Brow Beat

This Is Not a Ranking of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Songs

Rebecca and Paula clasp hands in the middle of a circle of mannequins.
Rachel Bloom and Donna Lynne Champlin. Greg Gayne/The CW

This will not—I repeat, it will not—be a ranking of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend songs. If you are looking for a critical evaluation of the show’s 157 musical numbers that puts them in a particular order, you have plenty of options available to you already. The Washington Post chose a Top 10 and NPR went with a Top 27 and Vulture eliminated all of the less substantial songs and still wound up with a whopping list of 129. As Rebecca says to White Josh in the finale, respect.

I enjoy quibbling about whether “Settle for Me” deserves a higher spot than “It Was a Shit Show” as much as the next Crazy Ex-Girlfriend viewer, but I have already been writing about the show’s music for two years now, ranking the best song in each episode along the way. Some of those choices I have come to second guess and some I stand by and some are too recent to look back on with any kind of clarity. The point is, I understand the compulsion to try to pin down the superlatives, the punniest (“The Math of Love Triangles”), the filthiest (“I Give Good Parent”), the most meta (“He’s the New Guy”). Now that the show has ended, though, it seems fruitless to pit any song against another when they are all so intricately connected and informed by each other—and by the extraordinary body of work that Rachel Bloom, Aline Brosh McKenna, Jack Dolgen, Adam Schlesinger, and the other musical contributors have created as a whole.

There were very few surprises, musically speaking, in the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend finale. While it might be a revelation to Paula that Rebecca understands the world as a series of a musical numbers, we as an audience have known that for quite some time. Rebecca contextualizes the episode’s first song before she even starts to sing. “Eleven o’clock is a significant time. If we were in a musical, this is where I would perform my big eleven o’clock number,” she explains. “An eleven o’clock number is a big, show-stopping number with some sort of thematic revelation and it usually happens around 11 p.m. because shows used to start at 8:30 but now they start earlier for some reason.”

In a way, there’s really no need to decide which songs rank as the most significant for Rebecca as a character, because the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend songwriters already did that for us with “Eleven O’Clock,” tying them together in one final medley. All of the theme songs are included (even the most recent, “Meet Rebecca,” as an instrumental) and the ones that are sung get updated lyrics to reflect Rebecca’s growth: “I admitted that’s where Josh lived,” “I had many underlying issues to address,” and so on. They’re followed by some of the greatest hits from each season, from unusually earnest mental health-themed solos “A Diagnosis” (Season 3) and “The Darkness” (Season 4) to irony-laced crowdpleasers “We’ll Never Have Problems Again” (Season 2) and “I’m a Good Person” (Season 1).

It all builds to “You Stupid Bitch,” a regression to remind us that as far as Rebecca has come, she’s still that same self-indulgent, self-loathing drama queen, not an entirely new person. For all that Season 4 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend played with perception, recasting Greg as an entirely new actor and featuring an alternate-universe Rebecca in the opening sequence, the character has not fundamentally changed from the woman who impulsively moved across the country to chase a guy she hadn’t seen in years. Sure, she’s more grounded, disciplined, and self-aware than she was before, but it only takes a minute after discussing Paula’s dilemma before she asks the critical question: “Is it appropriate to talk about myself now? Great.”

The episode’s other song is a very brief final reprise of “West Covina” that brings the show full circle, with Paula and Rebecca clasping hands over a shared mission. This time, though, the “here” is not a Californian city but Rebecca’s own imagination, and the mission is our protagonist becoming (duh) a songwriter.

The medley and the reprise are predictable, but other, less obvious songs unexpectedly slyly find their way into the episode. That, I think, is what makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s music so hard to rank. As time goes by, the songs themselves stay the same, but our perception of them changes, whether because of a well-timed reprise or a choice line of dialogue or just a new plot development. I found the show’s 100th musical number, Without Love You Can Save the World,” underwhelming at the time, but it’s worth revisiting the lyrics after the finale: “10,000 hours in anything makes you an expert/ And I’ve spent way more time than that frettin’ over guys.” Rebecca and the rest of the cast go on to lament not spending that time doing philanthropic work instead, taking the idea to its absurd extreme by imagining “an asexual utopia” if only they didn’t put as much effort into their love lives.

Except the finale sort of validates that way of thinking, since Rebecca forgoes a romantic relationship, any romantic relationship, to focus on her true passion for a year, lending “Without Love” new importance. The same goes for “I Go to the Zoo,” a silly, seemingly throwaway number in which Nathaniel sings about his admiration for cheetahs, kangaroos, and monkeys—until he decides at the end of the show to move to Guatemala to work with animals. The importance of an early Season 4 standout, “No One Else Is Singing My Song,” shifted when someone else started literally started singing Rebecca’s song, and it shifted again in the last moments of the finale as Rebecca gleefully prepares to sing her own song, alone but not sad about it anymore.

The other difficulty with song rankings is that you wind up comparing the ones that are brilliant but hyper-specific to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s plot, like “Textmergency” or “Santa Ana Winds,” to songs that encapsulate a more universal phenomenon. “Heavy Boobs” and “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” are both reminiscent of Bloom’s early-career parody songs and can be lifted out of their context within the show easily, so it’s probably not a coincidence that they both went viral beyond the show’s small but devoted audience. I was happy to see two very good Vincent Rodriguez III songs spotlighted in the live concert special that followed the show’s finale: “I’ve Got My Head in the Clouds,” about the delusion of hiding behind religion, and “Angry Mad,” which is exactly what it sounds like and a very useful video to use as a reaction.

Still, it’s telling that those two were chosen over “A Boy Band Made Up of Four Joshes,” a song that deserves our attention. It’s not the No. 1 on most peoples’ lists, but it encapsulates so much of what made the show’s music great: It explores both romance and mental health, it makes the subtext text, it demonstrates a keen understanding of genre, and it’s catchy as hell.

Best song of the week: I said I wasn’t going to rank anything, and I meant it, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least shout out the Season 4 songs that, while they don’t have the benefit of long histories like some of the others, have been in my head: “Don’t Be a Lawyer,” “Gratuitous Karaoke Moment,” and “Hello, Nice to Meet You.” Come find me on Twitter to tell me your favorite underrated song.