Sunday 7 April 2019

My Top Ten Crazy Ex Girlfriend Songs

Around 2-3 years ago, my sister and sister-in-law were visiting and had gone into the kitchen to watch something.  I could hear them laughing to the point that I became determined to find out just what was so funny.  After I joined them in the kitchen, they showed me what it was that they were watching; a musical comedy show called Crazy Ex Girlfriend.  They were on episode two and the song that caused so much mirth was called I'm So Good At Yoga.  I watched it with them and by the end of that one song, I was completely and utterly hooked.

Last night, after four seasons of sheer brilliance, Crazy Ex Girlfriend reached its finale.  A show that started off as a slightly oddball pastiche of romantic comedy, about a woman named Rebecca uprooting her life to chase down her first love and win him back, had ended up becoming a raw and yet ultimately uplifting portrayal of mental health problems, a beacon of feminism and inclusivity and a heartwarming display of the many different forms of love we find in our everyday lives.  If it sounds a little ridiculous to say that my life is better for having discovered the show, so be it.  It's true.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend took comedy tropes and turned them on their heads.  It used music to deliver jokes and communicate ideas fresher and braver than many shows dare to put out into the world.  The cast were mind-boggling in their talents - this was no mere acting job.  This was an ensemble who danced and sang in a whole host of styles.  Over the course of 4 seasons, over 150 songs in a wide variety of genres were gifted to us and it's for that reason that the only way I can truly explain how much this show means to me and just why it's so amazing, is to go through some of those songs right now.  Besides, I can't resist a top ten list...

10) "I Have Friends"

So, a few months after I got really into Crazy Ex Girlfriend, some stuff started going on in my life.  A stupid argument with one friend led to the implosion of my entire friendship group and shortly afterwards, I realised the person I'd spent years referring to as my "best friend" was...  REALLY not.  Like... A whole lot of "NOT."

Being the kind of weirdo who mercilessly mocks my own tragedies in life as a kind of bizarre coping mechanism, I took to singing this song to myself as a way of distracting my mind from the fact that I kind of... didn't have friends.  Which, you know, is essentially what Rebecca is doing in this song.  

Sarcastically singing "I have friends, I DEFINITELY have friends" was just a thing I did to get through a bad situation.   And it worked!  I'll always have a soft spot for it, as a result.  Also, just like Rebecca realises she very much does have an incredible new support network of friends as the series continues, so I went on to realise I wasn't friendless, after all.  Hooray!

I Have Friends, I DEFINITELY have friends!

9) "Let's Have Intercourse"

Whilst we naturally focus on Rebecca and her character development across the four seasons, it's important to remember that one of the awesome things about Crazy Ex Girlfriend is the way it constantly develops the other characters in the show, too.

When we meet Nathaniel, he is hard, uncompromising and seemingly uncaring.  Only once he is brought off his pedestal (by a bout of diarrhoea, because duh, of course that's what it took) and eventually realises his strange crush on Rebecca is actually love (that plot line is not connected to any bowel functions...), does he start to change as a person.  And what's perfect is that he changes willingly, originally purely because he thinks only by becoming a nicer person will Rebecca want to be with him, but ultimately because he realises he's happier in all areas of his life when he does make the effort to be a better man.  By the end of the final season, he's almost unrecognisable from the emotionless taskmaster he entered the show as.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend does pastiches of well known songs and singers extraordinarily well and this song is a perfectly pitched play on Thinking Out Loud, by Ed Sheeran, but without any of the romance.  As a result, it's both hilarious and somehow instantly familiar, even the very first time you hear it.  And as for Rachel Bloom's ballet dancing... Wow.  I mean, I know I have a super massive crush on her and I'm therefore biased, but the girl knocks it out of the park.

I won't be back to normal til I see what your nipples look like...
...They're probably straightforward nipples.

8) "A Boyband Made Up of Four Joshes"

In season one of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, Rebecca's psyche is often explored through her reminiscing over events from her childhood and early teens.  In episode three, she recalls inviting everyone from school to come over and watch a boy band concert on pay per view at her house.  Distressingly for young Rebecca, very few kids show up and when they do, they witness the breakdown of her parents' marriage, explaining why adult Rebecca has some pretty major issues with abandonment, lack of a reliable male figure in her life and the prospect of throwing parties...

Of course, at this party, Josh turns up and Rebecca instantly believes it's his presence (and not all the background work Paula's done to ensure plenty of people actually come...) that makes it a success.  She dreamily revisits the pay per view boy band concert she never got to see, only in her own private fantasy, every member of the band is Josh.  Now, having been a  big fan of boy bands when I was growing up ( I quite like them now, too...), I'm not about to suggest that anyone who enjoys a boy band has some mental health issues they need to address, but I do love the fact that in this song, the boy band is very much presented as a non-threatening entity, where all four members are offering to "fix" Rebecca's problems.  Not only does it tie in to the fantasy a lot of young girls have (holding my hands up to this one) about the "perfect" member of a boy band being the ideal person who'd understand them and love them the right way (not like real guys, who might hurt them...), but it also neatly continues to emphasise Rebecca's delusional insistence that she requires the love of this one specific person in order to make her better, rather than working on fixing herself.

The song is also catchy as heck!

Baby you can kiss all your unexplained symptoms goodbye,
you're never gonna miss all those nightmares in which you tend to die...

7) "You're My Best Friend (And I Know I'm Not Yours)"

Crazy Ex Girlfriend has always been a fantastic analyser of relationships, be they romantic or otherwise.  Whereas Rebecca's obsessive nature and often over-the-top feelings for her romantic interests was one of the main themes of the show, other characters and their relationships were usually given a fair amount of airtime, too.  Darryl, originally Rebecca's boss in the show, is a favourite of mine, because (again, I hold my hands up) I often find that I identify with him.  

Darryl is unashamed about his feelings and he finds it hard to keep them in.  He loves completely and the people he loves are exceptionally important to him.  Before Rebecca comes along, he lives quite happily, believing his workmate Paula is his best friend.  Then Rebecca enters the equation and she and Paula have such an intense level of closeness, it's difficult for Darryl to get much of a look in.  His feelings towards Paula don't change, but it's clear that she thinks of Rebecca as a much closer friend than he is.  The trouble is, Darryl isn't great at stepping back and making Paula feel comfortable.  He has a few boundary issues and whilst they come from a good place - loving and caring about the people in his life - they can serve to make people feel a little uncomfortable (I'm hoping this isn't something we share...).  So, this song is Darryl's way of recognising that he's perhaps not as important to Paula as he wishes he was, but that that doesn't have to change the way he feels about her and she doesn't need to feel bad about it.

Also, being that I am someone who loves completely and finds it hard to keep my feelings in, but who also self-analyses a lot and isn't as kind to myself as I possibly should be, I can massively identify with the idea of having to say "sure, I adore you but I realise you probably adore other people more."  Tragic?  Kinda.  

"That's why I love you like a sister 
and you love me like a second cousin..."

6) "I Hate Everything But You"

At this point, picking songs and ordering them has gotten hard.  In a lot of ways, this should be top three, but it's landed at number six and I had to bump a lot of songs I like, along the way.

When Skylar Astin arrived in season four, taking over the role of Greg from Santino Fontana, I had some... feelings.  I had shipped "Grebecca" hard and I'd spent two thirds of season two and all of season three wishing that Greg would come back and that they'd eventually get back together, but that was all based on the original Greg.  Having him back and it being a different actor felt weird for a while.

But Skylar is a great actor and singer and his portrayal of a slightly more easy-going Greg (believe it or not, given this song!) was hard to resist.  Greg, with his enormous walls around himself and his habit of snarkily criticising things, was always the antithesis of Rebecca and her overly-emotional, almost childlike naivety and this song proved that Skylar Astin's portrayal of the character was just as true to who Greg really was as Santino Fontana's version in seasons one and two.

Rebecca's high level of enthusiasm for things that others might deem merely "okay" is something I very much identify with.  I get ludicrously excited about things and it's definitely fair to say I sometimes feel things a bit too much.  So I understood her disappointment at Greg not being as ecstatic about their day trip to a water park as she hoped he might be.  That said, I think this song is rather beautiful in its own way and I feel like if someone wanted to serenade me with it, I'd probably melt!

I hate the phrase "love conquers all" 
and I hate that it's true.

5) "Friendtopia"

Crazy Ex Girlfriend does an incredible job of exploring the ways that friendships can affect our lives just as much as any other kind of relationship, and it often uses the friendships the characters have as a mirror to their behaviour in their romantic attachments.  For example, the way Rebecca tries to force Valencia and Heather into her idea of what a "girl group" should be is hugely similar to the way she desperately tries to squeeze her love life into her own unrealistic fantasy of what romance is.  In a lot of ways, the season 2 episode that contains the song Friendtopia is difficult to watch, as Rebecca attempts to engineer two women who've openly confessed to not having had a lot of close female friends in the past, into being her new "squad," whilst also failing to recognise that in doing so, she's massively alienating her best friend, Paula.  It's a clever way of highlighting that Rebecca's mental health issues don't only affect her romantic relationships, as well as being a reminder that friendships are better when they're not forced.  Rebecca's behaviour risks causing the end of the friendship she has with Paula, simply because it doesn't fit her pop-culture-influenced mental image of what female friendship is supposed to look like.

Also, this song sounds like the Spice Girls and takes the concept of "Girl Power" to slightly scary places.  Which will never fail to amuse me.

All citizens must watch Hocus Pocus, or they will be killed.

4) "It Was A Shit Show"

This song marks the first time (very much not the last) that Crazy Ex Girlfriend made me cry.  I mentioned earlier that I was very much Team Grebecca and despite the hugely dysfunctional nature of their relationship, I held out a lot of hope that they'd eventually settle into something lasting and healthy.  Greg's perfectly sensible decision to call it off and go to business school in an attempt to get his life back on track, having admitted to being an alcoholic, was one that was hard to argue with, however.  Santino Fontana was also one hell of a singer and the emotion in his voice during that last refrain "I won't regret this beautiful, heart-stopping, breathtaking, life-changing..." broke me.

It's a huge credit to the show's songwriters (Rachel Bloom, Jack Dolgen and Adam Schlesinger) that this song manages to so perfectly encapsulate the tugging of the heartstrings that takes place when you know you have to end something for your own good, despite knowing that it's going to hurt like hell to walk away.  I'm putting the original show-version of this song as a link, because Santino's version is gorgeous and fully deserves to be heard, but I'd urge you all to seek out Rachel Bloom's live tour version, because DAMN.

Not to be crass,
but this sucked ass.
This was a shit show.

3) "Getting Bi"

Okay, let's get emotionally honest.  

First things first: if there was a couple on Crazy Ex Girlfriend who I shipped even harder than Greg and Rebecca, it was, without question, Darryl and White Josh.  

Darryl is a divorcee, who thinks he's 100% straight.  So, when he starts to connect with White Josh, he thinks it's purely as a friend until, after helping him clean up following a party, White Josh kisses him on the cheek and winks as he leaves.  This causes Darryl to openly question what it might mean and whether he's got to look at himself in a whole new light.  He tries to tactfully find out whether White Josh is gay, by asking why they call him White Josh and not Gay Josh (way to go, Darryl!) and is stunned when White Josh laughs and says it's not like people call him "Old Gay Darryl."  Darryl insists that he's straight, but the fact is, he's obviously intrigued and excited by the idea that White Josh might like him.  There are full-on butterflies and loaded looks and it's just too adorable for words.  Eventually, Darryl realises that he's bisexual - a fact he never cottoned on to until he was middle-aged and is therefore pretty stunned by.  But Darryl being Darryl, he's also not someone who can hide his feelings.  He quickly tells White Josh about how excited he is to be "out" and when White Josh suggests he try some gay dating apps, Darryl gushes that he won't find anyone he likes as much as him.


Getting Bi is not only a massively catchy Huey Lewis pastiche, but it's just perfectly played on a variety of levels.  Firstly, it's very on-brand for Darryl.  Of course he would feel the need to gleefully dance around, telling everyone about his sexuality whether they want to know or not.  Secondly, the reaction from everyone is perfect.  They're not remotely bothered.  They've been encouraging and helpful and nobody has seemed remotely fazed by the fact that their "straight" friend is agonising over his feelings for a guy.  The only thing that riles them is that their boss is singing "yes I like sex" in the middle of a work meeting.

Now, I watched that episode at a fairly important time.  As I mentioned at the start of this countdown, I got really into this show when I was going through a rough period with friends... well, not being friends, anymore.  Something that came out of that whole thing was that a girl I knew at the time offered to be a support, over the internet.  We'd talk every 2-3 days for an hour or so and she'd just check in on me and see if I was okay.  I didn't really think anything of it, until I realised how much I was looking forward to hearing from her.  And how pretty I thought she was.  And how much she made me smile.  Eventually, I asked myself a very simple question: If she asked me out, what would I say?  And I realised the answer was a resounding yes.  It suddenly didn't matter to me that she was a woman and I'd only ever been with guys and only ever imagined myself with a guy.  I figured her gender would be too small a reason to turn her down, given how much I liked her.  There'd be no harm in going on a date with her, just to see.

She never asked me out and I never told her how I felt.  And given all the crap that was going on in my life at the time, I didn't quite have the emotional capacity to deal with what this newfound revelation might actually mean about me as a person, so I sort of... Pushed it out of my thoughts.

Until around ten months later when I had that feeling "like glitter was exploding inside me" (to borrow a quote from the show I'm meant to be discussing) and that feeling was caused by locking eyes with a woman I was just instantly attracted to.  That was when I started to admit to myself that actually, yes, I was bisexual.  And that that was fine.  No biggie.

Seeing LGBT representation - specifically bisexual representation - provided so perfectly in Crazy Ex Girlfriend was a big deal for me and that was compounded in season 3, when Valencia - again, someone who considered herself completely straight and had only ever been interested in guys - met Beth and instantly "clicked" with her, then when the show did an "eight months later..." time jump, the pair were shown sitting, holding hands and clearly very much in love.  And just like with Darryl, nobody batted an eyelid.  Valencia had fallen for someone who was right for her.  That person's gender was completely irrelevant.

The message Crazy Ex Girlfriend sent out with these two storylines was that you can think you're one thing, only to meet someone who makes you realise you're something else entirely.  And that that doesn't have to be something frightening, or shocking.  It's just about meeting someone you click with and realising that love doesn't always take the form you expect it to.  You are who you are and that's fine.

God, I love this show.

I don't care if you wear high heels or a tie,
you might just catch my eye because I'm definitely bi.

2) "You Stupid Bitch"

In a lot of ways, Rebecca Bunch is an anti-hero.  She's a hugely troubled individual, whose actions are often questionable at best.  In the episode from which this song is taken, she crosses a huge line and goes from "quirky girl driven to bad choices by her naive belief in happy ever afters" to "actually borderline psychotic."  Having broken into Josh's apartment to delete a text she sent him by mistake, she's mortified when he finds her there and she has to make a quick excuse.  Lying that someone threw a rock through her window and she was too afraid to be at home alone, Rebecca is put on the spot when Josh offers to go back to her place with her and she's forced to call Paula and beg her best friend to put a rock through the window before she and Josh get back home.  The trouble is, the rock in question turns out to be a decorative rock that Paula's husband took from Rebecca's coffee table, whilst nipping into the apartment to use the bathroom.  Josh quickly realises that the rock came from inside the apartment and questions everything that has happened, eventually leaving Rebecca alone and devastated.  She tries to fall back on Greg, who happens to be passing by, but he's determined not to let himself get close to her again and Rebecca ends up spiralling into self-pity, realising she's "ruined everything."

Whilst I'd like to think I've never done anything as stereotypically "crazy" as the events leading up to this song, I can empathise with feeling like you've done something monumentally stupid and ruined everything.  I'm someone who beats herself up over the tiniest little thing and I've been known to attend the odd private pity party for myself.  This song has, therefore, become my go-to tune when I'm feeling especially down on myself and fancy wallowing for a bit.  It's a very pretty ballad and it perfectly encapsulates that angry-sad feeling of "well, I'm the worst human ever."

Bitch.  You're a stupid bitch.  
And lose some weight.

1) Face Your Fears

Paula Proctor is an absolute badass.  Yes, she's also a deeply flawed character in a lot of ways, given the huge amount of insane stuff we find out she's done in order to help Rebecca win Josh, over the course of the first season.  She pours all of her energy into her best friend's love life, rather than face her dissatisfaction with her own marriage, her career and her family life, for a long time, which is...  Less than healthy.

But Paula is fiercely loyal, tough, smart, funny and someone who you would absolutely want fighting your corner for you.  Besides which, Donna Lynne Champlin has one of the best voices on the whole show, combined with some of the greatest comic timing, both of which combine to make Face Your Fears my absolute favourite song from the show.  The advice she gives in the song is unquestionably bad, but even having heard it dozens of times, it still makes me laugh.  It was also only the second song I ever heard from the show and it takes me straight back to sitting in my kitchen with my sister and sister-in-law, marvelling at the amazing TV series we'd just discovered.

And just like that, this blog has gone full-circle.

If a bear runs at you in the woods, don't run away.
Look it deep in the eyes, put your hand on its chest and say

There's not much more I can say, other than thank you to Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna for creating this incredible TV show.  For giving the world something that picks apart stereotypes and portrays mental health problems realistically, even though that sometimes means it's uncomfortable to watch.  For showing female sexuality as an empowering thing and female friendships as something beyond the usual sitcom trope of "the girls," drinking wine and giggling on the sofa.  For making it blatantly obvious that a person can fall in love with anyone, regardless of gender and regardless of the way that person might have previously identified, sexually.  For giving us characters who are believable, with massive flaws and ridiculous ideas, as well as all the things that make them loveable. 

And I should add that several songs I love didn't make this list, purely because I would have been here all night, doing a top fifty.  So, special mentions to:

Let's Generalise About Men

Dream Ghost

Group Hang

We'll Never Have Problems Again

Ping Pong Girl

And so many other songs.  Just...  Go watch the show.

You won't regret it.

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