5.) Lady Gaga; originally aired May 25, 2010 (“Theatricality” was the first of two episodes billed as Gaga Tributes. Note: neither were full hours of Lady Gaga’s music.)
What we loved: Much like the earlier Madonna episode, the best part of this hour was how Little Monsters could feel like the overall message of the artist — in this case, self-acceptance — was front and center. The costumers on Glee deserve a special shout out for this episode (bubble dresses can’t be easy to come by!). We can’t forget about the piano-only “Poker Face” standout, either. The sheer, well, glee, that Chris Colfer and Co. used to perform her numbers was a real treat.
Best Performance: “Bad Romance”
4.) Fleetwood Mac; originally aired May 3, 2011
What we loved: While this episode wasn’t technically billed as a Fleetwood Mac tribute episode, all the songs came from their iconic album Rumours — and hopefully introduced a bunch of kids to the wonders of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. The data suggests it did; when the episode aired, the original Rumours (not the Glee covers) shot up the Billboard charts. A bunch of kids — after listening to solid McKinley High interpretations of “Songbird” and “Dreams” — surely realized those songs can make anyone feel everything — and that’s definitely something worth celebrating. (“Landslide,” also by Fleetwood Mac, was performed earlier in the season).
Best Performance: “Go Your Own Way”
3.) Whitney Houston; originally aired April 24, 2012
What we loved: Airing several weeks after her death, this tribute celebrated Houston’s complicated-but-iconic legacy with fun spins on classics such as “Dance with Somebody” and “So Emotional.” We’ll just agree to forget about “It’s Not Right But It’s OK,” yes? The best was the opener: The show stepped away from its typical karaoke covers and performed a moving, stripped down rendition of “How Will I Know.” Note: “I Will Always Love You” was not performed during this tribute, but was wonderfully featured several weeks earlier by Mercedes, ironically airing just a few days after Houston’s death.
Best Performance: “How Will I Know”
2.) Michael Jackson; originally aired January 31, 2012
What we loved: The King of Pop’s tribute was a nostalgia-fueled trip through various ages of Michael. From the early Jackson 5 “ABC” days to “Smooth Criminal” and “Ben,” the jam-packed hour (nine songs!) were a great homage to the best of Jackson. This episode scored especially high for doing both classic covers and different interpretations of some of Jackson’s most iconic work. The standout was a new version of “Smooth Criminal” that I haven’t stopped listening to since it originally aired.
Best Performance: “Smooth Criminal” featuring 2Cellos
1.) Madonna; originally aired April 20, 2010
What we loved: “The Power of Madonna” was easily one of the show’s all-time greatest hours. Narrative cohesion blended seamlessly with Madonna’s catalog (What’s up, on-the-nose “Like A Virign”). The best part was that, like Lady Gaga’s tribute that would come later, it felt like Team Glee truly understood and embraced the message behind the artists — in Madonna’s case, female empowerment. The ending treatment of “Like A Prayer” — complete with a gospel choir — was an inspired fantasy.
Best Performance: It’s too hard to choose! Here’s “Like A Virgin,” featuring the sorely missed Jesse St. James.
What were your favorite Glee tribute episodes? What would you like to see them cover in the upcoming fifth (and sixth!) season? I’m not encouraging it, but I sort of can’t believe we haven’t gotten a full-length Beatles homage yet — Lima Road here we come?
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