Follow TV Tropes


Happy Birthday to You!

Go To
Good news, guys, it isn't copyrighted anymore!
Happy birthday to you...

Isaac: Someone holds the copyright to "Happy Birthday"?
Dan: The representatives of Patty and Mildred Hill.
Isaac: ... Took two people to write that song?
Sports Night episode 1x04, "Intellectual Property"

It's the most-recognized song in the English language (and quite possibly the entire world), but before September 22, 2015, the lyrics to "Happy Birthday to You" weren't in the public domain in most countries.note  Its copyright in the United States and Continental Europe was held by Warner/Chappell Music, a division of Warner Music Group, which had acquired it in 1988 from its takeover of the original holder. note  WMG aggressively enforced the copyright, too, which netted them around $2 million per year in royalty fees. As a result, in media prior to 2016, it was rare to hear the actual "Happy Birthday" song.

To avoid fees and/or lawsuits, productions typically either substituted a public domain folk song — "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" is one example (British shows may use "A Fine Old English Gentleman" instead) — or they just made up their own lyrics, which may or may not use the actual melody. The copyright specifically applied to the combination of the lyrics and the melody; speaking or printing out the lyrics was fine, and so was using the melody if it had different lyrics or was instrumental. This is all in stark contrast to the real world, where singing anything other than "Happy Birthday To You" is almost unheard of… except when the singers were the waitstaff of certain chain restaurants, for exactly the same reason as media.

This little ditty — based on another melody, sung thousands of times a day around the world, and only containing six words — was subject to legal scrutiny for decades. The fact that you could've been sued for realistically portraying an Anglophone birthday party is mind-boggling. Even foreign language translations were not exempt — Star Trek writers found out that even showing it in Klingon would cost them.note  This case of copyright laws run amok was often subject to Lampshade Hanging, which was really all anyone could do, as WMG was expected to hold the rights to the lyrics until 2031 at the earliest. note 

That all changed in The New '10s. In 2013, a lawsuit was filed against Warner/Chappell Music by Jennifer Nelson, whose production company, Good Morning to You Productions, was filming a documentary about the song and its history. To secure the rights to the song and ensure the documentary would be made, Nelson had to pay $1500, which she claimed was unreasonable. During pretrial hearings in 2015 – one day before a scheduled ruling, in fact – Nelson and her lawyers discovered evidence that WMG's copyright claim was likely invalid thanks to the discovery of documents "mistakenly held from them" by WMG, including a book published in 1922 titled The Everyday Song Book. That book contained the lyrics to "Happy Birthday" with a disclaimer that they had been used with "special permission through courtesy of the Clayton F Summy Co."note  …but that's not a valid copyright notice, which was required at the time of publishing. note 

Furthermore, only works published in 1923 or later were still potentiallynote  under copyright at the time. Finding it published in 1922 leaves few ways the claimed 1935 copyright could be valid. About the only defense would be that the publication was unauthorized — that the Hills had shown the song to the publisher of The Everyday Song Book but didn't reach a deal, didn't publish it for thirteen years, then copyrighted it in 1935. Even if someone else had coincidentally come up with the same lyrics in 1922 (it's not that complicated a song) but didn't copyright it, it wouldn't help. Unlike patents, independent creation is allowed for copyrighted materials. This makes the 1935 copyright valid but useless, since everyone can just say they're performing the 1922 public domain version.

As a result, Nelson's lawyers, Betsy Manifold and Mark Rifkin, claimed Warner/Chappell did not own the rights to the lyrics — and on September 22, 2015, a U.S. District Court Judge agreed with them, ruling Warner/Chappell's copyright claim officially invalid (with a settlement between the parties involved precluding any further appeal). However, the summary judgement did not by itself put the song into the public domain; it only said that Warner/Chappell's claim is fraudulent, and there is no proof that Summy Co. ever had a valid claim either. It was theoretically possible that someone, like an heir to one of the Hill sisters, could have stepped forward with a valid claim, but no one did so, and "Happy Birthday" officially entered into the public domain in the United States with the court approval of the settlement on June 28, 2016.

In the European Union, copyright lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years.‡  As Patty Hill, the last surviving author, died in 1946, "Happy Birthday" was already set to fall into the public domain on December 31, 2016. American court rulings have no effect across The Pond, so Europe had to wait several more weeks.

Time will tell what effect this has on public performances of the song, though at least one thing is finally certain — producers, filmmakers, average citizens posting birthday parties on YouTube, and people washing their hands while singing to this song twice as a recommended way to kill germs can now sing the familiar refrain without having to worry about Warner Music Group tackling them to the ground out of nowhere and slapping a $10,000 fine on them.

Keep in mind that the majority of these examples are either in the U.S. pre-2016 or in other countries where the U.S. ruling has no effect.


    open/close all folders 

  • The current Chuck E. Cheese advertising campaign uses "Happy Birthday To You" in it. A lot. The song is also used within the live birthday shows, even before 2015. It is believed they paid to use the song.
  • The Partnership for a Drug Free America PSA "Faces" from the 1980s used a creepy version of the tune but different lyrics over close up footage of a girl slowly deteriorating and finally dying from the effects of drug abuse. ("How old are you now? La da dee da da dee...")
  • A Dairy Queen commercial had an interesting variation: the first line of the song is the same but the other lines talk about other occasions one could celebrate while showing the different ice cream cakes one could have made by the company for said occasions.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Ai Yori Aoshi, the Japanese vocal track used "Happy Birthday to You", while the English dub track had them sing a birthday song to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star".
  • Assassination Classroom: Class 3-E celebrate the anniversary of the moon explosion as Koro-sensei's birthday, so they get him a cake and sing Happy Birthday to him. Terasaka refuses to join in, claiming it to be "some bullshit", but is pinched into singing along by class representative Kataoka. They also sing the song in the English dub, which was released soon after the Happy Birthday song was deemed in the public domain, but that doesn't stop Terasaka from lampshading the trope:
    Terasaka: Dude, do we even have the rights to this song?
  • Azumanga Daioh: After Yukari's class offers her a belated birthday present, she triumphantly belts out a Gratuitous English rendition of "Happy Birthday To You". The English manga was naturally able to keep it, but the English dub of the anime changed it to a completely different melody.
  • The original Japanese version of Haganai has the Neighbors Club singing the traditional Happy Birthday song to Kobato before she blows out her candles. The English dub, however, has them sing an original song which is very bizarre indeed:
    It's a nice day for a birthmas,
    Happy birthmas for you.
    Who was born today?
    It was: Kobato/Kodaka's sister!
    Happy birthmas to you!
  • Hamtaro had an original song, "Happy Ham-Ham Birthday". And it's not just the English dub- the original Japanese version has a different but also original song, albeit with the same title.
  • Infamously used in Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, where the protagonist Suletta Mercury sings the song to Elan Ceres in an effort to bond with him. He also sings the song as he's about to be vaporized and replaced.
  • The original Japanese version of Nightwalker uses the traditional melody, although with different lyrics, in one episode. The same scene in the English dub does the same, with another set of lyrics.
  • Mayo Chiki! has an original birthday song composed for Kureha's birthday. Compared to other substitutions, it's not a bad song.
  • PriPara has two original birthday songs-"Lucky! Surprise Birthday", which was the first song performed in Dream Theater, and "Thank You Birthday", which was the ending theme of an episode about Laala's birthday.
  • In Recently, My Sister Is Unusual, Yuya tries to sing this to his sister Mitsuki, but he's Hollywood Tone-Deaf and turns everybody off. He even admits he doesn't know the lyrics and just keeps LOUDLY singing the words "Happy Birthday" over and over again.
  • Sakura Wars (2000) has an episode where the mostly-Asian team tries to celebrate Iris' birthday in the Western manner to which she is accustomed, including an attempt at singing an original "happy birthday" song. Kanna is still singing bits of the song to herself several episodes later...
  • In an episode of Sgt. Frog, Keroro gets Mutsumi to compose an original birthday song for Natsumi's surprise party. Lampshaded in the English dub, where Keroro tells Mutsumi that he's in charge of "non-copyright-infringing birthday song composition".
  • An episode of Shugo Chara Doki! used the song "Kimi ni Birthday" as a birthday song.
  • In Suzy's Zoo: Daisuki! Witzy, the English dub used an original birthday song in the episode Surprise, Witzy!:
    It's your birthday Witzy/What a happy way/to celebrate a piece of cake/and play the day away.
  • Tamagotchi!:
    • In the original series, a song called "Happy Happy Birthday" is sung to Mametchi that uses the tune of "Happy Happy Harmony", one of the show's insert songs.
    • Yume Kira Dream episode 25 has the Kirakira Girls singing "Kirakira☆Dream", one of several recurring songs used in the show, but with the lyrics changed to be birthday-themed for Cafe Mama's birthday.

    Comic Books 
  • This is sung on the birthday of Carmine Falcone in The Long Halloween, which so happens to be the same day Harvey Dent is going to make a landmark case against him. The comic intercuts with the song being sung to Falcone and a paid hitman attacking Dent, ending with acid being thrown into his face.
    "Make a wish, Papa!"
  • In The Simpsons comic "Hotfoot in the Park" (issue 93), Homer and his pals became volunteer firefighters. When they realized they couldn't do anything when a fair caught on fire, Ralph comes up with an idea to put out the fire, by singing the birthday song and blowing it out like birthday candles. The whole cast begins to sing the song, but then the Blue-Haired Lawyer comes in warning them about the royalties of the song they'd need to pay to sing it before he passes out from the smoke. So Lisa writes up a new unique birthday song ("...pleasant birthday to that person, we're glad you're not dead!") and then they all blow on the fire, which actually extinguishes the blaze!

    Comic Strips 
  • The October 10, 2015 strip of Thatababy spoofs the copyright expiring on the song. As the main family is celebrating the father's birthday at a restaurant, the employees are performing an original salsa-themed birthday song, to their annoyance and the family's amusement, until another employee calls out the traditional "Happy Birthday" song is now public domain, so they switch to singing that, to their enjoyment and the family's disappointment.

    Fan Works 
  • Born to Be Wilde has the Big Bad singing this to Nick in front of the entire city. He even snarkily lampshades that the song is now public domain so he can't be sued for it.

    Films — Animation 
  • Alice in Wonderland has the Unbirthday Song serve this purpose.
  • In The Emperor's New Groove, this trope is lampshaded by the staff of Mudka's Meat Hut when they celebrate Yzma's supposed birthday. A few establishments sing this song in real life as well.
    One! Two! Three! Four!
    Happy, Happy Birthday, from all of us to you!
    We wish it was our birthday, so we could party too!
    Happy, Happy Birthday, may all your dreams come true!
    We wish it was our birthday, so we could party too!
  • Madagascar gets around this by using only the opening line and changing the rest with the melody intact.
Happy Birthday to you
You live in a zoo
You look like a monkey smell like one too!
  • The Bad Guys (2022) opens on Mr. Snake's birthday. Despite him being a grumpy Birthday Hater, the rest of the gang insist on celebrating it at their hideout. When the cake comes out, Mr. Piranha begins to serenade him with the Happy Birthday song... barely three notes in, Snake immediately blows out his candles to shut him up.
  • In the Wallace & Gromit film The Wrong Trousers, Wallace gives Gromit a birthday card which plays an instrumental of "Happy Birthday to You." But even though the melody is not copyrighted, the producers were still forced to replace it (with "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow") after the first video release.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Averted in Batman Begins where the song is performed in its entirety with no alterations. This is unusual as the film was made in 2005, before the copyright expired.
  • In the documentary The Corporation it is claimed that Warner/Chappell charges up to $10,000 for the song to appear in a film. To drive the point home, the sound of the song on archive film is muted, and the narrator explains that they'd rather spend the money to send a crew to Los Angeles to shoot an interview.
  • The song is sung in the Canadian slasher Happy Birthday to Me with the lyrics slightly altered to reflect the title. It's a pretty creepy scene too. The end credits features an original dark birthday song.
  • In The Kentucky Fried Movie, a character remembers his name by singing the song. The directors' commentary notes that that one bit cost them $10,000 (roughly 1.5% of the film's budget).
  • During Beaver's birthday on the Leave It to Beaver movie, as everyone sings "Happy Birthday", two of the kids briefly interrupt with "You smell like a wino".
  • Mississippi Masala: Averted. When Demetrius brings Mina to his father's birthday party, he and the others sing "Happy Birthday" with all of the correct lyrics. Later in the movie, after Demetrius and Mina have had sex, she tells him it's her birthday, and he sings "Happy Birthday" to her. This turns into a Flashback when Mina remembers her father singing it to her in Uganda as a young girl, and it leads into a nightmare when she stumbles upon a dead African.
  • In the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the main cast sing "Happy Birthday" to Rocky, but are cut off by Frank N. Furter when the song is near completion... and then the audience usually finishes it for them: "Happy birthday, fuck you!"
  • In Rom Com The Wish List, the party guests sing "We Wish You a Happy Birthday."
  • The Three Stooges sang their own, to the tune of "London Bridge":
    Moe: We baked you a birthday cake…
    Larry: If you get a tummy ache…
    Curly: And you moan and groan in woe…
    All: Don't forget, we told you so!
  • Busting: At Rizzo's birthday party, his friends sing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."
  • In Eyes of Laura Mars, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" is played at Donald's birthday party.
  • At a time when higher quality movies wouldn't touch it, viewers of the notorious flop The Room had the dubious honor of getting to hear the song during Johnny's birthday party; evidently, securing the rights was just one more needless expense for Tommy Wiseau to add to his collection.
  • At the beginning of Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, the moment an opening narrator tells the audience that most people living in "the hood" won't even get to reach the age of 21, he is presented with a birthday cake with lit candles for his 21st birthday as a friend sings, "Happy Birthday, Homey." Interestingly, there is brief pause for additional dialogue to further space out the first and second lines of the song before the friend with the cake stops singing before the third line to tell the narrator to make a birthday wish and blow out the candles. The birthday festivities then come to an abrupt end when the narrator gets shot in the back and dies.

  • In Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School, the song that Rodrick and the other employees of the Old-Timey Ice Cream Parlour sing on customers' birthdays goes "It's your birthday, and we're here to say / We hope your day is dandy in an old-fashioned way / And if you're feelin' hungry, you're at the perfect place / Now just blow out that candle, so you can stuff yer face!"
  • The 1981 children's novel Johnny In The Basement by Louis Sachar features Johnny's eleventh birthday party, wherein this song is sung, but one of Johnny's friends provides alternate lyrics:
    Donald Duckerman: Happy birthday to you;/You smell like your shoes;/You're dumb and you're ugly;/We're all glad we're not you.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Police Squad! used the copyrighted tune in one episode when it was originally broadcast, but because of rights issues replaced it with a far funnier droning dirge of a birthday song for subsequent home video release.
    • The UK Region 2 copy of the DVD still has the performance of "Happy Birthday".
  • One episode of X-Play based around Adam's birthday had fun with this, as his cohost informed him that nobody cared enough about him to spend money on the rights to "Happy Birthday." Instead they opted to have the wait staff from a local restaurant do their birthday song instead.
  • Some shows that are predominantly African-American use the chorus of Stevie Wonder's "Happy Birthday" instead. That may also be under copyright, but it's "in sync" with the "hot urban" lifestyle.
  • An Internet example: The Funday Pawpet Show have their own birthday song (to the tune of "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay"):
    "This is your birthday song,
    It isn't very long."
  • A subplot in an episode of Sports Night involves Danny being fined for singing "Happy Birthday to You" on the air, and subsequently trying to find public-domain songs to sing to each of his co-workers. The episode, quoted at the top, also misidentifies the copyright holders (to an extent, as Warner Music Group are publishers, they could be seen as representatives of the Hills).
  • An episode of 30 Rock got around this by having the characters sing it in German. (This occurred at the birthday party of a fictional Austrian prince.)
    • In a later episode, however, Jennifer Aniston's character does actually sing the song seductively in the style of Marilyn Monroe.
    • Lampshaded in another later episode. Kenneth asks, "Did you know that if you sing 'Happy Birthday' on a TV show, you have to pay for it?" When everyone begins singing the song later, it gets interrupted after the first syllable of "happy".
  • iCarly
    • The show hangs a lampshade on it when the characters try to explain why they are in Sadist Teacher Mrs. Briggs' house.
      "It's your birthday! Let's sing a Public Domain birthday song! 'For she's a jolly good fellow...'
    • In another episode, at Sam's birthday party, they begin to sing "Happy Birthday", only for Freddie to shout out "Not P.D.!" (Justified as start of the party was on their webshow). They switch to "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow."
    • In "iFight Shelby Marx", Spencer sings to his friend Socko, "Happy Birthday, buddy buddy buddy!"
    • In "iStill Psycho", Nora and her mother sing "Nora's a Jolly Good Person" at her recreated sweet 16.
    • In "iFind Spencer Friends", Carly, Sam, Freddie, and Gibby sing "For He's a Jolly Good Spencer" at Spencer's birthday.
  • The TV show Lost in Space celebrated the birthday of one of the characters by doing a song that began "Today is Penny's birthday" done to the tune of "For (S)He's a Jolly Good Fellow."
  • Henry Danger uses an original birthday song in the first episode at Jasper's birthday party, given that the episode was released during the copyright. To add to a case of Book Ends, the song itself was sung in full in the final season premiere "Henry's Birthday", which came out after the copyright ended.
  • Hi-5 has used their own original birthday song:
    "Happy happy happy happy birthday,
    With love from me to you, may your wishes all come true,
    Happy happy happy happy birthday,
    Shout hip hip hooray for your very special day..."
    • In a Season 5 episode, Chats suggests singing the song. Kellie decides to write her own instead.
    • Zig-zagged in the Surprise! tour, where Chats sings the song to herself. Meanwhile Tim and Lauren write their own birthday song, which is the song mentioned above.
  • An episode of jPod had video game programmers attempt to get rights to use the song by kidnapping the rights holder, who just happens to be Canadian. They presumably owned the rights outside Canada and New Zealand, where the song was already public domain in 2008 when the series first aired.
  • Sesame Street:
    • The actual song was sung on several episodes while it was still under copyright, such as when the cast celebrated Big Bird's sixth birthday in the 1991 special Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake. TV broadcasts in the United States fall under compulsory licensing standards, so it only becomes a problem for home video releases. One episode had to have a brief scene cut just because a character sings the first line of the song!
    • Or a brief sketch in which Ernie sings the song to the letter "U", leading to some confusion on the part of Bert, who thought he meant "you", i.e. Bert, whose birthday it isn't.
    • An episode in which the cast visits Puerto Rico had them sing it in Spanish.
    • This would explain why in the 1998 direct-to-video special Big Bird Gets Lost, when they are celebrating Mr. Snuffleupagus's birthday at the end, Maria leads the others in singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."
    • In an animation first aired in 1971, an ape escapes from a train in Spain, apparently to get to his own birthday party. When he arrives, the first line is sung. On the DVD release, the scene is left intact, but with a brief snare-drum solo in place of the song.
  • On America's Funniest Home Videos, videos that feature the song replace it with a wordless version (la la la).
  • In Moonlighting, David Addison and the detective agency's staff throw a surprise party for Maddie Hayes. Instead of either "Happy Birthday" or any public domain options, they sing a different copyrighted song, "Birthday" by The Beatles ("Ya say it's your birthday! It's my birthday too, yeah!")
  • Lampshaded in Double Dare (1986), when Harvey began singing a different version of the song (same lyrics, different cadence), but cuts himself off before he sings the sixth word, saying Nickelodeon would have to pay royalties if he sang another word.
  • Played with in an episode of Community. The episode opens with the cast just finishing singing the song, with only " you!" being shown on screen, which would be acceptable under copyright law. Then it's revealed that the episode didn't cut off any lyrics; "To you" was, in fact, the only part they sang. It's then justified in-universe in that the party is for Troy, who as a Jehovah's Witness technically isn't allowed to celebrate his birthday.
  • The original version was sung twice in Look Around You at Pam's birthday party, but a new verse was put in between the more familiar one:
    Birthdays are a time for celebration
    A time when all around you is good cheer
    So please all raise your glass
    And party may you laugh
    And toast this merry fellow that is here!
  • When it's Sophie's birthday on Peep Show, her family sings the Altered Images song "Happy Birthday," to the utter bemusement of Mark and Jez. Maybe they thought if they were going to pay royalties for a birthday song, they may as well wring some comedy out of it...
  • On The Sunny Side Up Show, the host sings an original song to all the children ("Sproutlets") who have birthdays "Happy, Happy Birthday to You", in which it's noted that "you're good to grow/So count the candles and blow!", followed by Mr. Mailman delivering cards and wishes.
  • Sung on Gilmore Girls during Rory's 21st birthday which was held at her grandparents' mansion, led by Logan.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: the Enterprise crew sings "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" in Klingon for Worf's birthday. An annoyed Worf complains that that is not a Klingon song, ignoring the fact that it's also not a song humans typically sing for birthdays.note 
  • The Stuck in the Middle episode "Stuck in the Sweet Seat" has this sung to Harley during her late night birthday after she tells her family it was today and they forgot, but we only hear the last three words.
  • A.N.T. Farm playfully hangs a lampshade when Chyna talks about how entertainments like movies and shows have to pay to use the song, and stops Olive from singing it and tells her that she knows how it goes. Lexi also does this to Paisley later on in the same episode.
  • On Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, a song called "Happy Birthday" written by Rogers (but with different music and lyrics) is used. In addition, the actual Happy Birthday song was actually sung on at least one episode (the fifth "Pets" episode), in a rare aversion to this trope. The reasons it was possible was likely the same as the Sesame Street example mentioned above, or that Family Communications paid to use the song.
  • 2 Broke Girls has Caroline sing the first line to a customer. However, the melody is highly stylized, almost unrecognisable as the original tune. She's cut off by Max shortly thereafter, appalled at the soulful singing style.
  • In one episode of Will & Grace, Will begins to sing "Happy Birthday" to Hannah after showing Grace, Karen, and Jack a Barbie princess cake. Eventually, he stops in the tracks after he starts, and drops the birthday cake.
  • Saturday Night Live had a sketch where a songwriter (played by Jack Black) had devised an absurdly elaborate miniature Rock Opera that was supposed to be sung at birthday parties in lieu of "Happy Birthday To You". However, "Happy Birthday To You" itself was used right in the beginning of the sketch.
  • Todd and the Book of Pure Evil parodies this by having the characters sing possibly the dumbest replacement song ever. Multiple times.
    Happy Happy Birthday
    Happy Happy Birthday
    Today it is your birthday
    Yay yay yay yay yay
  • In Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David refuses to sing the song at Ben Stiller's birthday party. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Girl Meets World they go the substitute-song route, particularly wincingly since the kids come together spontaneously to sing it with no Lampshade Hanging at all, and it's not even the usual Disney one that they might conceivably have all heard.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: On several occasions, Mike/Joel and the Bots will break into a rendition of "Happy Birthday" only to stop or trail off before the first line is finished. It's presumed Best Brains paid to use the song.
  • In one episode of the the Canadian sketch show, The Red Green Show, Red visits his nephew Harold at his office job in the city on his birthday. Red brings Harold a present: his old video effects switcher from the show. Red has Harold press a button on the switcher, which plays a Minsky Pickup-type sound. Then along come several other members of Possum Lodge to sing "Happy Birthday" to Harold, but they sing out of tune and hold several notes for long periods of time. Harold is so embarrassed at this sight that he picks up the phone on his desk and calls security.
  • One episode of The Goldbergs heavily discusses it. After Erica refuses to sing the Dreidel song, leaving the school with no Hanukkah songs for the holiday show, meaning they can't sing any Christmas songs either (religious equality), Beverly tries to convince Erica to write her own song. She refuses until Barry steps up, claiming song writing is easy money, because "Happy Birthday" is a simple tune that nets "those two old ladies" millions every year (the episode aired in 2016, but is set in "198-something"). Barry's song is unusable (it includes references to Judah Maccabee fighting pterodactyls), and Erica's song is just "Happy Birthday" with "Hanukkah" substituted in. The music teacher points out she can't use it without paying "those two old ladies," so they're still left without any songs.
  • Babylon Berlin, which is set in 1929 Germany, has a Justified example: the characters sing the Geburtstagshymne (Birthday Anthem), which is set to the tune of the German anthem. This is a real song, and would probably have been better known in Germany at the time than the Trope Maker.
  • Legion: In the series premiere, Amy Haller sings "Happy Birthday to You" to her brother David while she visits him at Clockworks.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): In the fourth episode, Lestat de Lioncourt and Louis de Pointe du Lac sing "Happy Birthday to You" to their vampire daughter Claudia on her 17th birthday, although the audience only hears the tail end of the song.
  • Zig-zagged with the Barney franchise. In the Barney and the Backyard Gang video "The Backyard Show", "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow" is used as a birthday song, while in the Barney and Friends TV series, the traditional birthday song is used instead. "Happy Birthday To You" was also used in three different stage shows related to the franchise.
  • A History Channel special called “The Great American History Quiz” featured singer Pam Tillis hanging a lampshade on the issue by saying “right now I’d like to sing Happy Birthday to You…I’d like to…but if I did, it will cost me $3,500!”

  • The Laurie Berkner Band's "This Hat" hangs a lampshade on this: "I have a birthday hat, it fits me perfectly. And when I put it on my head, you'll sing happy birthday to me."
    • Subverted to Laurie's own birthday song, "Happy Happy Happy Birthday", as played during the birthday party portion of their "Party Day!" movie.
  • "Richard Cheese's New Birthday Song", for both copyright circumvention and just sing something different.
  • Elio e le Storie Tese actually had the song "Al mercato di Bonn" removed from one of their albums, since in it they imagined that Ludwig van Beethoven composed "Happy Birthday" way before its time, and sung it with no modifications to the melody or lyrics.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic recorded a song "Happy Birthday", which isn’t cheerful (and a pastiche of Tonio K). It is a fun song to listen to, and "Weird Al" fans could appreciate it on their own birthdays.

  • In How Did This Get Made? the team is speculating about an imagined version of From Justin to Kelly which used entirely public domain songs, singing various Standard Snippets to each other in overwrought American Idol-style oversinging – "oooOOooh, country 'tiiIIIIiis of theeee…". June-Diane then sings the first line of "Happy Birthday", prompting both Paul and Jason to yell at her for bankrupting the show.
  • One episode of Talkin' Toons with Rob Paulsen has Rob and guest Chris Hardwick sing an improvised birthday song for a fan. Rob was apparently not aware the song was copyrighted.

    Puppet Shows 
  • On Bear in the Big Blue House, a new song for Tutter's birthday was made up called "Happy, Happy Birthday."
  • Between the Lions used a birthday song that was sung to the tune of "Dance In Smarty Pants", one of the show's pre-existing songs.
  • Donkey Hodie:
    • In the episode "Purple Planet Party", an original birthday song is sung to Purple Panda's mother about Purple Panda's favorite things about her.
    • "Being Bob Dog" has the Donkey Panda Birthday Cheer, which is sung to the tune of the birthday song from The Emperor's New Groove:
      Happy, happy birthday, yay!
      Happy day, woo-hoo!
      We're really happy and we say
      We hope you're happy, too!
  • The Muppet Show: During Helen Reddy's episode Swedish Chef and Animal visit her in her dressing room and sing this song to her. When Reddy points out that it isn't actually her birthday the Muppets switch to "Jingle Bells" instead.
  • The Noddy Shop had a weird example of this trope: the song "Partytime", while being a song about birthdays, only says "Happy Birthday" once and is more about how giving is better than receiving on birthdays.

  • A BBC Radio 4 digest of the Edinburgh Festival had an impromptu live performance of the song interrupted by an American lawyer explaining to the producer precisely why they couldn't use that song, so that all we hear is the opening "Happy Birthday…" and closing "…to youuuuu!"

  • In On the Town, the emcee at Diamond Eddie's invites the crowd to sing "Happy Birthday" for a "man we all know and love" whose name means nothing at all to the main characters or the audience. Oddly enough (for probably this reason) the script doesn't contain the lyrics or music; it only instructs the actors to sing "Happy Birthday."
  • At Blue Man Group shows, the audience will often get warmed up by being instructed (via LED signs) to "speak" the song to an attendee who's celebrating a birthday that night. Not sing, just speak. Cue an entire audience of people reciting the lines in the most droll, tuneless monotones imaginable.

  • Hallmark's Request a Song Mimi has an original birthday song, unimaginatively titled "The Happy Birthday Song".
  • Hatchimals typically sing a version referred to as the "Hatchy Birthday" song when hatching from their eggs or growing into another stage. They sing gibberish sounds to the tune of the traditional song.
  • Teddy Ruxpin has an original birthday song called "It's Your Birthday".

    Video Games 
  • The original DS version of Ghost Trick plays the first few notes of the song as part of a celebratory Rube Goldberg device, since the melody isn't under copyright. Regardless, the later iOS port adjusted the last couple notes so that it was no longer a match.
  • In the Japanese, Korean and Chinese versions of the Pokémon games from Pokémon X and Y onward, the Happy Birthday song plays in the background during the first time the player enters a Pokémon Center on their birthday, and a celesta version of the usual Pokémon Center music plays during subsequent visits on that day. However, in other languages, the aforementioned Pokémon Center theme is played on all visits.
  • In Tomodachi Life, when a Mii's birthday rolls around, other Miis will sing this song to them, but the lyrics are replaced with "La, la, la" (except the line "Dear [Mii's name]"). Averted in the original Tomodachi Collection where the song is verbally sung out.
  • In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, on your birthday or the Saturday just before it, you can request "K.K. Birthday", a song that sounds kinda like Happy Birthday, but is distinct enough to evade copyright troubles. This despite the fact that K.K. only sings in Simlish. K.K continues playing this song in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, even though that game was made after the copyright expired.

    Web Animation 
  • On the web version of the Homestar Runner short "Strong Bad Sings", the song plays during the "Strong Mad Forgets the Words to His Favorites" scene. On the DVD version, it's changed to Hot Cross Buns.
  • Blue sings the first two lines of it in the second episode of Dick Figures.
  • Spoofed in the Gravity Falls parody animation "What Happens In Gravity Falls: Dipper and Mabel vs. the Future", which begins with Soos celebrating Dipper and Mabel's birthday with the legally-distinct song "Congrats for Being Born", before Ford announces that the actual "Happy Birthday" song is now public domain. The group then sings "Happy Birthday" in full, before government agents burst in and inform everyone that, since the series takes place in the summer of 2012, when the first episode was released, the characters are still violating copyright and are subsequently taken to prison. A post-credits scene then shows Toby Determined on Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, disguising himself as Scooby Doo, thankful that he's on a mystery show owned by Warner Bros., since they also own the record label that owns "Happy Birthday".

  • In Bobbins, Amy's coworkers singing a mangled version of the song's lyrics on her 18th birthday may be a nod to this trope.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Elliot suggests singing "a Happy Birthday song" to Susan; subtly referencing this trope. In The Rant, Shive references it directly mentioning if the scene comes to pass he will "come up with [his] own horrible lyrics".
  • This Partially Clips cartoon has fun with it.
  • When Michelle sings "Happy Birthday" to herself in the Scrambled Eggs comic "Leap of Doom," she uses the lyrics for the This Loser Is You version. (Happy birthday to you, you live in a zoo…)
  • The xkcd strip "Birthday" has the lyrics to the Happy Birthday song, in celebration of both the comic's 10th anniversary and the court ruling Warner/Chappell's claim to the song invalid a day prior. In the strip's Alt Text, the author mentions that he should apologize to his family and friends, along with the Chuck E. Cheese's staff, for having called the cops on them every time they sang the song.

    Web Videos 
  • In entry 37 of Marble Hornets, Alex Kralie's family (and a special, uninvited guest) celebrate Alex's fifth birthday exactly as a normal human being would. With the addition of a Humanoid Abomination singing along.
  • In The Spoony Experiment for the Rebuary episode showing the Miami Vice episode "Viking Bikers from Hell", Reb Brown's character assassinates a drug dealer during his birthday celebration while the guests are singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow".
    Spoony: Well, I'm sure he's a good fellow; but shouldn't they be singing "Happy Birthday"? Oh, right, that would cost money!
  • During the fifth "Sonic Twitter Takeover", the cast closed off by singing "Happy Birthday to You" for Colleen O'Shaughnessey, who voices Tails. The legal issues are lampshaded when Eggman asks if they can "legally do that", to which Shadow responds that it's been in the public domain since 2016. They all sing horribly out of time and tune.
  • Inverted for the Deltarune "Spamton Sweepstakes" livestream, where the "National Spamton" is an off-key marching band rendition of "Happy Birthday" that starts, stops and repeats at random points and is used as a substitute for "The Star-Spangled Banner" (a song that has always been public domain) to illustrate Spamton's insanity. Spamton A. Spamton (a Spamton impersonator) stands for the anthem while a flag of Spamton is hoisted just as sporadically as the song itself.

    Western Animation 
  • Abby Hatcher: The episode "Happy Fuzzly Birthday" has the Squeaky Peepers sing their own made up birthday song at Abby's birthday party.
  • An episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius features a birthday song to the tune of the Hallelujah chorus.
  • In Adventure Time, the party-goers at Finn's birthday party are only heard singing the last two words to the song. In "Seventeen", released after it entered public domain, the song is sung fully.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Gift" is about Darwin and Gumball trying to find the right gift for Masami's birthday. When she says she just wants her friends to sing "Happy Birthday", the two try to oblige but get tackled by the police (for unrelated reasons), and the episode ends.
  • The American Dragon: Jake Long episode "Bite Father, Bite Son" has a similar birthday song to the one in The Emperor's New Groove. Same melody, but slightly different lyrics.
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force references this trope in the episode "Spirit Journey Formation Anniversary," by having Shake commission Zakk Wylde to write a new, heavy-metal birthday song. It's all an attempt to cash in on royalties (expecting everyone to replace the traditional song with his new one and then pay him for using it).
  • Arthur:
    • The writers of simply wrote a new birthday song for one episode, which has the same melody as "My Darling Clementine".
    • On the other hand, Microsoft followed in the Berenstain Bears' footsteps by writing a birthday ditty around London Bridge for the Actimates D.W:
    "Happy Birthday, it's your day,
    It's your day, it's your day!
    Happy birthday, it's your day,
    you're one year older!"
  • Sockarang sings a Happy Birthday song to Axe Cop to the tune of "B-I-N-G-O."
  • The title villain of the Batfink episode "Party Marty" asks Karate to cut the first slice of a loaded birthday cake. Karate sings "Karate cuts the cake...Karate cuts the cake" (to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell") as an ersatz "Happy Birthday To You."
  • Beat Bugs doesn't use this for its birthday episode. But then again, would you use this when your show has the rights to use "Birthday" by The Beatles?
  • An episode of The Berenstain Bears entitled "Too Much Birthday" (based on the book of the same name) has everyone sing to the tune of "London Bridge":
    Happy birthday, Sister Bear,
    Sister Bear, Sister Bear,
    Happy birthday Sister Bear,
    We all love you!
  • Big City Greens: The song is sung in full at Remy's birthday in "Present Tense", but missing the third line.
  • In Bionic Six, the characters sing a song loosely based on the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah.
  • Blue's Clues and Blue's Clues & You! both have original songs. A video for the Blues Clues And You! YouTube channel uses the traditional melody, with the lyrics in Filipino.
  • In the ChalkZone episode "Lost In Chalk", the characters sing a new song written for Snap's birthday ("Happy birthday to you, happy birthday, Snap!")
  • One episode of Class of 3000 involved a birthday party for Eddie, and at one point, the other characters are heard singing "And you smell like one too!" to a pinata version of him (it's a long story).
  • In Clerks: The Animated Series, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" is used instead.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door avoided the song for comic effect in one episode where The Delightful Children From Down The Lane force the attendees of their birthday party to instead sing, in the most droll, tuneless monotones, "Happy birthday.... it's your birthday. Happy birthday... not our birthday."
  • In one Daffy Duck cartoon ("The Impatient Patient"), he's a telegram messenger looking to deliver a birthday greeting for someone named Chloe. When he finds Chloe, a monstrous hulk who was actually Dr. Jerkyl in disguise, Daffy reads the telegram out loud (spoken, not sung):
    Daffy: Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Chloe, happy birthday to you. Stop. Signed, Frank N. Stein. (runs off then returns) That'll be thirty-five cents, please!
  • Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood uses Fred Rogers' original birthday song from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
  • Elena of Avalor: In "Island of Youth", Esteban's birthday is celebrated and an original birthday song is played.
  • The Elinor Wonders Why episode "Olive's Library" begins where the characters sing the traditional birthday song to Olive, although the last line is only heard.
  • In an episode of The Fairly Oddparents where Timmy celebrated his birthday, Chip Skylark sang a birthday song for him to the tune of "My Shiny Teeth and Me", a song originally written for the show. He even lampshades this in the lyrics, mentioning that this birthday song "is royalty-free".
  • Spoofed in an episode of Futurama. While celebrating Nibbler's birthday, all of the cast sing a similar but different song (in lyrics and melody), which is assumed to be a version that was adopted sometime in the future. Fry, being from the 20th century, sings the line "And you smell like one, too!" with the original melody after everyone had finished.
  • Garfield and Friends uses a song with the melody of "Frère Jacques": "Happy birthday, happy birthday, whoop-ti-doo, whoop-ti-doo, May your day be pleasant, open up your present, just for you, just for you!"
  • Gravity Falls gets away with only using the last two words in "Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back The Falls".
  • Home Movies has an episode at Fenton's birthday party, with a deliberately annoying and asinine birthday tune to parody the typical one.
  • In King of the Hill, to celebrate his birthday, Bill uses an incredibly awkward replacement song which goes "Someone's got a birthday, I wonder who!" over and over and over again! In the episode immediately following that one, the same song is used in Dale's flashback to his childhood birthday party.
  • In an episode of Metalocalypse, Murderface is treated to a birthday-themed death metal song entitled "Birthday Dethday": "Many years ago today/Something grew inside your mother… it was YOU"
  • The Mixels episode "Elevator" has nearly the same lyrics as the real song, but to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star".
  • In the My Goldfish is Evil episode "Icing On The Cake" everyone is about to sing the song at Beanie's birthday party, but they are cut off by Admiral Bubbles' invention freezing them solid.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • Pingu managed to feature the song in the episode when Pingu celebrated his birthday, but then again, his friends sang the song in Penguinese (a gibberish language everyone speaks on the show)...and horribly out of tune as well.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • The episode "Mommy Can You Hear Me" has the kids build a stratospheric ionizer which will send a happy birthday message to a Russian astronaut far out in space. They intended to sing this, but right before they can, Candace's Mindy Mimic doll gets stuck to the mic and delivers the recorded "turn around" message instead.
    • In another episode this is lampshaded. Carl and the Agents of OWCA want to sing a birthday song for Major Monogram but they "couldn't get the rights to that famous birthday song" so they make one up. Despite being awful due to being a chorus of out of sync animals who can't talk, Major Monogram thinks it's beautiful.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls (1998) episode "Birthday Bash" everyone is about to sing the song. However, they are quickly stopped by Bubbles shouting "No singing!", because the Girls are in a hurry to get to opening their presents.
  • Regular Show's Farmer Jimmy is not a fan of the song's composition and stages a contest in order to find a replacement. The anthropomorphic personification of the song is allowed to sing it at the contest, but gets interrupted at various points as if to invoke this trope. He does end up slowly singing the full song. During production, the crew were worried the episode wouldn't make it past planning because of the song's copyright issues, but they were able to go through with it because Cartoon Network is owned by the same parent company (Time-Warner).
  • In an episode of Rugrats entitled "Baking Dil", Didi (who is celebrating her birthday in that episode) and her friend Betty go out for lunch at a restaurant where a quartet sing a birthday song for her to the tune of "Rule Britannia". In order to stall her (as there was a surprise birthday party for her at home), Betty gets the quartet to sing her an anniversary and a Bar Mitzvah song, too (also to the tune of the aforementioned song).
  • Sheriff Callie's Wild West: In the episode "Ella Sneaks a Peek", the town sings an original birthday song to Ella to the tune of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm".
  • The Simpsons:
    • A Wall E. Weasel establishment has a cheap animatronic animal band singing "You're the birthday — you're the birthday — you're the birthday — boy or girl!"
    • In another episode, a group of waiters sing "Happy First 'A'", to Bart, when he celebrated that.
    • A classic early episode had a guy who claimed to be Michael Jackson serenade Lisa with an original song. "Lisa, it's your birthday...happy birthday, Lisa!"note  Earlier in the same episode Lisa sang a forlorn "Happy Birthday to Me" to herself, since she was the only one in the family who remembered her birthday.
    • The famous/infamous "Happy Birthday" song The Ramones played to Mr. Burns on his birthday. Just 15 seconds, and just the "Happy Birthday to YOU!" chorus, and they left the poor old man trembling and angry.
      Mr. Burns: Have The Rolling Stones killed...
      Smithers: But, sir, those aren't...
      Mr. Burns: Do as I say!
    • In the first season episode where Homer buys Marge a bowling ball after forgetting her birthday, they go to a restaurant with singing waiters, who do sing the actual song "Happy Birthday to You."
    • In the season 5 episode "Rosebud," Burns and Smithers are discussing the preparations for Burns' upcoming birthday:
      Smithers: On another topic, the preparations for your birthday have begun.
      Mr. Burns: I won't get what I really want.
      Smithers: No one does.
      [Smithers has a fantasy of a naked Burns popping out of a cake]
      Mr. Burns: [singing à la Marilyn Monroe] Happy birthday, Mr. Smithers...
      Smithers: Mmmmm...
    • In "Krusty Gets Busted", a little girl was having her birthday celebrated at Krusty's show and Krusty offered her a choice: have Krusty sing her a birthday song, or have Sideshow Bob shot off a cannon. She chose the cannon.
  • In The Smurfs (1981) episode "All Hallows' Eve", the Smurfs sing a happy birthday song to Jokey to the melody of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas".
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • Happy birthday Squidward! Pin the tail on the seahorse!
    • Yo-ho, Pearl's a whale, and it's her birthday!
    • Three cheers on your birthday, SpongeBob! Three cheers for you!
    • Happy Birthday dear old Grandma, Grandma, Grandma! The best Grandma in the world, Grandma, Grandma!
    • Squirrelly birthday, dear Sandy, squirrelly birthday to you!
    • The Birthday Episode that aired on the show's twentieth anniversary has a running gag where everyone on the Surface Land tour bus keeps trying to sing to SpongeBob, only to get interrupted. At the end of the episode, the cast sings a birthday song to the tune of the show's theme song.
  • Strawberry Shortcake has the original song "A Berry Happy Birthday" written for the episode "Meet Strawberry Shortcake", which was sung at the end of the episode when they were celebrating Apple Dumplin's birthday. Yes, American Greetings cashed in on the song by producing musical greeting cards that play that too.
  • Teen Titans Go! had the Running Gag in "BBBDay!" revolve around the fact the Titans couldn't sing Happy Birthday to You! due to it being under copyright. Ironically, the episode aired only a few weeks after the September 22, 2015 court ruling.
  • Time Squad: On Otto's birthday, Larry and Tuddrussel sing a birthday song that we as the audience has to assume is traditional in the year 100 Million.
  • The Trash Pack episode "Completely Armless" makes their own song up that lampshades this issue.
    Birthday song, the birthday song,
    It's all for you, 'cause it's all too long.
    (We don't have the rights to the real) Birthday song!
  • In The Venture Bros., Dr. Girlfriend was going to surprise The Monarch wearing panties and a strategically placed bow (and boots and pillbox hat) singing "Happy Birthday" a la Marilyn Monroe to JFK, but instead sang "For He's a Sexy Good Fellow." In that stevedore voice of hers.
  • The Wander over Yonder episode had a fast-paced, high-energy song "Your Happy Birthday Song," Wander performed for Lord Hater.
  • At the beginning of one episode of The X's, the family is celebrating Truman's birthday and they sing the song for him, though all the viewers hear is "…and many more!"

    Real Life 
  • Chain restaurants like Applebee's, Bennigan's, and TGI Friday's usually make a fuss over customer birthdays, but before "Happy Birthday" definitively entered the US public domain, the staff had to sing an original corporate birthday song or chant because it is a "public performance"; if they sang "Happy Birthday", a paid license would have been required. Since, as previously mentioned, it's only the lyrics that were copyrighted, not the melody (although apparently you could still be sued for translations, as noted with Star Trek performing it in Klingon above), this tends not to be the case at foreign-food places; for example, a certain Italian chain restaurant sings a Pavarotti-esque rendition of "Happy Birthday" in Italian, albeit with the lyrics completely changed as opposed to a straight literal translation to avoid any chances of a lawsuit. Even with "Happy Birthday" now PD, the restaurants still typically use their original material, more out of tradition than anything else.
  • Until they got an incredible amount of flak, the rights holders to the song were threatening to sue the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts for use of the song (without, of course, having purchased a performing rights license) at campfires and scouting events. The bad publicity wasn't just loud, it was positively deafening, so much so that they agreed not to do so.
  • Italian rock band Elio e le Storie Tese had the song "Al mercato di Bonn" removed from their 2003 album "Cicciput", because it was about the discovery that Beethoven wrote the melody for "Happy Birthday to You", and thus contained a sample of the song, lyrics and all. Luckily for the fans, they managed to "accidentally" broadcast the song during a popular radio show.
  • This resulted in Malaysia actually adopting a different and original Malay birthday song. Up until the 90s, the de facto Malay birthday song was a literal translated version of "Happy Birthday to You". Then Warner Music Group stepped up and demanded royalties from performances of the song left and right. The Malaysian government responded by commissioning a new Malay birthday song and started teaching the song in schools and mosques. It's rare to hear the translated version of "Happy Birthday to You" nowadays, although the English version is still sung at private parties and functions held at karaoke clubs (who had bought the rights to use the tune and lyrics for private performances).
  • Negativland is well known for fighting the U.S. Copyright Laws in their recordings and live shows. Founding member Richard Lyons died of melanoma on his own birthday, April 19, 2016; one of his last conscious acts was to sing the song with family, friends and hospice workers. It had been released from copyright a few months before.
  • The Portuguese-language version of this song, Parabéns a Vocênote , was written by Berta Celeste Homem de Melo (1902-1999). This version is still copyrighted and her grandchildren still collect royalties.
  • Marilyn Monroe famously sang it to John F. Kennedy at an event celebrating his 45th birthday in 1962; a number of the actual licensed uses of the song listed above are specifically parodies of this incident.


Video Example(s):


Happy, Happy Birthday

In order to keep Yzma from suspecting that the llama is actually Kuzco, Pacha tells the waitress of Mudka's Meat Hut that it's Yzma's birthday as a distraction. Cue the restaurant staff singing her a song and placing a sombrero on her head, much to her dismay.

How well does it match the trope?

4.83 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / HappyBirthdayToYou

Media sources: