Meredith and Cristina dancing
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Let’s Talk About the Grey’s Anatomy Soundtrack

We’ve already established that I’m a massive Grey’s Anatomy fan. There are many factors that make it such a binge worthy show, but one of the main ones has to be the music that features. The heart-wrenching storylines are so frequently paired with the perfect soundtracks that help to make the most emotional scenes that little bit more painful, and I’m totally here for it. The hand-picked songs paired with some of the most gut-wrenchingly emotional scenes have meant that my Spotify library is filled with a random collection of songs that (more often than not) make up my “Cry It Out” playlist (yes, I have one of those). So, I thought today I would put together a post that pays homage to some of the best Grey’s Anatomy music over it’s 17-18 years. Enjoy, and immediately add this shit to your playlist if you love a good cry.

Let's Talk About the Grey's Anatomy Soundtrack Pinterest artwork

And yes, to state the obvious (or rather, the obvious for any Grey’s fans, I will be discussing the musical episode, Song Beneath the Song, later in this post). 

This post contains spoilers for seasons of 1-16 of Grey’s Anatomy, so read with caution!

The Best Songs From the Grey’s Anatomy Soundtrack

Into the Fire – Thirteen Sense

Episode Featured: S1E1 – A Hard Day’s Night, S12E12 – My Next Life

This particular song immediately sets us off on the Grey’s journey, playing in the first episode during the first big surgery scene. It sets up the drama and suspense that the show is best known for, and of course, it plays over the first time we hear Derek Shepherd utter his iconic catchphrase – “Alright, everybody. It’s a beautiful night to save lives. Let’s have some fun.”

Derek stands in the OR wearing his ferryboat scrub cap and a surgical mask. He looks around and says "Alright everybody. It's a beautiful night to save lives. Let's have some fun."

The song also features later during the run of the show, both in Season 8’s “what if” episode and in Season 12, where Katie Bryce – the very patient Derek operates on in the pilot – returns to the hospital. Of course in Season 12, following his  death, Katie’s case is taken over by Derek’s sister, Amelia, and the song plays as she’s wheeled into surgery. It takes the viewer right back to the very first episode, and it hits you right in the feels, especially when you see the impact that the patient has on Meredith and Amelia.

Today Has Been Okay – Emiliana Torrini

Episode Featured: S2E6 – Into You Like a Train, S6E2 – Goodbye, S11E21 – How to Save a Life

Today Has Been Okay is this raw, emotional song that’s so simplistic but incredibly effective, and it feels a lot like the song is about overcoming hardships and just simply surviving. The first time this particular song featured was during what was the first scene to completely break me – the train crash. While they’re riding the elevator together, Bailey notices Derek is visibly upset over what’s happened, so she stops it so that he can compose himself. It’s a scene that shows this mutual respect between them both, and it’s later replicated early in Season 6, after George O’Malley’s death, where Derek does the same for Bailey. Then of course, for good measure, we hear the song again in Season 11, during the scene where the doctors fight to save Derek after his car accident, except this time, it’s a haunting, stripped back cover by Sleeping at Last.

Breathe (2am) – Anna Nalick

Episode Featured: S2E17 – As We Know It, S7E18 – Song Beneath the Song (performed by Chyler Leigh).

The first time that Breathe (2am) appears in Grey’s is in one of the most iconic episodes of the entire show, and that’s when Meredith is left holding a bomb that’s been fired into a patient’s chest. The entire episode is full of suspense and you’re on edge pretty much the entire time. As Meredith starts to panic, the song kicks in, and it creates this weird contrast of  calm and dread. The calming tone of the song feels like it’s almost reassuring the viewer, but at the same time, you can feel the suspense building. Then, just as you start to think perhaps the worst is over, the bomb explodes. It just instantly shows how choosing the right song can give a scene even more of an impact.

When the song features again in Season 7, as the doctors fight to save Callie and her unborn baby’s life, you’re instantly taken back to the bomb episode, leaving you to wonder whether or not there’s going to be a similar outcome. However, this time around, the set-up is different, as it’s performed beautifully by Chyler Leigh in the scene where Lexie comforts Mark. While the song still packs an emotional punch over the whole sequence, there’s no denying that it being set to that iconic bomb episode is the one that will forever stay in our minds.

Chasing Cars – Snow Patrol

Episode Featured: S2E27 – Losing My Religion, S7E18 – Song Beneath the Song (performed by Sara Ramirez, Kevin McKidd and Chandra Wilson), S11E21 – How to Save a Life (performed by Sleeping at Last), S11E22/23 – She’s Leaving Home (performed by The Wind and the Wave)

Ask any Grey’s fan about a song they can’t listen to without being emotionally punched in the face, and they’ll probably tell you that it’s Chasing Cars. So far (at the time of writing), it’s a song that’s featured four times in the entire run of the show – albeit by different artists. The most iconic has to be the first time it features –  the Season 2 finale, Losing My Religion. I don’t know about you, but every time I hear it I can see Alex lifting a heartbroken Izzie away from Denny’s body, and it still breaks me.

Izzie lies sobbing against Denny's body while Alex goes to lift her off the bed.

You’ve also got the oddly surreal version performed by Sara Ramirez, Kevin McKidd and Chandra Wilson in the musical episode. Callie’s ghost watches while the doctors fight to save her life after a horrific car accident – it’s a weird experience, but given that Chasing Cars is such an iconic song in Grey’s history, it still instantly creates that intense, emotional set up.

Finally, we get a double dose of Chasing Cars in Season 11, as  every single Grey’s fan lost their shit over the death of Derek Shepherd. After he’s declared braindead, Meredith watches with tears in her eyes as the nurse unplugs his machines, and we’re hit with another haunting and heartbreaking cover by Sleeping At Last. Then, just when you think Shonda and her gang have stopped emotionally beating you by killing off beloved characters, there’s more to come. After being MIA for over a year after Derek’s death, Meredith returns to Seattle and gets ready for her first surgery on return to the hospital. Over the montage of her returning to the Dream House and standing in the elevator with Bailey, a cover version of by The Wind and the Wave plays. It’s truly heartbreaking, and it’s made even more powerful when Meredith puts on Derek’s trademark ferry boat scrub cap.

Derek lies in a hospital bed covered in bruises, with his head bandaged and a tube in his throat. Meredith looks at him with tears in her eyes and says "Derek. It's okay. You go. We'll be fine."

You may be thinking “it’s just one song,” how does it have so much power? Well, I think it’s largely because of the reaction it created the very first time it featured, making it such an iconic song within the show’s musical repertoire. If you combine that with the heartbreaking scenes of Derek’s death, you’re combining the emotions you felt in that earlier episode with this one, but the cover versions create something completely different, even though it’s the same song. The end result? Me crying into my gin and being completely inconsolable.

Top Frame: Derek puts on his ferryboat scrub cap and smiles. Bottom frame: Meredith looks sad as she puts on Derek's ferry boat scrub cap.

Keep Breathing – Ingrid Michaelson

Episode Featured: S3E25 – Didn’t We Almost Have It All?

This song features in the Season 3 finale during the final scenes, when Burke leaves Cristina at the altar. Meredith tells all the guests that “it’s over” and later finds Cristina alone in Burke’s apartment. Cristina then breaks down while Meredith has to cut her out of her wedding dress. TEARS.

Cristina cries as she tries to get out of her wedding dress while Meredith hugs her from behind.

The thing I loved the most about Keep Breathing was the melody and the soothing tone of the song, and the more I listened to it, I discovered that it’s such a good song to listen to when you’re feeling anxious. So much so, to the point where I listened to it as we were taking off on my first ever plane journey. Going back to the Grey’s side of things, it fits in so well with the scene where Meredith cuts Cristina out of her wedding dress, as the scene in question pairs with the climax of the song. It’s just heartbreaking, and at the same time, it highlights the strength of their friendship.

Drifting Further Away – Powderfinger

Episode Featured: S5E13 – Stairway to Heaven

I mentioned this song in an earlier post – the entire final scenes of this episode for some reason just completely destroy me. The storyline is that Meredith wants to show compassion for a patient, William, who’s an inmate on death row, and he asks her to go to his execution so he can “see a friendly face in the crowd.” Meredith being Meredith, she does, but it breaks her, so much to the point where Derek can do nothing but drive her to Cristina’s apartment and helplessly tell her “she’s in the car and she won’t stop crying.” I don’t get what makes Drifting Further Away such a powerful song, but it fits so well with the final sequence of this episode, and as we see William’s final moments, it hits even harder. It’s strange how Shonda’s writing combined with a flawless selection of music can get us crying over the death of a serial killer, but that’s Grey’s for you.

Meredith, crying, tells Derek "I know you  don't understand me. I don't understand me."

The Story – Brandi Carilie

Episode Featured: S7E17 – Song Beneath the Song

While the original version of Brandi Carlile’s The Story doesn’t appear in a main episode, Sara Ramirez’s version in the musical episode is AMAZING. She performs it during the final scene of the episode so already, you’ve been through the emotions ringer, but her incredible vocals instantly push you over the edge into full blown tears.

Callie's ghost stands over her unconscious body lying in a hospital bed.

Kiss Me – Ed Sheeran

Episode Featured: S9E10 – Things We Said Today

Let’s be honest, when Ed Sheeran gets involved you know shit’s about to get emotional. Kiss Me wasn’t a song of his that I’d heard before, but I instantly fell in love with it the first time I heard it, and that was when it was paired with this scene. It’s Bailey and Ben’s wedding day, but when Richard’s wife, Adele, is rushed into the hospital, she puts everything off to operate on her. Adele’s surgery is successful, meaning Bailey and Ben still get married, albeit later than planned. During the first dance, Meredith spots Richard in the crowd, where he tells her that Adele died of a heart attack shortly after she woke up from her surgery. The two then put their arms around each other and stand in silence, with tears in their eyes.. It’s another classic example of how Grey’s overloads you with drama, and gets you to a point where you think everything’s going to be okay. Then, they hit you with something like this. It’s heartbreaking and another classically bittersweet moment.

Where Does the Good Go – Tegan and Sara

Episode Featured: S10E24 – Fear of the Unknown 

Meredith and Cristina dancing it out for the last time will forever live in my head rent free – it’s one of the only Grey’s exits I didn’t get mad about. She didn’t die, she didn’t do anything out of character, she did a real “Cristina” thing and left for the job of a lifetime in Switzerland. The two decide to dance it out one last time in an on-call room to Tegan and Sara’s Where Does the Good Go, and it kicks you right in the goddamn feels. As we know, Tegan and Sara feature multiple times in various episodes, but for me, this is the song that sticks out the most because of this scene.

Meredith and Cristina dancing in an on-call room.

That Musical Episode

Okay, so we can’t talk about the songs in Grey’s Anatomy without looking at the elephant in the room. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times already, but let’s look at it in a bit more detail. The Season 7 episode, Song Beneath the Song, is largely focused on Callie Torres, after she and Arizona are involved in a horrific car accident. Arizona gets out with a few cuts and bruises, but pregnant Callie’s life is in danger, as is their unborn baby. As the Seattle Grace Mercy West doctors work to save Callie and her baby, Callie has an out-of-body experience where her ghost wanders the hospital and hears the doctors performing musical numbers. 

The episode was widely criticised, and I can see why to an extent. It’s definitely cringe in a lot of places, and overall it’s just weird hearing the characters we know so well just…singing. It just feels out of place in a drama – for example, the Scrubs musical episode felt much more fitting, because while it was dramatic in places, it was often quite silly, so the idea of a musical didn’t feel too out of place. In a show that’s normally packed with drama and that has people dying every other episode, it doesn’t work all that well. 

Having said all that, there are a few good points to the Grey’s Anatomy musical episode, the main one being the performance of Sara Ramirez, who plays Callie. Not only does her acting shine, the episode also showcases her amazing voice. But it’s not just her – Song Beneath the Song also showcases the vocal talents of some of the other cast members, including Chandra Wilson (Bailey), Kevin McKidd (Owen Hunt), James Pickens Jr (Richard Webber), and Justin Chambers (Alex Karev). 

While we’re on the topic of Justin Chambers, we need to talk about his performance in Running on Sunshine, which is an absolute bop – even though the lighthearted feel of the song doesn’t really fit into the dramatic storyline, but there you go. He only has a couple of lines in the song, those 10 seconds or however long they are will live in my head rent free – “SOMETHING TELLS ME YOUR NAME IS LUCY” – holy shiiiit. 
So, that was quite a journey through the Grey’s musical back catalogue. Even if you’re not a fan of the show, at the very least check out these songs. I mean, I’d rather you check out the whole thing (you’re welcome), but it’s a pretty big time commitment, so if you don’t have the time or you know, just can’t be arsed, then fine. Just check out the songs – they’re perfect if you need a good cry at the very least.

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