“Being part of something special makes you special, right?”
Those immortal words were uttered by the series’ larger-than-life protagonist, Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) in the pilot episode ten years ago, a fact that makes me wanna lock myself in my room, turn on sad music and cry. (Yes that’s another Glee quote, this is going to be full of them).
Glee aired in 2009 and lasted six seasons until 2015. I’d probably call these my formative years as the stretch lasted through most of my further education years when I was beginning to grow into the person I would eventually become. Being a 12 year-old kid dealing with a lot of things I didn’t really understand, Glee was something that I didn’t realise would shape my life in the way it did. I began to watch it because I was always interested in performing and the trailer looked pretty good. I’d probably say that I remember every single second of watching Glee for the first time in my room, and feeling something that I still don’t know how to describe properly. It was something akin to an understanding that other people have experienced things and will experience things that I was struggling with, and they did/will make it out the other side and were completely fine.
Watching Glee when it aired was one of the best decisions I ever made. So many of my favourite shows (in case you missed my last post the top 10 are listed here) only came to me after their run was over and included me spending a lot of nights alone in my room binging them to my heart’s content. I think Glee was the first show I truly stuck with from the beginning to the end. I waited through mid-season and end-of-season hiatuses, looking up casting rumours and story ideas, what songs they might be singing in the coming season, and embarrassing amount of time reading various fan-fiction. It was the first time I really engaged with a show with that level of intensity, and maybe I never did to that level again. Because Glee was a once-in-a-lifetime show, not because it’s miles apart from other shows in terms of quality, but because the show and the experience of watching the show was completely unique.
And being unique was what the show liked to celebrate. Taking the things that people perhaps didn’t like about themselves and showing that it was the thing that separated them from everyone else, the things that made them unique. Hell, Glee even had a character named ‘Unique’, if that doesn’t tell you a lot about the show’s ethos, then nothing will. For the most part, Glee abided by that ethos, providing storylines that showed the potential for stereotyping while subverting that at the same time. Now they didn’t always succeed, some storylines and moments were so on-the-nose or derivative that they induced eye rolls from everyone. But the fact that they were there, being shown on screen, was something monumental. I’ve read stories of people accepting themselves because of something they saw on Glee, something that told them that was okay to be exactly the person they were. I’m one of those stories, and I think it’s highly important for there to be something cultural that also helps with self-acceptance and growth. One of the main plots of Glee’s first season revolved around public funding for the arts in schools, with the beautifully diabolical Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) trying to cut their budget and dissolve the club. This is reflective of what they were aiming to illustrate in real life. They were trying to advocate for arts education and how it would benefit the students who so desperately needed that sanctuary. They used their characters to prove that point, hoping it would change something in real life. Glee came at a time to state the case that had been widely known but never acted upon – that arts and music education does improve academic performance.
While inspiring real life social change, it did the majority of its impactful work inspiring its youthful audience to revel in that part of them that made them different, encouraging them to shine a light on it. As Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) once said: “I’m proud to be different. It’s the best thing about me.” In what is perhaps a feat of somewhat on-the-nose writing, Glee gets its point across by showing this group of “misfits” (the cast are so pretty and talented that it’s hard to imagine them being social outcasts in any kind of education situation) struggling to fit in, until they accept their truth and embrace the things that made them different and, thus, special.
I could go on all day about the impact Glee had on struggling teenagers, but I want to talk about its objective successes as it became one of the most talked about shows to ever air on television.
Spanning its six seasons, Glee was awarded 6 Emmys, 4 Golden Globes, A SAG award, and 3 Grammy nominations, a sold-out international tour, and a movie, whilst also still holding the record for most entries on the Billboard Hot 100, and having more Top 40 singles than Madonna, someone the show often praised as a musical and cultural icon. Now, the Billboard records are somewhat tilted in Glee’s favour as they released multiple singles each week as opposed to each year, but it’s still a testament to its popularity that people went out and bought the music each week. And not every cover was absolutely incredible (Baby Got Back, I’m talking to you) but they were mostly fitting to the plot and allowed the actors to unleash their talents every week.
I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t listen to at least one Glee cover on Spotify. One of the great things about Glee is that it exposed so many people (including myself) to some really great music that they might have not listened to otherwise, music spanning multiple decades and genres; their track-lists each week were like a Who’s Who of the greatest artists to ever live. They had the range of musical theatre, classic rock, pop, country, and many others that were touched on in song or in the episode itself. The multiple tribute episodes are some of the series standouts, honouring artists like Madonna, Whitney Houston, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, Britney Spears, and Burt Bacharach. That’s in addition to the many, many musical theatre covers and episodes like Rocky Horror, West Side Story, and Grease. The music was truly great and some of their covers outshine the original versions for me, and I’d rather listen to them. I’m actually listening to their entire discography on shuffle as I write this (Lea Michele and Idina Menzel’s epic cover of I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables just came on) and I’m reminded of just how many really great songs they put out, and great scenes to accompany them.
Let’s talk about the cast for a hot second. Ryan Murphy plucked some of the cast from Broadway (Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, Jenna Ushkowitz) but most of them were relative newcomers to professional acting and Glee was their big break. Amber Riley, Chris Colfer, Dianna Agron, Naya Rivera, just to name a few, got their starts with the show and showed the world just how talented they were. It was a chance to create a group of talented actors and give them their big break, and Murphy’s casting definitely excelled. The actors fit their parts brilliantly and they made them so much more than what they were. And you can’t talk about Glee characters and actors without talking about Jane Lynch as the indomitable Sue Sylvester. Lynch won and Emmy and a Golden Globe for her fierce, caustic, performances and rightly so. When the show’s quality sadly went downhill, Sue was one of the consistent things that remained (besides some bizarre storylines in Season 6) and Jane Lynch brought her to life effortlessly and became synonymous with the show’s legacy.
Celebrating the ten-year anniversary of a show that changed my life really makes me reflect on my own life and how far I’ve come since the show premiered in 2009. Growing up with it and its legacy was important for me, as it taught me many lessons I still refer to today, ten years on. It seems absolutely insane that it’s been a whole decade since Glee first appeared on television screens and had the impact it did. It was an extremely important part of so many people’s lives and there’s a big reason for that: Glee was celebratory in its methods of self-acceptance, it didn’t just say “Love yourself!”, it highlighted ways to learn about yourself, whether it was through music, cheerleading, relationships, or finding those kindred spirits who will accept you for exactly the person you are.
So thank you Glee, for providing so much valuable life advice, and 120 episodes of brilliant one-liners, awesome musical numbers, and a legacy that I hope lasts for decades to come. I hope people of younger generations watch Glee and maybe find some of its brilliance useful in their own lives.
Now I just want to rewatch Glee from start to finish. I’ll just leave this with one of the best Glee performances they ever did. And one that remains iconic.