What Songs From Gay TV Episodes Make You Cry in Public?

On Fridays, we’ve historically posted our weekly Boobs On Your Tube column to run down all the queer TV we weren’t able to fully recap or review during the week. But we’ve run out of new network TV! And streaming TV drops in binge-able heaps! So, for the time being, our TV Team is going to come together and invite you to have a chat with us on Friday about our FEELINGS. This week’s discussion: What are the Gay Songs from TV Shows that have made you cry in public? And even more, what’s the story BEHIND that song? Why or when does it choke you up? What does it remind you of? What’s the way that it makes you feel? Please share your answers in the comments!


“Heavy Lifting,” María del Pilar (Vida)

Drew

I generally don’t write about my family, because I know they don’t want me to and I know that whatever I might write would hurt my relationship with them. I do however write about Vida a lot — conveniently leaving out a big part of my attachment to the show. But here I’ll at least say that Lyn reminds me so much of my sister and her relationship with Emma reminds me so much of our own.

This moment arrives about midway through season two. Against all odds, Vida the bar might live on, and, even more surprisingly, Lyn is sort of helping. She’s introducing all sorts of new ideas — including musical acts — and Lyn and Emma are getting along in a way we’ve never seen before. But just as María del Pilar begins to perform her beautiful song, “Heavy Lifting,” Emma discovers notices of Lyn’s fraudulent credit card debt. Finally, it felt like the bar would be okay — that her relationship with Lyn would be okay — and now here’s another problem to solve. Lyn cries and begs Emma to yell at her, but that’s the last thing Emma wants to do. She’s not angry, she’s sad. Once again she let herself trust her sister and once again she was let down. Emma makes her way outside and falls against a tree devastated. A hand reaches out for her — Nico’s hand — and she grabs it. She decides to trust again.

This isn’t a song that plays randomly in public a lot, but it is a song I play randomly in public a lot, and when I do I’m always like ahhhh what am I doing to myself! Because of this scene the song for me is as much about being let down as it is about trusting again anyway — sometimes the person you trust just has to change.


“Every Feeling,” Ezra Furman (Sex Education)

Drew

I wrote about my deep personal connection to Sex Education in one of the first pieces I published on Autostraddle — and I’ve discussed my disappointment with the show’s lack of trans inclusion in its second season. The interesting intersection of these two feelings is that trans musician Ezra Furman has acted as the show’s musical narrator on both seasons and even has a small cameo. Ezra’s music makes it especially easy to project my closeted trans adolescence onto Otis and my lost girlhood onto Maeve.

In an interview with Billboard, she mentioned that Sex Education gave her the opportunity to share songs that she’d previously dismissed as too angsty. “Every Feeling” feels like the sharpest example as she wails blunt lyrics like “Fuck the pain.” Even if there are no trans characters, Ezra’s music brings my connection to this show from subtext to text and every time I listen to this song I really do feel every feeling in the book.


“Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels),” Jim Croce (Transparent)

Drew

Transparent, um, changed my life, and it all started with the pilot featuring “Operator” by Jim Croce. First discussed and sung by Josh and Ari as they flip through old records, it then ends the episode in a lovely indie girl cover by Clementine Creevy and Alison Sudol. Before I knew why the show meant so much to me, all I had was my obsession. And when I get obsessed with things I get really obsessed. The only reason I don’t attend Comic Con is because there isn’t a Comic Con for queer half hour traumedies. So, of course, every song on that show became a part of my personal soundtrack.

My dad definitely played Jim Croce when I was growing up, but that only made its new meaning hit even harder. In the song, Croce wants to call his ex who is now living in LA, but for me it became about longing for LA in general, longing for my family, longing to redo my childhood and adolescence in a way I didn’t even understand. This song will always remind me of Transparent and it will always remind me of that moment in my life when I took my first steps towards transitioning. Now when I hear the song it doesn’t make me long for childhood — it reminds me that no matter how much we want to rewrite the past, there’s strength in acknowledging that it happened as it happened. Only then can we move forward.


“Goodbye To You,” Michelle Branch (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Like??????????? HOW DOES THIS TELEVISION MOMENT EVEN EXIST? We as a society let Joss Whedon and Co. get away with scoring a dramatic lesbian breakup montage with “GOODBYE TO YOU.” The breakup song to end all breakup songs from one of the greatest pop rock albums of all time. It is so on-the-nose and so instantly emotionally manipulative. And yet, to me, it is perfect. The final dialogue-free minutes of the devastating “Tabula Rosa” are just impeccable television. Also, the fact that it’s not just the song playing over it but also the actual Michelle Branch PERFORMING the song LIVE at the fictional Bronze. Also, it’s worth noting that Branch pulled this same magic on Charmed, performing it at the fictional P3.

The angsty Buffy montage—and this song in general—are masterful in their tearjerking efforts. Branch layers her inflections with yearning, regret, hurt. But there’s a touch of finality that simultaneously gut-punches and sows catharsis. This song makes me cry; this song makes me want to sing it at the top of my lungs.

I myself have used this song to purposefully make a crowd cry, like when I sang it at my last karaoke night with my friends before moving away from Brooklyn. A couple months later, I was back in town for work, and they made me promise I wouldn’t sing it again, but like Buffy repeatedly driving a stake through viewers’ hearts through the years, I absolutely sang it again. And we all cried into our tequila sodas again. How could we not!

“Tears form behind my eyes, but I do not cry” ???? YEAH RIGHT, BITCH, I’M ALREADY CRYING.


“Atlantis,” Ellie Goulding (Warehouse 13)

Valerie Anne

There are so many songs that are so deeply tied to fictional characters for me, whether because they were played on the shows themselves (“Goodbye to You” for the reasons Kayla said, any song from Glee) but also because I have a bad habit of making playlists for ships/characters and hurting my own feelings. But one of the ones that stabs me the most often it seems is Atlantis. I think partially because I relate so strongly to their story. Their will-they-won’t-they/they-should-but-they-won’t push and pull. The obvious feelings, the obvious attraction, but the lack of any action, and the goodbye no one wanted to say. For me the song mourns the relationship, both in the canon of the show. “I’ll forget you now, I’ll let go of you baby.” as Myka drives away from H.G. one last time, away from any possibility of their happily ever after. Ellie Goulding’s voice wailing, “Where’d you go?” over and over before Myka and H.G. are even out of each other’s sight. I still feel the ache of what could have been every time I hear that song.

Heather

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“Heartlines,” Broods (Supergirl)

Valerie Anne

I know this song aired during one of the most beautiful/romantic scenes in all of Supergirl (when Maggie was putting aside her hatred for cheesy love stuff to give Alex her first gay Valentine’s Day prom) but now it just breaks my whole heart. Between their relationship ending (one of the most beautiful/romantic breakups in all of CW canon), and also my own baggage around romantic love (or a lack thereof) and the LYRICS, it’s just so sad. The melancholy voice longs for the carefree days of new love, when it’s still easy – “I’ll pick you up at midnight, we’ll run to beat the sunlight.” – but, almost like they knew what was in store for the duo, the singer also mourns the reality of time passing: “Now we’re far apart, in and out of touch, and the words don’t mean as much.”


“Hometown Glory,” Adele (Grey’s Anatomy)

Natalie

When Adele Adkins was a kid — literally, just 15 years old — her mother pushed her to leave their London neighborhood and go away to university in Liverpool. She wrote this song in ten minutes and played it for her mom as a sort of protest. London was her home and being there gave her comfort even when the events of the day didn’t. When “Hometown Glory” becomes a part of Grey’s Anatomy‘s soundtrack at the end of Season 4, Callie Torres and Erica Hahn are both looking for home. After watching both her personal and professional life implode, Callie’s looking for that cocoon — that home — that reminds her of her brilliance and beauty. She finds that in the place where she least expects it; turns out, “[she] ain’t lost, just wandering.” Meanwhile, Erica’s relatively new to Seattle Grace and is still finding a way to be both a stellar cardiothoracic surgeon and the dedicated teacher that the Chief demands. She finds home in Callie’s company — she speaks to Erica’s better angels — and then in her kiss and, eventually, in her bed. Callie is “the wonders of [her] world.”

Oddly enough, “Hometown Glory” is not the song that plays as Erica and Callie share their first kiss late in the finale but it’s the song that stays with me, mostly because of the emotion that it evokes. Adele is so good with that — have you tried not crying at an Adele song? It’s damn near impossible — and Grey’s is so good at using that to maximum effect. It was a brilliant match.


“Believer,” Susanna and the Magical Orchestra (Skins)

Natalie

I was called into a last second, emergency meeting a while back — you know, back when going into the office was a thing that we did (AHHH, MEMORIES) — and I had to run out and leave my Spotify radio station playing. When I walked back into my office, the first few seconds of “Believer” was playing and I was stopped dead in my tracks. I was transported back to the shores of the lake, watching Emily give Naomi her first blowback. All it took was a few seconds of Susanna Wallumrød’s soft vocals and I’m standing in my office, with tears running down my cheek.

Didn’t think you would trust me,
Thought you would see what I see,
These days have been good for me too,
But I can’t stay,
You know why….

At first, my love for the song is all about the melody; it’s so ethereal, like an extension of the lush lakeside where Emily and Naomi explore each other. It feels like overwhelming desire and unending heartbreak all at once and it overwhelms with emotion. Then, as Wallumrød’s vocals achieve their greatest heights, Naomi climaxes and the synchronicity is so perfect, it’s hard to imagine this scene and this song ever existed independently of each other… and a deep dive into the song’s lyrics only affirms that belief.


“The Story,” Sara Ramirez (Grey’s Anatomy)

Carmen

Right now, sitting here with this laptop across my legs, I am struggling to even explain how much Callie Torres and Arizona Robbins meant to me once upon a time. The height of their love story aired right in my own messy baby gay life, in ways that now feel impossible to separate from each other. Did I have hot and rushed first kisses while crying in a bar bathroom? (I spent most of my twenties running around New York City, so of course). When I imagine it now, the bar is half reality and also.. to be honest.. half Joe’s Bar from Grey’s. Somehow the two got mixed up in my memory. Do I love beer and 1 AM pizza in bed, smiling and laughing with this girl I’m absolutely infatuated with, after sex? (Duh, I’m human). Did I get the idea first from a Grey’s Anatomy episode? Well…

Out of all those stories, this song, “The Story” has always meant the most. Here’s what I said about Callie and Arizona’s EPIC love ballad, the night it was re-played over Arizona’s final episode:

From the first note of the closing montage’s music, tears sprang to my eyes. I would know Sara Ramirez’s rendition of Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” anywhere on the planet. Grey’s Anatomy has always had a specific relationship with music. Particularly in the early seasons, songs became tied to the show in ways that now feel permanent. Does anyone hear The Fray’s “How to Save a Life” and not feel transported to an OR room? That song, along with Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”, has always belonged to Meredith and Derek. But, “The Story”? That one is ours. That’s the anthem of Callie and Arizona’s love for each other.

Sara Ramirez’s version in particular will always gut me. It’s the song Callie sang at the end of the season seven’s musical episode. It’s the song she sang to newborn baby Sofia, still in an ICU incubator. It’s the song she sang before waking up from her coma and accepting Arizona’s marriage proposal. It’s the song of the strength of their family, a promise that they can overcome whatever life throws at them.

I sat on the very edge of my couch, inches from the tv, pillow clutched in my hand and mouthing along the words, “All of these lines across my face/ Tell you the story of who I am/ So many stories of where I’ve been/ And how I got to wear I am/ But these stories don’t mean anything, if you’ve got no-one to tell them to/ It’s true. I was made for you.”

I used to joke that it’s the song I want to get married to. And maybe I’m not joking.


“Landslide,” Naya Rivera, Heather Morris, and Gwyneth Paltrow (Glee)

Carmen

I used to play “Landslide” on a loop. Not necessarily when I was depressed (though anyone who tells you that the song — any version of it; Fleetwood Mac, The Chicks, it doesn’t matter — hasn’t made them at least tear up, is lying to you). But more when I wanted to feel something. Feel alive. And that was BEFORE Naya Rivera and Heather Morris came together to smash my gentle gay heart into thousands of bleeding rainbow pieces.

I talked about “Landslide” earlier this summer, when we were all mourning our loss in Naya (and really? Have we ever stopped mourning?), so instead today I want to tell this very true story that once happened to me.

It was at least five years ago, ironically, also in August. And it was humid. I remember my skin sticking to everything and the ice cold A/C of my neighborhood coffee shop almost being assaultive in comparison. The way this coffee shop was set up, you started a line in the back that snaked it’s way to the bar (which was, for reasons that made no sense to me, in the middle). And then the chairs and tables were all set up in the front. So once you are in the line, you place your order and then you continue to wait in this very long queue single file until you’re order is ready, lovingly prepared by this gay Latino with dangly earrings and a tattoo of a spider on his hand. You got it?

I’ve placed my order — a hibiscus iced tea for me and a vanilla iced latte for my best friend — and I’m waiting in the narrow line. My friend goes ahead to find us a table. I’m mindlessly scrolling on my phone, trying not to shiver from this damn A/C, when the first guitar chords of “Landslide” star to play. And in my mind, I saw Santana sitting in her chair. I saw the way she bites her lip and looks at Brittany from behind Holly’s shoulder. And even though the version playing was The Chicks — all I could hear was Naya Rivera’s soft “uh oh.” I could feel the tears coming, fast and hard. Unstoppable.

I tripped over the feet of like five people to push my way out of line. I bolted outside to the corner, submerged back again in this ocean wave of wet heat. Literally LEFT my best friend inside wondering what the hell happened to me. Left our drink orders on the counter, unclaimed. Anything to get out of there. Anything to stop myself from crying over a fictional television show in public.


“Songbird,” Naya Rivera (Glee)

Heather

It’s hard to pick a favorite Santana solo, but I think it’s gotta be “Songbird,” for me, both for Santna’s story arc and for Naya Rivera’s performance. I’ve listened to it about a gazillion times over the last many years, and it always gets me in my guts, but I forget what a punch it really is to my heart’s face to watch the scene. The transcendent vulnerability, more than we’ve ever seen from Santana. After her intense internal struggle, the softness and confidence in her face when she says she knows it’s right. The pleading of her posture when she sings I love you, I love you, I love you. I don’t think I’ve ever believed the words of any song more than this one when Santana is singing it to Brittany.


“Sweet Disposition,” The Temper Trap (Skins)

Heather

My first Skins crybaby song is “Believer” — but Natalie wrote so beautifully about that I don’t have anything to add! My second Skins crybaby song is “Sweet Disposition,” which is inconvenient because it’s also one of the most mainstream Skins songs; I hear it in bars all the time. Or, well, I used to. When bars were a thing. Anyway, what gets me about it is that it’s the thing that kicks off Naomi and Emily’s series four story, when they’re all loved up in Naomily’s house and bed, with big dreams about graduating and backpacking around the world and lying on the beach together and just being in love. It’s before things fall apart because Noami cheated, and long before the absolute bullshit that was Skins Fire. It’s a perfect moment in time for my all-time favorite TV couple, and this series of Skins is especially important to me because it’s the reason I was able to become a full-time writer and it’s the reason I met my wife. “A moment, a love. A dream aloud. A kiss, a cry. Our rights, our wrongs.” It gets me every time.


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The Autostraddle TV Team is made up of Riese Bernard, Carmen Phillips, Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Valerie Anne, Natalie, Drew Gregory, and Heather Hogan. Follow them on Twitter!

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33 Comments

  1. I could go through several lifetimes and never forget Goodbye To You. It just cut my heart out of my chest in slow motion and presented it back to me on a plate.
    Landslide and Songbird are big ones too. Santana just had a special way to melt us… I’d give an honorable mention to Mine.

  2. It’s really rude that “Landslide” is such a popular song because I will never not think of Santana and Brittany when I hear it.

    There are also several songs that make me think of certain pairings from certain TV shows (usually not canon), not because they were actually used on the show but because someone put them on a fan playlist I loved on 8tracks. Is that even still a thing? Do people still make those? I was all about them like 5 years ago.

    • I definitely made myself a playlist of a bunch of Skins songs from Series 3 & 4, but the big Naomily song I think of is Jump In, though it doesn’t make me cry.

      La Petite Mort by Coeur de Pirate always puts me in my Cophine from Orphan Black feels, though.

    • It’s “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo…and that’s definitely one of those songs that I’d hate to be affected by because it’s so ubiquitous on television soundtracks.

      No one ever plays “Believer,” thank goodness, but “Way Down We Go” has been part of so many shows.

  3. Oof Kayla you nailed it. What a heartbreaker.

    Mine are “Save the Last Dance” and “Proud” (by Heather Small), both from Queer as Folk, but for extremely different reasons. QaF was my Formative Gay TV experience (L Word hit a bit too close to home) and the music lodged deep in my emotional core. I’m still crushed that most of the music changed for licensing reasons when it went to netflix.

  4. Goodbye to You constantly hits me right in the heart, as does Landslide. It’s extremely rude that both are in frequent rotation at various drugstores and grocery stores. And now after watching this season of Dead to Me, “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany also sends me into a spiral thinking about how cute and gay it was on the show.

  5. Reading this has really made me think about how much I internalized the music associated with wlw scenes on TV when I was growing up, even before I knew I was gay! I was still a young teen when the “Landslide” episode aired, and that song has stayed with me ever since–I remember going to a Glee-themed musical theater camp where everyone got at least a couple obligatory solo measures, and mine were “But time makes you bolder / Even children get older / And I’m getting older too.” Even at the time, I knew there was something special about those words. Hadn’t figured out I liked girls yet or realized why that scene in the show stuck in my memory, but what a song to accompany me into those realizations later on.

    And “Goodbye to You”! I watched Buffy the same year I came out (almost exclusively during the month leading up to my final exams), and I remember that song staying with me even as I was sitting in my bedroom the next summer, thinking about what I thought at the time was the end of my first kinda-relationship and going over all the lyrics. Honestly “it hurts to want everything and nothing at the same time” is still so powerful and gets me every time.

  6. Riese wouldn’t approve, but the NOT DVD soundtrack for the L Word has a gutting moment where Bette sees Tina sleeping drunk on the couch (thanks, Jodie!), which is scored by the Heartbreaker’s “White Laughter”. I’m a sucker for ethereal female-fronted dream pop.

  7. 1. ‘Mine’ is my Santana song – obviously heartwrenching as it’s in the context of a break up, but I love that they took such a heterosexual song and made it so incredibly gay, and twice as moving as the original.

    2. I have no idea why but ‘I Was A Fool’ by Tegan and Sara makes me think of Cosima and Delphine from Orphan Black. It was prob the music for a fan video and not on the actual show, but I think it’s a perfect song for them (more so the beginning part of their relationship).

    3. ‘Slow Dance With You’ sung by Marceline from Adventure Time is so cute and goth and broody and GAY. And perfect.

  8. Willow and Tara dancing to I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You – Melanie Doane

    Billie and Rose (Cold Case)
    Best Friends –
    Michael A Levine

    Forever favorite Santana singing Songbird to Brittany

  9. 100% AGREEEEED re: Goodbye To You. Also, Distant Dreamer by Duffy – when Alice is asking Tasha if she’d rather be with Jamie on The L Word. I don’t even particularly love them as a couple or this storyline (sorry, Tasha lovers), but this song wrecks me. Sends chills up and down my spine.

  10. In season 6 when Arizona is coping with Callie’s news of her pregnancy, there’s an elevator scene where the two collide to Andrew Belle’s “Open Your Eyes” & it’s always been a profoundly vulnerable song.

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