The Best Music Moments on TV This Year

Music Lists Russian Doll
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The Best Music Moments on TV This Year

What’s Russian Doll without “Gotta Get Up,” Big Little Lies without its precosious seven-year-old DJ, Derry Girls without its spot-on ’90s soundtrack? Shells of shows, that’s what. Music brings TV to life, and this has been an especially colorful year for sonic moments on the small screen. From all-star music supervision that pairs the perfect song with the most emotional scene to hilarious satires and original numbers, these are all TV events that have stayed with us long after the season finale. Enjoy a dozen of 2019’s best music moments on TV, ranked.

12. Broad City: Abbi and Ilana Try to Crash a Lil Wayne Concert

This scene reminds me why I love Broad City so dang much (not that I ever forgot). Abbi and Illana are aces in antics, and their hustle into the Lil Wayne concert has to go down as one of their best shenanigans to date. When Abbi tries to surprise Ilana with tickets to see her beloved Weezy, her Craig’s List purchase turns out to be a fraud, and the girls have to find a way to get as close to the action as possible, no access to the venue granted. What starts out as regular night out turns into an air duct adventure. Our heroes finally settle on listening from the alley, just as the Molly hits, and what follows is one of the most honest scenes in the whole show, in which Abbi and Ilana admit their crippling codependency while twerking and, eventually, hugging. That’s just the power of Weezy and Molly. —Ellen Johnson

11. Derry Girls: “Zombie”

The first season of Derry Girls opens with locals spray-painting over the “London” part of the Londonderry sign and military vehicles driving past nuns and schoolchildren. This close-knit Northern Irish town appears brutal, but when paired with “Dreams” by The Cranberries, it feels much more romantic and bearable. Derry Girls is more about growing up than the grim political circumstances that took place in Ireland in the ‘90s, but the backdrop is a sharp contrast to the show’s hilarities. It follows Erin, Orla, Clare, James and Michelle as they attend a Catholic secondary school, and the motley crew get into all sorts of comical mischief in an effort to find love, climb the social ladder and make it through school. In the penultimate episode of Derry Girls season two, the IRA announced a ceasefire after 25 years of conflict between the Irish Catholics and Protestants, and the first lines of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” ring out while people celebrate in the streets. The song, with lines that specifically reference The Troubles (“It’s the same old theme / Since 1916”), continues to play as a war breaks out amongst the show’s eponymous gang, who are onstage and covered in tomato juice as a result of a prank at their school prom. They put each other in headlocks and appear bloodied while the late Cranberries frontman Dolores O’Riordan stretches out the word “zombie.” Both the ceasefire jubilation and prom hijinks represent the show’s duality of the surreal and comical, and with The Cranberries being one of Ireland’s most quintessential bands, it’s the perfect moment of cultural collision. —Lizzie Manno

10. Andi Mack: “Born This Way”

Throughout its three-season run on Disney Channel, Terri Minsky’s Andi Mack made a name for itself forging all kinds of new progressive narrative ground. All the firsts it made itself most famous (and beloved), though, had to do with co-lead Cyrus Goodman (Joshua Rush) making history as the Mouse House’s first explicitly gay character, first coming out to his best friend Buffy (Sophia Wylie) in the Season Two premiere, then coming out to Andi (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) in the back half of that season, then saying “I’m gay” aloud for the first time midway through Season Three. Each one of these moments was BIG, but once Cyrus was out to his friends, what the show’s fans wanted more than anything was to see the sweet and extremely palpable chemistry between him and reformed bully TJ (Luke Mullen) turn into something tangible. And friends, when Andi’s party in the series finale, “We Were Here,” found TJ kicking off a spontaneous all-cast karaoke bash to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” he and the Good Hair Crew and Andi’s parents and every kid from their totally average Utah middle school belting out how there’s nothing wrong with loving who you are and I must be myself, respect my youth? Well, it was absolutely clear that, among a dozen other happy, confidence-boosting character send-offs, that would be exactly how his and Cyrus’s story would end. It was joyous, it was affirming, it was perfectly Andi Mack. —Alexis Gunderson

9. Saturday Night Live: “GoT Tribute”

One of the best and worst things about TV these days is the fact that because there’s so much of it, not everyone has to be a fan of everything—even the “most popular show on television,” as some might describe Game of Thrones. And that’s a conundrum encapsulated well by “GoT Tribute,” a sketch from Saturday Night Live’s season 44 finale, in which Pete Davison steps up to rap about his favorite show. Initially caving to the pressure to feature the final season of the HBO epic, Pete eventually gets the go-ahead to celebrate his real favorite show—resulting in some real truth, amazing cameos, and, more importantly, amazing cameos in amazing T-shirts. —Liz Shannon Miller

8. Grey’s Anatomy: “Lost Without You”

Although it has just begun its 16th(!!) season, Grey’s Anatomy remains a TV trailblazer. Taking its title from a Tori Amos song, “Silent All These Years,” which aired in March of this year, follows the harrowing story of Abby (terrific guest star Khalilah Joi), a woman who’s been raped and struggles to come to terms with what happened to her. The episode shows, in excruciating and matter-of-fact detail, exactly what goes into collecting evidence for a rape kit. Abby’s arc is juxtaposed against Jo’s (Camilla Luddington) visit to meet her birth mother, Vicki (Michelle Forbes, in an incredible guest turn). Jo learns she is a product of rape and struggles to reconcile this information with what she had always thought about her birth mom. In the episode’s most powerful scene, the female doctors, nurses, and hospital employees (some of whom were played by Grey’s writers and producers) fill the hospital hallway to provide a protective line of support as Abby makes her way to surgery. It is against this backdrop that Freya Ridings’ poignant and evocative “Lost Without You” plays. Grey’s has an incredible knack with matching music to emotions (cue “How to Save a Life”) and in this incredible scene Ridings’ haunting voice and lyrics capture how the viewer is feeling. Ridings speaks for us all. —Amy Amatangelo

7. The School Dances (feat. David Makes Man, On My Block, Wayne): “If It Isn’t Love,” “Look At That Butt” & “A Thousand Miles”

School dance episodes have long been a mainstay of the teen drama, but something must be in the water this year, because not only have all the best teen shows on television tackled the school dance episode this season, they’ve done so with shatteringly good musical drops that trigger deep emotional and narrative development. The musically meaningful school dance is such a Thing in the Teen TV scene this year—from the prom parking lot beatdown set to Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” on YouTube Premium’s Wayne to Ruby and Jasmine’s stanky couples dance to Dillon Francis’ “Look At That Butt” on Netflix’s On My Block to David and Sky’s glittering mind palace duet to New Edition’s “If It Isn’t Love” on OWN’s David Makes Man (the best new show of the year, for my money)—that we don’t have time to gush over every choice musical drop. Just know, if you don’t think of yourself as a Teen TV person but you’ve always held a soft spot in your heart for Freaks and Geeks’ use of “Come Sail Away” as both narrative engine AND bop, this may be the year to return to the teen drama fold. The joint, as the kids say, is hoppin’. —Alexis Gunderson

6. Big Little Lies: “It’s My House” and “Mystery of Love”

In Season Two of Big Little Lies, we (sadly) have less moments with Chloe and her mature jukebox, but there’s still enough great music to account for some of the season’s best moments. The most entertaining by far is the Renata scene in which she dons a red suit for a magazine shoot and mouths “It’s My House” into the camera, dancing and power-stancing all the while. Chloe’s older sister Abigail gets her own moment in the spotlight when she moodily listens to Portishead in a bedroom decked out with Sub Pop posters. Shailene Woodley’s Jane cuts loose to Sufjan Stevens’ “Mystery of Love” (originally written for another masterwork in aesthetics, the 2017 film Call Me by Your Name) on the beach as waves crash indifferently to the shore. It’s a brief escape from Jane’s ongoing parenting crisis and PTSD, and it’s one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole season. —Ellen Johnson

5. The Other Two: “An Ode to Being Gay: It’s OK!”

Because The Other Two was about the siblings of a teen pop star, and was created by Saturday Night Live alumni Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, it’s not surprising that music played a big part in the Comedy Central newcomer. And the second big music video from ChaseDreams is a perfect example of how well the show captured this particular type of musical artist: Chase sings a loving ballad to tribute to his gay older brother Cary, and with every rhyme, the song’s earnest insistence that “it’s okay” speaks to a complicated state of overcompensation which feels very true to the way some treat LGBTQ people in 2019. Cary comes to accept the advantages of becoming Chase’s famous gay brother, but only after some serious awkwardness. —Liz Shannon Miller

4. Game of Thrones: Podrick’s “Jenny of Oldstones”

Somehow, in the moment of watching “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” we already had an inkling that it would represent a high-water mark for Game of Thrones Season Eigh. The knighting of Brienne of Tarth was the emotional high-point of a disappointing finale season for HBO’s beloved epic fantasy, as showrunners and writers struggled to bring together loose ends and rushed toward a conclusion that forced a massive shift in characterization for several characters, seemingly out of nowhere. But at least in the calm before the storm, we had the brief moments of poignancy in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” even if most of us (at the time) wanted to get it over with and get to that big battle with the White Walkers—what fools we were, eh? Regardless, one of TV’s most memorable music moments of 2019 was provided here by none other than Westeros’ greatest lover, squire-among-squires Podrick Payne, with his rendition of “Jenny of Oldstones” for the assembled group of Tyrion, Tormund, Brienne, Davos and Jaime. We will admit it: Yes, actor Daniel Portman possesses a solid voice and gives a fine performance, although the surprise of the moment is perhaps a little bit less than it might have been, considering that “hidden talents” had been a trope associated lovingly with Podrick ever since we found out that the inexperienced lover was actually a prodigious sexual prodigy. Still, the cross-cutting during the song nicely ties together the various relationships and disparate characters who have assembled at Winterfell to face the impending doom of the army of the dead in the next episode, imbuing the anticipation with overtones of grand, apocalyptic tragedy. If only the payoff could have lived up to the setup, but you can say that about practically everything in GoT Season Eight. —Jim Vorel

3. Stranger Things: The NeverEnding Story Theme

The Suzie saga had one of Stranger Things Season Three’s best conclusions, as Dustin’s girlfriend not only turned out to be real and in possession of Planck’s Constant to help the group defeat the Russians, but she also does a mean harmony for The Neverending Story’s theme song. Most of our protagonists were boo’d up this season, and Dustin was no exception… even though no one believed the improbably wonderful Suzie was real. But the reveal happening alongside a key plot moment, wrapped in a blanket of fantasy nostalgia, was perfectly sweet and an example of the series at its best. —Allison Keene

2. Russian Doll: “Gotta Get Up”

For Groundhog Day’s Phil, it was a never-ending stream of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” which played on the radio morning after morning as he endured the same day over and over. For our sauntering, carrot-topped protagonist Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) in Netflix’s genius Russian Doll, it’s a chorus of Maxine’s (Greta Lee) “Sweet birthday babyyyyyy” greetings and Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up,” which both signaled that she was about to relive her 36th birthday party yet again, after weathering another painful death. Nilsson’s 1971 song (from his classic Nilsson Schmilsson) saw a startling 3,300 percent in streams the week after the show’s Feb. 1 premiere, according to a Spotify report. The show is full of memorable music moments (its soundtrack spans Ariel Pink to Anika’s haunting “I Go To Sleep”) but nothing gets audiences going like “Gotta Get Up.” The Nilsson deep cut became a national earworm, playing endless in our heads and forever in Nadia’s mind. —Ellen Johnson

1. The Righteous Gemstones: “Misbehavin’”

By now, if you’re watching HBO’s excellent The Righteous Gemstones, the original song “Misbehavin’” is not just familiar to you … it’s stuck in your head, permanently, to the point that you’re convinced it will drive you to acts of insanity. You’ve passed the stage where you appreciate the extremely sticky melody, you’ve passed the stage where you laugh at hysterical lyrics like “running through the house with a pickle in my mouth!” and you’ve passed the stage where you delight in watching Walton Goggins clog on YouTube, over and over, at 2 a.m. You are now in its clutches, forever and ever, and for this fate you have composer Joseph Stephens to thank. —Shane Ryan

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