(Chau Ahn Nguyen/Staff Illustrator)

Of the many pivotal moments in my personal development, watching “Glee” (2009) for the first time remains a life-altering decision. Even five years later, “Glee” pervades my daily life. I quote iconic scenes such as Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera) and Quinn Fabray’s (Dianna Agron) post-summer-surgery-showdown often, and I genuinely believe that any “Glee” cover bests the original track. 

This past academic year I discovered, with much shock and repulsion, that my roommate had never watched “Glee.” After practicing self-restraint by not requesting a roommate swap, we decided to remedy the situation by watching classic episodes together on our sorority lodge’s couch. I relished in the confusion, surprise and joy of her first “Glee” experience while our suitemates ritually dropped in, each proclaiming with excitement, “Are you guys watching ‘Glee?’” To celebrate my favorite memories of the year, I present five of the series’ best tracks.

‘Somewhere Only We Know (feat. Darren Criss)’ (2011) by Glee Cast, Darren Criss

One thing about Blaine Anderson (Darren Criss) is that he devours every track he sings. In season two, Blaine emerges as a beacon of hope for the suffering Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer). Facing homophobia at William McKinley High School, Kurt follows the out-and-proud Blaine to Dalton Academy, and their romance begins. Although Kurt ultimately returns to McKinley, their relationship remains a hallmark of the series. In a touching performance, Blaine enlists Dalton Academy’s glee club, The Warblers, to serenade Kurt after his return to public school.

Criss’ cover of Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” (2004) excels largely due to Criss’ ability to make the track his own. His angelic voice floats atop the chorus of backup singers as he glides between lower and higher registers. It culminates in a stunning compilation of the backing singers repeating the chorus and Criss’ proud vocalization. “This could be the end of everything / So why don’t we go somewhere only we know?” he muses, ending the song with forceful sentimentality.

‘Smooth Criminal (Glee Cast Version) (feat. 2CELLOS)’ (2012) by Glee Cast, 2CELLOS  

“Smooth Criminal” is one of the most iconic “Glee” numbers of all time. In a tense scene, Santana and The Warblers’ lead singer Sebastian Smythe (Grant Gustin) cover Michael Jackson’s energetic 1987 track. Their chemistry radiates throughout the song. Are they going to kiss or throw a punch? Under Sebastian’s orders, The Warblers had thrown a slushie containing rock salt at Blaine, resulting in an eye injury. Santana now wants a confession from Sebastian about the nefarious contents of the frozen drink, and what better way to disarm an enemy than to share a duet with them? 

Despite the unseriousness of the situation, their cover of “Smooth Criminal” is revolutionary. The track begins with a gradual crescendo of the cello, setting the scene for an explosion of musical force. Gustin’s voice is barely discernible above the string section, but his vocals are laced with anger, passion and indignation. As Rivera joins him, the volume amplifies, the anticipation rising with every line. 

The sound suddenly drops as the 2CELLOS duo pluck at their instruments. Santana cuts the tension with a forceful belt, “I don’t know.” The remainder of the track is a true showdown. Gustin carries the chorus while Rivera demonstrates her vocal strength with a slew of ad-libs, each one more desperate than the next.


‘Like A Virgin (Glee Cast Version) (feat. Jonathan Groff)’ (2010) by Glee Cast, Jonathan Groff 

This epic montage shows three couples embarking on their first sexual adventure together. In true “Glee” fashion, this moment of awkward passion is paired with a disturbingly applicable song — “Like a Virgin” (1984) by Madonna. The three women begin the song in succession with Lea Michele, Jayma Mays and Rivera setting the tone, while the three men — Jonathan Groff, Matthew Morrison and Cory Monteith — interject in unison. Throughout the track, their voices mix and mingle, reflecting the physical sensuality of the song.

This cover is intoxicating due to the intricate multi-part harmonies. As the song progresses, their voices become almost indistinguishable. This unison is only broken when Rivera begins her signature ad-libbing with “Oh baby.” Groff, who plays Jesse St. James, is another standout on the track. Although Jesse’s relationship with Rachel Berry (Michele) ultimately collapses, Groff contributed to the “Glee” canon immensely. In my opinion, he was the best male vocalist on the show.

‘I Feel Pretty / Unpretty’ (2011) by Glee Cast  

Throughout the show’s six seasons, “Glee” features 43 mash-ups. Of their many inventive combinations, my favorite is Agron and Michele’s “I Feel Pretty / Unpretty,” which combines “I Feel Pretty” (1957) from the musical “West Side Story” (1957) and “Unpretty” (1999) by TLC. 

In “Glee,” Quinn and Rachel are two archetypal female characters: the pretty cheerleader and the awkward geek. They’re pitted against each other in their battle for the attention of quarterback and glee club king, Finn Hudson (Monteith). Throughout the show, the girls fluctuate between competition and companionship but are linked by a shared experience of girlhood. “I Feel Pretty / Unpretty” exposes the intricacies of their relationship.

The song begins with Agron’s soft alto voice crooning, “I wish I could tie you up in my shoes / Make you feel unpretty too.” Michele’s authoritative voice soon counters, “Every time I think I’m through, it’s because of you.” As their voices unite, they demonstrate the impossible battle for external validation and emphasize that beauty must come from within.

‘Bust Your Windows (Glee Cast Version)’ (2009) by Glee Cast 

In season one of “Glee,” Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley) covers Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows” (2008) after discovering that her crush, Kurt, is in love with someone else. Riley’s soulful, powerful vocals embody female rage. Although she often stands in the shadows behind Lea Michele, Riley was one of the strongest vocalists in the show. Her breath control, vocal force and ability to express emotion through the slightest change in pitch demonstrates her talent.

Returning to my harrowing story about my uncultured roommate, when we first began our excursion into the “Glee” world, this was her introductory number. Whether I am struggling with homework, searching for an energy-boost at the gym or even in need of a soundtrack to accompany my maladaptive daydreaming, this hot-girl anthem is my go-to. If you are interested in watching  “Glee,” I recommend you start here. 

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Catherine Goodman is from Savannah, GA. She is majoring in English and Art History. Outside of the wheel, Goodman is the President of Women’s Club Basketball and a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. She loves listening to music, attending concerts, reformer pilates and reality TV!