In the early 2000s, TV went through a transformation to become a medium capable of artistic achievement on par with film. The power of television has not always been harnessed when it comes to music, but the change in TV coincided with its emergence as a platform as powerful as radio in breaking new artists to the masses. Today the game continues, with music supervisors being courted by labels as much, if not more, than tastemaking rock writers. The power of TV is such that it can both break new artists and reinvent old hits like “Baby Blue” and “Don’t Stop Believin'” for new generations. And so, we’ve put together a list of ten music moments on TV in the last ten years that were not only memorable, but that actually altered an artist’s career in some way.
Mad Men: The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”
The Beatles need no help in selling music, but this 2012 sync was ground-breaking in the music licensing world. Rarely, if ever, has a Beatles master track been used on TV. You hear Beatles covers often in TV and film, but with the exception of “Revolution” in a 1991 Nike ad (thanks to Michael Jackson’s purchase of the Beatles’ publishing rights), the Fab Four have kept their originals off the airwaves. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner courted Apple Corps for years, and the show paid roughly a quarter of a million dollars to use a Beatles song in “Lady Lazarus,” an episode from its fifth season. As the episode closes, Don Draper decides to give The Beatles’ Revolver a spin. After hearing closing track “Tomorrow Never Knows,” he is decidedly not impressed.
Girls: Icona Pop’s “I Love It”
As Hannah embarks on her first experiment with hard drugs and mesh tops, she finds herself in a Brooklyn club body-thrashing with Elijah to “I Love It,” already a favorite among followers of of non-Top 40 pop. Following placement on the show, the Charli XCX-penned song made its debut on the Hot 100 chart, inching its way upward and propelling Icona Pop into the mainstream. And to think it was synced because Rihanna said no.
Six Feet Under: Sia’s “Breathe Me”
If you didn’t cry at the end of Six Feet Under, I’m worried about you. As Claire drives across the country to begin her new life, we’re transported to flash-forwards of each cast member’s death. For six and a half minutes, Sia’s wistful “Breathe Me” soundtracks one sad moment after another, crescendoing musically as the last of the Fischer clan dies off. The song is now synonymous with one of television’s greatest scenes of mortality, and while Sia has gone on to become one of pop music’s most in-demand songwriters and producers, it was Six Feet Under that kick-started her career. “Breathe Me” would end up being synced in everything from The Hills to Veronica Mars to Oprah to Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, but it will never not be that Six Feet Under song.
The Sopranos: Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”
Before Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” became synonymous with Glee, it was linked closely with another TV juggernaut: The Sopranos. In the much-debated final scene in David Chase’s masterpiece, Tony Soprano slips a quarter into the jukebox and after much deliberation, settles on the classic rock radio staple. He’s joined by his family for a simple meal of onion rings, all the while being sized up by a man in the restaurant. But that’s it — we get nothing more than the mere idea of what may have transpired mixed with the unwavering hopefulness of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Journey has called the sync “probably the highest compliment ever for that song,” and it definitely made some viewers consider the track in a different light.
Grey’s Anatomy: Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”
Along with The Fray’s “How to Save a Life,” this is the quintessential Grey’s Anatomy hit. “Chasing Cars” had been performed on late-night TV (including SNL) and synced on the season three finale of One Tree Hill, but it only took off on the charts following its use in the final scene of the second season of Grey’s, a time when the show was at its peak popularity. Denny dies, Izzie quits, and Meredith has to choose between two foxy dudes. The song would become inescapable, including more Grey’s tie-ins: a music video to promote season three, plus that horrid cast-singalong musical in season seven.
The O.C. Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek”
Imogen Heap occupies a curious role in music licensing circles. Her band Frou Frou benefited greatly from its inclusion on the Garden State soundtrack, a soundtrack that reinvigorated interest in film soundtracks as a source of music discovery. Then came her solo career, which may well not have been as successful had it not been for The O.C. Heap was synced multiple times throughout the series, including the honors of soundtracking Marissa Cooper’s death, but the appearance of “Hide and Seek” in the season two finale was so memorable, it warranted mocking in a SNL Digital Short. The dramatic pauses were made for this shoot-out!
Breaking Bad: Badfinger’s “Baby Blue”
There are a number of fantastic final scenes on this list, but few sum up an entire series with just one song. With lines like, “Guess I got what I deserved/Kept you waiting there too long, my love,” Badfinger’s 1972 song “Baby Blue” helped Walter White say goodbye to his secret passion and his signature style of meth. Moreover, this bittersweet sync reinvigorated Badfinger, a group that had laid dormant for 30 years after the tragic suicides of two members following a series of royalty battles. The week following the Breaking Bad finale, Badfinger saw its sharpest commercial spike, selling 37,000 downloads of “Baby Blue.”
Gossip Girl: Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks”
Peter Bjorn and John’s signature hit was the first thing viewers heard when they tuned into the pilot of Gossip Girl, the runaway teen hit from primetime TV’s indie rock kingpin, Josh Schwartz. There was a time when it was a Big Deal to get a sync from Schwartz’s righthand music supervisor, Alex Patsavas. But “Young Folks” had already received much critical acclaim from Pitchfork and other tastemaking outlets by the time it reached Gossip Girl in early 2007, and its presence on the show marked something of a ‘jumping the shark’ for the song. Alas, Peter Bjorn and John would become an indie one-hit wonder.
Skins: Cat Stevens’ “Wild World”
As the first series in this British teen drama came to a close, the core characters suffered a great tragedy. Their way of coping was through song, joining together to cover Cat Stevens’ “Wild World,” each taking a different line. It sounds horribly cheesy, but it was surprisingly moving and memorable. Moreover, it introduced Stevens’ classic catalog to a new generation, just as he was re-introducing himself into the music world as Yusuf Islam.
The Office: Chris Brown’s “Forever”
Just as the Chris Brown villain train was getting started (following his 2009 attack on Rihanna), the biggest TV event of that season — Jim and Pam’s wedding — framed one of Brown’s more tender hits, “Forever,” in a humorous light. While The Office was merely parodying a meme that had cropped up in recent months among wedding parties, the show allowed audiences to enjoy “Forever” without thinking about Brown’s awfulness. The song returned to the top of the iTunes song chart (and saw a boost on other various charts) following the episode’s airing.