The music of “Glee”: Throwdown

Not only did we get five songs this week, we got some variety, with four vocalists sharing the spotlight. Sure, two were Rachel (Lea Michele) and Finn (Cory Monteith), who we hear every week. But we also heard lead vocals from Mercedes (Amber Riley), which is always a treat, and our first featured song for Quinn (Dianna Agron) since her brief glee club audition for Mr. Schuester. Here’s what we thought of each performance.


Tensions were high when Mercedes and the rest of Sue Sylvester’s half of New Directions sang “Hate on Me” by Jill Scott, and the kids really channeled that into their performance. There was lots of angry poppin’ and lockin’ — and, more importantly, some powerful vocals by Mercedes. But, of course, that’s nothing new. We’re not huge fans of the original, but we can certainly give credit for a job well done here. The performance generated a type of energy not often associated with show choir, and it was refreshing. You’ll hear no hating out of us.

Before the next glee-club-sanctioned performance, the whole group gets together for a “covert jam session,” where they sing “Ride Wit Me” by Nelly, with Puck on guitar and Finn on drums. It’s all about the kids getting together and having some fun while Sue and Shue continue to wage war on one another, and that’s what this performance is — fun. We’re not suggesting that New Directions take this song into any competitions, but we enjoyed it.

Next up are Rachel and Finn singing “No Air” by Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown, with Quinn, Puck and Brittany acting as backup singers/props. That is, when the two leads aren’t walking down the halls singing to one another. One aspect of Glee that we don’t care for is when the show betrays any sense of reality and lapses into musical mode, pretending that it’s perfectly normal for characters to break into song at inappropriate times. We like our songs where they belong — in the rehearsal room or up on the stage. That said, we love the interplay between Rachel and Finn on their duets. Even though Rachel is clearly the better singer, their vocals are a nice fit together. Also, the song provides a nice contrast to “Hate on Me,” which obviously was what the show’s writers were going for. Well played.

Since we’ve already expressed a distaste for “musical” tendencies, you can probably guess how we feel about Quinn storming off after her argument with Rachel, singing “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by the Supremes (or, for ’80s fans, Kim Wilde). It’s especially off-putting given what a bad match Quinn’s cute, pixie-ish vocals are for the song in this particular context. It’s a little disappointing, too, because we remember being far more impressed with her take on Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer,” which is from the same era. Plus, we’re finding ourselves more drawn to Quinn’s character as her situation gets more and more complex with each passing week. We get the sense that some major redemption could be in her very near future.

The big showstopper this week is the reunited New Directions doing “Keep Holding On” by Avril Lavigne, with Rachel and Finn on duet vocals, and Quinn emoting through dance. The performance has all the hallmarks of a Glee episode-ender: big choruses, soaring vocals and matching outfits. It’s unclear why everyone is dressed the same, since they don’t seem to be at a competition — there’s no audience. If it’s just a dress rehearsal, we give everyone credit for giving their all. Even the violinist seemed to be clued into the tension that exists because of the love triangle between Rachel, Finn and Quinn. That said, this song is everything we love about the performances on this show. It completely sums up the characters’ most complex feelings within a three-minute pop song in a way that some shows can’t do in an hourlong time slot. That’s no easy task. And it’s why we can forgive Glee when it occasionally ventures into High School Musical territory.

As always, all the new songs (except “Ride Wit Me”) are available to download at the iTunes store. They can also be seen in the full episode video below.