It's 1962 Baltimore and Tracy Turnblad is a huge fan of The Corny Collins Show, which is similar to American Bandstand. She also is a fan of big hairstyles which require hairspray to stay in place - a trend the adults disapprove of. When one of the old dancers has to leave because of pregnancy, an audition is held for a new female dancer, and Tracy gets the spot because of her talent and her exuberant personality. This leads to a chain of events that will change Baltimore forever...
The film eventually inspired a 2002 Broadway musical. The music was changed for this production. The original film was for the most part not a musical per se, just full of music, and its songs were all Dance Sensation songs of one sort or another. The musical had songs tell the story more directly. The storyline is similar to the original, but some details and some emphases were adjusted (for example, most references to Velma Von Tussle in the tropes below are from the Broadway musical or second film, as her role was greatly expanded from the original). It won eight Tony Awards, and introduced the world to Marissa Jaret Winokur (who previously was more known as the fast-food girl with Kevin Spacey in American Beauty).
NBC aired a live performance in December 2016, in its fourth annual live musical event. It contained some "firsts" for NBC musicals, such as their first to air on a Wednesday instead of a Thursday, their first performed with a live studio audience, and their first recorded partially outdoors. (Except for the timeslot, all of this follows the lead of Fox's Grease production, which this special shares a live television director with). Per John Waters' preference for a newcomer, Maddie Baillio plays Tracy, while Broadway's original Edna, Harvey Fierstein, reprised his role, and wrote the teleplay (a responsibility he previously assumed for NBC's The Wiz telecast).
Not to be confused with Hair.
- Acrofatic: Tracy, who overweight, but dances like a champ. Edna, too—she does a fair amount of fleet-footed dancing in the 2007 version. While John Travolta isn't overweight, he's wearing a lot of foam rubber padding, so his dancing is doubly impressive.
- Added Alliterative Appeal:
- "That's pretty pricey for a pair of petty pants!"
- "Penny Pingleton, you are permanently, positively, punished!"
- An Aesop: Depends on the movie, but here are a few:
- Follow your dreams.
- Always stand up for what you believe is right.
- No matter how much of a nice person you are, not everybody is going to like you and that's okay.
- Embrace your differences.
- Alliterative Name: Tracy Turnblad, Penny and Prudy Pingleton, Velma Von Tussle, Corny Collins, Link Larkin, Motormouth Maybelle, Seaweed J. Stubbs.
- Black Comedy: Loads and loads of jokes about racism, sexual misconduct, and the clashing social mores of the 60s.
- Crosscast Role: Edna is always played by a man.
- Deadpan Snarker: Penny has her moments:Maybelle(after seeing that Penny and Seaweed were in love): So this is love. Well, love is a gift, but a lot of people don't remember that. So, you two better brace yourselves for a whole lotta ugly comin' at you from a neverending parade of stupid.
Penny: So, you met my mom?
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The vastly different social mores of the 60s is the third most important character, after big hair and the upbeat music, especially in the original movie. Aside from the obvious racism, there's the open weight-shaming the mildly chunky Tracy experiences on a daily basis, one of Corny Collins' dancers getting fired for getting pregnant, and the fact that Tracy's unorthodox hairstyle is considered enough of a symbol of defiance to get her sent to detention, just to name a few examples.
- Ensemble Dark Horse: An In-Universe example happens with Tracy herself. Despite Amber being the lead dancer, Tracy becomes a new member of the show and she becomes just as popular as Amber.
- Generation Xerox: It's implied, by the ending, that Tracy and Link will be the future version of Tracy's parents; Tracy as the big woman and Link as the skinny guy.
- Genki Girl: Tracy is very cheerful and energetic.
- Girlish Pigtails: Penny's hair is in pigtails.
- HeelFace Turn: Amber and Velma in the musical; just Amber seems to get one in the film (walking out on her mother and getting along with a black dancer), even after the Humiliation Conga. Also, the rest of the Corny Collins Show council in all versions.
- Henpecked Husband: Or rather, Henpecked Boyfriend. Link is henpecked by his girlfriend Amber.
- Irony: The irony of white teenagers dancing to music by black people in whites only establishments is noted.
- Jerkass: Velma Von Tussle in the musical and even more so in its film adaptation (where she's less Laughably Evil), and Amber Von Tussle for a good while due to emulating her mother. The whole Von Tussle family takes this to ridiculously extreme levels in the original 1988 film. Tracy and (especially) Edna have their moments there too, in stark contrast to the kind people they are in the musical and 2007 film.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Corny Collins is very smarmy and egotistical ("The only thing better than Hairspray...that's me!), but his heart is shown to be in the right place.
- Mood Whiplash: Tracy's line in the opening number (Good morning Baltimore/There's the flasher who lives next door!) It's even better in the 2007 film, where the flasher is played by John Waters himself (who, by his own admission, has the perfect look for the role.)
- Not So Different: Tracy, Penny, and Amber all have radically different personalities, but are the same when it comes to their mother issues, as shown in the play's "Mama, I'm a big girl now" number.
- Rose-Tinted Narrative: Played with. In any incarnation it's definitely a loving look at the dance crazes and American Bandstand-style shows of the sixties. And then the fun times get spoiled when the racism of that period is highlighted.
- Satellite Love Interest: Link in the original 1988 film, and to a lesser extent in the 2007 film. Deliberately subverted in the stage musical, where his Character Development is about stopping being a shallow tool and doing things for himself.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: In especially the musical, Hairspray is as optimistic as it gets. Note that the horribly racist politics of the 60s are in no way downplayed, but they're almost entirely Played for Laughs.
- Spontaneous Choreography: The film's grand finale has perfectly synced yet improvised groups dances.
- The Theme Park Version: Of The '60s, particularly the anti-segregation movement. Doesn't mean the movie's bad, though.
- World of Ham: Even in the non-musical versions, it's this. Christopher Walken and John Travolta are actually some of the subtlest performers in the 2007 movie.
- Where Da White Women At?:
- Seaweed and Penny, who end up getting together despite it being taboo. Prudy, Penny's mother, even flips out when she sees them together on TV.
- At the end of the play, Amber winds up with an attraction to one of the black dancers, even jumping in his arms!
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Penny to Seaweed as she gets dragged away by her racist parents and therapist and put into a strait-jacket.
- Betty and Veronica: Tracy is the Betty to Amber's Veronica over Link's Archie.
- During the "Ladies's Choice" dance, though smitten with the makeout kid from earlier, she really likes Link and Tracy to choose between one of the two suitors closest to her.
- Big "SHUT UP!": Paddy Pingleton (Penny's racist father) yells at his daughter to shut up as she yells out to Seaweed that she loves him.
- The Cameo: Pia Zadora and Ric Ocasek as Beatniks - the former even starts reading Howl to the naive kids.
- Covert Pervert: While Amber is introducing "The Roach", Arvin Hodgepile is quite blatantly staring down the top of her dress.
- Creator Cameo: John Waters plays the psychiatrist that hypnotizes/tortures Penny.
- Drugs Are Bad: When Tracy, Link, Penny and Seaweed take refuge in a beatnik's shelter, they are shocked at the beatnik chick's request of smoking weed and leave (the request alone is shocking enough to make a beatnik next to her non-fatally put his head through his painting).
- Insistent Terminology: Divine stated she was not in drag in the film, because no drag queen would ever let herself be as frumpy as Edna is in the film.
- Large Ham: Divine as Hodgepile. Zadora also hams it up.
- Running Gag: The kids run into a beatnik couple, and the woman says she uses a straightening iron to get her hair so silky. This leads to a couple scenes where the girls are using a clothing iron to straighten their hair complete with laying their heads on an ironing boardnote . This is given a subtle shout-out in the second movie at the end, where Tracy and Penny have straightened their hair for the big show as if out of protest.
- Starmaking Role: Not that John Waters and Divine were unknowns in 1988, but this was their first truly mainstream film. Divine was even tapped to play Peg Bundy's parents on Married...With Children, but sadly died before they could shoot his scenes. Which is why later episodes have Peg's mother heard and not seen, other than the fact that she's inhumanly obese.
- Take That!:Tracy: Where do you go after special ed?
- Waxing Lyrical:
- AcCENT upon the Wrong SylLABle: Really, Accent on the Wrong Word, but it's just as annoying."You can try to stop the paradise we're dreaming of"
- Adaptational Dye Job: Originally a blonde in the 1988 film, Penny becomes a redhead for the stage musical. In the second film, her hair is dirty blonde bordering on light brown, and the 2016 telecast, she's a brunette.
- Bait-and-Switch: Wilbur interrupts the program to suspiciously wheel in a giant can of hairspray, which Velma suspects is a Trojan Horse to sneak Tracy into the show, and she has it kept shut. Turns out, Tracy shows up by walking into the studio, and Edna was in the can for her television debut. This doesn't occur in the 2007 movie.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Edna warns Tracy this after discussing her failed dreams to design fashion, and become "the biggest thing in brassieres".
- Broken Smile: Velma Von Tussle displays a perfect example when the show is finally integrated in the play. In the second movie, she stays pissy throughout, probably due to losing her job.
- Cavalier Competitor: Amber after losing; quickly in the 2007 film, gradually as "You Can't Stop The Beat" goes on in the musical. Also counts as Graceful Loser.
- Climactic Music: "You Can't Stop the Beat", the climactic number that coincides with the climactic dance showdown.
- Curtain Call: The play and the telecast both have one. This marks NBC's first time ending a live musical with a curtain call.
- Dark Reprise: In the Broadway musical, Tracy sings a reprise of "Good Morning Baltimore" after she finds out she won't be granted any bail. And while "Miss Baltimore Crabs" was already dark, "Velma's Revenge" is much darker.
- Gag Boobs: Wilbur grabs and shakes Edna's breasts during "You're Timeless to Me" for no other apparent reason than comedy.
- Graceful Loser: In the second movie, Amber was surprisingly mature about her defeat, indicating Character Development. She and her mother both become graceful losers in the stage show as well, after much sulking, they give in and realize that they "can't stop the beat". See HeelFace Turn in the first folder.
- Ham-to-Ham Combat: "(You're) Timeless to Me", especially on Broadway where the actors playing Edna and Wilbur seemed to be in a contest over who will corpse first.
- Hidden Track: The Original Broadway Cast Recording follows up "You Can't Stop the Beat" with a few seconds of silence, then another song titled, "Blood on the Pavement", in which Link, Amber, and Velma use Lyrical Dissonance to warn against drunk driving.
- Historical In-Joke: When Penny rushes to show the Turnblads Tracy's TV debut, Edna misunderstands and thinks she's trying to show them the footage of John Glenn's space trip. She chastises her, saying "Oh, I've seen it! It's all some studio out in Hollywood. Do they really expect me to believe he's up there?" In the stage version, it's "Oh no, don't tell me Khrushchev has his shoes off again!"
- I Take Offense to That Last One!:Link Larkin: I shoulda been there, beside her. I can't sleep. I can't eat...
Edna Turnblad: You can't eat? Well, come on in and worry with us. I'll make you some pork.
Link: I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, I couldn't even concentrate!
- Or, in the stage version,
Tracy: You couldn't eat?
- Implausible Deniability: Edna refuses to believe that First Lady Jackie Kennedy's hairstyle has anything to do with hairspray."I believe it is just naturally stiff."
- Lean and Mean:
- The Makeover: Tracy and Edna get one in "Welcome to the Sixties"; Tracy gets another when she crashes the beauty contest. Penny gets one in the finale as well, and Edna comes out of the Hairspray Can in the musical with clothing she made herself.
- Popular Is Dumb: The openly embraced creed of the Nicest Kids in Town:Who cares about sleep, when you can snooze in school?
they'll never get to college but they sure look cool!
Don't need a cap or a gown
When you're the Nicest Kids in Town!
- Sextra Credit: Played for Laughs in some performances, where, after the dodgeball scene, the gym coach (usually a Dirty Old Man if not a Butch Lesbian) asks the girls to follow the coach into the showers for some "extra credit". Velma also makes reference to the competitive variation in "Miss Baltimore Crabs".Velma: Those poor runners up might still hold some grudges/they padded their cups, but I screwed the judges!
- Shout-Out: The stage musical contains a few references to Gypsy. In the beginning, these references were quite timely, as Hairspray premiered on Broadway in the same season as a revival of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters. By the time Hairspray closed, these references would again become timely, as a new revival starring Patti LuPone had just started its run.
- Stigmatic Pregnancy Euphemism: Dancer Brenda must take time off from Corny's show, thus prompting the audition. How long will she be gone? "Just nine months..."
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: In the stage show, when Tracy makes her grand entrance to the "Miss Hairspray" competition, Corny has a lovely throwaway line: "I had nothing to do with this complex conspiracy!" What complex conspiracy is that, Corny?
- Teen Pregnancy: The reason The Corny Collins Show needs a new dancer in the first place.Corny: And speaking of the unexpected, our own fun-loving, freewheeling Brenda will be taking a leave of absence from the show. How long will you be gone, Brenda?Brenda: (giant smile unwavering) Just nine months.Corny: ...So, it seems we have an opening for a girl who's just as fun-loving, but maybe not quite as freewheeling.
- "They've Come So Far" Song:
- "I Know Where I've Been," which is about the continuing fight against prejudice as much as it is about the progress of the characters and plot.
- And another song called "Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)" was written for the 2007 film adaptation. However, unlike "I Know Where I've Been," it lacks the narrative significance typically associated with this trope, as it is played over the credits rather than as part of the film. (Some productions of the play, including NBC's telecast, have the cast sing it during the curtain call.)
- Took a Level in Kindness: Tracy and Edna could be pretty surly and offputting on several occasions in the original film (Edna in particular due to being played by Divine, the inspiration for Ursula, and it shows), but are very nice people in the musical.
- Villain Song: In addition to Velma's "Miss Baltimore Crabs" above, Amber gets "Cooties" or "New Girl in Town". The other members of the Corny Collins Show council contribute to all of these, as well.
- Actor Allusion: Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken have a scene where she advances on him sexily, and he tries to stop her by using practical jokes as weapons. It's a deliberate homage to the end of Batman Returns, where they did the same thing as Catwoman and Max Shreck (although Walken used an actual gun in the latter).
- Adaptational Villainy:
- Velma Von Tussle goes from being merely annoying and overbearing in the stage musical to being a horrible boss and rigging the pageant in Amber's favor.
- Penny's mother is a minor example. Her harshness towards Penny is much more pronounced, and she doesn't have her moment of redemption in the end.
- Bigot with a Crush: After losing the Miss Hairspray contest, the racist Amber is seen crushing on a black boy looking at her from the stage. Her equally but more racist mother Velma notices this and tells her to stop it.
- Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Inez Stubbs becomes the first black female to win Miss Teenage Hairspray.
- But Not Too Black: A lot of people objected to Queen Latifah's casting, claiming that she's too light for the role, especially given certain lines in her song refer to how dark her skintone is.
- Casting Gag:
- Jerry Stiller plays fashion store owner Mr Pinky. Stiller played Wilbur Turnblad in the original 1988 film. Several other actors from the original and the director appear as well, see "The Cameo".
- Brittany Snow essentially fulfilled the same role as Tracy in her show American Dreams except she actually danced on American Bandstand.
- Chekhov's Gun : The large, hollow hairspray canister in the foreground while Corny and Velma are arguing about putting Tracy on the show.
- Chekhov's Gunman:
- When Velma switches the Miss Teenage Hairspray votes at the end of the movie, Edna, in disguise, is the only one to see her do it; later, it's Edna who orchestrates the Engineered Public Confession described below.
- Early in the movie, Velma harasses a cameraman for not giving Amber enough screen time during the Corny Collins Show. Guess who helps Edna and Wilbur expose Velma's cheating by letting them use his camera?
- Comically Missing the Point: This exchange with Motormouth Maybelle and Tracy Turnblad when the former tries to get Tracy to be aware of the blatant racism in the 60s:Motormouth Maybelle: You've been dozing off in history class??Tracy: Yes, always.
- Continuity Nod: The 2007 film makes several references to scenes from the 1988 movie that don't happen in the new version. During one song montage, Tracy is knocked in the head during dodge ball. One of the nasty rumors Amber tries to start is about Tracy getting put into Special Ed.
- Creator Cameo: John Waters, director of the 1988 film, appears as a flasher during "Good Morning Baltimore", and director Adam Shankman, composer/lyricist Mark Shaiman and co-composer/lyricist Scott Wittman play talent agents. The associate choreographers also make appearances.
- Curtain Clothing: An extremely subtle one: The dress Penny wears during "You Can't Stop The Beat" is made from the curtains in her room.
- Curse Cut Short: Amber sounds like she's about to call another female dancer a whore before Link intervenes.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance : Many tongue in cheek examples, particularly during "Welcome to the Sixties." Two pregnant women smoking and drinking martinis, a carful of children standing up on the seats, and so on. Also, the circular pins worn by a couple of the girls, that indicated a girl was a virgin. Brenda was wearing one in the "Just nine months" scene, made even more ironic by the possibility that Corny is the father (look closely, you'll see them arguing in a Funny Background Event).
- Demoted to Extra: Poor Link doesn't get to shine in the 2007 film as much as he did in the stage show.
- The Dog Bites Back: The cameraman who lets the Turnblads use his camera for Velma's Engineered Public Confession is the same one that she had belittled and threatened in the beginning of the movie.
- Engineered Public Confession: Velma admits to cheating to ensure her daughter the crown, to find out a camera has been on her the whole time.
- Freudian Slip: Velma von Tussle: "We've got to lead kids in the white direction...I mean...you know what I mean."
- The Hero Dies: Definitely doesn't happen in the musical or the movie, but the final lines of the song "New Girl in Town" imply that the new girl mentioned in the lyrics (Tracy?) was ran over by a moving van and died:
- Humiliation Conga: Amber has Tracy steal her thunder and her boyfriend, gets hoisted above the set, tears her dress and sprains her ankle getting down, and loses her crown to a child on live TV. And then she's surprisingly good natured about it in the end, possibly making this a subversion. Played straight with Velma, though, whose humiliation is more thorough and not taken well.
- Indy Ploy: Corny Collins isn't responsible for any of the events of the movie, but damned if he isn't ready to use them to his advantage. In the movie, he knows Inez Stubb's name and the very specific clause to let her win, implying that he's been waiting and preparing for any kind of situation for him to push his agenda.
- Remake Cameo: Jerry Stiller, who played Wilbur Turnblad in the original movie, played Mr. Pinky, who ran a plus-sized boutique and wanted Tracy to do commercials for him when she became a hit on the Corny Collins show. Ricki Lake (Tracy from the 1988 film) also appears, as a talent agent.
- Informed Ability: Inez's dancing. She's not appreciably better than the rest of the talented cast, yet we're supposed to believe that she alone was impressive enough to win Miss Teen Hairspray after just one (short) dance. It's implied she won because she was the only black contestant (ever) and the whole community voted for her, even though there'd still be a lot of racism in the community, making this very improbable.
- Lovable Alpha Bitch: Amber. Although she only seems to be like that because her mother holds very high standards to her. In the end, she accepts defeat and (in the musical at least) Tracy and the others are happy to invite her to join in the final number.
- Mama Bear: Edna barricades a police officer from chasing her daughter, despite the fact that she was dragged into a protest she didn't really want to be in and it just gets her arrested. In a deleted scene she also unflinchingly demands that the same police officer apologize to the van full of peaceful protesters. You almost forget this is the same woman who hadn't left her house in eleven years.
- Mighty Whitey: The fact that Tracy, a white high school girl obsessed with dancing who has no real understanding of the sociopolitical scene or the importance of integration - she spends all day at school sleeping and has no knowledge of American history either - comes up with the idea to do a "march" to save the 'Negro Day' TV show while all the black people who have been fighting and striving to make a difference just stand around accepting being forced out from TV.
- Mistaken for Cheating: Velma attempts to make Wilbur look like she was cheating on Edna as a plan to make sure Tracy doesn't participate in the pageant.
- Mom Looks Like a Sister: In one scene (Welcome to the 60s), a store owner asks Tracy if Edna is her older sister.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: When Tracy participates at the march and hits a cop on the head with her sign and runs away, it gives Velma a good opportunity to stop Tracy from participating in the pageant by having the same police guard the entrance, making Tracy and the others devise a plan to sneak into the pageant. If Tracy had been bailed out along with Maybelle, she wouldn't have had to hide from the cops and sneak into the pageant!
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!:
- Playing right into Tracy and friends' plans, Velma forces all the security guards outside despite ample security outside in response to the bait (Wilbur dressed as Tracy), getting them locked out. The guards then beat down the door with a hairspray battering ram with Tracy inside. Once Velma realizes what they've done, they all rush to it, only for all of them to get locked out once again.
- After Amber loses the Miss Teenage Hairspray Competition, Velma then admits to Amber that she rigged the votes. Edna then informs Velma that her confession was broadcasted on camera, which causes Velma to lose her job.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Dynamites are stand-ins for The Supremes.
- No Sense of Personal Space: Tracy, possibly, since in "I Can Hear the Bells", she has no problem pushing people and pinning a guy against a locker.
- Not His Sled: Although it sticks pretty close to the musical, the film does change up a few key moments in the story.
- In the musical, Tracy gets arrested after the protest, but eventually breaks out of prison with Link's help. Here, she actually escapes the police before they can apprehend her, and flees to Penny's house to hide out.
- Tracy manages to sneak into the Miss Hairspray pageant by hiding in a giant hairspray can, Trojan Horse-style. The same thing happens in the musical, but as a Bait-and-Switch: Velma thinks that Tracy's hiding in the can, when it's actually Edna. Tracy merely enters the pageant from the front door.
- Tracy isn't crowned Miss Hairspray this time around. Instead, it's Little Inez.
- One Head Taller: Inverted with Penny and Seaweed. She is noticeably taller than him. In the 1988 movie, Penny is of average height while Seaweed is very tall indeed.
- Parental Hypocrisy: Penny's mother, Prudy, forbids Penny from watching the Corny Collins Show, yet Prudy watches the show herself.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Velma Von Tussle is quite blatantly racist in the second movie, where she seems to revel in her own misdeeds. In the first film, she's more of a Lawful Selfish Stage Mom who's willing to court segregationist attitudes to look respectable.
- Poor Communication Kills: When Link doesn't want to join in the march for fear of ruining his career.Link: I'm sorry, Trace. I just think that this adventure's...a little too big for me.
Tracy: (gasps and backs away with a hurt look)
Link: ...oh God, nonono, that's not what I-
Tracy: I get it, Link. It's your shot.
Link: No, Trace! That's not what I-
Tracy: (trying to hold back her tears) It's fine... (leaves Link behind)
- Reality Ensues:
- Invoked with Edna's mother . She forbids Tracy from auditioning for a spot on the Corny Collins Show. This is because she believes that since Tracy is overweight, she will get rejected and her feelings will get hurt. Anyone growing up in the 60s' will know how difficult it was for people who didn't meet Hollywood's standards of beauty to break into the entertainment industry.
- Invoked again with Tracy in the scene with her father, after the latter is thrown out of their house for supposedly cheating on Edna. While having a conversation with Wilbur about the cancellation of Negro Day on the Corny Collins show, Tracy says that despite her optimistic views, she later accepts how unfair life can be. She also speaks about how fairness won't happen because people want it to.
- Unlike the previous film, Velma doesn't go through a HeelFace Turn at the end. This just goes to show that racists don't change their ways instantly.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Corny Collins, the dance show host, who is very open to bending the rules and doing away with segregation.
- Recursive Adaptation: Hairspray: The Musical: The Movie.
- Seduction-Proof Marriage: Alpha Bitch Velma tries to seduce Wilbur simply so she can cause strife between Wilbur and his wife. Wilbur is so faithful to his wife that he seems completely oblivious to her advances, but Velma's plan works anyway because she just throws herself at Wilbur as his wife comes in the door to "catch" them in the "act".
- Shout-Out: Director Adam Shankman included several homages to and winks at the films that were his inspiration. The opening shot is a mix of the opening shots for West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Penny's dress at the end of the film is made from her curtains, just like the Von Trapp childrens' play clothes that Maria makes out of old curtains in The Sound of Music. Several of Tracy's scenes - such as her ride atop the garbage truck, and her post-makeover hairstyle in "Welcome to the Sixties" - are taken from the Barbra Streissand film version of Funny Girl. Link singing to Tracy's photograph, which sings back, is directly inspired from The Broadway Melody of 1938, in which Judy Garland sings to a photo of Clark Gable.
- Theme Twin Naming: Noreen and Doreen.
- Villainous Breakdown: Velma has a great one after Inez wins Miss Teenage Hairspray, leading to an Engineered Public Confession which costs her her job.
- Writers Cannot Do Math: According to the script, the show begins in "early June" on a Monday and ends on June 6th, 1962. Schools did not run into June in 1962, especially in Baltimore, because there was no air conditioning and it was oppressively hot and humid.
- Actor Allusion: Penny being carried out in the finale might be a reference to the rumor that Ariana Grande demands she be carried everywhere.
- Audience Participation: Members of the live studio audience became extras in crowd scenes.
- Cardboard Prison: Due to recent budget cuts, the jail has no guards, and the bars can be removed by vigorous shaking.
- Casting Gag: This isn't the first time Kristen Chenowith and Dove Cameron have played a villainous mother-daughter duo.
- Character Celebrity Endorsement: Corny Collins delivers one for Oreo cookies after "Ladies' Choice", to segue into an actual commercial break.
- The Host: Darren Criss appeared during commercial breaks of the premiere broadcast, interacting with the audience.
- Logo Joke: During the opening credits, the camera pans past an "NBC Studios" sign with a vintage-looking Peacock, while the NBC Chimes play.
- Product Placement: Tracy passes a Reddi-Wip truck during "Good Morning Baltimore", Wilbur drinks Coca-Cola in a different part, and the Turnblads' refrigerator has a jar of Oreo cookies on top of it.
- Remake Cameo: Two of Mr. Pinky's girls are played by Ricki Lake and Marissa Jaret Winokur, who played Tracy in the original 1988 film and the original Broadway production respectively.
- In the opening scene alone, the storefronts include Waters Plumbing, Greenblatt's Baltimore Crabs (Bob Greenblatt is the NBC executive who spearheaded these musicals), and Divine Pet Food — whose sign has a pink flamingo on it. One wonders whether they sell the bowel movements of dogs.
- The grocery store Edie's advertises eggs and dairy, a reference to Dreamlander Edith Massey's character from Pink Flamingos and her infatuation with eggs.
- Vanilla Edition: Unlike the DVDs of NBC's three previous musicals, Hairspray doesn't come with any bonus features.
- Wardrobe Malfunction: A strap on Kristin Chenoweth (Velma)'s dress apparently came off during the curtain call. She managed to cover herself up, but the telecast still didn't show her taking her bow—with the camera instead focusing on Ariana Grande (Penny). For the West Coast feed, NBC managed to put the focus back on Chenoweth.