The following performances (presented in no particular order) may not be the flashiest ones that ever aired – actually, we guarantee that they aren’t – but they’re the ones that have stuck with us. They aren’t the ones with the most showmanship, or the most elaborate sets, or the most authentic-looking music video references, but they are the most memorable. They’re the ones we keep humming for days on end, that make us cry and fist pump, and that make us love the performers more than ever. What better way to spend an afternoon than looking back on the best of the best? Add your own favorites in the comments!
GLEE: The Top 20 Best Performances (So Far)
Whether or not you love the emotional slant of Glee, you can’t argue that the show isn’t chock-a-block with talented singers who produce more fabulous performances than you can shake a stick at – so many that it can be damn near impossible to whittle down a list of favorites. But life is no fun without a challenge, so here we go…
“The Boy Is Mine” / Mercedes and Santana (Amber Riley and Naya Rivera)
This song is the perfect diva-off for two such formidable singers. Mercedes and Santana’s strong voices and willful attitudes are excellent matches for this tough, passionate song. The song is also such perfect fodder for high school drama! Fighting over boys is a common teenage problem, unlike much of the subject matter Glee tackles, which makes the choice to score the song to both hallway and classroom scenes as well a choir room finale just right. This song and the young women singing it are teen drama perfection.
“A House It Not A Home” / Kurt and Finn (Chris Colfer and Cory Monteith)
Kurt totally brings his signature emotion and vulnerability in this number. You’ve gotta admire how unafraid he is to get a little (or a lot) too sappy – in front of his peers, no less. It’s also classic Kurt because he’s going to great lengths to heal his relationship with a friend (this time, his newly minted step-brother, Finn). It’s tender and heartfelt and just so perfectly Kurt.
“Locked Out Of Heaven” / Unique, Marley, Sugar, Tina, and Brittany (Alexander Eugene Newell, Melissa Marie Benoist, Vanessa Lengies, Jenna Ushkowitz and Heather Morris)
Despite its breakups, illnesses, deaths, bullying, school shootings, and other Afterschool Special themes, Glee’s greatest strength has always been its ability to bring the fun. This song is just that – pure, unadulterated fun. It’s Glee Club girl power, friendly Battle of the Sexes competition, glitzy dresses, girl band dance moves, catchy tunes, and a crowd that’s eating it up. And it’s meek little Marley getting her groove on, too, which is always nice to see.
“I Dreamed A Dream” / Shelby and Rachel (Idina Menzel and Lea Michele)
It’s so great when Glee goes back to its show tune roots (they are a musical theatre club, after all), and this number was no exception. Add to the innately theatrical song a story of long-lost love, sacrifice, and self-discovery, and we’ve got one deeply arresting performance. It was tough to watch the relationship between Rachel and her biological mother unfurl, but their voices did sound amazing together.
“Don’t Rain On My Parade” / Rachel (Lea Michele)
This number is so thrilling it literally caused goosebumps on first viewing. It was Rachel’s chance to prove herself to the Club at their first big competition, to prove that all her bragging and arrogance are earned because she really is THAT formidable. And she nails it – unrehearsed. It’s larger-than-life Rachel Berry at her best. It also perfectly embodies the attitude of the Glee kids as a whole – doing what they love, all passion and wide-eyed ambition, regardless of the obstacles they’re sure to encounter – which made it the right choice to represent them at Sectionals.
“Movin’ Out” / Blaine and Sam (Darren Criss and Chord Overstreet)
This performance was awesome because it was a perfect marriage of song and plot – an insatiably fun song to match an insatiably optimistic (and characteristically Glee-ful) Sam and Blaine story line. The song is so catchy (“ack-ack-ack-ack-ack!”), and the boys are just so excited to be in the big city with their hopes and dreams, with no sense of consequences or the bad stuff in life, that it’s hard to remember this performance with anything other than a smile.
“Make You Feel My Love” / Rachel (Lea Michele)
This song was just so purely, beautifully, gut-wrenchingly sad, and given Lea Michele and Cory Monteith’s real life relationship, Rachel’s heartbreak was more authentic than any other performance in Glee history. During this song, Lea and Rachel become one, and it’s just this girl, her sadness, and the gently stripped-down instrumentation. Sometimes the simplest things are the most powerful.
“Nutbush City Limits” / Santana (Naya Rivera)
This punchy Tina Turner song was an excellent showcase of Santana’s tough, brash, IDGAF attitude – which is why we all love her, right? Her vocal bad-assery and tight dance moves made this the perfect comeback performance after a semester spent at the University of Louisville.
“Hey, Soul Sister” / The Warblers (Featuring Darren Criss and Chris Colfer)
This performance is technically pristine and a shining example of early Blaine, when he was an unattainable, gorgeous, and impossibly talented golden boy. It’s also amazing because of Kurt – not his voice or his dance moves, but his facial expression every time he glances over at Blaine. His deer-in-the-headlights, falling-head-over-heels, trying-desperately-not-to-show-it, MEGA CRUSH facial expression. Watching this video, we’re reminded of the era when Kurt was finding himself at Dalton, getting more comfortable than ever with his sexuality, and experiencing his first big infatuation.
“Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” / Finn (Cory Monteith)
Okay, ignore the creepiness of Mr. Schue stalking a teenage boy in the locker room showers for a minute and just remember how exciting this moment was. It was our first real glimpse at Finn’s talent, at the amazing young man who would later become a guiding force of New Directions, both in spirit and in sound. It’s also incredibly relatable – who doesn’t enjoy belting it out in the shower every once in a while?
“Sweet Caroline”/ Puck (Mark Salling)
Puck: a cheater, a liar, a meathead, a walking mohawk… The dude is awful most of the time, and while watching the early episodes of Glee, it was hard to understanding how he was able to get (and keep) so many lady friends – but all they had to do was show us his rendition of “Sweet Caroline”, and it was immediately understandable. With his warm voice, his nimble guitar skills, and his ability to make a girl feel like she’s the only one in the room, Puck is one skilled charmer. Like it or not.
“Homeward Bound/Home” / Puck, Finn, Quinn, Santana, Mercedes, and Mike (Mark Salling, Cory Monteith, Dianna Agron, Naya Rivera, Amber Riley, Harry Shum, Jr.)
Glee Club is about a lot of things – music, passion, self-acceptance, personal expression – but most of all, it’s about friendship; those bonds that are formed through duets and competitions, and that can last through anything. This performance was a nice little taste of those friendships as some of the cast originals reunited on their first Thanksgiving since leaving McKinley High. It was also a nice little gift to viewers at the time – a reward for sticking with the show through the upheavals of graduation. Oh, and hearing Mike sing? So rare and so awesome!
“All That Jazz” / Rachel and Cassandra (Lea Michele and Kate Hudson)
Remember how awesome it was to watch Rachel prove herself to the Glee Club with “Don’t Rain On My Parade” at Sectionals? Well, it was just as awesome to watch her do the same with her NYADA dance teacher (Cassandra July) throughout the season. Her performance of “All That Jazz” felt like the first step to passing the torch of musical theatre greatness from one talented generation to the next. It made Rachel up her game, and it made us all want to buy fishnet stockings. Oh, and who knew Kate Hudson could do the splits?!
“Loser Like Me” / New Directions (Featuring Lea Michele and Cory Monteith)
An original song written collectively by the Glee kids for Regionals, “Loser Like Me” was a genuine expression of the fun, tenacious, unstoppable attitude of the Club. Their loose choreography was appropriately playful, the melody was catchy, the audience was totally into it, and Sue was taken down a peg. An instant classic.
“The Scientist” / Finn, Santana, Kurt, Brittany, Will, Emma, Rachel, and Blaine (Cory Monteith, Naya Rivera, Chris Colfer, Heather Morris, Matthew Morrison, Jayma Mays, Lea Michele and Darren Criss)
This performance happened at a time in season 4 when a bunch of relationships were hanging in the balance, none of them with certain fates. The song reflects everyone’s inner turmoil, the lighting reflects the couples’ emotional disjointedness, and the whole thing is just so bloody sad. Why do people we love together have to break up? Well, at least when they do experience trouble, we get to hear beautiful music about it.
“Drive My Car” / Kitty and Artie (Kevin McHale and Becca Tobin)
Kitty and Artie are arguably one of Glee’s most fascinating couples of all time. They’re so mismatched that it’s almost comical, but as always, Artie has a way of drawing out the sweet parts of Kitty that she would normally keep hidden behind a cold facade. In this performance we get to see the fun they have together, and it makes us forget all the reasons they maybe shouldn’t work. Instead, we just get to come along on their youthful adventures. Anything featuring bumper cars is a guaranteed win!
“My Cup” / Brittany and Artie (Heather Morris and Kevin McHale)
This is why we love Brittany. Well, this and Fondue For Two. So maybe it’s not a good song, and maybe it wasn’t Nationals material, but it’s golden in our books. And frankly, it’s pretty catchy, too!
“Push It” / New Directions (Featuring Kevin McHale, Lea Michele and Cory Monteith)
This early New Directions performance was so misguidedly rebellious and overly sexed-up that it was hilarious – almost as hilarious as Mr. Schue’s ensuing outrage and the McKinley students’ immense appreciation of the song. Like, since when is dressing in all blue considered sexy? And how uncharacteristically scandalous were Rachel’s hip thrusts?
“Bust A Move” / Will (Matthew Morrison)
Glee’s focus on the adult characters can sometimes get a bit tiresome for a show that’s supposed to be about teenagers, but Mr. Shuester’s rendition of this late ’80s gem is one major exception. Matthew Morrison’s dance moves were seriously tight, and this was the cutest, dorkiest way possible for him to lead the Glee Club guys by example.
“Dance With Somebody” / Brittany and Santana (Heather Morris and Naya Rivera)
Speaking of ’80s fun, this deliciously cheesy performance was a great showcase for Heather Morris’s underused pipes and unbelievable dance moves. Also, any time Brittany and Santana are together, they really do bring the fire. Wish we could have a reunion between the two some time soon…
Did we forget your personal favorite? Add it in the comments!
Hannah McIlveen is a freelance graphic designer and TV-obsessed writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. She grew up riding horses and reading Roald Dahl books, got an art degree, and then spent the next several years moving around the country and watching television. Her greatest goals in life are to write good stuff, produce a web series, build a house with her husband, and have six cats at once. Hannah has contributed to BitchMagazine.org and is a staff blogger for the soon-to-launch TeenSized.com. She also writes her own daily blog, Click Watch Write. Hannah can be accosted on Twitter @ClickWatchWrite.