Glee, the show that made a cappella (sort of) cool and turned Jeopardy!-level knowledge of show tunes into an Olympic sport, comes to an end on Friday. In its six seasons, the show has run through more than 700 songs, sold over 11 million albums worldwide, and, at the peak of its phenomenon, earned numbers on the Billboard charts comparable to those of the Beatles. It even single-handedly gave Journey the career resurgence they most likely never asked for. (It’s because of Glee you’ve had “Don’t Stop Believin’” stuck in your head — yet again — all these years.) We bid adieu to Glee with a look back at its all-time-best musical performances.
50. Unique, “I Know Where I’ve Been” (Season 6, Episode 7, “Transitioning”)
Glee’s final season has put the show out of its misery, one poor song choice at a time. But Unique’s tribute to Sheldon, whose gender transition has been just about the only story line worth following this season, was a welcome bright spot.
49. Rachel Berry, “Don’t Stop Believin’” (Season 4, Episode 19, “Sweet Dreams”)
We’ve heard the Glee cast cover Journey approximately 500 times on this show, and I’m pretty sure were the series to go beyond six seasons, we’d be in the double digits on “Don’t Stop Believin’” iterations. But this solo take, inspired by Finn’s encouraging words to Rachel just before her Funny Girl audition, felt the least gratuitous.
48. New Directions, “Seasons of Love” (Season 5, Episode 3, “The Quarterback”)
Broadway has long been Glee’s comfort zone — and the end-goal for its star, Rachel Berry — so to mourn the loss of Cory Monteith/Finn Hudson, it turned to the same song Rent uses to eulogize one of its beloved: the iconic “Seasons of Love.”
47. Brittany S. Pierce, “I’m a Slave 4 U” (Season 2, Episode 2, “Britney/Brittany”)
The planets must have aligned when Glee brilliantly thought to utilize Brittany’s comedic timing and namesake for an hour-long parody of Britney Spears — complete with flawless video re-creations — for the show’s second-best homage episode.
46. Artie Abrams, “Safety Dance” (Season 1, Episode 19, “Dream On”)
Glee is, on the whole, a musical comedy. But part of the show’s first-season charm was its ability to use that comedy to engineer an elaborate and deeply moving dream sequence wherein Artie is able, if only for a few minutes, to walk again.
45. Santana Lopez, “If I Die Young” (Season 5, Episode 3, “The Quarterback”)
In true Santana bitch-diva glory, she begins her tribute to Finn by veiling her pain with an insult to his memory, only to end up being too inconsolable to even finish singing. Santana always was the best character on this show.
44. Blaine Anderson, “Teenage Dream” (Season 4, Episode 4, “The Break Up”)
Much has been made about Blaine’s original performance of this song, but, stripping down a pop hit in this way not only accentuates a singer’s voice — as it does the raw intensity of Darren Criss’s — but tells a new story. And in this particular episode, it happened to be that Blaine cheated on Kurt.
43. New Directions, “Bad Romance” (Season 1, Episode 20, “Theatricality”)
Glee and Gaga made total sense at the time, and boy, did they commit.
42. Kurt Hummel and Rachel Berry, “For Good” (Season 2, Episode 22, “New York”)
There’s a reason so many people want Lea Michele cast in the film adaptation of Wicked.
41. Quinn Fabray and Noah “Puck” Puckerman, “Papa Don’t Preach” (Season 1, Episode 11, “Hairography”)
Quinn and Puck were mostly there to stand around and look pretty — plus there was that whole teen-pregnancy thing — but, you know what, this was a damn sweet performance that works better than it should.
40. Sue Sylvester, “Vogue” (Season 1, Episode 15, “The Power of Madonna”)
You wanna know what made Glee’s debut of its recurring homage theme so spectacular? Jane freakin’ Lynch, giving what has to be the most unexpected and seamless re-creation of an already-iconic music video you’ve probably ever seen. It’s the definition of slay. To echo what Lynch told Vulture at PaleyFest, “I think that was a huge accomplishment, and I think it was beautifully done.”
39. Rachel Berry, “What I Did for Love” (Season 2, Episode 1, “Audition”)
This song tows the line between melodramatic and emotionally effective, and Rachel plays it just right.
38. Santana Lopez, “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (Season 5, Episode 9, “Frenemies”)
Look, nothing’s going to touch Rachel’s performance of this exact song in season one — but if anyone could try it, it obviously had to be Santana.
37. Finn Hudson, Rachel Berry, Blaine Anderson, Kurt Hummel, Santana Lopez, Brittany S. Pierce, Will Schuester, and Emma Pillsbury, “The Scientist” (Season 4, Episode 4, “The Break Up”)
Glee has had its fair share of corny moments, and let’s be honest, this was one of them. But the song strangely made it work (though it’s still kind of painful to watch).
36. New Directions, “True Colors” (Season 1, Episode 11, “Hairography”)
Tina Cohen-Chang never really got her chance to shine on this show — mostly because her voice isn’t the strongest — but this is one of the rare times she sang lead, and she absolutely killed it.
35. Holly Holliday, Santana Lopez, and Brittany S. Pierce, “Landslide” (Season 2, Episode 15, “Sexy”)
To many, Gwyneth Paltrow was probably just as much of an odd casting choice as Kate Hudson and Sarah Jessica Parker were a couple seasons later. But if it weren’t for her, we probably wouldn’t have had this beautiful exploration of Brittany and Santana’s relationship, played out in song.
34. Rachel Berry and Quinn Fabray, “I Feel Pretty/Unpretty” (Season 2, Episode 18, “Born This Way”)
Though Quinn and Rachel were in New Directions together for years, they hardly ever sang together outside of glee club. But this duet is an example of why they should’ve. It’s also hard to believe no one thought to mash these two songs together before Glee came along.
33. Santana Lopez, “Valerie” (Season 2, Episode 9, “Special Education”)
Come for Santana’s voice, stay for Brittany and Mike Chang’s fierce-ass dance routine.
32. Finn Hudson, “Jessie’s Girl” (Season 1, Episode 18, “Laryngitis”)
Let’s not pretend they didn’t name Jonathan Groff’s character Jesse St. James for this exact moment.
31. New Directions Girls, “Halo/Walking on Sunshine” (Season 1, Episode 6, “Vitamin D”)
Mash-ups were kind of Glee’s thing for a while, and this was one of its finest — especially considering the women on this show pretty much always tipped the scale when it comes to talent.
30. New Directions, “Thriller/Heads Will Roll” (Season 2, Episode 11, “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle”)
It would’ve almost been sacrilege for Glee not to cover “Thriller” at some point, right? The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were a nice touch, though.
29. Kurt Hummel, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (Season 2, Episode 3, “Grilled Cheesus”)
Okay, the lyrics don’t quite add up, considering Kurt’s singing the song for his father, who’d just had a heart attack. But Burt Hummel is quite possibly the most lovable character in Glee history, so anytime he gets a shout-out is a chance to applaud (and ugly-cry, because it’s super emotional).
28. New Directions, “Keep Holding On” (Season 1, Episode 7, “Throwdown”)
Stop, you know you cried with Quinn, too.
27. Blaine Anderson, “Cough Syrup” (Season 3, Episode 14, “On My Way”)
Even more feels. Out of context, this probably sounds like an unsually emotionally charged performance. But given the backdrop — Dave Karofsky’s attempted suicide — it makes total sense. (Another reason why it shouldn’t have surprised so many that Karofsky and Blaine eventually got romantically involved this season.)
26. Rachel Berry, Jesse St. James, Finn Hudson, and Noah “Puck” Puckerman, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (Season 1, Episode 17, “Bad Reputation”)
Sure, it was cheesy, but Rachel’s vocals give this song the life it so badly lacks.
25. Rachel Berry and Shelby Corcoran, “Poker Face” (Season 1, Episode 20, “Theatricality”)
I’m still not sure how I feel about a mother and daughter singing about wanting to get a dude to go down on them — though, right on! — but who can complain when it’s Lea Michele and Idina Menzel? I only wish they’d taken on the Kid Cudi version.
24. Unique, “If I Were a Boy” (Season 5, Episode 5, “The End of Twerk”)
One of the most important performances in the show’s history, sung with admirable strength by one of Glee’s best voices: Unique.
23. Mercedes Jones and Artie Abrams, “At Last” (Season 6, Episode 8, “At Last”)
The most predictable wedding song of all time — and for good reason. Santana, Brittany, Blaine, and Kurt couldn’t have picked a better pairing for the job.
22. Mercedes Jones, “Ain’t No Way” (Season 2, Episode 17, “A Night of Neglect”)
This is arguably Mercedes’s finest vocal performance — and you already know that’s a big statement to make — though, surprisingly, it’s underappreciated in comparison to her many other superb covers. Literally everyone’s jaw is on the floor.
21. Will Schuester and New Directions, “Toxic” (Season 2, Episode 2, “Britney/Brittany”)
“It’s a Britney Spears sex riot!” Yes, Sue, indeed it was.
20. New Directions, “Somebody to Love” (Season 1, Episode 5, “The Rhodes Not Taken”)
That note Mercedes hits at the end … I’m still recovering.
19. New Directions Boys, “It’s My Life/Confessions Pt. 2” (Season 1, Episode 6, “Vitamin D”)
The Glee Club should’ve done “drugs” more often.
18. Rachel Berry and Finn Hudson, “Faithfully,” (Season 1, Episode 22, “Journey to Regionals”)
Lea Michele mentioned at PaleyFest recently that while “Don’t Stop Believin’” is understandably close to her heart, it’s actually another Journey song that’s her favorite performance from the show. And it’s easy to see why: On “Faithfully,” Rachel and Finn’s chemistry is electric.
17. Kurt Hummel and Rachel Berry, “Defying Gravity” (Season 1, Episode 9, “Wheels”)
Kurt and Rachel were destined to be BFFs, though they weirdly started off as frenemies when Kurt, for whatever reason, thought he could outmatch her in a sing-off. (Spoiler: He can’t.) The basis of their relationship is that Kurt keeps Rachel’s ego in check, which is why it’s such a touching moment when Kurt intentionally flubs that high note at the end to let her win. If Kurt weren’t gay, we’d totally ‘ship them.
16. Mercedes Jones, Rachel Berry, Santana Lopez, and Kurt Hummel, “How Will I Know” (Season 3, Episode 17, “Dance With Somebody”)
And we wonder why a cappella became such a phenomenon.
15. Mercedes Jones, “I Will Always Love You” (Season 3, Episode 13, “Heart”)
Who better to pay tribute to Whitney Houston than Mercedes? Chills.
14. Santana Lopez, Mercedes Jones, and Tina Cohen-Chang, “Shake It Out” (Season 3, Episode 18, “Choke”)
Dot Marie Jones told Vulture at PaleyFest of this performance that “they did it beautifully, and I was a mess.” We’re with ya.
13. Rachel Berry and Shelby Corcoran, “I Dreamed a Dream” (Season 1, Episode 19, “Dream On”)
This is the stuff of musical-theater dreams.
12. April Rhodes and Rachel Berry, “Maybe This Time” (Season 1, Episode 5, “The Rhodes Not Taken”)
Lea Michele has had to battle it out with some truly bad bitches in Glee history, but was there a better diva-off than her Cabaret duel with Kristin Chenoweth? Hell no.
11. Mercedes Jones and Santana Lopez, “River Deep, Mountain High” (Season 2, Episode 4, “Duets”)
Mercedes and Santana were always a winning team and gave Glee some of its best duets. Some say “The Boy Is Mine” was their high point, but they raised the bar with this one …
10. Santana Lopez and Mercedes Jones, “Rumour Has It/Someone Like You” (Season 3, Episode 6, “Mash Off”)
… and then put it in the heavens. (Let’s also not forget the slap heard ‘round the world!)
9. Finn Hudson, “I’ll Stand by You” (Season 1, Episode 10, “Ballad”)
Finn sang this song when he thought Quinn was pregnant with his child, and it became Cory Monteith’s best — and most heartbreakingly honest — performance on the show. It’s not hard to see why Mercedes sung it in his honor for “The Quarterback.”
8. Blaine Anderson and the Warblers, “Teenage Dream” (Season 2, Episode 6, “Never Been Kissed”)
It’s the moment that pretty much put a cappella on the map, and made everyone — including Kurt — fall in love with Blaine at first sight. It’s also, in many people’s opinions, miles better than the Katy Perry original.
7. Will Schuester, Holly Holliday, and New Directions, “Singin’ in the Rain/Umbrella” (Season 2, Episode 7, “The Substitute)
I refuse to believe there’s anyone in this world who thought to mash these two songs together before Glee did. This show has Frankensteined some pretty crazy mash-ups in the past that didn’t immediately seem like they’d work, but this one was a home run.
6. Mercedes Jones, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (Season 1, Episode 13, “Sectionals”)
The way Mercedes practically collapses on the piano after holding onto that last note for dear life … someone, give the woman a Grammy!
5. New Directions, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (Season 3, Episode 21, “Nationals”)
There’s a reason they finally won Nationals that season.
4. Rachel Berry, “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (Season 1, Episode 13, “Sectionals”)
Playing Who’s Got the Best Voice on Glee is a dangerous game — though by our ears, it’s unquestionably always been Mercedes/Amber Riley — but if you’d rather not go down that road, look to this performance to find who, at least, is the show’s biggest star. Rachel was always destined for Broadway.
3. New Directions, “Don’t Stop Believin’” (Season 5, Episode 13, “New Directions”)
Glee revisited “Don’t Stop Believin’” multiple times after its unforgettable debut in the pilot episode, but its best reprise came, of course, for the show’s 100th episode, when the entire cast reunited to send off Mr. Schue.
2. New Directions, “Don’t Stop Believin’” (Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”)
What would Glee be without Journey? By now the two are synonymous, and it all goes back to the first time Rachel, Finn, Kurt, Artie, Mercedes, and Tina stepped onstage in William McKinley High School’s auditorium to sing the song that would turn the show into a cultural phenomenon for a few brief years. And though they’ve sung it many times since — both on the show and on tour — nothing will ever compare to the original. We’re just glad they’ve ditched the red shirts!
1. Rachel Berry, “Make You Feel My Love” (Season 5, Episode 3, “The Quarterback”)
It’s probably more appropriate to attribute this breathtaking performance solely to Lea Michele, because there’s no pretending she’s at all in character here as she mourns the loss of both her on- and offscreen boyfriend, Cory Monteith. It’s a stunning display of showmanship, grace, and vulnerability. And it took a lot of guts to interpret a Bob Dylan classic that’s been further popularized by the likes of Adele so exquisitely. For that reason, it holds up as the best performance the show has done in its six years. Respect to anyone who can make it all the way through with a dry eye.