all a little bit Rebecca.

And that’s the beauty of this show. It takes a character who is so very flawed in so many dramatic ways like Rebecca Bunch and makes you see yourself, your own flaws, within her.

Phew, deep, right?

4. Santa Ana Winds

Warning: Big, big spoilers in the second clip onward. 

Best character in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is undoubtedly Santa Ana Winds.

Okay, I’m mostly kidding. Mostly. But the Santa Ana Winds episode is such a unique framing for an episode, and it only makes it more perfect that it’s “narrated” by the very winds that incite all the incidents in the episode.

Santa Ana Winds guy is so charming though. I love his dancing, his outfit, his weird little gait as he walks down the street, the way he plays the “prankster (tee hee hee hee)” role so well. It’s all so charming. Plus, the song is just… it’s so good. I feel bad not being able to say more about this song but… ugh. It’s just so good. It’s just so, so good. Words fail, and the wind speaks… and also makes things weird.

3. Friendtopia

You know… I think I praised this show before because I felt like all of the songs had really deep and important roles in the show and there’s no filler songs. But… this one kind of is a little bit. But you know what? I don’t care.

I love this show for how it depicts a range of female friendships between diverse and well-rounded women. I wish that wasn’t such a precious rarity, but it is, and so I must celebrate it where it exists. This song, I think, exemplifies the positive attitude this show takes toward female friendships, and that’s why I love it so much.

Plus, I mean, god, that Spice Girls reference. It’s so funny. So good. The clipped British accents, the prancing around in front of the camera, everything. And while I don’t really understand the “dystopia” reference in the context of the episode, I really enjoy it. It gives rise to such glorious lines as “We’re gonna braid each other’s hair, then cut each other’s braids, connect the braids to make a rope to HANG ALL OF CONGRESS” and “Squad Goals: Take control of the banks.” What could be better?

Also there was that one time White Josh stood in for Heather in a live performance of this song and it was beautiful.

2. Oh My God I Think I Like You

Warning: This song is about sex, and therefore is basically entirely sexual references. Also, spoilers.

I feel like I don’t have to make much of a case for why this song is so good. Are a lot of the scenes in this music video kind of ridiculous and humorous? Oh, totally. Completely. But watch it and tell me you aren’t moved. Go on, do it, I dare you. Bet you can’t.

This song is just so completely earnest and sweet. I feel like the two weeks of sex these two have in the show would be a really easy window for crude humor, and yeah there is plenty of that in this song, and yet it’s also sweet. This show makes a two-week sex marathon seem earnest and sweet just by framing it in a unique manner, showing Rebecca’s thought process throughout.

And it’s just brilliant. It’s incredible. It’s taking something that would be an easy road to a few sex jokes and turning it into a characterizing moment for Rebecca, a real turning point for her. Where once she was single-mindedly devoted to Josh, it’s a revelation that she might have feelings for someone else, and the show expects the audience to be right along with her in her amazement over this development. It really shows how the show prides the emotional connection between the characters and the audience, and I appreciate that.

Also, the song is just good. It’s radio-quality. A great pop song. 10/10.

1. Settle for Me

So, when I started writing this list, I had a really hard time picking the order of the songs. It was a painful process full of doubt and second-guessing, because so many of these songs are incredible and all deserve a number one spot on somebody’s list.

And yet, I knew in my heart from the very start which song would take my number one spot. This song comes super early in season one… episode four, I think. And yet, it’s remained with me for the entire show. It’s just a showstopper.

It hits all the checkpoints for me. Characterizing? Yup. For Greg, of course, it’s a thesis statement of his relationship not only to Rebecca but to his entire world. Of course Greg would approach his relationship with Rebecca with the same sort of cynical realism with which he proceeds to approach everything in the rest of the show. But for Rebecca, it shows her difficulty in seeing reason, the way she clutches tight to fantasy.

Technically well-done? Of course. The video is delightful. The choreography is wonderful, without even taking into account the beautiful, sweeping music. Lyrics? Perfect. Humorous and yet also bitingly tragic at times. Just the way I like ’em. Aesthetic? Spot-on. That black-and-white, those outfits, god, it’s all so perfect. Hint of social commentary? Oh yes, definitely. Greg’s masculinity is kind of one of his biggest issues, and this song makes that blatantly obvious.

It’s dark and funny and beautiful and you probably knew it was going to take my number one spot from the cover picture and title of this post alone, but I don’t care. I love this song. I’ll scream it to the heavens, repeat it as often as you’d like. It’s a triumph. Just like this entire show is a triumph.

Anyway, tl;dr, watch “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” It’s good and you won’t regret it. Season three comes out soon. Do it.

 

 

A Story in Song

While talking to my friend Marie, she mentioned listening to a classic song with her mom and dancing around. She highly recommended this song, (“Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by the Hollies) to me, and because I’m not one to turn down a song recommendation, I looked up the song on Youtube.

Marie’s taste in music is a little different than mine. I would say in general she’s more appreciative of the “classics” than I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it whenever she throws an older gem my way, and this time was no different. However, I made the terrible awful mistake of scrolling down into the comments, where I found this gem.

YoutubeComment

And, unsurprisingly, I was peeved. My problems with people like this is one of the biggest reasons I’m not more into classic music. I’m no stranger to music elitists. One might call me one, to be honest. But as far as I’m concerned this commentor has never even heard a modern song before.

See, I’m a huge fan of music that tells stories. And, as a caveat, I should say, most songs tell a story. Even your cookie cutter radio hits tend to follow some sort of plot. I mean, just cherry picking from the current Billboard Top 100, the so-called scourge of music according to classics fans like this person, “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars tells a distinct story of the narrator wanting to shower their lover in luxury goods and experiences, “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran recounts the singer’s physical attraction to their lover and tells the story of their first date as well as several sexual encounters… I mean, even the most vapid 2008 pop has some kind of story. Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” is a clear story about the singer’s lifetime devotion to partying! To say modern songs don’t tell stories is ridiculous because all songs have to have some sort of story, or else they’re just incomprehensible gibberish.

But, okay, I’ll bite. Maybe what this commentor means is that no modern music tells such a romantic story as the one in “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress”. And not romantic in the love, coupley, sense, but more along the lines of a novel put to song. And even then, this commentor is wrong, as I will prove today.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I really love lyrics. They’re probably my favorite aspect of music. Whenever I get into a song, I like to delve into the lyrics and discover their meanings and the story behind them. So, why not talk about some of my favorite musical stories? So, here we go, five songs that tell fascinating stories… true or not.

In Another Life – Vienna Teng

I’ve touched briefly on this song before in my Women in Music post, but I didn’t get to focus specifically on what it is that makes this song magical. Vienna Teng uses her usual theatrical style to tell the tale of two lovers over the course of many different lives. The song traces these two lovers through various points of history and through various occupations. I think the story is told just beautifully, with some really poignant images, and even though the song never directly states that the two subjects of the song are in love, it is clearly conveyed through the tiny details in the way they interact.

I love the tone of this song. It’s really disconnected, very objective. You get the feeling that although the singer of the song identifies themselves as living all of these very tragic lives, they are happy and distant enough from the tragedy to describe it objectively. Even when this song gets morbid, the narrator remains disconnected and simply describes the scenes.

And the subject matter of this song gets… well, really morbid. I mean, we go from mine shafts caving in to Tiananmen Square to stillborn children yet the same up-tempo style continues, which really drives home the bittersweet message of the song. Even through the death and suffering these two lovers experienced over the course of their many lives together, the song is ultimately a positive one. Ultimately, the lovers end up happy and together in modern times.

The Mariner’s Revenge Song – The Decemberists

The Decemberists is no stranger to fantastical stories told through song (part of the reason I keep meaning to familiarize myself with more of the music). I also considered discussing their equally fantastic song “O Valencia”, but I decided this one fit the song storytelling category in a more straightforward way.

This song is a shanty fit for a pirate ship, and that makes sense considering the subject matter. The story is told at the end first, with the narrator stuck in the belly of a whale. From there they go into the tale of how they arrived there. What follows is a tragic tale of revenge after the singer’s mother is cheated by a rakish young man and left to die penniless and heartbroken. The singer follows this man all the way to sea, where the two are ultimately swallowed by a whale, bringing the song back full circle.

I think this song is an absolutely beautifully told story. The instrumentals always match the emotion of the story. Plus, I think the story itself is loaded with some great dramatic irony. I mean, the fact that the singer’s quest for revenge leads him to dying himself alongside the man he swears revenge on, in the belly of a whale, a tried-and-true symbol for hopeless and self-destructive quests. (Think Moby Dick). Plus, the repetition of the mother’s voice, and her sweet, singsong tone contradicting the violence she wishes upon the man who did her wrong… it’s all so great. I always get chills at the end.

Jenny Was a Friend of Mine – The Killers

This song is actually one of a three-part series of songs, all of which describe a man murdering his lover. Yep, some real happy stuff, I know, but trust me, this song is really fascinating. While the other two songs tell the story leading up to and during the murder, this song recounts the questioning of the murderer afterward. It’s a fascinating look into the mind of a murderer, and the way he justifies his actions and proclaims his innocence.

Paired with the police sirens at the beginning of the song and the tense, dark instrumentals, the repeated admission of the man that his lover Jenny was a friend of his becomes sinister and chilling, and that’s the mark of a really well-told story. This song always gets me singing along and then feeling bad about it because the lyrics are just that twisted.

Unfinished Business – White Lies (Mumford and Sons Cover)

I always feel bad recommending the Mumford and Sons version of this song because it’s not the original, but to be honest, the jangly banjos just fit this song so perfectly that I have a hard time with the original. The title is a play off of the idea that ghosts remain on earth because of unfinished business – in this case, the narrator is the confused ghost of someone who has just been murdered by their lover (… yeah there’s a bit of a pattern here, I know).

The interesting thing about this song, though, is the narrator is completely unfazed by their own demise. Instead, they seem more concerned about their lover, noting their fearful oaths to God and urging them in the chorus to “get off their low” so they can “dance like they used to”. This song is tragic and also somewhat beautiful – the murdered lover vows to wait for the one they love in the afterlife.

The reason I recommend the Mumford and Sons version over the White Lies version is I think the upbeat instrumentals match the ultimately positive tone of the song better. Sure, the situation described is dark, but the real interest of the song is the singer’s positive attitude over their own demise, so I think the jangly banjos fit this perfectly. But hey, to each their own.

Cleopatra – The Lumineers

And finally we arrive at one of my favorite songs of all time. This song took my number one spot in my top 30 songs of 2016 list, and that’s hugely because of the beautiful and tragic story told within its lyrics. Based on the real life of a taxi driver the lead singer met, “Cleopatra” is the story of a woman who refuses to marry the love of her life and how she lives with the regret. It’s told as if the woman is telling the story herself, and hits that perfect combination of tragedy and hope as the woman struggles to live her life to the fullest despite her sadness over the loss of her lover.

The song is warm and nostalgic, and I’ve yet to find a single person who isn’t touched by the real-life story behind the lyrics. I have a hard time describing it here, so I’ll just advise you to give it a listen and read through the lyrics yourself.

But this isn’t even the half of all of the songs out there that tell poignant stories within their lyrics. I advise people like that youtube commenter to give more songs a chance – to really read into their lyrics. You’ll find some fantastic stories there.

 

The New Idols on the Block

I like to think I have a fairly refined taste in all things media. The truth is, though, we all have things we love even as we also acknowledge they can be, at times, silly and maybe even a bit problematic. Such is my love affair with rhythm games Love Live and BanG Dream.

I’ve been a fan of Love Live since my sophomore year. It’s a bit of an institution in my life and the lives of many others, I think. It was my introduction to the world of addictive rhythm mobile games, and it remains an important part of my life to this day. I’ve watched the anime all the way through and cried several times throughout. I’ve logged hours and hours into the mobile game.

(For those wondering, best girl from μ’s is Nozomi and from Aqours is Yohane. Best subunits are Lily White and Guilty Kiss respectively, obviously. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it.)

BanG Dream is more of a recent favorite. It was introduced to me by a good friend of mine, and I had to jump through a few hoops to download it from the Japanese app store. Since then, though, I’ve been hooked with this game. It’s relatively new, and currently only has a Japanese version. (I had to enlist the help of my friend and a few guides to figure out what all the buttons do because… well, I don’t read Japanese.)

(And, once again, for those wondering, best girls are Misaki, Kanon, and Kokoro, and obviously best band is Hello Happy World)

And sure, it’s comparable to Love Live, but there’s something about it that has distracted me from returning to Love Live for a while now.

Because both BanG Dream and Love Live are made under the same parent company, Bushiroad, they get compared a lot. These comparisons aren’t always completely fair – true, they’re similar games, but they’re made by different teams and they have a lot of key differences. Actually, I think there’s a lot Love Live can learn from BanG Dream, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

First off, let’s get a little more in depth about what each game is.

Love Live is a rhythm and card-collecting mobile game. It involves “scouting” for cards of the eighteen main idols and a large collection of side characters. These cards are of different rarities and can be leveled up, strengthened, and put on teams to play “lives”, or songs where the player has to tap along with the rhythm of the music. Each card can be used to unlock small stories about the girl. These stories usually involve the girl just talking, although there are overarching stories about the eighteen main idol girls that are unlocked as the player levels up. These follow a loose story similar to the anime (I’ll go into the story a bit later).

BanG Dream is similar in that it employs the card-collecting rhythm game format and uses a combination of small single-character stories and larger overarching unlockable stories. Like Love Live, BanG Dream also features options to strengthen your cards and put them on teams. However, unlike Love Live, BanG Dream also features a relatively large world that is inhabited by the characters. Players can explore this little world and watch the girls talk or buy songs and powerups. In addition, BanG Dream features a multiplayer option that allows players to play alongside each other in order to increase their points and rewards. Finally, the biggest and most important difference between the two games is in their events.

Both Love Live and BanG Dream have events – these events coincide with the release of new cards, and participating in these events allows players the chance to earn these cards instead of hoping to randomly draw them in a gachapon. Love Live actually has several types of events, some allowing players to compete against each other directly, some making them play long strings of songs for points, and some simply adding on a chance to earn event points alongside their normal rewards for playing songs. BanG Dream has only one type of event, and it’s the most similar to the last event I mentioned in Love Live. However, and this is important, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the game.

Yes, events are fun and change things up in Love Live, but the reality is that they’re not always very worth participating in. The event card that is available is of the third-highest rarity in the game, and most seasoned players, unless they particularly like the look of the card, will probably have cards that are more powerful than the event one. In addition, Love Live events are notoriously brutal. A lot of success in events depends on playing near constantly in order to fully maximize the time given. If you look at guides on how to succeed in Love Live events, you’ll find instructions like “set an alarm to wake you up every few hours in the night so you can make sure you’re playing as much as possible!” And that’s… that’s ridiculous. I’ve never found the motivation to devote myself so fully to an event, and as such I’ve never been very successful in them.

In addition, events are just sorta… extra. The event cards are separate from the cards released into the gachapon “scouting box”, so a player who is looking only to get specific cards from that box might find more success avoiding the event entirely to focus on working towards increasing their chances to draw their desired card.

And that’s all fine and good, but it means that gameplay in Love Live can get really stale really fast. There is basically one good way to get love gems (the most valuable currency and the one used for scouting), and that is to build three of the strongest teams possible and to play lots of songs all by yourself. That can be fun for a while, but the game never challenges the player to change everything up. In fact, consistency is rewarded in this game. The players that continuously play in the most efficient, constant possible manner are the ones who tend to earn the most love gems… or least that’s what I’ve seen in my experience.

On the other hand, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the gameplay. All cards that are released into the gachapon are released in conjunction with an event. In addition, each event has specific girls and specific traits of each card that give multipliers to the amount of event points you earn. This means your best team for one event will most likely be wildly different than your best team for the next event. So, the most successful, efficient player has to change up their play style every so often.

In addition, and this is important to stress, multiplayer is always an option in BanG Dream. In Love Live, multiplayer modes are restricted to one type of event that rolls around every so often. In BanG Dream, it is always a good idea to play with other players… and maybe it’s silly, but that adds even more to the constantly changing feel of the gameplay. When you have to constantly collaborate with others to be the most successful, it keeps things fresh and interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, Love Live is a great game and has a lot of things going for it. For one, it has a lot more years under its belt. There’s way more cards available. Plus, as an English speaker, it’s far more accessible. And I’m not really talking about the animes, but the Love Live anime is like… way better than the BanG Dream anime. Like waaay better. Although, interestingly, I find the overall plot of BanG Dream to be a bit more fascinating and complex than Love Live’s plot. (That might sound kind of weird, but… like, stick with me here.)

The Love Live anime is a simple story but it’s enjoyable because of the lovable characters, the music, and the fun and mostly high-quality package. The BanG Dream anime, on the other hand, is the same simple story but in a far worse package… or at least, that’s how the anime is. In the game, each of the five bands get their own unique story, and these stories can get surprisingly dark and complex. I enjoy it.

But I’m getting off track. Love Live is a great game, but I think it has a lot to learn from the likes of BanG Dream. Sure, the formula has worked for Love Live, but I think it could benefit greatly from the ways BanG Dream diversifies the gameplay experience. Love Live should add a constant multiplayer mode, or perhaps make use of the same sort of “certain characters and certain attributes give bonuses in the events” system that BanG Dream has. This could encourage changing up play style and would keep the game from getting stale, as it often does.

And maybe, just maybe, Love Live could wrench me back away from BanG Dream’s addictive clutches.

(Oh, who am I kidding, I’ll go back to Love Live again someday. I can never fully escape idol hell.)