Musicals are the best but I don’t think songs from them belong on a list like this. They are usually fantastic performances, but they’re hard to enjoy outside of context. They fit beautifully into their stories but don’t stand up on their own.
So while I love songs like Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, Seasons of Love, Anything You Can Do, and Masquerade, I’m not going to include musical songs on this list.
But I’d like to make one–and only one–exception for Popular, from Wicked.
There’s a lot going on in this song, but if you’re not familiar with the story, beautiful Glinda takes pity on social outcast Elphaba. She’s going to give her a makeover and teach her to be popular. (An oldie but goodie, as far as tropes go).
Glinda comes off as an airhead, but in this song she reveals something quite wise:
Celebrated heads of state,
Or specially great communicators!
Did they have brains or knowledge?
Don’t make me laugh! They were POPULAR!
It’s all about popular.
It’s not about aptitude,
It’s the way you’re viewed,
So it’s very shrewd to be,
Very very popular
Hard to argue. And it’s hard to get the song out of your head.