Glee featured over 700 musical numbers throughout its six-season run, many of which have become crucial parts of modern pop culture. Indeed, songs like “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” gained new life thanks to the show’s band of merry misfits.
However, not every musical number can be a winner, especially when there were so many, and Glee has its fair share of problematic songs and performances. Whether because of their inappropriate lyrics or the show’s unfortunate staging choices, these musical numbers have aged like milk and become especially controversial by today’s standards.
Updated on June 24th, 2022 by Amanda Bruce: Glee is an incredibly strong series when it satirizes show choir, and it’s also an incredibly strong series when it earnestly encourages young artists to follow their dreams. Sometimes, however, the middle group between those two takes falls flat. That happens with the most ill-advised performances in the show. While fans can rewatch Glee to their heart’s content now that it’s available to stream on Disney Plus, these are numbers they might want to skip.
Content Warning: The following contains references to suicide.
Let’s Have A Kiki / Turkey Lurkey Time
Mash-ups are a staple of Glee. They’re one of the things that made the show such an instant hit in season 1. Over time they became a calling card for the show, with the music department finding new ways to mix songs that might seem complete opposites at first.
Not all mash-ups were winners though, and arguably the biggest loser is the monstrosity that is “Let’s Have a Kiki / Turkey Lurkey Time.” Performed in season 4 by Rachel, Kurt, and Isabelle, the song starts strong with the LGBTQ+ anthem “Let’s Have a Kiki.” However, once Rachel erupts into an out-of-the-blue and shoehorned rendition of “Turkey Lurkey Time,” the whole thing descends into a festival of chaos and cringe.
Don’t Stand So Close To Me / Young Girl
Continuing the trend of terrible mash-ups, the combination of The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and Gary Puckett & the Union Gap’s “Young Girl” has a special place in television hell. There are lots of things about Glee‘s Rachel that have aged poorly, including storylines, but her inappropriate infatuation with Mr. Schuester ranks among the worst.
However, things become even more reprehensible when Mr. Schue decides to sing to Rachel about why she shouldn’t be crushing on him and proceeds to serenade her. It’s an uncomfortable and problematic scene, made worse by the fact that Ms. Pillsbury is there and does nothing but swoon while Will sings.
Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)
Several wild things happened during Glee‘s many performances, but Dave Karofsky attempting to take his life while Blaine belted Young the Giant’s “Cough Syrup” was one of the most severe and impactful. The episode deals with Karofsky’s situation surprisingly earnestly, earning points for a tender scene between Kurt and Karofsky.
However, it loses any goodwill earned by having the Glee club “dedicate” their Regionals performance in Karofsky’s honor and choosing this Kelly Clarkson hit. Performing a song that claims, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” after a character just tried to end his life is not only tone-deaf but insensitive and crass.
What I Did For Love
In the Season 2 premiere, Rachel meets Sunshine Corazon, an exchange student from the Philippines with undeniable talent. Ever the jealous and controlling fame-seeker, Rachel does everything in her power to keep Sunshine away from the New Directions, including sending her to a crack house. Eventually, Sunshine gets recruited into Vocal Adrenaline, making things worse for the Glee club.
Rachel tries to excuse her actions by saying she did them “for love,” but no one buys it. Still, that doesn’t stop her from belting out A Chorus Line‘s eleven o’clock number, “What I Did for Love.” Not only does the performance seem fake, but it also feels unearned and vain. In short, it brings out the worst aspects of Rachel’s character.
It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World
Quinn got the short end of Glee’s writing stick. After having a well-developed and powerful pregnancy story in season 1, her character regressed in the following seasons until Dianna Agron eventually left the series. While Quinn’s pregnancy remains her most meaningful arc in the show, it also included some very questionable choices, mainly her performance of James Brown’s iconic song “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
Quinn takes the stage backed up by a group of pregnant teenagers, who then do an awkward choreography while she sings. Not only is Agron’s voice not suited for such a challenging James Brown song, but the performance itself is beyond cringeworthy. In the show’s defense, it’s supposed to be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make it any less embarrassing to watch now.
Glee had plenty of nonsensical musical numbers, but “Push It” went beyond that. Performed by the New Directions during a school assembly, “Push It” is, in Sue Sylvester’s words, “the most offensive thing (she’s) seen in twenty years of teaching, and that includes an elementary school production of Hair.”
It’s hard to argue with Coach Sylvester. “Push It” includes the girls grinding against the boys, Artie pretending to smack their backsides, and a whole lot of suggestive dancing. Again, the performance is supposed to be ridiculous and embarrassing, but considering these kids are supposed to be sixteen, this number quickly veers into problematic territory.
“Gangnam Style” was a controversial song even before it received the Glee treatment in season 4. The New Directions still performed it during Regionals, when the theme was “Foreign Hits,” and gave the solo to Tina Cohen-Chang because, of course, they did.
Tina was one of Glee‘s most underrated characters, the living embodiment of “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” Still, having the only Asian character in the club perform the Korean song came off as a tad insensitive; even Tina points it out, but she’s so starved for any attention that she still agrees to sing it. “Gangnam Style” seems more like a fever-dream than an actual performance, and it’s one of the many things that fans dislike about season 4.
A Little Less Conversation
Mr. Schuester was never a role model for teaching, but he at least tried during the first two seasons of Glee. However, all his care disappears by Season 3, replaced by a sense of entitlement that followed him everywhere. When several students complain about his outright racist practices, most notably “Taco Tuesday,” Will decides to enroll in a Spanish lesson taught by Ricky Martin, AKA, David Martínez.
In true Glee fashion, Santana and David perform a stunning rendition of “La Isla Bonita.” Will then appears dressed as a Spanish torero and performs a jarring Spanglish rendition of “A Little Less Conversation” that includes a mariachi band and Brittany and Mike dressed as bulls. Santana calls him out for treating Spanish as a joke and not a moment too soon. The whole performance is insulting, and it’s genuinely shocking that the show’s writers went ahead with it.
As the Glee club’s leader, Mr. Schuester wasn’t afraid to join his students in song. He performed with them several times, often surpassing the limits of appropriate student/teacher behavior. Nowhere is this lack of boundaries more clear than in his performance of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”
Mr. Schue performs this outright offensive song during Season 5, joined by a chorus of students twerking around him. The song’s lyrics are bad enough, but Mr. Schue’s willingness to allow students to dance around and, in some cases, inappropriately close to him is arguably the worst thing the teacher ever did.
Some fans willingly ignore some of Glee‘s most problematic elements. However, not even the most passionate Gleeks can forgive the show’s unfair and cruel treatment of Britney Spears during the now-infamous Season 4 episode “Britney 2.0.” The story sees Brittany breaking down similarly to Spears’ very public 2007 difficulties. The show goes so far as to recreate some of her most vulnerable moments, including her notorious 2007 VMA performance.
Spears granted the show the rights to her entire music catalog, hoping for one of Glee‘s famous tributes. Instead, Glee outright mocked her, reducing her struggles to a punchline. In the wake of the #FreeBritney movement, “Britney 2.0” becomes the perfect example of how unfair and cruel the media behaved towards Spears.
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