The Tony Awards commencement ceremony is this Sunday and I am here once again to give you, in what should be one of Sunday’s awards, the top 10 new songs of this Broadway season.
This was a sparse season for original musicals and aside from jukebox shows (which I won’t even entertain) all we got was a Disney movie musical adaptation (Frozen), a kid’s television show adaptation (Spongebob Squarepants), a classic teen comedy adaptation (Mean Girls), and the little show that could, an adaptation of the 2007 Israeli film The Band’s Visit. These are the four nominees and there wasn’t even too many off-Broadway shows (with soundtracks) or otherwise eligible shows to qualify like last year’s Amelie musical (shout out to A Letter to Harvey Milk, an original Broadway production that I only recently discovered that may have some potential, but will not be making this list).
There are some good songs here even if doesn’t match the originality of last year (Dear Evan Hansen; Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812) or the year prior (Hamilton, Shuffle Along, Bright Star). I’m a stan for weird and unique takes on the musical, but even straightforward original content will do in an age of uber-franchised content (I suppose we’ve probably always been in this age, but it does feel particularly heavy this year). This year has little of that, the closest being The Band’s Visit which I will be championing as much as possible.
Before we begin, a couple of qualifications: 1. I haven’t seen any of these shows, so it will be based almost entirely on the song itself, with perceived story line implications taking up a small percentage of the ranking. 2. No previously released songs qualify, so “Let it Go” was not eligible.
10. “Hygge” from Frozen
Early reviews cited this as a highlight of the show, comparing the act 2 opener to Beauty and the Beast’s classic “Be Our Guest”. On first listen, I was not impressed, but on further listens, it’s a lot of fun, introducing the Danish idea of “Hygge”, the all is good mindset that continuously places them atop the world’s happiest countries lists. My love for this song was aided by my 8-month old’s enjoyment, sparking a full in home dance party in the midst of 48 hours of his battle with a fever. Fevers are not hygge, but hygge can help overcome them. Hygge!
9. “Monster” from Frozen
When trying to fill out the rest of the show of a previously established musical, it can be hard to create songs that live up to or even fit in with the show. The Frozen writers decided to give the Elsa character two more big ballads to accompany their mega hit which nobody can reallyvblame them for. “Monster” is the lesser of the two, but it’s still packed with the emotion and vocal delivery you would want.
8. “Waiting” from The Band’s Visit
“Waiting” is the slightest of the three openers that made the list, but it’s a really fun and essential introduction to this quirky show. It’s filled with Arabic instrumentation and offers a glimpse into the small town that will occupy the story space–a place where the residents are living lives that are forever waiting for something that doesn’t seem to come.
7. “Dangerous to Dream” from Frozen
The other Elsa ballad leads up to her introduction as the queen, unpacking her thoughts in a tense moment where she wonders what lies ahead of her while trying to hold in everything she’s kept secret for so long. Her dreams seem about to come true, but she knows that could be dangerous for everyone around her.
6. “Answer Me” from The Band’s Visit
The show’s sung closer continues the theme of waiting for something, a beautifully sung ballad, capturing the spirit of this longing quite sadly while never reaching full despair.
5. “I’d Rather Be Me” from Mean Girls
They thankfully chose to give Janice a song in the Mean Girls musical and she knocks it out of the park with an anthem to standing up for who you are (even if this includes getting into a fight). It’s a fun pop song and has a triple rhyme up front that’s delivered in a fun way. (Acted nice when she’s not nice / Well, I have some advice / Cause it’s happened to me, twice).
4. “Stupid With Love” / “Stupid With Love (Reprise)” from Mean Girls
I love the original and the reprise, so I’ve cheated and tied them together here. It uses a fun reggae rhythm to showcase Katy’s failed attempts at love, building up her relationship with Aaron and explaining why math came to mean so much to her. The reprise gives Aaron a chance to lament his relationship failures, gives us the classic October 3rd moment, and has the two duet in a lovely little way.
3. “Bikini Bottom Day” from Spongebob Squarepants The New Musical
*Sigh* I’ve never been a Spongebob fan. Not even as a kid. I found him obnoxious and the rest of the under water crew to be annoying. When I heard there was a Spongebob musical, I rolled my eyes. When I heard that different pop artists were individually writing different songs for it, I rolled them harder. When I finally listened to it, I… loved it? Well at the least the opener which introduces us to the brought-to-life musical version of Bikini Bottom. It’s a great song, unbelievably catchy and offers great introductions to these characters. Listen to it and you’ll be humming along, no doubt.
2. “It Roars” from Mean Girls
The part that doesn’t really work for me in the Mean Girls movie is the animal imagery. It’s explained too quickly upfront and when Katy begins imagining characters as wild animals it comes off as cheesy and unearned. In the musical, they lead off with a song that gives a better emphasis of Katy’s Kenya background with a number that truly shines and gives insight to her character and how she views the world. It’s a great opening number that journeys from her tent-living Kenya days into the wild high school life and all the intermingled turmoil and excitement inherent in that.
1. “Something Different” from The Band’s Visit
Katrina Lenk offers so much dramatically here as a woman questioning the internal state of her feelings for an older man she’s come into contact with. Every word is filled to the brim with intentionality and meaning as she sings over sparse instrumentation filled only by subtle piano and plucked Arabic strings. It’s a beautiful song and the one I returned to the most of any soundtrack released during the year.