The songs that are used in TV shows often become as recognised and well-loved as the shows themselves. The music used in these moments not only elevates a pivotal scene but it also creates a personal connection with TV and music. Associating an iconic piece of music to a memorable scene can create a lasting impact and can change the way we think about these songs forever. In honour of these songs, we at Music Bloggery have decided to pay homage to these melodies that have become zeitgeists through the TV shows that gave them a chance (in no particular order).
Dear White People
Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
The bittersweet song of hope by English singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka is a heart-wrenching accompaniment to a harrowing experience of black student Reggie Green at a college party.
With Reggie engaging in a heated debate among fellow students over using the ‘n word’, the campus police receive an anonymous tip and are called to break up the party. When the police arrive, a ‘rent-a-cop’ (as he is later referred to) pulls out his gun on young Reggie Green asking for his ID. In what was a tense 90 seconds with Reggie having a gun pointed directly at him, he carefully handles the situation as he cautiously tells the cop he will reach into his pocket and pull out his ID. When Reggie does so, the cop subsequently checks his ID and puts away his gun.
In what was a frightening near-death experience, this moment culminated everything that needed to be said about the Black Lives Matter movement. In the midst of all of that, Love & Hate and its touching mantra (‘you can’t break me down’) can be heard echoed in the background as Reggie walks home from the party and locks himself in his room to cry in solitude. – Angeli Bhandal, Editor-in-Chief
One Tree Hill
Gavin DeGraw – I Don’t Wanna Be
One Tree Hill has been lauded by critics of television and music for introducing and promoting newcomers as well as established acts throughout its 9-series run. Although many artists and songs became popular as a result of this, none quite reached the status of the theme song, ‘I Don’t Wanna Be.’
The show revolved around the relationship between two brothers who had the same father but different mothers. One had been raised by his loving mother and uncle, whilst the other had been raised by their father who was depicted as the main antagonist from the beginning of the series. The line, “part of where I’m going is knowing where I’m coming from,” encompasses the struggles of the two polar-opposite brothers as they forge their own identity under the shadow of their father.
The song struck a chord with the audience of the show, who were largely teenagers trying to figure out who they were in their formative years. The song was such a hit that there was an outcry from fans when it was removed from the opening titles in season 5; it was so loud that the song returned in season 8 and continued to the final episode when it was performed live. It was the perfect goodbye; it had introduced us to the show and in its final moments allowed us to say goodbye to the characters who finally became the people they were supposed to be.
The Dandy Warhols -We Used to Be Friends
Veronica Mars is the kind of person we need in 2018; she was a feminist role-model at a time when most teen dramas were telling us the most important part of a young woman’s life was her romantic relationships. She was independent, strong, flawed and beautiful. What song could possibly encompass this complex and original character?
Interestingly, it was the song ‘We Used to Be Friends,’ by the Dandy Warhols which had a loyal fan following of its own before it was used for the show. The song’s chorus describes a friendship that was over a long time ago (no prizes for that one) and this perfectly encapsulates the events of the series that have taken place when we meet Veronica. Her best friend was murdered, her mother had left, her father had lost his job, her boyfriend had dumped her and her friend count was down to 0. In other words, her life had been completely turned upside down.
Whilst the song’s protagonist doesn’t think of their past at all, Veronica is spurred by the events of her past, especially her best friend’s murder. Whilst she always tries to remain strong on the outside, we are given rare glimpses into the interior grief of a young teenager who has suffered more loss than one person can handle. ‘We Used to Be Friends’ became an anthem for teenage angst in the noughties; it showed the difficulty of balancing a tough exterior with a crumbling interior.
Colin Hays – Overkill
Scrubs fans loved the show’s many musical moments whether it was ‘Guy Love’, Ted’s acapella group (The Blanks), or the Emmy nominated musical episode. However, the most iconic musical moment of the show was Colin Hays performing ‘Overkill’ throughout the first episode of the second season.
Throughout the series we are privy to JD’s thoughts through his daydreams and, except for a handful of episodes, each episode is accompanied by his voice-over. In this episode, Hays performs his song in the episode and suddenly the events of JD’s life are being sung out in the open, as opposed to being confined in his head.
This mirrors the events of the season 1 cliff-hanger when Dr. Cox’s ex-wife revealed secrets that all the characters had kept from each other, bringing them into them open and causing all their relationships to become strained. However, throughout the first episode of season 2 the characters slowly begin to repair their relationships and this narrative arc culminates in Dr. Cox smashing Hays’ guitar to symbolise that his and JD’s relationship is now back to normal.
‘Overkill’ was never a chart success but its use in this Scrubs episode was an iconic part of the show and fans will always remember it as the best season-opener in the show’s history.
Carole King – Where You Lead
Carole King’s cover of ‘Where You Lead’ took on a life of its own when it was chosen to be the theme song for Amy Sherman Palladino’s story about a mother-daughter best friend duo who lived in the idyllic, fictional town of Stars Hollow. The song’s overarching message of friendship and unconditional support were the main foundations of the relationship between Lorelai and Rory Gilmore.
Through 7 seasons, and a recent 4-part revival, the action on scene continued to mirror King’s words as the two women stood by each other’s side through life, love, tragedies and happiness.
The story’s universality captured the minds and hearts of women all around the world, causing the song to become a hit once again, several years after its original release by Barbara Streisand. Like the Pied Piper, we followed King’s words to Stars Hollow long after the series ended, because where the Gilmore Girls lead we, the loyal fans, will follow.
The Rembrandts – I’ll Be There for You
Everyone knows the theme song to Friends (clap included). The immense popularity and continued influence of the show in our pop culture has ensured that, like the programme itself, the theme song will be immortalised through TV history.
The song is catchy and relatable as it describes the struggles of navigating life in your twenties but promises that whatever you’re going through, it can be made easier with the presence of your equally-deluded friends. your friends will always be there for you. This is also the focal point of the show; the 6 friends were always there for each other in various ways and even falling in love with the same person couldn’t tear these 6 apart.
The song’s immortality was further cemented through the use of the cast in the song’s video, forever entwining the two together. When we think of Phoebe, Chandler, Joey, Ross, Rachel and Monica it’s difficult not to think of this Rembrandts classic.
13 Reasons Why
Lord Huron – The Night We Met
Lord Huron’s indie ballad ‘The Night We Met’ became such a hit after it was included in the 13 Reasons Why Soundtrack that it topped The Hollywood Reporter’s Top TV Songs chart in the month the show premiered.
It plays across one of the most romantic and intimate scenes of the series between Hannah Baker and Clay Jensen as they dance together for the first time. Both protagonists find the song magical and we realise this is because it is the song they fell in love to.
The song chronicles the journey that Clay takes from the beginning of his friendship with Hannah to her death: “I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you.” The song describes how Clay slowly begins to lose Hannah as the series progresses and its most bittersweet lyrics, “take me back to the night we met,” reminds us of what could have been. It captures the sadness of the series as we know Hannah’s death cannot be reversed but that doesn’t stop Clay or us, the viewers, from wishing we could take them back to that one, happy night.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince – Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
As soon as you hear the words The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, it is almost impossible not to break out into, “West Philadelphia, born and raised…”. While the show itself had many memorable plot lines, good representation of a modern African-American family, excellent characters, Carlton’s dance and an undeniably charismatic lead character, this sitcom is largely remembered for its unforgettable theme song.
As we all know, the song detailed the journey of Will from West Philadelphia moving in with his rich Uncle and Aunty in Bel-Air (again, no prizes here). Will Smith the actor, was facing a similar trajectory in life; he was transforming from a regular kid to a bona-fide star who won the first ever Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance and was now the lead in his own sitcom.
Nevertheless, the star of the show and its hit song now have a permanent place in pop history as can be seen by the numerous performances of the song that still take place today (most notably on Graham Norton), 22 years after the series’ last episode aired.
Phantom Menace – California
When we think of the glory days of teen dramas during the early noughties, the OC immediately springs to mind as the show that bought the adolescent trials and tribulations of Ryan, Marissa, Seth and Summer to our screens. Whilst the plotlines descended further and further into unoriginal and unbelievable territory as the seasons went on, the hit theme song remained a constant.
Phantom Menace’s ‘California’ immediately brings to mind the wealthy area of Orange County and the opening sequence immediately flashes through every fan’s mind. The theme, initially, was emblematic of the dramatized class-difference between Ryan (Ben McKenzie) and the Cohens who he moves in with in the first episode after Sandy Cohen decides to take him in. The song, along with the now infamous line ‘welcome to the OC bitch,’ gives the viewers Ryan’s viewpoint as we enter this new world with him and attempt to understand the surroundings.
The song gives a sense of a journey starting in many ways; the characters in the show and the viewers were about to embark on 92 unforgettable, life-changing episodes of television. Even now, on the rainy days when all I want is to return to simpler times I just think ‘Californiaaa….here we come…’ and I am transported to the OC to hang out in the perennial sunshine.
The Police – Every Breath You Take
‘Every Breath You Take’ has been prevalent in pop culture since it was released over 30 years ago. However, it experienced a resurgence in popularity when it was used in season 2 of the smash-hit series Stranger Things.
At the end of season 2 Mike and Eleven are finally attending the Snow Ball, Max and Lucas have their first kiss, Dustin finally gets to dance with his crush Nancy and even Will manages to find a dance partner. The poor kid deserves it after everything he’s been through.
At first, we question the use of ‘Every Breath You Take’ during one of the most romantic scenes of the series, due to the creepy connotations that its lyrics arguably have. Then the camera pans down at the end of the song, and we see that The Mind Flayer, the main villain of the season, is watching over the school (unfortunately every clip on YouTube crops this out..sorry guys).
Suddenly, the audience realise it is the perfect song. The kids may move on, enjoy some classic childhood moments but every breath they take, every move they make, The Mind Flayer will always be watching them from the Upside Down.