PULP RANKED: The Best 15 Musical Theatre Songs For When You Want To Feel All The Feels
By Nicole Baxter
Sometimes, we all just need a good cry. Happy crying, sad crying, it’s all good. And musical theatre is full of emotional songs that are attached to powerful stories. Take a listen to these, even if you haven’t seen the musicals, get the tissues ready and let everything out. It’s soul cleansing.
There are a few notable mentions that didn’t make it into this list; firstly, Memory from Cats, which once you get past the fact that a cat is making you tear up, is quite beautiful. The other is Home from The Wiz, particularly Kristin Chenoweth’s version on Glee. You can’t fight me on this.
15. ‘I Believe’ – The Book of Mormon
This one is special, and I’m surprised it’s this low on the list, even though I’m the one who put it here. As far as emotions go, the song isn’t about anything particularly sad, especially compared to the rest of this list (see: Rent). It’s actually hilarious. But it manages to be funny and powerful at the same time, and I sometimes tear up when I’m listening to it. It’s also very fun to belt out in your car, let me tell you.
14. You Will Be Found – Dear Evan Hansen
When I first heard this song I actually cried. That is a true story. This song follows the story of Evan Hansen, an American teenager, creating a campaign of inclusion that goes ‘viral’, affirming that there is always help available if you feel helpless. It starts off like a regular ballad, but eventually turns into an uplifting, incredibly powerful chorus song. If you haven’t heard it before, you’ll understand it when you do.
13. From Now On – The Greatest Showman
I’ll admit. This song takes a little while to get into it, and that’s why I usually end up skipping it when it comes up on my playlist. But when I do take the time to listen to the whole song, I get rewarded. Being the emotional climax of a very emotional movie musical, From Now On has all of the harmonies and high notes that you could ever want and is the perfect song to have a good cry to. Thank you, Justin and Paul.
12. Just A Simple Sponge – SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical
Hear me out. Combine the ‘mission’ narrative of the song with the orchestral composition and add in childhood nostalgia, and you’ll be beaming from ear to ear. The final drop is also the most satisfying thing in the history of music. I find myself very invested in this song, which becomes a very strange sensation when listening to it in public.
11. Hold Your Dream – Fame
I listened to this song just before graduating from high school, and so it holds a special place in my heart. But even if it doesn’t for you, it’s an emotional rollercoaster broken up into stages, and keeps you in anticipation. Finishing a long-term experience and looking forward to the future are universal themes, which make it a very uplifting, inspiring song.
10. Come What May – Moulin Rouge
Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are perfection. I don’t think anyone is disputing me on that one (and if you want to, I will fight you on this). It’s the ultimate story of true love conquering all, with a beautiful ballad turning into a crazy musical circus.“The greatest thing you will ever learn is to love and be loved in return.” We can dream.
9. All I Ask of You – The Phantom of the Opera
This song is amazing – it has all the elements of an emotional love song, with the dangerous, desperate romance between Christine and Raoul flourishing. However, it has the added layer of sadness when you consider that despite Erik’s mistakes, he loves Christine passionately too, and he’s overhearing this entire exchange. Does someone have some tissues?
8. La Vie En Rose – A Star Is Born
Lady Gaga singing French is everything I’ve ever wanted. She absolutely nails this song, and it’s such a powerful one. Her voice is one of the only ones in history to have truly pulled La Vie En Rose off, in my opinion. It’s a song with lots of highs and lows, making it an emotional rollercoaster. I especially love the key change for the final notes with her rolling her ‘R’s on the last word. Sensational.
7. There Are Worse Things I Could Do – Grease
Despite being a seemingly trivial song about sex and disliking being slut shamed, this song hits hard. It’s especially powerful because Rizzo’s character is so shut off and aloof until this moment, and we see a side to her we never knew about before. Special mention goes to Vanessa Hudgens’ version of this song in Grease Live!, as she delivered a strong vocal performance. What makes her performance that much more emotional, however, is my memory of when Grease Live! aired, and the news dropped that Vanessa’s father had died on the day of the broadcast. The emotion is real, and you hear it.
6. Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story – Hamilton: An American Musical
Hamilton is a hip-hop musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton during the American Revolution, and it is widely loved for being a masterpiece. The entire thing is devastating, and it’s all one story through song – there’s no dialogue, so you can hear the entire musical. I recommend setting aside 3 hours and going through it – no spoilers, but the second act is a kicker. I really think this song, the final song, is the most beautiful. It hits you right in the gut. I mean, I thought orphanages were sad before, but now…
5. One Day More – Les Misérables
The intertwining of so many forlorn stories in one orchestral masterpiece makes for a highly emotional song. I start to get nationalistic pride for the French when listening to this song, and I’m not even French. A special mention goes to I Dreamed A Dream, also from Les Mis – I felt that One Day More was slightly more touching because of the sheer number of characters, and that killer final note.
4. Defying Gravity – Wicked
I don’t need to describe why this song hits you right in the feels. You know.
3. So Much Better – Legally Blonde
This one’s a little different from the rest of this list – it’s a happy song. But every time I listen to it, it lifts my heart right out of my chest. It’s about empowerment, belief in oneself, and not needing anyone else to be validated. It’s that feeling you get when you get an offer for a job or a university course, and one of my favourite lines in the song is Elle singing ‘Hey, Mom”. She also fakes an orgasm and it’s incredible.
2. Seasons of Love – Rent
Play this song around any musical theatre person and upon the first one or two notes, they’ll go ‘awwww’. This song is one of those that is about real life, friends, moving on, and coming home. It’s emotional in and of itself, but it’s even more affecting when you know the story and themes of the musical it’s from, Rent. It’s a story of AIDS, of poverty, of addiction, but also of friendship, love, and having a guardian Angel.
1. Out There – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This is perhaps one of the most underrated songs of all time. The story of Quasimodo is gut-wrenching, and this song brings out my tears every time. In a way, although we may not be able to relate to Quasi’s story exactly, we all can. Everyone has had a moment of wanting to be a part of something bigger than themselves and not being able to. The heartfelt message behind the song, the beautiful musical composition and the jaw-dropping final note make this my number one.