Fake music in the universe of movies and TV shows is always a tricky proposition. The songs have to be instantly memorable and catchy — in other words, believable as hits even though we the audience haven’t heard them before.
What qualifies as a “fake song”? Inspired by a tweet from writer-comedian Jenny Jaffe, we’re counting diegetic music that was written exclusively for the movie or TV show, and not musical-style numbers that break the laws of reality. These are songs that could conceivably be purchased on iTunes by these characters. Let the countdown commence.
23. “Back Door Lover,” by DuJour (Josie and the Pussycats)
Best lyric: “We love each other way too much / for it to be a sin.”
Josie and the Pussycats has established itself as a cult classic in recent years, and for good reason. It has an all-star cast, meta anti-corporate jokes, and certifiably great music. This song, from fictional boy band Du Jour (which features Donald Faison, Seth Green, and Breckin Meyer), is equal parts filthy and catchy.
22. “Let’s Go to the Mall,” by Robin Sparkles (How I Met Your Mother)
Best lyric: “Come on Jessica, come on Tori, / Let’s go to the mall, you won’t be sorry.”
This uber-upbeat tween-bop could have totally been by Tiffany, in a world where Tiffany was super-Canadian and rhymed “Tori” with “sorry.”
21. “Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It),” by Big Fun (Heathers)
Best lyric: “Teenage suicide (don’t do it!) / Teenage suicide (don’t do it!) / Teenage suicide (don’t do it!)”
No, Big Fun isn’t a real band, but everything about it is totally plausible, from the name to the fact that they wrote a Very Special Song about a local teen epidemic.
20. “Take Me Away,” by Pink Slip (Freaky Friday)
Best lyric: “Round and round, here we go again / Same old start, same old end.”
For most people, when they hear “song from Freaky Friday,” they immediately think “Ultimate.” And while that song, from Lindsay Lohan, definitely slaps, it’s actually “Take Me Away,” played by her fictional band, that makes me wish Pink Slip were a real girl group.
19. “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” by Tracy Jordan (30 Rock)
Best lyric: “Boys becoming men / Men becoming wolves.“
Since 30 Rock writer Donald Glover sings on the verses of the extended version, this is technically a Childish Gambino song.
18. “I Love You So Much It’s Scary,” by Boyz 4 Now (Bob’s Burgers)
Best lyric: “When I see you, I fall apart, like a zombie / I got too nervous to ask you out, to the prom-bie.”
Another monster-themed song, and the best jam from animated boy band Boyz 4 Now, in a show filled with great songs.
17. “My Shiny Teeth and Me,” by Chip Skylark (Fairly Odd Parents)
Best lyric: “Those bones in my jaw / That don’t have a flaw / My shiny teeth and me.”
Chip Skylark wasn’t actually voiced by Justin Timberlake, but isn’t that just one of those things that if I told you was true, you would fully believe me? There has never been a catchier song about brushing teeth, and there never will be.
16. “Walk Hard,” by Dewey Cox (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story)
Best lyric: “You know when I was a boy, folks used to say to me / ‘Slow down Dewey, don’t walk so hard’”
All earnest music biopics should have been legally banned after Walk Hard came out in 2007.
15. “Let Me Drive My Van (Into Your Heart),” by Mr. Universe (Steven Universe)
Best lyric: “And if we look out of place / Well, baby, that’s okay / I’ll drive us into outer space / Where we can’t hear what people say.”
This low-fi dad-rock song has fully driven its van into my heart.
14. “Mona Lisa,” by Connor4Real (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping)
Best lyric: “Looks like a Garbage Pail Kid!”
Popstar is full of Lonely Island gems (“Humble,” “Finest Girl”), but it’s “Mona Lisa,” which we only get a snippet of in the film, that’s somehow the most infectiously catchy.
13. “Why Did You Do That To Me,” by Ally (A Star Is Born)
Best lyric: “Why did you do that / Do that, do that, do that, do that to me?”
In the words of a philosopher, “Why do you look so good in those jeans? / Why you come around me with an ass like that?”
12. “My Brother’s Gay,” by Chase Dreams (The Other Two)
Best lyric: “He kisses men / That turns him on. / And if you think that’s gross, well then I think you’re wrong.”
If you haven’t started watching The Other Two yet, consider this a formal reprimand. The song is ridiculous but just believable enough that it seems impossible no one has done it yet.
11. “Supernova Girl,” by Proto Zoa (Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century)
Best lyric: “Interplanetary, megastellar, hydrostatic / There’s no gravity between us / Our love is automatic.”
Zoom, zoom, zoom. And now this song is stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Side note: I would definitely have a crush on Proto Zoa.
10. “Buddha’s Delight,” by Cora Corman (Music and Lyrics)
Best lyric: “So forget about your past life / ’Cause this could be our last life.”
Music and Lyrics is a treasure trove of genuinely catchy songs, thanks in part to patron saint of the fake-song-song Adam Schlesinger. This hit, from fictional culturally appropriating pop star Cora Corman, is a sexy jam that also advocates for a healthy vegetarian diet. We stan an eco-friendly queen!
9. “Killer Tofu,” by the Beets (Doug)
Best lyric: “I eat my sugared cereal / But it makes my teeth bacterial.”
Another vegetarian jam! The Beets are a play on the Beatles, but their sound is definitely more Ramones. Although it was a close call between this song and “I Need Mo’ Allowance,” “Killer Tofu” has a catchy chorus riff that’s hard to beat.
8. “Inside of You,” by Infant Sorrow (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)
Best lyric: “I long to be / Is it wrong to be / Inside of you.”
Aldous Snow was such a good and plausible rock star that they literally gave him an entire movie.
7. “Stand Out,” by Powerline (A Goofy Movie)
“All I need is half a chance, a second thought, a second glance’ll prove / I got whatever it takes / It’s a piece of cake.”
At some point, everyone has fantasized about pulling off a truly epic lip-sync at school and impressing their crush. Max Goof pulled it off and picked the catchiest song from Powerline, who was Bruno Mars before Bruno Mars even existed.
6. “Scotty Doesn’t Know,” by Lustra (Eurotrip)
Best lyric: “I can’t believe he’s so trustin’ / While I’m right behind you thrustin’.”
The song is gloriously filthy and includes the added bonus of giving us a pierced punk-rock Matt Damon.
5. “Pop! Goes My Heart,” by Pop! (Music and Lyrics)
Best lyric: “You are gold and silvah-ah.”
Another Music and Lyrics entry for a song that seems pulled straight out of the ’80s. One listen is all you need in order to be on board with the film’s premise that this band was huge in its time but didn’t have a long lifespan.
4. “Please Mr. Kennedy,” (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Best lyric: “I’m 6-foot-2, and so perhaps you’ll / Tell me how to fit into a five-foot capsule.”
Sure, we get that the song is supposed to be soulless and intentionally mediocre, but the truth is, it’s a jam. Every song would be improved by Adam Driver in the background singing, “Outer! Space!”
3. “That Thing You Do,” by The Wonders (That Thing You Do!)
Best lyric: “You, doing that thing you do / Breaking my heart into / A million pieces / Like you always do.”
A song so good its become a part of the musical lexicon, one of those songs like “Mrs. Robinson” that makes you do a double-take when you remember it was actually written just for a movie. This is another one by Adam Schlesinger.
2. “Drive It Like You Stole It,” by Sing Street (Sing Street)
Best lyric: “I’m outta here, no turnin’ back / In a baby-blue Cadillac / Just when I was stallin’ / I heard an angel callin’.”
A song much too good to believably belong to a high school band, but we’ll let it slide because the song is just so good.
1. “Pretend to Be Nice,” by Josie and the Pussycats (Josie and the Pussycats)
Best lyric: “Why do you do what you do to me, baby? / Shakin’ my confidence, driven’ me crazy.”
And we’re back to Josie and the Pussycats! Bookending our list is the catchiest song from the world’s best fictional band (with vocals by Letters to Cleo frontwoman Kay Hanley). Once again, we have Schlesinger to thank. The Fountains of Wayne bassist (who’s currently a songwriter for the musical TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) knows how to do pastiche while still making a downright good song.