Best of the Year: The Best Music Moments and Performances of 2015

Although there's no data to back this up, it does feel like television is finding better ways to use music than just to evoke a temporary feeling or emotional responses. So much related to TV this year was quite wonderful, but the variety of great scores, needle drops, and performances produced an embarrassment of riches. We're here to turn the spotlight on some of our favorite music-driven moments of 2015, but, as usual, know that there were many more that didn't make the cut. For the most part, we tried to select musical flourishes that spoke to significant moments for a character or a story—as opposed to songs we simply liked. But just use our list as the starting point for your conversation; let's hear your favorite musical moments of the year in the comments. 


Although the ratings continued to rise, Empire reached its peak musically in "Dangerous Bonds," with this slammin' dual-tune that told a story in of itself. A fusion of Jamal's protest over his father's financial control and Hakeem's street-wise stomper, it set up the brothers as opposites while also linking them as family through a steady beat. Jamal recorded in a dumpy studio, while Hakeem was filming an ostentatious video of booty girls and champagne. Yet combined together, it killed. That, and the beat was nasty, yo!


iZombie is full of magical music moments (think the use of the Cure's "Friday I'm in Love" or even the show's theme song, "Stop, I'm Already Dead" by Deadboy and the Elephantmen), but nothing stands out quite like the brilliant use of After the Fire's "Der Kommissar" during Major's zombie-killing rampage in the Season 1 finale. Not only did it just sound cool (we'd like every badass moment in our lives to also be scored to this song from now on), but for a series that's based in a contradiction as wild as the living dead, pairing the song with Major's actions worked perfectly to highlight how far his character had evolved since the beginning of the series.


Sitcoms' use of music has the potential added benefit of being very funny, something that was definitely on display in this standout moment from Fresh Off The Boat's fall run. The Huang men's performance of "End of The Road" was everything you'd want from a comedic nostalgia trip: funny, character-driven, and still perfectly performed. Fresh Off spent the fall shifting into a more rounded ensemble piece and this segment nicely highlighted the rapport and chemistry between everyone in the lead cast. Glee may have soured you on acapella, but you should let one of TV's best families shower you with the love of vocal harmonies. 


This scene, with Abbi discovering she was alone in her apartment and subsequently dancing in the nude to celebrate, was intended to be funny. And it is very funny. But it's also, like most great comedy, supremely relatable. Maybe you haven't actually danced around your apartment in the nude, that's fine. What you have done, however, is feel the euphoria of being alone in your space for the first time in what feels like forever. Maybe you just did a small jig. Maybe you turned the music up a little louder. But we've all been there.


For whatever reason the clip isn't on YouTube so we can only embed this trailer, but Black-ish's use of one of Kanye's most notable tracks worked on so many levels. First, Jack's school talent show performance was like a comedic bomb just waiting to go off—you knew the lyrics were coming, but that didn't make the audience's horrified response any less funny. Second, it lead to a productive series of conversations about parental influence and discourse that isn't commonly found on network TV. You know, the kind of stuff Black-ish does on the regular.


You can make a claim for the Cure's "Pictures of You" to be highlighted here (Shayla!!!), and ditto for the iconic piano-strumental version of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" (but that's too Fight Club-y and Leftovers-y), but the anarchist celebration of "World Destruction" was the perfect choice for the finale—and everything Mr. Robot stood for—after Elliot essentially set the world on fire. Change is cyclical, and the same truths John Lydon and Afrika Bambaataa spouted back in 1984 rung true for our times and for what Mr. Robot was selling. That, and it's a hell of a fun song about the end of the world. 


This was the most important karaoke rendition of the year, narratively speaking. We've written a lot about the greatness of The Leftovers Season 2 this month, but of all the heart-wrenching moments in its 10 episodes, we keep coming back to this, an off-key and confused performance of a cheeseball song that was so completely literal that it moved beyond dumb and circled back to emotional importance. Everything about the scene—from the extreme close-ups on Justin Theroux's blubbering face to the sniffling to the montage of the other characters—was calibrated to produce an overwhelming emotional response, and that it acted as the backdoor to real life for a character who has struggled to find and be himself made that response even more overwhelming.


Peggy's confident, defiant entrance to McCann Erickson was one of the year's most indelible and meme-able moments, but longtime Mad Men fans know its efficacy comes from more than just Elisabeth Moss' dope performance. The song choice was "Lipstick," a piece of music by David Carbonara that was originally deployed in Season 1's "Babylon," where, you guessed it, Peggy's copywriting talents were first "discovered" by her male superiors. The score therefore signifies a decade of character development for Mad Men's most progressive regular and serves as the ultimate mid-century "Started From The Bottom, Now We're Here." It's the kind of successful callback that only long-running and smart shows can properly fashion.


Here's another tremendous instance of dance functioning as a transformative moment for a character. Transparent's Maura, struggling with her identity and how to feel comfortable among her trans peers, was exemplified by the first half of this scene at a local club. That discomfort eventually turned into a sudden burst of self-assuredness, thanks in no small part to a nearby mirror and Sia's triumphant earworm "Chandelier." While Transparent Season 2 was littered with awakenings and becomings like this, Maura's discovery on the dance floor, however temporary, was the show's most powerful.


It took 52 episodes for the show let Estelle (who voices Garnett) sing—by that point, everyone of the main cast pretty much had at least one song—so the song needed to be good. "Stronger Than You" was great. It encapsulated not only everything about Ruby and Sapphire's relationship (as well as Garnet as a being) but it pretty much summed up the entirety of Steven Universe: working and being together, whether through gem fusion or supporting each other, was the key to being happy... and stopping evil gems from taking over the planet, natch. Really, just about any song from Steven Universe this year could've made the cut, but the sheer anticipation and emotion behind "Stronger Than You" puts it just (barely) above, say, "Do It For Her."

What were your favorite musical moments and performances from 2015?