Created By: DS9guy on December 26, 2011 Last Edited By: DS9guy on March 26, 2015

Plot Moving Song

A song in a musical that pushes the plot along

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These musical-based songs are the opposite of show stoppers and you can't afford to ignore them. They contain important plot details and move the story along. Sometimes, they feel more like conversations set to music. These became standard once Oklahoma! came out and book musicals became popular. This does not count for songs that establish characters and their motivation if they begin and end at the same place in terms of story.

Not to be confused with Magic Music.

Examples:
  • Little Shop of Horrors has a few songs like this. For example, "Feed Me" begins with Seymour finding out that Audrey II can talk and ends with him making a kind of a Faustian Bargain with the plant to kill people.
  • Most of the songs in Legally Blonde: The Musical are good examples of this trope surprisingly enough. For example, "What You Want" begins with Elle getting the idea of going to Harvard Law to impress Warren and ends with her getting accepted into the university.
  • "But Mr. Adams" from 1776 tells us why no one on the Committee of Five but Jefferson can write the Declaration of Independence.
  • Rock Operas like RENT and Jesus Christ Superstar have songs like this in general because these plays have little to no spoken dialogue.
  • In the Buffy episode Once More With Feeling, several songs are used to drive the plot forward:
    • "Going Through the Motions" shows how Buffy has lost her passion
    • "Under Your Spell" deepens and hints at the future of Willow's and Tara's relation
    • "I'll Never Tell" does the same for Xander and Anya
  • From Wicked: "Dancing Through Life", "One Short Day", "Defying Gravity", "Thank Goodness", "The Wicked Witch of the East", and "No Good Deed"
  • From West Side Story (which is unusual for a musical, in that dance most often moves the story forward): "Dance At the Gym", "Rumble", "Taunting Scene".
  • From Pippin, "Welcome Home", "Glory", "On the Right Track", "And There He Was", "Finale". Also, "With You" is usually staged as Pippin's orgy of sex, but the song has nothing in the text to indicate that.
  • Mulan's "I'll Make A Man Out of You" starts and ends in two places: Mulan is still disliked by her peers, and all of the soldiers are abysmal failures. By the end, Ping is one of the guys, and Shang stays true to his word, making men of the pathetic weaklings.
  • The Little Mermaid has "Poor Unfortunate Souls", in which Ursula convinces Ariel to seal her Faustian Bargain.
  • "Prince Ali Reprise" from Aladdin, Jafar's Villain Song, finally brings to light Aladdin's true social status and, more importantly, sends him a few thousand miles north. Impressive for a song that barely breaks a minute.
  • "Hakuna Matata" from The Lion King is an odd example, in that it doesn't really move the plot along, but Simba does age substantially, marking one half of the movie from the other.
  • Sweeney Todd - "The Contest", "Kiss Me", "Pretty Women", "God That's Good", "Wigmaker Sequence", "Final Sequence". "Not While I'm Around" and "Parlor Songs" could be stretched to count, since the action consists of Mrs. Lovett distracting people from the goings-on about them.
  • In The Music Man, Harold Hill uses the song "Ya Got Trouble" to convince the parents of River City that the city's new pool table will corrupt their children and to create the need for a band.
  • Many songs from Frozen qualify:
    • Do You Want To Build a Snowman shows Anna and Elsa growing up, Elsa loosing control of her powers more and more, Elsa learning the Arc Words "conceal don't feel", the growing divide between the sisters Elsa's fear of hurting Anna causes, and finally, the death of the King and Queen.
    • While The First Time in Forever is mainly Anna's "I Want" Song, it also establishes Elsa shakily trying to get her powers under control for her coronation and that the castle gates are opening for the first time in years.
    • Let It Go is mainly Elsa's character growth from a cold, lonely girl concealing her powers, to giving that up to truly embrace who she is and abandon her past. It also establishes Elsa isolating herself in her ice palace and during it, she inadvertently creates Olaf The Snowman, a side kick to the heroes of the duration of the film.
    • The Dark Reprise of The First in Forever is a conversation between the sisters as Anna informs Elsa that her powers have accidentally set off an eternal winter and that's she's here for her, while Elsa begins to hit the the Heroic B.S.O.D. about not ever being truly free and tries to ward Anna off. It ends with the very plot important bit of Elsa accidentally hurting Anna with her powers again and beginning a Race Against the Clock for Anna to find The Powerof Love.
  • Shrek The Musical has a few including "This is How a Dream Comes True", which is basically the tower escape scene from the film set to song.
  • Beauty and the Beast: "Something There", which delves into how Belle and the Beast begin to warm up to each other.
Community Feedback Replies: 30
  • December 28, 2011
    bwburke94
    This looks distinct enough from Magic Music to be its own trope.
  • December 28, 2011
    Duncan
    Nearly all the songs from In The Heights. Even Vanessa's I Want Song is interrupted with plot details.
  • December 29, 2011
    Vyctorian
    Would Rock-operas also be included?
  • December 29, 2011
    DS9guy
    Maybe as an example in general but I'm mainly looking for musicals that have spoken dialogue.
  • December 29, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    Pretty much all the songs in Repo The Genetic Opera would count as this.
  • January 1, 2012
    kjnoren
    Most of the songs in Once More With Feeling.

    However, I think the trope title should be reversed - it is the song driving the plot forward, not the other way around. Perhaps Song Drives Story or Story Driven By Song?
  • January 1, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Mel Brooks discusses this in one Making Of show about The Producers The Musical: it was his first musical and he was told by a more experienced writer that he'd have to gut his favorite scenes in order to make room for the songs, which would drive the plot instead of the scenes.
  • January 1, 2012
    Duncan
    • From Wicked: "Dancing Through Life", "One Short Day", "Defying Gravity", "Thank Goodness", "The Wicked Witch of the East", and "No Good Deed"
    • From West Side Story (which is unusual for a musical, in that dance most often moves the story forward): "Dance At the Gym", "Rumble", "Taunting Scene".
    • From Company, "Getting Married Today", "Barcelona", and "Being Alive".
    • From Pippin, "Welcome Home", "Glory", "On the Right Track", "And There He Was", "Finale". Also, "With You" is usually staged as Pippin's orgy of sex, but the song has nothing in the text to indicate that.

  • January 6, 2012
    Psychobabble6
    • Mulan's "I'll Make A Man Out of You" starts and ends in two places: Mulan is still disliked by her peers, and all of the soldiers are abysmal failures. By the end, Ping is one of the guys, and Shang stays true to his word, making men of the pathetic weaklings.
    • The Little Mermaid has "Poor Unfortunate Souls", in which Ursula convinces Ariel to seal her Faustian Bargain.
    • "Prince Ali Reprise" from Aladdin, Jafar's Villain Song, finally brings to light Aladdin's true social status and, more importantly, sends him a few thousand miles north. Impressive for a song that barely breaks a minute.
    • "Hakuna Matata" from The Lion King is an odd example, in that it doesn't really move the plot along, but Simba does age substantially, marking one half of the movie from the other.
    • Sweeney Todd has a number of songs in which a character makes a significant decision ("Epiphany", where Sweeney decides to become a Serial Killer, immediately followed by "A Little Priest", where Mrs. Lovett cooks up the idea of popping people into pies). One of the best examples, though, is "Poor Thing", in which Mrs. Lovett recounts the story of what happened to Lucy.

    Incidentally, are expositions excluded? (For example, the first songs from Wicked and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame both provide a back story to set up the main plot, and have a fair amount of dialogue).
  • January 8, 2012
    DS9guy
    I'll have to think about exposition but most likely not. Also, I'm wondering whether to include Concept Musicals like Company and Assassins because they are more about ideas and themes than story and characters. Narrative is second nature or non-existent in those kind of musicals.
  • January 8, 2012
    Cerrida
    Not just Sweeney Todd, but several of Stephen Sondheim's songs can be included here. Into the Woods has the title song, It Takes Two, and On the Steps of the Palace, just to name a few. From "West Side Story:" "Cool," "One Heart," "A Boy Like That," and "Something's Coming."
  • January 8, 2012
    Duncan
    ^^^ The Sweeney Todd examples are not really this trope- an emotional decision or feeling does not move the story. Nor does exposition. Songs from Sweeney that would be examples- "The Contest", "Kiss Me", "Pretty Women", "God That's Good", "Wigmaker Sequence", "Final Sequence"... "Not While I'm Around" and "Parlor Songs" could be stretched to count, since the action consists of Mrs. Lovett distracting people from the goings-on about them.

    ^ Ditto these examples from West Side Story, they're mainly static meditations unless you count "One Heart" because Tony and Maria are getting married during it. "A Boy Like That" might count too, since Maria does confess to Anita that she's in love with Tony and it seems Anita understands.
  • January 8, 2012
    Psychobabble6
    See, I was on the fence about the Sweeney Todd ones but sent them anyway. But you're definitely right.
  • January 8, 2012
    DS9guy
    Thanks everyone.
  • February 17, 2013
    lexicon
    Some of the examples are good but "Most of the songs in Once More With Feeling." and any list of songs and a title is a Zero Context Example. I think Plot Driven Song would be a better title.
  • February 19, 2013
    DS9guy
    That's a good title. Thanks.
  • February 19, 2013
    lexicon
    You're welcome. What about the examples? If it's most or all of the songs in a story I don't think they all need context, maybe just the first or most climactic one.
  • February 20, 2013
    Guyven
    What if the work in question is not a musical, yet a song plays a significant role in moving the plot forward, even seems to break the 4th wall slightly in a work where that never happens (basically a reiteration of NOT a musical that suddenly exhibits musical plot elements). I'm mainly thinking about the Battlestar Galactica 3rd season ender. Also happened once or twice during the 4th season with variations on the same song, but it was handled much more in-universe (no 4th-wall interaction).
  • February 21, 2013
    polarbear2217
    Add Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Evita to the list of Rock Operas.

    Aspects Of Love is also sung-through, and most of the music in between the songs with titles just move the plot along.

    Les Miserables is also sung-through, with a lot of the music just moving the plot forward.

    Some songs from Chess such as "Molokov and Anatoly" and "The Deal (No Deal)"

    You could probably count most operas.
  • June 24, 2013
    RockSunner
    What about songs where the singer works in advice to the hero by changing the lyrics on-the-fly?
    • "In My Favorite Dream" from "Mickey and the Beanstalk" has "In the right front pocket you'll find the key. The right front pocket -- go carefully." This advances the plot by telling Mickey how to get the key from the giant to free his friends.
    • "Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes" has a song where Red inserts lyrics to direct them to a jewel under the hat of a thieving cat.
  • June 24, 2013
    lakingsif
    Isn't Song Driven Plot more accurate... cos the song drives the plot, not the other way 'round.
  • June 24, 2013
    MorningStar1337
    • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: the Musical Episode Magical Mystery Cure has two: "What My Cutie Mark is Telling Me" (introduces the swapped cutie marks and destinies) and "A True True Friend" (Basically the Climax thought the all-important "Twilight Sparkle becomes a Winged Unicorn" plot twist comes after. What happens in the song itself is that Twilight is able to reverse the damage and bring her friends back to normal)
  • June 24, 2013
    kjnoren
    Go with Plot Driving Song. Plot Driven Song would imply that the plot brings the song forward, and Song Driven Plot would imply that the entire plot was driven by songs.

    TV:

    • In the Buffy episode Once More With Feeling, several songs are used to drive the plot forward:
      • Going Through the Motions shows how Buffy has lost her passion
      • Under Your Spell deepens and hints at the future of Willow's and Tara's relation
      • I'll Never Tell does the same for Xander and Anya
  • January 9, 2014
    DAN004
    We have a YKTTW called Driving Song...
  • January 9, 2014
    xanderiskander
    ^That means something completely different though. That YKTTW is about songs that sing about driving cars.
  • January 9, 2014
    Paycheckgurl
    • Many songs from Frozen qualify:
      • Do You Want To Build a Snowman shows Anna and Elsa growing up, Elsa loosing control of her powers more and more, Elsa learning the Arc Words "conceal don't feel", the growing divide between the sisters Elsa's fear of hurting Anna causes, and finally, the death of the King and Queen.
      • While The First Time in Forever is mainly Anna's I Want Song, it also establishes Elsa shakily trying to get her powers under control for her coronation and that the castle gates are opening for the first time in years.
      • Let It Go is mainly Elsa's character growth from a cold, lonely girl concealing her powers, to giving that up to truly embrace who she is and abandon her past. It also establishes Elsa isolating herself in her ice palace and during it, she inadvertently creates Olaf The Snowman, a side kick to the heroes of the duration of the film.
      • The Dark Reprise of The First in Forever is a conversation between the sisters as Anna informs Elsa that her powers have accidentally set off an eternal winter and that's she's here for her, while Elsa begins to hit the the Heroic BSOD about not ever being truly free and tries to ward Anna off. It ends with the very plot important bit of Elsa accidentally hurting Anna with her powers again and beginning a Race Against The Clock for Anna to find The Powerof Love.
  • January 10, 2014
    DAN004
    ^^ Just pointing that out.
  • March 5, 2015
    Kartoonkid95
    • Beauty And The Beast: "Something There", which delves into how Belle and the Beast begin to warm up to each other.
  • March 5, 2015
    DS9guy
    Changed the title
  • March 26, 2015
    shimaspawn
    <Mod Hat>

    You seem to have a real issue with ZC Es right off the back. Simply listing the song does not illustrate the trope. All ZC Es and general examples need to be cleaned off the page before the trope is launched.

    </Mod Hat>
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