The only thing better than genre is when genre gets its musical on. Pop classics, rap battles, opera arias, rock ballads — all the musical numbers you could want have appeared in genre and we felt it a travesty for those songs to go unranked.
Consider this the ultimate, most definitive ranking of the best musical numbers in genre. We’ve developed an objective scale for the ranking, so there will be no questioning of the final result in the comments.
Five, six, seven, eight!
Pippin brings the Shire to Minas Tirith
There’s a reason... well, there are many reasons that Gandalf calls Pippin a “fool of a Took.” One of the biggest is that Pippin accidentally promises himself to be indentured to the Steward of Gondor for the rest of his life. Whoops!
In Return of the King, the gluttonous, seemingly mad Denethor sends his men off to be slaughtered by orcs and wants a little dining music while he scarfs down his dinner. Pippin sings a version of “A Walking Song,” which appears in very different situations in the books by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s a haunting little tune that’ll bring a tear to your eye and make you long for the Shire.
Rating: One pipe full of Longbottom Leaf
Leeloo kicks ass to an operatic beat
If you’re so cool you wait for a song to choreograph your massive beatdown to, you may as well wait for the perfect space-alien-opera. And if Leeloo is anything, she’s cool.
In The Fifth Element, Leeloo and her companion Korben Dallas are on a mission to save the world, which requires that they take a luxury cruise, of course. While Korben enjoys the incomparable Diva Plavalaguna’s performance, Leelo fights off a bunch of Mangalores — proving she lives up to the hype.
Rating: However many times Milla Jovovich had to say, “Leeloo Dallas multipass”
Cheryl and Josie becoming the best characters on Riverdale
Riverdale is a completely implausible show about teenagers who live in a small town and, for some reason, solve a bunch of murders. The cast is uncomfortably attractive given how young their characters are and the plot is just mind-blowingly unrealistic, yet somehow a delightful take on the original. For instance, there was a period of time during which Archie was a teenage capo for Veronica’s mob boss/father.
In “Carrie: The Musical,” the stakes get higher and honestly, you just have to see it. While the whole episode is worth watching, the song where Cheryl and Josie make up is definitely the highlight. The lowlight? The fact that KJ Apa needs snapping lessons.
Rating: The concerning number of murders for a town of this size
Steven brings music to the Crystal Gems
If you haven’t seen Steven Universe, then I’m concerned you haven’t been living your best life. The show follows the misadventures of Steven Universe, the youngest member of the Crystal Gems, and his friends, teachers, guardians, and teammates, Garnet, Amythyst, and Pearl. You know what? The song tells the whole premise much better than I can. Just watch it and feel your anxiety plummet.
Rating: Garnet’s third eye
Rick makes up a word and somehow it works
Rick Sanchez is the smartest, most arrogant man in the multiverse and conscripts his grandson, Morty, into service of his goals. So, when it turns out giant aliens in the sky are watching a reality singing show in which Earth is a participant, who else is the President of the United States going to call?
And, Rick does not disappoint, producing a catchy yet ultimately idiotic song that you’ll find yourself singing for days.
Rating: Just slightly good enough to save the world
Retsuko takes down the big man
Aggretsuko merges adorable animals, millennial woes, Japanese workplace politics, and heavy metal into a delightful TV show. Retsuko is a Red Panda working in an office where her boss is just the absolute worst and makes her life hell. She tries to keep her head low, but her every action infuriates her higher-ups. To cope with the constant gaslighting and emotional abuse, Retsuko turns to karaoke — and not the usual kind. My personal favorite lyric is, “Lightning grant me your vengeance!”
When the whole office goes out drinking and singing karaoke, Retsuko’s unbearable boss, Ton, decides to rap-slam her in front of all her colleagues. But, don’t worry. Retsuko may need some encouragement, but she definitely rises to the occasion.
The Birds of Prey insult male heroes
When the Birds of Prey — Huntress, Black Canary, and Catwoman — infiltrate a mob club, they find themselves onstage and just go ahead and adlib what may be the single best song about male superheroes. As they tick down the list of heroes, the sexual innuendo and insults just get funnier and funnier until the ladies reach the main object of their affection: Batman.
Rating: The many sex jokes in this children’s show
Tara seduces Willow
“Buffy died a couple times and then came back,” would be the quick summary of the five-plus seasons leading up to the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Once More with Feeling.” Pretty much every song has its merits and the episode forwards the overarching plot of the season in important ways. The episode is critically acclaimed, in part for how well Tara, a secondary character and girlfriend of Willow, comes through (so to speak).
While Giles and Tara both reprising their songs to the people they will have to leave is probably my favorite, it’s also a real bummer. (But, keep it in mind for next time you go through a breakup because it’s great for sobbing.) That said, Tara’s solo, “Under Your Spell,” will make your heart sing. It also happens to feature the very sexy, very sexual relationship between Willow and Tara, queer icons.
Rating: R (for “R u kidding me?”)
The Magicians feel the pressure
There’s a lot to love about The Magicians. The TV show is set in a modern day world much akin to our own, except there’s magic, but only some people have the aptitude for it. These smarty-pants get to learn all kinds of spells, including ones using sex magic, to help them on their adventures through our world and Narnia for adults, aka Fillory. In “All that Josh,” some of the magicians get stuck in a pocket universe controlled by a demon who feeds off joy and they have to sing their way out.
It might be a cover, but when The Magicians crew tackles “Under Pressure,” they do it justice. What’s particularly exciting about the song is that it denotes an important turn of fate for each of the characters. Julia demonstrates the ability to heal others, Eliot and Margo escape their capital punishment, and the rest of the gang stands by a friend, proving themselves worthy to continue their quest. Penny is stuck in the Library, but even he belts out a tune.
Frank gets sin-sational
When it comes to genre musicals, it’s hard to compete with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The film and its cult following have had a massive impact on our culture and if you haven’t been to a screening and sing-a-long, you must.
Every single song manages to be surprising and memorable, but Dr. Frank-N-Furter shakes the foundation of Brad and Janet’s world when they stumble into his mansion. I’m fairly certain his charisma has led to the sexual awakening of many a person. (He certainly taught me whole new dimensions of my gender and sexuality as a kid.) This song rockets to the top of our list for its sexual freedom, Tim Curry’s incomparable magnetism, and the way it will make you shiver with antici… pation.
Rating: You’re all queer now. You’re welcome.