In an effort to combine every aspect of all the most popular teen shows that came before it, Riverdale took a little bit from everyone. A hint of murder mystery from Pretty Little Liars, a dash of supernatural suspense from Teen Wolf, but most importantly, the frequent musical numbers featured in Glee. While Riverdale’s foray into music started with Archie’s dreams of becoming a musician instead of a construction worker like his father, the musical numbers in the series have moved away from Archie’s long-abandoned dreams and into nonsensical (yet still fun) spectacle. For this list, I have sorted through every random burst into song and every musical episode on Riverdale, aiming to find the musical moments that make you say, “wait, what?”
Of course, counting down these performances from ridiculous to extremely ridiculous may seem like a jab at the show’s musical numbers, but that’s not the case at all. In fact, the cast is filled with talented singers, and some of the tracks performed on the show have made it into my own end-of-year most-streamed playlists. Every performance on this list, if simply stumbled upon, would be an enjoyable listen; but with context, they become even more eternally entertaining, for better or for worse. So, unfortunately, that means some of the show’s best performances (“It’s All Coming Back to Me,” “Seventeen,” “Do Me a Favor,” “Candy Girl,” etc.) will not be featured as we look through the most ridiculous performances in Riverdale’s musical canon.
Following the mid-season time-jump, nearly every main character on Riverdale found themselves working at Riverdale High School, joining Toni and Kevin, who had each already been working there nearly right after graduation. Archie became the Riverdale ROTC instructor and the football coach, Betty the automotives class instructor, Veronica the economics teacher, and Cheryl the cheer coach. Which makes this number, performed during a football game between Archie’s Riverdale Bulldogs and Hiram’s Stonewall Stallions, even more ridiculous. Cheryl, the coach of the cheerleading team, is the one to take center stage and perform this Lady Gaga song; the image of a 26 year old woman, who is supposed to be responsible for helping these young girls perform, taking the spotlight as the crowd goes wild and football plays on in the background is almost too bonkers to believe. Of course, the number definitely would not have been as fun if it weren’t performed by one of the beloved core characters, so I can let this one slide as just a silly, good time.
Riverdale’s take on Heathers: The Musical is the best of the show’s musical episodes, and features Cole Sprouse, Lili Reinhart, Madelaine Petsch, and Vanessa Morgan’s beautiful take on “Seventeen,” but it also includes some classic Riverdale shenanigans. In this number, Toni decides to deal with her vengeful ex-girlfriend’s impending wrath (which was brought on simply by wearing the color red to school that day) by having a tryst on the Heathers set in the auditorium. And because they want you to remember that she’s bisexual, it was going to be a threesome with her two Serpent friends Sweet Pea and Peaches ‘N Cream. Though, right as they’re about to get it on, Toni sees a vision of Cheryl sitting on the window sill and hears her voice singing back to her. There’s a hilariously timed record scratch, and she decides to attempt to get Cheryl back, leaving Sweet Pea and Peaches standing on the stage in their underwear. While the track is a lot of fun to listen to, especially since some of the rewritten lyrics are better than the ones in the musical (I will die on this hill), its presentation is classically Riverdalien.
The best coping mechanism is a theatrical Britney Spears performance, according to this episode of Riverdale. After discovering that her friends have all gained supernatural abilities, Veronica learns that her newly acquired power is producing poison within her body—a lesson learned the hard way, as she finds her one-night-stand dead in her bed, poisoned from her kiss. Naturally, in response, she decides to put on black lipstick, accept her fate as a literal and metaphorical black widow, and perform “Toxic” at the shareholders meeting for her casino. Because what other song would you possibly perform after finding out that you’re, quite literally, toxic? With a giant spider coming down from the ceiling, and an odd hint at some flirting from Archie and Betty to Veronica from their spot in the audience (that nothing ever really came of), this performance is rated R for ridiculous…ly on brand for Riverdale.
The most iconic thing about this episode of Riverdale isn’t even the musical number, and that’s saying a lot, considering how wild the Vixen’s rendition of “Jailhouse Rock” is in context. No, instead, Archie’s speech to a rival prisoner delivers one of the most memorable Riverdale moments: “The triumphs and defeats, the epic highs and lows of high school football.” That incredible conversation aside, the River Vixens cheer squad shows up at Archie’s jail in order to motivate the prisoners during their football game, which would give them a chance to make up for lost time running drugs to support Nana. Led by Veronica and Cheryl, the Vixens stand right on the other side of the barbed wire-fenced jail yard, singing along as a bunch of juvenile delinquents toss the pigskin. This number is a fun take on an Elvis classic, even if it’s almost completely overshadowed by the circumstances.
In its first proper musical episode, Riverdale’s cast truly shines while performing Carrie: The Musical. Though, in the midst of the episode, “Unsuspecting Hearts” feels almost too bananas to be true. Despite not being visually unusual in any way, the performance between Josie and Cheryl makes up for it tenfold within the context of their greater storyline. Earlier in the season, Josie began receiving anonymous letters and gifts from a secret admirer, which culminated in her being gifted a pig heart in a box. Josie eventually found out that it was Cheryl the entire time, who had a crush on her and very clearly did not know how to handle it. This song finally allows Cheryl the opportunity to apologize to Josie, who (rightfully) wanted nothing to do with her after she returned to school following her brief stint at a convent for conversion therapy (which is a whole other story). Apparently, the duet was so good that Josie forgives her, allowing them to hug and make-up by the end.
If you know anything about Heathers: The Musical, then this interpretation of this song actually fits pretty well. During Season 3, Riverdale’s central villain was a cult called The Farm, which was harvesting the organs of its members after brainwashing them. Kevin and Fangs are two of the first teenage main characters to fall victim to The Farm, culminating in the world’s creepiest cult wedding, all while singing their devotion to one another. The cult leader’s wife (who was, at the time, pretending to be a teenager and student at Riverdale High to recruit members), is the one to marry Kevin and Fangs, in a scary, dimly lit room surrounded by other cult members. The number is super short, just over a minute long, but the creepiness of the setting combined with the chilling lyrics from the original musical create a perfect storm for an absolutely bonkers musical moment.
This musical number has a lot of moving parts, and every single one of them is more bonkers than the last. The performance kicks off with Betty and Tabitha being drugged by Jughead’s former girlfriend; she leaves them in Jughead’s bunker to ride out their trip as she runs off with his finished book manuscript. At Thornhill, Cheryl’s mother returns to start up a convent within their home, and Cheryl sees a vision of her deceased brother, Jason. With Veronica, she brings a safe full of money to the leader of the Ghoulies gang in exchange for a blue opal that they stole from her jewelry store. In the middle of this exchange, Archie and the boys drop in through the ceiling windows, following the plan laid out by Veronica to save the hostages taken by the Ghoulies and get everyone out safely. All of that happens while a select few cast members sing this tune from 1979’s Hair. Cutting back and forth between fist fights, drug-induced dances, and visions of dead brothers is enough to make this whole sequence utterly unbelievable.
Riverdale’s Season 6 finale, as a whole, was ridiculous, we have already established. Though, nothing is more bananas than Cheryl (after absorbing all her friends’ superpowers through a world-saving, faux-lesbian kiss) joining the entire ensemble to sing a cover of Rob Dickinson’s “The End of the World”—most notably covered by Billie Eilish. Truth be told, this is one of Riverdale’s most beautiful and haunting musical moments, acting as a backdrop to somber goodbyes and sorrowful preparation in case this truly was the end of Riverdale. It’s actually touching to watch our favorite characters gather with their loved ones, awaiting the coming end. Though, the minute Cheryl sets foot outside Pop’s, floats into the air, and attempts to melt a comet mid-descent, it’s impossible to keep that heartwarming mood in sincerity, no matter how hard the extended scene tries.
Season 6’s musical episode, in which Veronica, Betty, and Kevin put on a serial killer fan convention in order to catch long-running villain the Trash Bag Killer, takes its songs from American Psycho: The Musical, and might be its weirdest Broadway tribute yet. In “You Are What You Wear,” which takes place during Toni’s bachelorette party, it’s almost like the episode pauses to cut in an entire music video before continuing along. The characters sing directly to the camera, strut out into the hallway in loose choreography, before ending the number by posing on the center stage of Veronica’s casino. It’s so strikingly different from every other musical number ever featured in the show, especially in its similarities to actual pop music videos, that seeing it within the context of the episode feels a bit like a fever dream. Albeit, an extremely fun, laugh-out-loud ridiculous fever dream, but one nonetheless.
It’s bad enough that Tears for Fears’ track “Mad World” has already been meme’d to death through Gary Jules’ emo cover, and this Riverdale rendition only serves to add fuel to that fire. Archie and Veronica join together to perform this song at a Southside bar crawling with gang members, but the most ridiculous element of this number is Betty’s involvement. After Veronica and Archie rush off the stage mid-song, Betty steps up to finish the rendition, and begins to perform the Serpent Dance. She does this to gain the respect of the Serpents, and to become a part of her boyfriend Jughead’s world by joining the gang. The only way for a woman to gain entry? Perform a strip tease and swing around on a pole, no matter the age—friendly reminder: she’s 16 in Season 2. As Betty abandons the microphone and her performance continues in non-diegetic sound, you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the situation as Betty, the girl next door, pole dances to join a gang. Dark and twisted take on Archie Comics indeed.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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