Glee, the hit TV comedy-musical phenomenon, has become an entertainment tour de force, captivating audiences worldwide en route to winning four Emmys during its inaugural season. The secret to Glee's uncanny success can be found in its eclectic mix of music, ranging from catchy show tunes to classic rock, which has turned the series, now in its second season, into a veritable United Nations of songs. But how do ditties actually make it onto Glee, and how does the show make its motley mix of melodies work? After all, it's not often that both Sisqo's "Thong Song" and "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady share a stage.
The musical buck, by and large, stops with Ryan Murphy, the show's executive producer and co-creator. Music choices are typically made when each episode's script is written, with songs matched to the show's plotlines. Lyrics become extensions of an actor's dialogue. For instance, Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley) and Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera) sing Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine" in a Season 1 episode in which the two fight over the affections of Puck (Mark Salling), a womanizing football player who's also a glee clubber. This tactic has resulted in tailored song selections rather than simple cherry-picking of pop hits from Billboard's Hot 100.
Although Murphy has the final say on all musical choices, numerous factors have been known to influence his decisions. "Cast members have figured out that if they're humming something while Ryan's around, it [sometimes] ends up on the show," says Adam Anders, Glee's executive music producer. Anders explains that Nelly's 2001 hit "Ride wit Me" made it onto the show because Murphy happened to be walking by while Mark Salling was jamming the song on the set.
Once the songs are chosen, however, the baton is passed to Anders, a songwriter by trade who has written for the likes of the Backstreet Boys and Sheryl Crow. It's up to him to make Glee sound like its signature blend of Broadway-infused pop and not just a hyped-up version of Kidz Bop. "Whatever you hand me, I'll make sure it's something people want to hear," says Anders. "I want everything to sound like a hit record. No karaoke."
Anders and his team create all the music you hear on Glee from the ground up. He decides how a particular song will be performed: whether it's a straight-up rendition of a pop single, like Jane Lynch's cover of Madonna's "Vogue," or an acoustic version, as was the case with Idina Menzel and Lea Michele's treatment of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face." The music is recorded before filming begins; Anders and his team are allotted an average of eight days with the cast to wrap up all the studio work for each episode. There is little time to train each actor individually for a song, so the cast usually just listen to what they have to sing on the way to his recording studio. "There's a reason why there aren't many TV musicals," says Anders. "It's really difficult."
But the rewards are substantial. Glee's cover of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " has logged more than 900,000 individual downloads via iTunes. The phenomenal success of the show has led to the cast's breaking the record for the most titles on the Billboard Hot 100 by a nonsolo act, a mark previously held by the Beatles.
The original pop stars behind Glee's songs have benefited from the show's success. The Glee bump provides artists exposure to audiences who may have never heard their work and can result in a tangible boost in sales. According to Anders, Journey experienced an 87% bump in its sales after Glee covered its song (which was also made famous by its placement in the last minutes of the Sopranos series finale.)
Even a former Beatle has become a fan. "Paul McCartney sent a mix tape to Ryan about all the songs he would like to have on Glee," says Anders. Although the music industry as a whole has widely embraced the show, not all musicians have jumped on the Glee bandwagon. Damon Albarn, the front man for Blur and Gorillaz, and the American rock band Kings of Leon have refused to let the show cover their songs, with Albarn calling Glee "a very poor substitute for the real thing." But so far they've been the exceptions. Who's next on Glee's hit list? Says Anders: "We've gotta do an ABBA episode, because I'm Swedish."