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Musical World Hypotheses

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"When I stare off into space I'm imagining myself in a musical number. That's how I sometimes see big moments in my life, as musical numbers. And because I do that, so does the show. And by show, I mean the very popular BPD workbook acronym, "Simply Having Omniscient Wishes"."
Rebecca, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Musicals as an art form have a unique problem. For most musical fans, it merely falls under Willing Suspension of Disbelief. For those who dislike musicals and those musical fans with analytical minds, it tends to at least superficially be the reason why.


What's with all the singing?

As we all know, in our world, music needs to be composed in advance. Rhyming poetry takes time to piece together. People don't just burst into song and dance in the middle of the street to express their feelings. So how do you make sense of a work of fiction where they do?

  • The Musical Alternate Universe Hypothesis: The musical is set in an alternate world, or magic has been worked on the ordinary world, in which people really do burst into spontaneous song and dance. If the world has always been this way, singing is simply a normal and commonplace form of human communication in this universe; if the world is not normally this way, expect it to be some sort of an uncontrollable compulsion to sing at emotional moments, perhaps induced by the actions of The Music Meister. In this interpretation, since the singing is an in-universe phenomenon, the characters are aware of the songs and may explicitly comment on their musical style or specific lyrics; there may be characters who don't like singing and refuse to participate or try to stop others from starting to sing when the music begins to swell; or characters may say things in song that they wouldn't otherwise or regard statements that are sung differently from spoken statements. This is most common in comedic works or as a one-off occurrence in a normally non-musical world, since it draws attention to the weirdness of the concept. In particular, almost all parodies of musicals treat them as being Alternate Universe, even when the musical being parodied is not.
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  • The All In Their Heads Hypothesis: There is no singing; the songs are an artistic rendering of the characters' fantasies, with the format of song in a way serving to distinguish between what really happens and what is only in the characters' heads, much like a Shakespearean sililoquy. Naturally, this means that no characters are aware of what goes on in another character's song: there may be duets, but then they are Distant Counterpoint Duets where the two characters do not know of one another's participation. This makes the musical more palatable for some, since there is obviously no literal singing involved in-universe. Tired After The Song debunks this because there's no way you can tire yourself out by imagining singing.
  • The Diegetic Hypothesis: The characters are performing actual, literal songs for one another as they might in Real Life, with the songs having been written and practiced beforehand in a realistic way. This can overlap with Alternate Universe if writing and performing a song is treated as analogous to writing and giving a speech. Fully diegetic musicals are distinguished from non-musicals that happen to feature musical performances only by the number of such musical performances that are given the viewer's full attention. See the Diegetic Musical.
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  • The Adaptation Hypothesis: Derives from the Literary Agent Hypothesis: the songs are merely a dramatic reconstruction of what really happened. For instance, if two characters converse in song and come to some sort of conclusion, it is assumed that the characters really just had a normal, non-musical conversation that came to the same conclusion, but because it's a musical, it has here been adapted into a song for drama (or comedy) purposes. This is the most common interpretation in stage musicals, and the way most of them are written: almost All Musicals Are Adaptations, after all, and the source material generally doesn't have any singing. Many musical songs only make sense in light of this interpretation: they may be essentially montages of a much longer time period, for instance, while still featuring dialogue or interactions between the characters that rules out the song being a fantasy.
  • All-Maestro Cast: If it is explicitly shown or implied (other than by the mere fact of their singing) that all of the characters in a musical who sing have great (by Real Life's standards) skill at improvised music, it is at least plausible that these characters really are capable of coming up with tunes and rhymes on the fly, and do so during the musical. This is easier to justify with a smaller cast. Given the needed plot support, this case is rare. This case differs from the Diegetic Hypothesis in that the songs are improvised in-universe.

The writers of musicals don't necessarily adopt exactly one of these interpretations for a work; rather, musicals often love to mix in more than one, especially with Diegetic or All In Their Heads songs sprinkled into a broader Alternate Universe or Adaptation Hypothesis work. After all, any reason to include a song is a good reason: we have musicals because we enjoy hearing stories told with music, regardless of why or how that music is there. Just go with it.

Because this trope is a lump, all musicals are examples. When adding one, it is therefore necessary to detail which musical world hypothesis seems to apply to it overall and any notable song exceptions.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Aggretsuko mainly uses the "all in their heads" hypothesis. In the majority of episodes of the TBS series, Retsuko's songs are only happening in her head, as other characters do not react to her singing, since the songs express the things that she wants to say but can't. In the Netflix series, it uses the diegetic or maestro cast hypothesis more often, as it more frequently shows Retsuko actually going to Karaoke or somewhere else private to sing her rage songs. Although the lyrics of Retsuko's songs are improvised, she usually is using the same music to sing with, so it is more believable.
  • The ballet in Princess Tutu is clearly diegetic (except in Dream Sequences, of course). The advanced ballet students show off dances that they've presumably been rehearsing or might have performed in the past, and the bad dancers dance poorly unless they have good partners (in which case they still dance poorly, but at least they look good doing it). Tutu and Kraehe presumably know every dance ever due to their magicalness.
  • Senki Zesshou Symphogear is a mix; The music academy and idol performances add diegetic elements, while the symphogear armors invoke the alternate universe version to power themselves.

    Audio Play 
  • 36 Questions follows the Adaptation Hypothesis, as Judith and Jase occasionally sing their answers to the 36 Questions, but when the next question is "When was the last time you sang to someone else?", neither of them list any of the songs they just sang.

    Comic Books 
  • In Marvel Adventures when Johnny Storm is traveling through multiple alternate realities he comes upon Doctor Doom confronting the Fantastic Four with a song about their doom, making it a musical number in an Alternate Universe from the perspective of the characters.
  • Scott Pilgrim is a strange case. The comics have it as a straight AU example, and is the least weird thing about the universe (which includes universities in the sky, glowing heads, power-ups, 1-ups, magical/vegan powers). The film, on the other hand, treats Matthew Patel bursting into song as very strange even for the universe (as evidenced by Stacey's "what the fuck?" expression)
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen takes place in a universe where every work of fiction is true (poems and musicals being no exception), so this naturally comes up at one point. In one section of "The New Travelers' Almanac" in the second volume, we learn that the events of Lewis Carroll's poem The Hunting of the Snark were just a hallucination that unfolded in the mind of one Dr. Eric Bellman, a psychiatrist who went insane after trying to lead an expedition into Wonderland. The dialogue in that poem is said to be in verse because Bellman's deteriorating mental state left him incapable of speaking in coherent prose.
    • In the Century trilogy, however, it's shown that in this world people really do, occasionally, just break into song and everybody treats it like it's normal. It happens several times in 1910, thanks to being a partial adaptation of the Threepenny Opera. In 2009 Alan tries to start a duet with Mina but she's not in the mood. 1969 also has plenty of singing, but it doesn't really count as all of it takes place during rock concerts.
  • One issue of the Nodwick print comic runs on Alternate Universe (magic influence subtype) rules when Yeagar asks Artax for some magical help to make him more eloquent. Turns out the scroll Artax used made everyone burst into song and dance around Yeagar at the drop of a hat, instead. (Mostly rock and pop parodies from the '80s and early '90s.)

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Most of the Barbie films use the Alternate Universe type. Barbie & The Diamond Castle, however, is mostly Diegetic (despite being promoted as a "musical fairytale"), since it focuses around two girls on a mission to bring music back to their world. Barbie In Rock N Royals is also Diegetic, with all the numbers being performed as acts, performances, or camp activities.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas could be either Alternate Universe or Adaptation for most of the movie; it could plausibly be normal for the people of the holiday towns to express themselves by singing (at no point does anyone from the human world sing) but no one ever comments on it. Exceptions:
    • "This Is Halloween" is pretty clearly Diegetic, since the citizens of Halloweentown plan a big event every Halloween, and the way the Mayor walks up to Jack's doorstep humming the tune the next day points toward the characters at least knowing the song in-universe.
    • "What's This?" fits as All In Their Heads, because even though Jack's running around singing and making a spectacle of himself, the only time anyone even comes close to noticing him is when he passes within a hair's breadth of them.
    • "Poor Jack" could be whatever of the three. Diegetically speaking, he starts singing after having heard the street musicians playing their tune, so he might be improvising on this melody he's heard many times before and seems to fit so well his mood. The song seems to start as an Inner Monologue All In Jack's Head, but Sally is supposed to be witnessing the song, and the key to her deeper understanding of Jack's character is having heard the lyrics, so he must be speaking out loud. He might, however, be just speaking, not singing.
    • "Sally's Song" is similar, she does walk past the same street musicians and said musicians seem to produce the background music for her song.
    • "Oogie Boogie's Song" can either be diegetic or Alternate Universe, since it isn't clarified if the background music is produced by one of the casino machines in Oogie's lair, in which case he's improvising the lyrics on a preexisting tune (that's pretty much diegetic), or if he's singing that like if he was talking.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, like the main Friendship is Magic universe, makes use of all four types:
    • The first film is almost completely All in Their Head, with almost every song being done during a montage, reflecting the characters' inner thoughts. The only song that averts this is the Cafeteria Song, which is diegetic, with the characters having rehearsed prior to the scene.
    • Rainbow Rocks is completely diegetic, with everything except the opening theme being performed by the characters within the context of the film's plot, though several cut away to various scenes, or during a song emphasizing the Battle of the Bands theme, to literal battling between bands on the high points of the song.
    • Friendship Games is a mixture; Human Twilight's "I Want" Song and Cinch's villain song are Alternate Universe; "ACADECA" is mostly All in Their Head, with a hint of Alternate Universe and Adaptation.
  • The Book of Life is diegetic. Almost all of the songs are performed by the characters themselves, practiced and performed in real time, rather than just being random asides like in (say) Disney movies.
  • Most Disney Animated Canon films are set in Musical Universes.
    • In The Sword in the Stone, for example, most of the singing done by characters with magical powers, and it's easy to imagine them casting spells using music.
    • The Great Mouse Detective is pretty much Diegetic. There are three songs in the film (not including the reprise of "Goodbye So Soon" sung over the end credits) and they all occur within the film's story. One is "The World's Greatest Criminal Mind". The other two songs are a stage show ("Let Me Be Good to You") and a song Ratigan composed as a farewell to Basil, which is played on a phonograph ("Goodbye So Soon").
      • The first, "The World's Greatest Criminal Mind," is the Villain Song. It is a bit harder to determine. One thing is sure, it is not an Inner Monologue or the character speaking instead of singing: he mentions being singing, accompanies himself with a harp at one point, and the song is even interrupted and then resumes with Professor Ratigan telling his chorus of Mooks "And now, as you were singing..." It could still be diegetic: the song itself - a rather elaborate, off-the-cuff number - works within the context of the story because Professor Ratigan is just the sort of egotistical weirdo who would randomly stage a Broadway-style song and dance routine about how awesome he is. However, the books seem to answer to him in song as a natural thing, even though it's clear they couldn't possibly practiced. And the harp mentioned earlier is also the only instrument seen at all; the orchestral background music's origin remains unknown.
    • In Aladdin, both of Genie's songs ("Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali") are Diegetic - he's a Large Ham, pop culture junkie, and Reality Warper; of course he's going to start a showstopping number when he gets half a chance. Both songs also occur when he's going all-out trying to impress people, as well. "Arabian Nights" may also be Diegetic, as it's perfectly normal for a traveler to sing on the road. The rest ("One Jump Ahead", "Whole New World", and Jafar's Dark Reprise of "Prince Ali") are all Adaptations describing actual events, though Aladdin's half-verse reprise of "One Jump Ahead" is uneventful enough that it could be All In His Head.
    • Pocahontas falls right under the 'Adaptation' label. "Colors of the Wind" notably is a representation of Pocahontas showing John Smith how great nature is, "Mine Mine Mine" is the settlers digging for gold and "If I Never Knew You" is really a conversation between John and Pocahontas.
    • Tangled introduces a twist during "I've Got A Dream": In this Alternate Universe, some people choose not to burst into song due to cynicism, grumpiness, or plain ol' bad mood. Flynn is perfectly capable of joining the Crowd Song, but is unwilling to do so until he is forced at swordpoint! In fact, his spontaneous duet with Rapunzel during "I See The Light" is indicative of his character development and shift towards more idealistic values.
    • Frozen, for the most part, falls into the Adaptation format. Anna clearly did spend many years asking Elsa to come out and play during "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" and did argue with her about returning to Arendelle and the eternal winter she'd caused in the reprise of "For the First Time in Forever", even if there was no actual occurrence of singing in either case. Anna's duet with Hans, "Love Is An Open Door", probably would be this too, since the song involved Hans charming Anna into falling for him and presumably in actuality was done without singing. For "Fixer Upper," the trolls clearly prepared Anna and Kristoff for a wedding, and "In Summer" may really be Olaf simply discussing his fantasy for summer. The original "For the First Time in Forever" could be All In Their Heads as well: none of the servants take notice of Anna moving some of the salad plates, nor does anyone pay any attention to Anna singing as she travels down the railing of the bridge to the castle against the arriving guests. For Elsa's solo in that song, it could be argued that all of her lines, except for "Tell the guards to open up the gates!" are an internal monologue instead.
      • "Reindeer(s) Are Better than People", however, is clearly diegetic, as Anna explicitly comments on the song after it is done and the way it is presented implies that Kristoff sings this every night. Meanwhile, it's unknown how "Frozen Heart" fits, but it most likely fits as diegetic, as the singers are clearly sawing to the beat of the music and, as demonstrated by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it's perfectly normal to sing while working. Frozen II reveals that the iconic "Let It Go" is diegetic too; while it at first seems to be All in Elsa's Head because she's all by herself at the time, meaning that it's probably an inner monologue, the sequel has a scene of her cringing at a flashback of herself singing that song, meaning that she did sing it in real time.
    • The sequel, Frozen II, also mostly fits into the "Adaptation" bill. It's assumed that "Some Things Never Change" is merely the characters' thoughts on their current lives, "Into the Unknown" is Elsa's desires to seek out the origins of the voice (plus, there's a scene during the song in which Elsa throws open the windows and belts loudly into the air, and if she really was singing, all the Arendellians would have been woken up by the ruckus), "When I Am Older" is Olaf's attempts to stay sane despite being surrounded by the elemental spirits, "Lost in the Woods" is Kristoff's fantasy showing his opinion of his romance with Anna, "Show Yourself" is Elsa's elation in finally finding Ahtohallan, and "The Next Right Thing" is Anna finding the courage inside herself. The voice Elsa keeps hearing, however, is diegetic, as is "All is Found", the lullaby Queen Iduna sings.
    • Moana acts as a Musical Universe, but calls attention to this nature. Maui continues humming "You're Welcome" to himself even after the song is over (and later brings back the tune for a Madness Mantra of sorts), and "Shiny" is explicitly done "in song form" with Tamatoa asking the heroes if they liked it afterward. Maui also comments at one point that if Moana breaks into song, he's going to throw up. "We Know The Way", on the other hand, could be All in Moana's Head as she's given a spirit vision of her ancestors; but then again, it's a Musical Universe so her ancestors might well have actually sung that. Likewise, "How Far I'll Go" may or may not be All In Her Head giving voice to her internal struggle, since she only sings to herself and nobody else takes notice. The only one that can't be justified by the Musical Universe is "Where You Are", as it's an Age-Progression Song and therefore an Adaptation.
    • Ralph Breaks the Internet takes the Adaptation Hypothesis when Vanellope sings about her feelings and desire to stay with the Slaughter Race characters. The trope is also lampshaded when Vanellope learns about all the things that come with it, including mood lighting and background music among other things.
  • All Dogs Go to Heaven seems to fall under Alternate Universe Hypothesis. Musical numbers aren't questioned all that often and occur in all versions. However, there are some more wild numbers, but one is the Trope Namer for Big-Lipped Alligator Moment and most of the others involve a legit Reality Warper being the one singing.
  • A Goofy Movie is a mix of Diegetic, Adaptation, and Alternate Universe. For the diegetic part, "Stand Out" and "I2I" are In-Universe pop songs, while "Lester's Possum Park" occurs during a show. "After Today" and "Nobody Else But You" happen with no explanation and may very well be mere representations of the singers' feelings and thoughts. "On the Open Road" is probably Alternate Universe as Goofy starts singing it after noticing a beat in his car, explicitly tells Max to "sing along," and is heard humming it in the film's ending.
  • Coco is Diegetic; all of the songs are performed as part of an act or for an audience.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Muppet Treasure Island is a mixture, but mostly Alternate Universe combined with a removable fourth wall. It's usually acknowledged that they're singing ("Sailing for Adventure" features Samuel Arrow cautioning them not to get sloppy just because they're singing) but no one seems to find anything strange about it.
    • "Professional Pirate" is Diegetic, since Long John Silver tells his men to "show 'em you've been practicing".
    • "Cabin Fever" seems to be All In Their Heads, but only because the crew's been driven temporarily insane. Or was it? Maybe the insanity is what got them all singing about it? The question is never answered.
      • After "Cabin Fever," Clueless Morgan actually asks Polly the Lobster, "What was that song that just happened?" Polly thinks he's crazy, indicating Polly wasn't aware of the song. This indicates that it was All In Their Heads for the singers, but also for Morgan even though he wasn't singing.
  • The Muppets is mostly Alternate Universe (The reprise of "Life's a Happy Song" ends with the crowd collapsing from exhaustion; the muppets are baffled by Tex Richman's rap), while the songs performed during the fundraiser are diegetic (just as they would be in Real Life).
  • Walk the Line is Diegetic, as Johnny Cash is a professional singer on tour with his group. Each musical number depicted in the film occurs at a point that is professionally or personally important to Johnny Cash' life. (For example, his first audition, his first public performance, his comeback performance, asking June to marry him on stage, etc.)
  • The film version of Chicago falls under All In Their Heads. Except for those numbers actually performed on stage, all the songs are the product of Roxie Hart's imagination, to the point where the song "Class" was removed because there was no way the director could make it fit.
  • Nine is done by the same director, and does the same thing. Since it's an adaptation of 8 1/2, this works pretty well. The protagonist is having a mid-life crisis and is a creative film director.
  • Enchanted is definitely of the Alternate Universe type. Giselle is from another universe and sometimes has the ability to make our universe act according to her universe's rules. When everyone starts singing in Central Park, Robert wonders where they learned the song.
  • The Wedding Singer is of the Diegetic type. Most of the songs are performed by Robbie in his professional capacity. The only other one is when he is trying to win back Julia; many people in Real Life sing when courting a woman.
  • Many people refuse to count O Brother, Where Art Thou? as a musical because the songs don't come out of nowhere, but it would fit pretty easily as a diegetic musical.
  • The Blues Brothers is mostly diegetic, with actual bands and musicians doing rehearsed performances. But then you have Aretha Franklin randomly bursting into song in a diner accompanied by background singers, and people flooding the streets to do a choreographed dance when Ray Charles belts out a number. "Minnie the Moocher" is an odd case where the music is clearly diegetic (they just happened to know how to play that exact song perfect the first time), but the outfits worn by the band are clearly part of an Alternate Universe: they instantly change from their regular clothes to white vests when the song starts and suddenly reverted when it ends between shots, without any scene change whatsoever.
  • Once is pretty clearly a Diegetic musical, as the characters are both musicians performing songs for each other and recording an album together, but many of the songs have lyrics relevant to the plot.
  • Dreamgirls dabbles in all four of these categories, but sticking mostly to Alternate Universe and Diegetic. The film seemed to be purely Diegetic for the first hour or so, then suddenly began to dabble in the other categories with no warning or explanation.
  • Moulin Rouge! is primarily an alternate universe, with a setting that lends itself well to diegetic numbers. Also the story is being typed up by Christian, overlapping with the 'All In Their Head' somewhat.
  • Let It Shine is Diegetic. All of the music is presented as a rehearsal or performance, mostly by Cyrus or Roxie.
  • Little Shop of Horrors the film is definitely an Alternate Universe, but songs like "Skid Row" and "Suppertime" could be All in Their Heads or an Adaptation based on the telling of the Greek Chorus composed of three Motown songstresses. Audrey II's lyrics could be the Diegetic compositions of a very musical alien. Oh, and "If you two could stop singing for just one minute..."
  • Fame (1980) is mostly diegetic, as is appropriate for a film about a school for the performing arts, but one number, Hot Lunch, seems to spill into Alternate Universe territory. An impromptu bit of music by a few students in the cafeteria gradually enlarges to encompass the entire school, spilling out into the surrounding city streets until it literally stops traffic. Somewhat justified, perhaps, in that it is a school for the performing arts, whose student body might be better prepared for sudden improv than your average high school.
  • Pennies from Heaven (1978 TV miniseries and 1981 Film) -the many lip-synced musical numbers are all in the heads of the main characters.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail is mostly diegetic. The minstrel and his band are clearly singing in-universe about Brave Sir Robin. The Knights of the Round Table song may appear to be something else, but as part of the song is about how they like to dress up, sing and dance, it's clear that the knights actually are singing and dancing. Which is why Arthur decides not to go to Camelot, as it is "a silly place." The Swamp Castle scenes are probably Alternate Universe, since music will start out of nowhere when Prince Herbert wants to sing, but stops when the King tells it to.
  • The Mask is an alternate universe example. A little magic from the title character can make people break out in Spontaneous Song And Dance. In fact, people struggle to maintain control as they're slowly forced to sing.
  • The short film 7:35 in the Morning is a diegetic example, and arguably a deconstruction. A woman stopping at a diner is surprised when everyone starts singing to her. As it turns out, a single person wrote the whole song in an attempt to woo her... and he's threatening to blow up the diner if anyone doesn't sing along.
  • The film version of Cabaret is diegetic. All the songs take place in a night club, with the single exception of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me", a patriotic song that a boy sings to a luncheon, with the diners joining in for the last chorus.
  • In Dancer in the Dark, all the musical numbers are explicitly depicted as daydreams of the main character, who as it happens loves movie musicals.
  • Across the Universe combines most if not all of these types, sometimes switching from one to another mid-song; for example, "I Am the Walrus" starts out diegetic, with Bono singing a song for his party guests, and then quickly dissolves into All In Their Heads as the hallucinogens kick in...
  • Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny is most likely diegetic (though the producers likely didn't give it much thought). All the musical numbers except for one have no background accompaniment, and the singing sounds exactly the way it would in real life.
  • Labyrinth is primarily Alternate Universe ("As the World Falls Down" is partially All In Their Heads). All the song-and-dance numbers take place in the Magical Land the heroine is swept into, and unlike most musicals, aren't spread out among the primary characters. A Wacky Wayside Tribe gets one and the primary villain gets the other three, suggesting that singing is simply a way they express themselves.
  • Singin' in the Rain, being a movie about making a movie musical, is a mixture of Diegetic ("Fit as a Fiddle", "All I Do Is Dream of You", "Beautiful Girl", "Would You?") and Alternate Universe ("Make 'Em Laugh", You Were Meant For Me", "Moses Supposes", "Good Morning'", "Lucky Star"). "Broadway Melody Ballet" is a hybrid of All In Their Heads and Diegetic, as it occurs in a scene where Don and Cosmo are describing a proposed musical number to their studio head. The title song itself plays out as Alternate Universe, but since it actually originated from a movie musical called "The Hollywood Revue of 1929", it could be regarded as Diegetic if one presumes that said musical exists in-universe and had been seen by the characters.
  • Spectacular! is Diegetic. All of the songs in the movie are presented as performances.
  • Camp Rock is Diegetic, with all the songs being performed by the various bands and acts. Its sequel, Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam mashes in bits of Alternate Universe to make it seem High School Musical like.
  • The 2005 adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is purely Diegetic, with the first song sung by Wonka's automatons and the rest sung by Oompa-Loompas. This trope is actually discussed in the movie, and Wonka claims that the Oompa-Loompas' songs are improvised on the spot... except they clearly aren't. Naturally, this led to fan theories that they rehearsed the songs beforehand and Wonka specifically picked the route that would make the spoiled children's presumed flaws manifest.
    Mr. Salt: I do say that all seemed rather rehearsed.
    Mike Teavee: Like they all knew what was going to happen.
    Mr. Wonka: Oh, poppycock.
  • Pitch Perfect is firmly Diegetic. The Bellas are shown practice their choreography and harmonizing. When Beca sings another song during Semi Finals, Aubrey calls her out for breaking from routine. During the Riff-Off, some songs seem to practiced or familiar, while some of the songs are done by the singers as improv.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera has almost no spoken dialogue, being an opera (or a rock opera, at least). Most of the movie is Alternate Universe, but it gets a little mixed up when they actually get to the Genetic Opera. While Mag and Amber's songs are clearly meant to be Diegetic, "We Started This Op'ra Shit" is a mix (most of the song is meant to be a rehearsed performance, but the single mom's testiominal isn't) and they switch back to Alternate Universe after the Genetic Opera ends (even though the characters are still onstage). "Seventeen" is partly All In Their Heads; while it involves an argument between Shilo and her dad, Shilo also sings it directly into a microphone with a backing band that includes Joan Jett! And Grave Robber is a special case altogether, since half of his songs are exposition sung directly to the audience.
  • Reefer Madness: The Musical (not the early '30s Scare 'Em Straight film), certainly is "All in their heads." The opening song shows the parents beginning to panic over the thought of their children becoming monsters for smoking marijuana. Then their kids become literal ghouls and mob the parents, complete with dance choreography from Michael Jackson's Thriller. At the end of the song, the ghouls vanish and the parents are firmly in the hands of an anti-pot activist. The silliness only goes up from there.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is not a musical, but quite a few musical numbers come up and are important to the plot. They are always both diegetic and in an Alternate Universe where the world follows video-game and comic-book like rules. For example, one set of performers tears the roof off the building, meaning they stun the crowd -and- tear the roof clean off the building.
  • Darling Lili is diegetic. Most of the musical numbers are performances by Lili or other characters. There's also a song (which doesn't appear in the Director's Cut) sung by a group of French schoolchildren whom Lili and Bill follow for a while during their romantic weekend in the country.
  • Teen Beach Movie, or rather Wet Side Story, is an Alternate Universe variety that the protagonists Mack and Brady are trapped in, and seems to force musical numbers on visitors.
  • Save for two songs that are diegetic (both versions of In The Flesh, where Pink is seen singing in front of an audience), the film version of The Wall is purely adaptational, as is suggested by the opening song, where Pink tells the audience that to see his true self, they have to claw their way through his disguise. Also, several songs, such as "Comfortably Numb" only work in an adaptational sense (in the case of "Comfortably Numb", though singing, Pink admits he can't hear what the doctor is saying, yet he seems to respond to him as if he can), though others, like "The Trial", work best in an all in his head form.
  • The High School Musical movies seem to be Adaptations. At least one Tumblr user pointed out the logic of one character doing an entire dance number about how he doesn't dance, and another character not wanting his friends to know he likes singing so he breaks into song during their basketball practice.
  • Cover Girl is mostly Diegetic, with a couple of exceptions: "Make Way for Tomorrow" is Alternate Universe, and the "Alter Ego" dance is All In Danny's Head. "Long Ago and Far Away" is ambiguous—it could be Diegetic (improvised to Genius's piano playing), or it could be Alternate Universe.
  • In contrast to the stage show, Into the Woods has the whole film being narrated by the Baker to his baby son, making this the All In Their Heads hypothesis. Many of the songs could be just the Baker's imagination of what really happened. But then again, it is a fairy tale world and some of the songs feature things the Baker shouldn't know about (unless some of the other characters filled him in later) - so both 'Alternate Universe' and 'Adaptation' are applicable.
  • In The Jungle Book (2016), "Bare Necessities" is clearly Diegetic, with Baloo and Mowgli explicitly singing it (Baloo refers to it as "a song about the good life"). "I Wanna Be Like You", on the other hand, is most likely Adaptation: Louie was just talking to Mowgli about telling him the secret of fire rather than singing about it.
  • Leto, a Jukebox Musical about a brief period in the lives of Viktor Tsoi and several other notable figures of underground Soviet rock, is a mixture of Diegetic and All In Their Heads, with the musical numbers being either in-universe performances by the characters or Fantasy Sequences. Whenever one of those sequences happens, a character known only as "the Sceptic" shows up to point out that "this didn't actually happen".
  • Aladdin (2019): "Prince Ali" and "Friend Like Me," as in the original, are 100% diegetic — performances given in-universe that other characters can and do fully see, hear, and react to. "Arabian Nights" is also definitely diegetic in this version, as the "merchant" begins to tell a story by singing it to his children after they specifically ask him to sing. Aladdin's songs fit Adaptation or All in his Head — a musical rendering of his thoughts and feelings. Jasmine's song "Speechless" is clearly All in her Head, as the guards restraining her keep walking without the slightest reaction to their prisoner bursting into song (until they vanish and everyone else in the scene freezes to indicate time isn't even really passing).
  • Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel aren't musicals per se, but nonetheless they include a lot of songs which they get from Peter Quill's mixtapes, which usually end up being either Diegetic (when he's playing his music) or Adaptation (a song is playing, with the implication that it exists on his tapes, but it's clearly not happening in-universe). The first film starts with Quill dancing to "Come and Get Your Love", but since he's got headphones on, it's functionally the same as an All In His Head song. Avengers: Endgame lampshades this: Nebula and War Machine time-travel back to this point, but they can't hear the music and only see Quill dancing and singing off-key to nothing like an idiot. At one point in the second movie Rocket has an ally play one of Quill's songs for the explicit purpose of accompanying the following fight.

  • The A Tale Of... keeps the Alternate Universe element of Disney films. For example, Gothel sings her Villain Song "Mother Knows Best", while the spying Odd Sisters snark and laugh about how hammy she's being.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Flight of the Conchords TV show is about musicians, and thus a lot of the songs are diegetic (e.g. Bret, You've Got It Going On, If You're Into It and Albi the Racist Dragon, the last being on a Show Within a Show). However, other songs are All In Their Heads (e.g. She's So Hot, Boom, which stylistically shows the girl it is sung to during it but is still obviously not actually being performed for her, Business Time, Mermaids, Sugarlumps), and others are clearly Adaptation Hypothesis examples (e.g. Most Beautiful Girl in the Room, Hurt Feelings, I Told You I was Freekie).
    • In the Flight of the Conchords song Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros (feat. the Hiphopopotamus and the Rhymenoceros), which is All in Their Heads, one of the muggers asks if they 'were dancing a little bit just then'. They say no, sheepishly.
  • Deconstructed in the Musical Episode of Scrubs, "My Musical," as the singing was a hallucination of a patient who had a stroke, and in fact her life was in danger. When she is cured, it stops, but the episode ends with her humming to herself as she misses the music inside her head. So All In One Character's Head, mixed with the spirit of the Adaptation Hypothesis (characters singing to each other are really having those conversations, but not really singing).
    • This also causes a bit of Fridge Brilliance to kick in, since the patient isn't around for any of the actual dialogue sequences, and as soon as she does appear, characters break into song, even if they're halfway through a conversation.
  • The Buffy Musical Episode is an example of the "magic spell" subset of the Alternate Universe Hypothesis. Everyone in Sunnydale starts singing and dancing uncontrollably, as if they're in a musical. They know it's weird, but they can't stop. The culprit turns out to be Sweet, a demon that Xander accidentally summoned. It makes people sing about their hidden feelings, causing various relationship problems, and in some extreme cases the people with the biggest secrets dance until they literally burn up.
    Giles: I've got a theory, that it's a demon. A dancing demon! No, something isn't right there
    Willow: I've got a theory, some kid is dreaming, and we're all stuck inside his wacky broadway nightmare!
    Xander: I've got a theory we should work this out
    All: It's getting eerie... What's this cheery singing all about?
    — Once More With Feeling, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Musical episode (from Season 6)
  • Norm Macdonald Lampshaded this a couple of times on SNL, once in "Evita" and once in a "West Side Story" Expy.
    Eva Peron: Don't cry for me, Argentina,
    The truth is I never left you
    All through my wild days
    My mad existence
    I kept my promise
    Don't keep your distance.
    Juan Peron: What the hell was that?
    Eva Peron: What was what?
    Juan Peron: You were singing.
    Eva Peron: Oh.. I, I, I did, didn't I?
    Juan Peron: Yeah, yeah, don't do that!
  • One of Alex Borstein's characters on MADtv was a redhead named Annie whose spontaneous musical outbursts were stated to be a stress-triggered mental illness.
  • Glee seems to primarily be diegetic, but mixes in a decent sprinkle of "All in Their Heads", numbers. Also, it doesn't do to think too hard about the quality of some of the first read-throughs from a purely diegetic perspective.
  • Even Stevens' "Influenza: The Musical" is a combination of Alternate Universe and All In Their Head. Specifically, Ren's.
  • That's So Raven had a diegetic musical episode, wherein all the wacky antics are supposed to wow a talent scout disguised as a janitor.
  • Dennis Potter:
    • Pennies from Heaven (1978 TV miniseries and 1981 Film) - the many lip-synced musical numbers are all in the heads of the man characters.
    • Also seen in Lipstick On Your Collar, used in exactly the same way as in Pennies.
  • The musical episode of Sanctuary is an interesting variation. Abby is singing (without realizing it) to other characters because she's been infected with a parasite that interferes with processing and producing normal speech. Everyone else sings to Abby out of necessity since she can't understand them otherwise. The songs are not rehearsed and are basically just sung dialogue.
  • One Saturday Night Live skit, Zac Efron plays his signature character, the star of the High School Musical series, giving a speech to his former classmates after he'd spent a year at college. He crushes their illusions (and lack of Medium Awareness) by explaining that the music seems to stop after graduation, and spontaneous singing just gets you funny looks. (So it's the alternate universe interpretation combined with Like Reality Unless Noted.)
    "And from what I can tell, this is America’s only singing high school! I was as shocked as you are."
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Musical Episode "The Gunfighters" mostly has a variant of All In Their Heads, as the songs act as a Greek Chorus, communicating on the action without actually engaging in it. However, there is a big diegetic musical number when Steven and Dodo, and later Steven and Doc Holiday's girlfriend, are forced by a bunch of gangsters to sing in order to prove that they really are a group of travelling singers and therefore aren't in league with Doc Holiday.
    • The audio drama "Dr Who and the Pirates" is a weird blend of all of these. The story is presented as a tale that Evelyn is telling someone else, but when the Doctor cuts in he decides to improve it by making it into a musical, with him singing (and Evelyn being very embarrassed by this) - an in-universe Adaptation. Yet the songs we hear in the story are presumably being performed by the Doctor in the 'real world' - Diegetic - though without the backing music or singers we hear - which are All In His Head. Also, within the world of the story itself, just bursting into song is considered normal by the minor pirate characters - Alternate Universe.
  • The first half of Mad Men's last season ends with Bert Cooper performing "The Best Things in Life Are Free" for Don with several unknown women. Considering all the performers disappeared the second it ended, no one reacted to it except Don, and Cooper had just died earlier than day, this falls pretty clearly in "All In Their Head".
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend can vary from song to song, but the number of quickly reversed changes in setting and costume, the out-of-nowhere backup dancers, and the switches to animation or Deliberately Monochrome footage and back point to "All In Their Heads." This is also implied by a number of lines indicating Rebecca likes to imagine herself as a theatre heroine living her life in glorious song, and some numbers make it obvious - in "Ping Pong Girl", she's clearly fantasising about how she wants Josh to react, and we constantly cut back to her nodding and smiling at the daydream. Audio commentary also notes that when a character other than Rebecca gets in on the singing, that's a sign that they've been brought into her madness.
    • The series finale outright states that it's all in Rebecca's head. Paula sees Rebecca staring vacantly into space again and finally asks her what she experiences whenever that happens. Rebecca somehow brings Paula into her musical mind-space, and Paula, blown away by how creative it is, convinces Rebecca that she should pursue songwriting as a way to share all of that creativity with others.
  • The Flash (2014)/Supergirl (2015) Musical Episode "Duet" is a Musical Universe via outside influence, as the heroes are trapped in a musical dream world. But since the dream is set in a 40s/50s night club, this allows some songs to be Diegetic as well. The final song, "Running Back to You", is 100% Diegetic, as it takes place after escaping the dream world and Barry is inspired by the experience to prep a song to sing to Iris.
  • Galavant is blatantly an Alternate Universe example, and characters frequently complain about their songs, comment on their singing skills, get exasperated with other people hogging the tune, and react to the lyrics as they are sung (to the point where The Mole accidentally let slip about her true allegiance and had to quickly cover it up mid-song when the others took notice). At the end of the second season, the Final Battle was even postponed while the Jester stood between the two armies to sing the audience a recap song! Said recap included the imminent arrival of a third army, which both sides and the Jester himself are somehow still surprised by.
  • Psych: The Musical is explicitly an Adaptation — the last scene reveals that the musical the audience just saw was an artistic rendering of a musical Shawn wrote, adapted from an actual case the characters worked on. It's safe to assume there was really no singing involved when, say, Woody actually explained his finding of suicide rather than murder, Jules and Lassiter actually discussed the case in the chief's office, or one of the criminals actually died.
  • Legends of Tomorrow has used several different forms and combinations:
    • Sometimes we'll get a purely Diegetic number, like Stein singing "Edelweiss" at a nightclub, or Hank picking up a guitar and performing "Sweet Baby James".
    • In "Séance and Sensibility", we get a straight up Alternate Universe musical number, of the altered reality variety, as Kamadeva's powers not only work as a Love Potion, but can make those affected express their feelings through song. It even generates sets and costumes appropriate for a "Bollywood musical number" out of thin air.
    • The performance of "Good Morning" is arguably Diegetic, but a very weird example, as an alien who had previously watched Singin' in the Rain uses Mind Control to make some humans perform that song-and-dance from the movie, even though they likely wouldn't have been able to otherwise.
    • Similarly, when "Sweet Baby James" gets a reprise at the end of Season 4, it's unclear how much of it is Diegetic, with everyone in a huge crowd getting in on the sing along, and how much of it is Hank's ghost exerting influence on them.
    • The Fairy Godmother's singing is a combination of Diegetic and Alternate Universe. It's unclear if her song was improvised or something she'd developed and practiced on previous occasions, but she's the only one singing it, and everyone is weirded out by her breaking into song mid-conversation; that'd seem to be Diegetic. However, a dash of Alternate Universe comes in because the instrumental music backing her up is not just part of the soundtrack; the other characters can hear it, but can't tell where it's coming from.
    • When different versions of the Legends from Alternate Timelines appear in "Legends of To-Meow-Meow", they're introduced by faux-Title Sequences, showing what the series would be like with these versions of the characters, with clips of their adventures playing in a Title Montage, accompanied by a Theme Tune. These seem to be only for the audience's benefit, not something that exists In-Universe, which would fall under the Adaptation Hypothesis. Except, this gets tricky once the "Puppets of Tomorrow" are introduced, since soon after their Title Sequence they demonstrate that, as a result of being transformed into Sesame Street style puppets, they can also magically break out into song, Alternate Universe style, and Constantine's reaction to this ("Please! No more singing") leaves it ambiguous whether the Puppets actually sang their own theme song.
  • Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist features a twist on All In Their Heads; Zoey’s abilities as The Empath are filtered through random musical numbers that only she can see and hear, with the song choice reflecting the performers’ thoughts and feelings.

  • RENT is mostly Adaptation with some All In Their Heads (e.g. Without You and What You Own). There are a few diegetic numbers, though, such as Your Eyes and Over The Moon, and more that ambiguously might be diegetic, e.g. Today 4 U (which may or may not be a literal performance by Angel). Notably, the character of Roger is a musician who spends most of the musical struggling to write a song, even as he sings many songs - this baffles some viewers who are unfamiliar with the silent assumption of the Adaptation Hypothesis that the songs aren't literally happening.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is largely Adaptation with some All In Their Heads (e.g. Sweeney's portion of Johanna (Reprise), part of Epiphany) and a couple of seemingly diegetic (Toby's 'advertising jingles' first for Pirelli and then Mrs. Lovett's pie shop and the "Parlor Songs" sequence).
  • The Producers seems to use every version of this in theirs. They are trying to produce a musical so some of the numbers are deliberately rehearsed, others take place in the real world but don't seem to be acknowledged as such, in fact, some of these have to be Adaptation Hypothesis because its only in a later "real world" number that Bialystock notices his co-producer's singing voice.
  • Mamma Mia! combines Alternate Universe with Diegetic, as several of the songs are either Donna and her friends reprising their old hits, or Donna's friends reprising their old standards to cheer her up.
  • Hairspray is a mixture of Alternate Universe and Diegetic, with one or two songs that might possibly be All In Her Head.
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rare example of a Diegetic stage musical.
    • The movie adaptation, however, mixes in some "All In Their Heads" numbers - "Wig in a Box" is a flashback to an epiphany conveyed as a musical number, and the final four numbers ("Hedwig's Lament," "Exquisite Corpse," "Wicked Little Town" reprise, and especially "Midnight Radio") are presented in a Mind Screw that could be any combination of Diegetic, All In Their Heads, or Adaptation.
  • The stage version of Cabaret includes a lot of diegetic songs, performances at the Kit Kat Klub, but also a high percentage of songs like "So What" or "It Couldn't Please Me More", which fall under the Alternate Universe distinction.
  • Despite being set during the casting of a Broadway musical (and thus perfect fodder for the Diegetic), most of the songs in A Chorus Line are either Alternate Universe or All In Their Heads. The main exception is "One", a showstopper for the Show Within a Show (and for ACL itself) which the dancers rehearse about three-quarters of the way through the play.
  • Spring Awakening is mostly All in Their Heads for solo numbers, though group songs seem to make use of the Adaptation Hypothesis.
  • Fiddler on the Roof seems to have most of the categories. Tevye's monologues are clearly All In Their Heads, while his 'Do You Love Me' with Golde fits into Adaptation Hypothesis. Most of the other songs fit into Alternate Universe.
  • Oliver! is mostly Alternate Universe, though the songs Nancy sings at the Three Cripples Inn ("It's a Fine Life" and "Oom Pah Pah") can fit into Diegetic. "Be Back Soon" and "Pick A Pocket or Two" is a mix of Diegetic and Alternate Universe due to Fagin mentioning "Singing again" after the latter and "tune" is frequently used in the former.
  • The songs the Hot Box Girls sing in Guys and Dolls are Diegetic, as is the Mission ensemble's 'Follow The Fold', but most of the other songs are either Alternate Universe or Adaptation Hypothesis.
  • Several songs in Ordinary Days fit the Adaptation Hypothesis, as almost all songs are sung as though the characters are speaking to the audience. For instance, "Fine" has Jason and Claire refer to each other as 'he/she', rather than 'you', and "One By One" involves Warren apparently telling someone about how absolutely no one pays any attention to him.
  • In 1776, every song John Adams sings with Abigail is All In Their Heads with a bit of Adaptation Hypothesis (as, in actuality, Abigail was back in Massachusetts and could only communicate with John by writing letters. So the instant two-way communication in those scenes only happens in John's mind). The other songs are either Alternate Universe or Adaptation Hypothesis.
    • Adaptation Hypothesis for the majority of it: 1776 uses as one of its major sources the writings of the people who were there at the time, to the point of reusing actual text with, at most, modernization of the English.
    • Alternate Universe, however, is also valid given how smoothly Thomson inserts himself into the lyrics of "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men." Clearly, he's used to Congress doing this sort of thing.
  • The Phantom of the Opera is approximately two-thirds Adaptation/All In Their Head and one-third Diegetic, with the "operas" and a few other examples like "Music of the Night" (which is basically the Phantom attempting to seduce Christine via Villain Love Song) happening as they would in real life but mostly with people singing what they would normally say or think to themselves. The film version supports supports the Adaptation Hypothesis by including scenes where characters actually speak the lyrics rather than sing them (although the result is awkward to say the least).
  • As the main character in Top Hat is a musical star several songs are diegetic (such as "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails") as part of the various shows he was part of. "Dancing Cheek To Cheek" was an odd example that was simply the character singing lyrics to a song while they were ballroom dancing (two other songs are sung by other in-universe performers). The rest are all part of the Alternative Universe, a character did in fact get in trouble for tap dancing too loudly.
  • 'Theatre/((Six)) Unlike most shows, Six is largely diegetic, as to be expected for a musical shaped like a pop concert. The dialogue in Kathrine Howard's roast makes this clear.
  • Curtains is largely diegetic, with several songs being rehearsals for the Show Within a Show. Tough Act to Follow has enough dream sequence elements to be All in Their Heads for Cioffi and Nikki, and several other songs are a sort of Alternate Universe, since almost the entire cast is the cast of the Show Within a Show and are therefore ready to perform at the drop of a hat. Of particular note is The Woman's Dead, which Belling declares to be an acting exercise but is too well rehearsed to be such a thing.
  • Lady in the Dark: With the exception of the one song that has been haunting Liza all her life, which is eventually sung diegetically, all of the musical numbers take place in Liza's head, being concentrated in three long and highly stylized Dream Sequences.
  • Reefer Madness, as mentioned under film, is "All in their heads," though as less theater companies can afford to do the elaborate pieces that were done for the film, at times it may also be Adaptation. Consider Little Mary Sunshine - Showtime's version dives headlong into a theatrical version of a sex dungeon, while most theater companies simply have Mary engage in a little Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male.
  • The Cat and the Fiddle handled its musical numbers mostly diegetically, with the principal characters being two rival composers and a street singer.
  • Music in the Air tried to give all its songs a more or less diegetic introduction. This turned out awkwardly in some cases: "When The Spring Is In The Air," obviously written in character for The Ingenue Sieglinde, is first sung offstage by a strolling chorus, and "The Song Is You" becomes a backstage serenade that is acted nowhere near as sincerely as its lyrics.
  • Word of God (in "The Story of HMS Pinafore") placed H.M.S. Pinafore as a sort-of Alternate Universe in which people really do sing - there is a "standing rule that no one was ever to say anything to the Captain that could be sung", and the crew do their best to comply. (Cf. Mad Margaret's line in Ruddigore: "They sing choruses in public! That's mad enough, I think!")
  • The musical version of Bullets Over Broadway seems to be a mix. A number of the songs, such as "Tiger Rag", "You Rascal You", "Lazy River", and David and Ellen's parts in "Ain't I Good To You", are clearly diegetic. "The Hot Dog Song" seems to be a mix of Diegetic and All In Their Head, with Olive genuinely singing the song to David and Marx while remembering how it was performed back in the day. Some other songs, such as the finale ("Yes, We Have No Bananas"), "Ain't I Good To You", and "Broken Heart For Every Light On Broadway" could just be characters singing songs they heard before while changing some lines to fit their situation-i.e. diegetic. A few songs seem to fall under All In Their Head ("Blues My Naughty Sweetie" seems to go completely unheard by David, and "The Panic Is On" is pretty clearly David having a panic attack), but for the most part, all the others seem to be either Adaptation (appropriately enough) or Alternate Universe.
  • Next to Normal is mostly comprised of songs that fit the All In Their Heads Hypothesis. This makes sense as the main character, Diana, is actually bipolar depressive, and has been hallucinating her son for 16 years, so the singing really isn't the oddest thing that she imagines. This is most obvious in the song "Wish I Were Here", where both singers are hallucinating through different means, and the song "My Psychopharmacologist And I", which depicts time stopping as Diana starts fantasizing about her doctor. A few notable exceptions are the songs "Everything Else" and "I Dreamed a Dance", where the tunes are Diegetic, and are from a piano practice and a music box respectively (both of which are plot-relevant), but the lyrics are clearly in the singers' heads. The song "Aftershocks" also appears to be more of the Adaptation Hypothesis, as the singer is the personification of a recurring hallucination, who has been erased from Diana's head (effectively killing him), making it somewhat hard to claim that the song is in someone's head.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians mostly fits the Adaptation hypothesis, as the musical tries to mirror the way that the books acknowledge the reader's presence. The two most clearcut exceptions to this are the song "D.O.A.", which has Charon explain that her music is the result of all great musicians ending up in the underworld sooner or later, and "The Campfire Song", which seems like a mix of a few hypotheses; the tune and the chorus are implied to be a diegetic tune that the campers sing often, however each verse fits the All-Maestro cast theory, as a couple of campers need a second to think before they begin singing, and Percy is expected to (and eventually succeeds) in making up a some lyrics on the spot. The Campfire Song also involves Percy insisting that he can't sing, despite doing so in every song prior, which confirms that that particular song is part of a different Hypothesis.
  • Hamilton is generally an example of the Adaptation hypothesis: almost all of the songs involve two or more characters communicating directly, and the songs are clearly not rehearsed in-universe, and the whole musical is told in a modern-day style clearly intended to merely represent what was actually said rather than depict it faithfully. However, it also nods to the Alternate Universe hypothesis in that the characters do occasionally refer to the fact that they are singing (or, more often, rapping): in Aaron Burr, Sir, the revolutionaries press Burr to 'spit a verse, drop some knowledge', and in Farmer Refuted Hamilton riposites 'Don't modulate the key then not debate with me!' (Of course, freestyle rapping is much more a real thing than freestyle singing, but it's hard to think of any setting in which cabinet debates are settled via rap as anything other than an alternate universe.) However, some songs are clearly all in the character's heads, such as Helpless or Hurricane. Also, some songs flip between different hypotheses: The Room Where It Happens starts with a straightforward conversation between Hamilton and Burr, then segues into a more narrative song as the characters explain that nobody really knows what happened in the room complete with demonstrations of what might have gone down, and ends with Burr soliloquising about his own motivations in his head.
  • The Sound of Music follows the Diegetic Hypothesis for most of its songs, most notably the title song, "Edelweiss", "My Favorite Things", "The Lonely Goatherd", and the seemingly improvised "Do-Re-Mi". Some of the others seem to follow the Adaptation Hypothesis, such as "Maria" and the Love Themes. (In the movie, Liesel sings "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" with Rolf before Maria teaches the Von Trapp children how to sing.)
  • The Wiz seems to follow the Alternate Universe hypothesis for most of the play's numbers. In the screen versions, "You Can't Win" (which didn't appear in the original Broadway production) provides a Diegetic example, while songs that Dorothy sings when she has the set all to herself appear staged in a way that suggest that they occur All In Her Head. The movie also uses "The Feeling That We Have" as a Diegetic example.
  • The Drowsy Chaperone plays with this.
    • The Show Within a Show The Drowsy Chaperone is mostly Alternate Universe, as almost every number is followed by a comment on it:
      • George says it's too dangerous for Robert to be tap dancing after the tap number "Cold Feet".
      • Kitty says she's surprised Janet didn't do an encore after "Show-Off", which is immediately followed by "Show Off - Reprise".
      • Janet and the Chaperone seem to be impatiently waiting for the end of "As We Stumble Along" and "I Am Adoplho", respectively. The former just wants some real advice instead of having to listen to the Chaperone sing about her alcoholism, and the latter just wants to have sex with Adolpho instead of being subjected to his "I Am Great!" Song.
      • Janet questions why they're so happily dancing to the upbeat-yet-life-ruining "Toledo Surprise", and Robert responds that the tune is too infectious to resist. The song itself begins as Feldzieg teaches the Gangsters how to dance.
      • Underling fetches himself a glass of "ice water" after the softshoe portion of "Love is Always Lovely in the End".
    • However, the number "Bride's Lament" is entirely within Janet's head, as the Man in the Chair even points out when she begins to go into "a complete mental breakdown" when the song ramps up and the monkeys appear.
    • Furthermore, the entire show, as we see it, is in the Man in the Chair's head: he's listening to the cast album of the show The Drowsy Chaperone, and imagining it as it happens. At times he even joins in in certain numbers and pauses, skips, or rewinds certain scenes, none of which the "characters" notice. When his Super shows up, he doesn't seem to notice the plane onstage.
    • The finale, "As We Stumble Along (Reprise)", is entirely in the Man in the Chair's head and features a strange portmanteau of the characters and their actors - Tottendale, for example, who was played in-universe by a woman named Ukulele Lil, begins the song by playing the ukulele to accompany the Man in the Chair's singing.
  • In The Guy Who Didn't Like Musicals, parasitic aliens inside a Magic Meteor cause of everyone to start bursting into song. People being perfectly choreographed and knowing all the lyrics is hand waved by a Hive Mind.

    Video Games 
  • Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two is most likely Alternate Universe... mostly only for one character. The Mad Doctor is the only character who sings, and the other characters react to it as if it's unusual. However, some other characters join in without any sort of reaction during "Fall of Prescott".
  • Granblue Fantasy's "Dancing Avengers" story runs on Alternate Universe as everyone just spontaneously bursts into song when they feel like it, including inanimate objects that only come to life for the musical segments. Even Stan, the one character Lampshade Hanging the random musical segments, does one segment at the story's climax as the characters decide that singing to each other about their feelings is the best method of expressing love to each other is the best way to destroy the Primal Beast's shields. It being a Musical Episode also helps the Affectionate Parody of Bollywood musicals they're going for.

    Web Original 
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog seems to largely use the Alternate Universe Hypothesis plus All In Their Heads, but still a bit of the Adaptation Hypothesis:
    • Judging from the half-embarrassed way in which Billy stops singing when Moist enters, Freeze Ray seems to imply he really is singing, hence Alternate Universe, though the laundromat scenes are of course All In His Head.
    • Although it's possible that the part of the song where he sings to Penny and she responds is flashback to something that really happened - he was going through the song in his head but then accidentally sang a line out loud. It never really clarifies what happened there.
    • Both versions of the Bad Horse Chorus are Adaptation Hypothesis: Billy actually is reading the letter, but the singing cowboys are an artistic touch to make the reading of the letter more fun.
    • Brand New Day and Everything You Ever are All In Billy's Head, inner monologues that are clearly not heard by the other characters around in the scene.
    • My Eyes is an All In Their Heads duet, with no other characters present in the scenes being aware of either Billy or Penny's singing.
    • Other songs feature interruptions and other indicators that they are happening in-universe; others are ambiguous but judging from the rest can probably be taken to be Alternate Universe.
  • Abridged on Titan is largely Diagetic. Armin improvises Please Don't Kill Us, Please on the spot, and Dot Pixis pardons him explicitly because he liked the song; Eren later repeats the song and gets Levi to want him on his squad because his voice is a good fit for Levi Squad's quartet Levi's Lovelies. The song that Levi Squad sings was rehearsed beforehand, and was part of Levi's plan to alert the rest of the group about when to spring the trap on the Female Titan. F**k It dips into Alternate Universe and All in Their Heads, as the first verse (sung by Annie when she's revealed as the Female Titan) gets a surprised reaction from Eren, and the rest of the song is Annie and Eren's internal monologue as they're having a vicious fight in Titan form. In-Universe, the term for spontaneously bursting into song as a tactic is called the Menken Musical Maneuver. While it apparently was a horrible failure for Dot Pixis, it's worked surprisingly well each time it's tried in the present.
  • Red vs. Blue's Musical Episode Red vs. Blue: the Musical is Adaptational, since it's actually a play Donut wrote about their adventures.
  • Love Is Like Drugs uses the Alternate Universe Hypothesis, as shown by Jontron's song lines triggering his curse and affecting the plot. It's implied but not stated that Jontron's curse is the cause of the background music.
  • There's a music number about it in LoadingReadyRun appropriately named "Suspend Your Disbelief".[1]
  • Discussed in Cracked's 5 Videos That Will Brighten Your Day. It describes the video "College of DuPage Flash Mob Dance and Pep Rally", in which a Flash Mob of a half dozen people perform rehearsed dance moves, and then someone outside the group spontaneously joins in the dance fever. The author jokes that the outsider is attempting to fit into an Alternate Universe: "Oh, life is a musical now? OK, I'd better adapt!"
    • Also discussed in the video "The Horrifying Truth About Life Inside Movie Musicals", where they suggest telepathy, puppeteers, slavery, fascism, mental illness, and the idea of singing and dancing providing a drug-like high as in-universe reasons why everybody sings in musicals.
  • In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device Episode 28, the Captain-General of the Custodes and his entourage have a debate with the Fabricator-General of Mars in binary, which is presented in English as a song, implying the adaptation hypothesis. The Man-Emperor of Mankind, who was watching via holovid (and has a history of displaying Medium Awareness), also discusses the trope by saying "I cannot tell if that was diegetic or not."

    Western Animation 
  • "Zanzibar", the Musical Episode from Rocko's Modern Life, used the Diegetic Hypothesis, where it turns out everyone had actually gone to rehearsals in preparation... everyone except Rocko, who missed the fliers announcing the upcoming musical, and so tends to flounder whenever he tries to sing.
    • Although weirdly, while the songs were supposed to be rehearsed beforehand, most of the events that they're singing about are supposed to be happening naturally. Lampshaded:
    Rocko: Uh...this was sort a...spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous thing.
    Security Guard: Uh-huh. And how do y'all know the words?"
    Heffer: ...Ooh boy, he's got ya there, Rock.
    Rocko: I don't know the words!
    Everyone: (singing) He doesn't know the words!
    Rocko: SHUT UP!
  • The Simpsons tends to fall into the Alternate Universe Hypothesis, since when a musical number turns up, there will often be lines like this one:
    Homer: He lied to us through song! I hate that.
  • The episode "Mayhem of the Music Meister!" of Batman: The Brave and the Bold is the "Alternate Universe with magic" type, as the villain's hypnotic voice caused people to sing and dance under his control. (How everyone knew what they had to sing and do is not explained however. Though the Meister's songs don't have to specify the actual commands (he doesn't say anything like "Attack Batman" during Drives Us Bats, but they do anyway), so he probably mindcontrolled them into knowing the lyrics.)
    • It's also slightly diegetic- the Music Meister didn't seem to have anything to do with "If Only".
    • And it's actually Lampshaded by Batman after Death Trap, which Black Canary sang after Music Meister had already left the room.
      • Batman: Was the singing really neccessary?
  • The Big City Greens Musical Episode "Green Christmas" is Alternate Universe. It's even lampshaded several times throughout.
  • It seems that every animated series finds a way to give Joker a musical number. All of them Diegetic, in character, and fit in-scene.
    • BTAS - Jingle Bells Batman Smells
    • The Batman - Setting the Woods on Fine
    • Batman Brave and the Bold - Where's the Fun in That
  • Blaze and the Monster Machines is mostly All In Their Head. Normally the various episodic songs are performed offscreen by Blaze and AJ during a matching montage, whenever the two start their adventure, or demonstrate the episode's featured scientific concept. However, there are rare occurrences where onscreen singing is used, the songs "Welcome to Animal Island" and "The Pickle Family Song", for instance, are Alternate Universe, while "Sound Wave Showdown" is very much Diegetic.
  • The Veggie Tales: Jonah movie plays with this trope. Jonah's musical number inside the whale seems to be Adaption Hypothesis, but apparently the singing and music are actually taking place as there is a cut to confused fishermen who can vaguely hear the noise coming from underwater, which would make it Alternate World instead.
  • Phineas and Ferb is definitely a musical world, although an...interesting one. While people do burst into song and dance at random times, Doofenshmirtz has been known to hire back-up singers specifically for this purpose. Also, the Musical Episode lampshades it to hell and back.
    Phineas: We'll do all the same things, but break into spontaneous singing and choreography with no discernible music source?
    • Also, they appear to be able to hear the soundtrack- and their singers. They have, in fact, had arguments with them.
    • Typically, the songs in Phineas and Ferb can be divided into one of three categories: "soundtrack" songs (the most common; All In Their Head) which aren't sung by the characters (such as "Aerial Area Rug"), "prepared" songs (Diegetic) which are specifically shown to have been written and choreographed beforehand (such as "Gitchie Gitchie Goo"), and "spontaneous" songs (Alternate Universe) which come out of nowhere (such as "Blueprints"). One episode states that Danville is well known for its spontaneous musical numbers, indicating that the third category is considered commonplace.
  • Like The Simpsons, South Park (especially The Movie) falls into the Alternate Universe Hypothesis, as the boys are quite aware that they're bursting into song and treat it like a perfectly normal thing to do. This made "Elementary School Musical" extremely odd, as Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny find themselves rejected by All of the Other Reindeer because they won't sing: however, Word of God says that while they're comfortable with Broadway-style showtunes, they can't bring themselves to sing High School Musical-style songs because they suck. There also seem to be further "rules" in place about when singing is and isn't acceptable, as the boys found it weird and didn't join in when the Canadians were all singing in "It's Christmas in Canada".
    • Canada also falls into the Alternate Universe Hypothesis ("It's Christmas in Canada" had Canadians spontaneously bursting into song The Wizard of Oz-style), but sometimes works on the Diegetic Hypothesis. They even say in one song that they "even took three hours to rehearse this striking song."
  • Total Drama World Tour is mostly Digetic (except for the part where they plan songs out in advance); but the visuals, such as a cut to Team Amazon playing in a real band or both teams dancing in jumpsuits, are Adaptations even when they're singing the song in real time.
    • One could argue that it's a weird mixture of Digetic and Alternate Universe: this is not a world where breaking into song is normal, and the characters explicitly do not prepare in advance or know what their songs will be about. Nevertheless when Chris ordains it, music comes out of nowhere and the characters are able to spontaneously sing and dance with only an occasional broken rhyme or confused look.
  • In all the Rugrats movies, only the babies, Angelica and Susie break out into musical numbers for no real reason, while adults only sing when they have a reason (trying to sing a baby to sleep, it's part of their job, etc.). Dr. Lipschitz has a song in the extended cut of The Rugrats Movie, but it's in a dream sequence, and Nigel Thornberry has a Cut Song in Rugrats Go Wild!, though he had amnesia and thought he was a baby at the time.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has made use of all four variations at one point or another, but the vast majority of songs are Alternative Universe, with any songs done by Pinkie Pie usually being Diegetic (she's shown preparing/rehearsing on several occasions, and one episode even has "sing random song" as part of a mental checklist). This is lampshaded somewhat regularly, with characters calling back to previous songs, complimenting another's voice work, or just plain noting how odd it is that that they burst into song so often.
    • "This Day Aria" is a Distant Duet, which seems impossible to explain without resorting to the Adaptational view, and many songs (such as "True True Friend") flow across several scenes which could not possibly be taking place at the speed of the song, with the characters sometimes acknowledging this.
    • The first instance of "Art of the Dress" could be considered Rarity just singing while she works, while the reprise is at least partially all in her head, since it contains verses where the others complain about their own behavior towards her: "All we ever want is indecision/All we really like is what we know..."
    • "The Pony Pokey" from "The Best Night Ever" is one of the odder examples. As is the norm for Pinkie, it's a Diegetic song, with it being performed by Pinkie Pie to the Ponies at the Great Galloping Gala. However, it is also Suspiciously Apropos Music, as its content mirrors the issues of the rest of the Mane Six, although they split up upon arrival and Pinkie shouldn't know what they're currently doing.
    • "In Our Town" from "The Cutie Map, Part One" is clearly Diegetic, and that fact actually increases its effectiveness as a Villain Song. It's the anthem of a small town that's been taken over by what is essnetially a hyper-conformist cult, so the rehersed choreography comes off as disturbing instead of fun, as the singers march and sway in unison while singing about how they are proud to be all alike and have no individuality. There are even a couple of ponies who have trouble keeping up with the rhythm, but a quick angry glare from their leader brings them back into line.
    • The My Little Pony: Equestria Girls shorts and specials also make plenty use of all four types, with the switch from longer movies to shorter specials bringing with it the main series' constant use of Alternative Universe. Forgotten Friendship in particular has both its songs lampshade this. Each one is immediately acknowledged by other characters both during and after they were sung, with the second song even having two characters use the villain being distracted by their own performance to continue enacting their plan.
    Sunset Shimmer: I'm sorry. I didn't see you come in.
    Wallflower Blush: I've been trying to get your attention for, like, half the song.
  • Futurama tends to fall into the Alternate Universe version (with the exception of "Don't Worry, Bee Happy", which was explicitly all in Leela's head). Someone in the song will generally lampshade the fact that they're all singing:
    Professor: I can't believe the Devil, is so unforgiving!
    Zoidberg: I can't believe that everyone is just ad-libbing!
    • And in one episode where Zoidberg has a musical number, Amy is deeply annoyed by the fact that Zoidberg is harmonizing with himself. No one else seems bothered by it, though.
  • The Lorax is clearly and unambiguously the Alternate Universe type.
  • One episode of The Penguins of Madagascar, "The Return of the Revenge of Doctor Blowhole" is an example of the Alternate Universe type where the world is normally a non-musical one, but a mind-controlling device (a monstrous MP3 player) makes everyone sing. Every character finds it odd, and there's a constant Lampshade Hanging.
  • Over the Garden Wall uses the Alternate Universe version, as the main characters are Trapped in Another World called the Unknown. Once, when Wirt is compelled to sing about himself, the result comes out as awkward and stilted as you'd expect something made up on the spot. Greg doesn't have that problem, though, which muddies the water a bit. It's also possible that at least some of these songs might be Diegetic to the locals, especially since most of them are based on Real Life folk songs.
    • The love song between Wirt and Lorna is All in Their Heads, though, since we hear it as a voice-over while the two are shown not actually singing.
  • Steven Universe is always Alternate Universe, with characters listening to each other sing or the behavior being otherwise acknowledged in-universe. While there are a few exceptions, with some being ambiguous All In Their Head ("Strong in the Real Way", "Stronger Than You", "Full Disclosure", "Finale") or Adaptational ("Giant Woman", "Both of You"), all of these songs still have a Diegetic Switch partway through. The constant singing has been lampshaded on a few occasions, with Lars complaining that Steven was just singing while they were doing all the actual work in one episode, Peridot sharing a data log where she notes that Pearl is prone to "random outbursts of singing, crying, singing while crying..." in another, and the movie having several such acknowledgments.
    Steven (while singing): Look at them, they're not even singing along!
  • Jem is mostly diegetic as the series is about musicians. Most "music videos" are both adaptations of what characters are feeling but also are music that the characters release in-series.
  • Adventure Time occasionally uses Diegetic, while also putting a Reality Ensues twist on the Alternate Universe variant of the tropes by having many musical numbers be very obviously unrehearsed joke songs with terrible melodies or slap-dashed lyrics if not sung by characters like Marceline, who are explicitly stated to be musically inclined in general.
  • In The Fairly Oddparents special School's Out! The Musical, Wanda's and Cosmo's "Floating With You" is definitely diegetic, since they used it in-universe to distract Jorgen. The rest all seem to fit the Adaptation Hypothesis, with each number serving as a condensed way of portraying events that happened and decisions characters made.
  • Pepper Ann had a Musical Episode where the title character acknowledged the singing as weird and eventually grew to hate it. In this case it turned out to be All Just a Dream.
  • The Lion Guard is clearly set in an Alternate Universe where it really is normal and natural for characters to burst into song that others can hear but don't find odd, as characters frequently invite others to sing with them, refuse to sing, or try to stop another character who's starting to sing.
    • "New Way To Go" in the Season 3 premiere raises some interesting questions about how the characters' perception of the music in their world works. It's a Disney Acid Sequence taking place entirely in Janja's imagination, where he sings about his doubts about working for Scar and wonders if he should join Jasiri. When it's over, the camera pans back to show that Scar's skinks watched the whole thing, which they immediately report to Scar. The question is, did they watch him sitting there for several minutes doing and saying nothing, then just report the few sentences Janja spoke before and after the song, and that was enough to fully convince Scar Janja was definitely about to turn on him? Or were they somehow able to see and/or hear the whole song?
  • Ready Jet Go! falls under the Alternate Universe hypothesis. The characters often sing songs at the drop of a hat (especially Jet himself, due to being an Expy of The Music Man according to Word of God) that come out perfectly, and it is treated as completely natural.
  • The Backyardigans fit very snugly in the Alternate Universe category. There are four musical numbers every episode that come out of nowhere. However, the songs usually do help the story progress.
  • The Loud House tends to flip-flop between Diegetic and Adaptation. The former is mostly courtesy of rocker sister Luna, while the latter sometimes occurs during montages. The Musical Episode, "Really Loud Music," also adds All In Their Heads into the mix, with Lisa implying that Luna is hallucinating her family singing because she's trying to find the right sound for her song.
  • Wander over Yonder: The show seems to mostly use the Diegetic type, as Wander plays a banjo for most of the songs he sings. Regarding, the Alternate Universe type can be used as well, making Wander's songs half and half.
    • Lord Hater gets one in "The Fancy Party" where he serenades the alien queen, though that could be justified with him just singing with the band.
    • Played With in the Musical Episode, wherein the characters (save, of course, Wander) seem to be pretty confused by the whole setup, although they eventually just roll with it.
    Peepers: Okay, okay, you definitely sang that last part.
    Sylvia: Well, so did you! I was only followin' your lead.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Musical World Hypothesis


Really Loud Music

Lisa explains to Luna that the random musical numbers her siblings did were implied to be in her head, as a sign her subconscious is trying to find the right sound for the song she's writing.

How well does it match the trope?

3 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / MusicalWorldHypotheses

Media sources:

Main / MusicalWorldHypotheses