Sunday marks the return of HBO’s The Newsroom, a series that isn’t exactly known for being subtle—especially in its first season, which featured a memorable scene set to Coldplay’s “Fix You.”
Anvilicious? Oh yeah. Emotionally manipulative? You betcha. Surprisingly effective all the same? Unfortunately, yes, according to EW.com’s Lanford Beard. Which is how we came upon this week’s PopWatch Confessional question: What’s the song that’s had a surprising, embarrassing emotional effect on you?
Lanford Beard, staff editor: Between all its walk-and-talks, Network rip-offs, and “women be klutzy” gags, The Newsroom’s first season actually took on a few actual news events, including the breaking news of Gabby Giffords’ attempted assassination in 2011. Now, I am admittedly kind of a baby when it comes to entertainment. But, in the case of this particular episode’s closing scenes, which were scored to Coldplay’s “Fix You,” I knew even then that I was being taken for a ride. But I was powerless to stop it, so I just buckled in and let the weeps wash over me. My intellectual response: How dare you, Aaron Sorkin! My emotional response: [Grabs tissues]
Ashley Fetters, EW.com news editor: I’m not a crier, but when I was 18, I watched The Wizard of Oz for the first time since childhood. When that tinkly “Optimistic Voices” song (“You’re out of the woods, you’re out of the dark, you’re out of the night”) started playing after Dorothy and her friends wake up from their poppy coma and realize they can still get to the Emerald City, I unexpectedly burst into tears. It’s a startlingly pure, hopeful moment after such a dark sequence of events, and it’s given me a little bit of a lump in my throat every time since.
Kyle Ryan, EW.com editor: Listen, I was in a tough place emotionally. It was my last semester of college, my longtime girlfriend was away on an internship, and I was so anxious about what would happen after graduation that I woke up every morning nauseated. I was grasping at anything for some semblance of stability, which may explain why I nearly burst into tears in the aisle of a grocery store when Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” started playing over the loudspeaker. At the time, I was at the peak of my punk/indie snobbery, so my intense sadness was followed by embarrassment: I hear this cheeseball song and suddenly I can’t keep it together in the salsa aisle? It was a low point on a couple of levels.
Carolyn Todd, intern: Well, as a teenage girl, I sobbed during pretty much every intense music moment on The O.C., especially whenever “Hallelujah” played. There was the Jeff Buckley version when Chino poor boy Ryan and Newport princess Marissa realize they’re just from different worlds and he kicks her out of his model house, and when Ryan has to leave Marissa for his baby mama in the season one finale, as well as the Imogen Heap version when Ryan’s carrying Marissa away from the scene of the accident and she’s, you know… oh my God, I can’t.
Jonathon Dornbush, EW.com intern: If there’s one thing a Josh Schwartz show will always get right, it’s the soundtrack—and that’s never been more true than it was for The O.C. Specifically, the series finale ends in a beautiful montage set to Patrick Park’s “Life Is a Song,” whose lyrics hit the nail right on the metaphorical head with every line. It’s a sequence that’s supposed to make you cry. Unfortunately, the tears I shed when first watching the finale now haunt me whenever the song pops up on my shuffled playlist. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to pretend on the subway that my watery eyes and sniffling are due to a cold rather than Park’s acoustic guitar and cheesy lyrics.
Miles Raymer, EW.com music editor: I refuse to be embarrassed about any emotional reaction I have to any music, but I don’t usually go out of my way to tell people how much Kenny Rogers’s “The Gambler” gets me right in the heart every single time. Maybe it’s because it’s one of the first songs I ever got obsessed with, maybe it’s lingering memories of its surprisingly poignant Muppets music video, or maybe it’s just because as much of a cornball as he can be, Kenny Rogers is still kind of the man.
Andrea Towers, EW Community assistant editor: I’m pretty used to songs from television shows having an emotional impact on me, but there’s only one song that never fails to make me tear up: Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.” Look, before everything got twisty and weird on Grey’s Anatomy, I was pretty much obsessed with Izzie and Denny. Hearing that song will forever bring me back to sitting in my apartment, sobbing my eyes out as Izzie held her dead love in that hospital bed (and the subsequent shot of Alex carrying her out of the room in her prom dress). To embarrass myself even further, whenever I hear the song, I also think of the montage in the Grey’s musical episode, which just makes things worse. I’m sending you my therapy bill, Shonda.
Joshua Rivera, EW.com writer: I want to be moved by art, and there are few things better than an earnestly earned emotional beat—especially when there’s some great music attached. One I keep coming back to is The National’s “About Today” playing over the ending of Warrior. The song itself is sad and moving on its own—especially in the band’s swelling live rendition—but as the climax to that film’s story of family and brotherhood? It chokes me up every time.
Dalene Rovenstine, TV recaps editor: Pretty much any episode of One Tree Hill could make me cry, but none quite like the school shooting in season 3. The episode itself was emotional—Peyton and Lucas finally kiss! Keith dies!—but my sadness was compounded by the fact that Michelle Featherstone’s cover of “God Bless the Child” played in the background. Any version of that song now makes me a little weepy as remember those fictional kids.
Eric Brown, intern: As insecure 16-year-old “indie” boys tend to, I idolized Death Cab for Cutie. Specifically the 2008 weepfest Narrow Stairs—the one with the eight-minute epic about stalking a love interest. The record’s second single, “Cath…,” isn’t as overtly creepy, but it shares that same “women are objects to be loved” vibe. It’s a weirdo jam about wanting to break up a wedding the bride doesn’t know she doesn’t want, and it’s perfect for tearily walking through high school halls behind the girl you were too afraid to ask out—and who’s spoken for now.
Jeff Labrecque, senior writer: I was working on an assembly line where my only job was to zip zippers on small travel bags. It was demoralizing in every possible way. (And no, this wasn’t part of me being smuggled into America.) One day, near my breaking point, Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best for Last” played over the factory speakers, and I might have—MIGHT HAVE!—had to get the dust out of my eyes. It was a one-time thing. Now, due to this Pavlovian conditioning, that song makes me nauseous. Let’s not talk about it anymore.
Natalie Abrams, senior writer: Growing up as a tomboy, there wasn’t much that could make me cry. But hands down, The Sundays’ “Wild Horses” will always make me tear up because it dredges up the heartbreaking memory of Buffy and Angel’s last dance at the prom. Why couldn’t those crazy kids make it work?! Sniff. Excuse me.
Hillary Busis, staff editor: The year: 2006. The setting: My morning drive to high school. The state of my heart: Broken, after a long and tortured on-again/off-again relationship. Clearly, I was in a fragile state… which still doesn’t quite explain why I found myself sobbing when ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” came on the radio. What can I say; “Look at me now/Will I ever learn?/I don’t know how/But I suddenly lose control” was just really apropos.
Samantha Highfill, correspondent: Van Halen’s “Right Now” is not a slow song. It’s not an emotional song. I’m well aware of that, mostly because it used to be my pump-up song before soccer games. But that’s also why it makes me cry. Growing up, my father would use the song’s long opening to set the scene for me and my teammates, narrating the first few seconds of any game. Then we’d sit in the car, in total silence, and use the rest of the song to get our head in play mode. Now, listening to the song makes me want to find a soccer game… and cry for my youth.
Ariana Bacle, EW.com writer: I’m usually not one to feel guilty about what I listen to—you like what you like, man!—but I probably should be embarrassed by my emotional attachment to Pitbull and Ne-Yo’s “Give Me Everything.” When I spent a summer in France, that song was at the top of the charts and playing everywhere—grocery stores, bars, etc. No matter how lost I was feeling in the foreign city (which was often “very”), Pitbull, a South Florida native like myself, could make me feel at home. Now I listen to it and get teary with nostalgia about that summer—and with slight embarrassment that Pitbull, of all artists, was the soundtrack to it.
Mandi Bierly, senior writer: It’s still Dolly Parton’s “Me and Little Andy.” Even if I’m just telling someone the story of a girl (not more than six or seven) and her puppy, who die together—because God knew little Andy would be lonesome with her gone—I tear up. As Parton told me in 2005, “It is a sad-ass song, I have to tell you. I used to do that song on stage, then I got asked one time in Vegas if I could please not. The casino wanted the audience to drink more and lose more money—they didn’t want to bring ’em down. Me singin’ about some little kid whose daddy’s a drunkard, it’s just too much.”
Neil Janowitz, EW.com assistant managing editor: Prior to my sister Lauren’s nuptials in 2009, I had never heard Heartland’s 2006 country ballad “I Loved Her First.” This is because it was a country ballad by a band named Heartland, and, far as I can tell, one that was sonically engineered specifically to become a father-daughter wedding song nonpareil. While I had enjoyed my sister’s wedding prior to her first dance with Pops, I would not say I had been moved by it, nor did I anticipate anything happening that would rally my emotions. I was happy for her, end of story. When the song started, with that now-unmistakable violin line, my initial reaction was curiosity, which soon gave way to confusion—I had never known Laur to follow country music. Then the lyrical assault began, and that savvily manufactured sentiment went lunging for the heartstrings of everyone in earshot. Suddenly everything about that moment—my dad’s contented expression in particular—became a trigger for a personal emotional vortex. The feelings came charging. There was no escaping “I Loved Her First.” There is no escaping “I Loved Her First.”
Esther Zuckerman, staff writer: Here are some facts: I cry at just about everything, and I love musical theater. I love it so much. Seriously, if you play “NYC” from Annie at the right moment, I’ll get choked up. When I saw South Pacific just the overture had me in tears. But one of the most embarrassing things I find myself regularly feeling emotional about is the opening to the 2013 Tony Awards, an original song called “Bigger.” As one is wont to do, I watch this amazing number every so often, and I always find something in my eye when it turns into a patter song and Neil Patrick Harris sings: “There’s a kid in the middle of nowhere sitting there, living for Tony performances singin’ and flippin’ along with the Pippins and Wickeds and Kinkys, Matildas and Mormonses. So we might reassure that kid and do something to spur that kid. Cause I promise you all of us up here tonight. We were that kid.” Kids! Wanting to be on Broadway! It just gets to this sap. What can I tell you?