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Quarreling Song

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♫"No, you can't, can't, can't!"
"Yes, I can, can, can, can!"♫
"When two doughty heroes thunder,
All the world is lost in wonder;
When such men their tempers lose,
Awful are the words they use!"
Gilbert and Sullivan, finale to Act 1 of The Grand Duke

A Musical trope, and subtrope of Let's Duet. Two characters, or occasionally more, get into an argument which they conduct in song, possibly by Volleying Insults. In keeping with the genre conventions of musicals, the quarrel will normally be a major plot point, else why would it merit a song? A sister trope to Counterpoint Duet and Call-and-Response Song, with which it may overlap.

Although mainly confined to musicals, operas and adaptations thereof, a Quarreling Song may appear in other media as part of a Musical Episode. A Quarreling Song will rarely, if ever, be a work or episode's only song. Battle Rapping can be this.


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    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Anna and the Apocalypse has two of these. The first is "Which Side Are You On?", a duet between Tony and Mr. Savage on whether they should go out and help any stranded survivors outside. The second one is "Give Them A Show", another duet sung by Anna and Mr. Savage during the climax of the movie, as they argue their own personal philosophies while Anna battles a horde of zombies to save her dad.
  • "I Can Do Without You" from Calamity Jane is Volleying Insults with Bill and Jane.
  • "A Lovely Night" from La La Land starts with Mia and Sebastian bickering over their supposed not-attraction to each other.
  • "Duel Duet" from Shock Treatment, in which Brad and Farley argue that the other one is worthless, giving reasons why.
  • "Ah Still Suits Me," a Show Boat Movie Bonus Song for the 1936 version. In it, Queenie nags her husband Joe about his persistant laziness, while he laughs it off. link
  • Twice in Sunday School Musical, first "In My Shows" between Zachary and Aundrea and then "You're Not the Boss" between Miles and Savannah.
  • "A Fine Romance" in Swing Time. First Penny criticizes Lucky for not contributing to the relationship; then after he decides to go for it and she snubs him, he returns the sentiment.

    Live-Action TV 

  • "Lucky Stars" by Dean Friedman is a classic about a couple arguing about his white knight fantasies about saving an ex-girlfriend of his. He thinks he's just being nice, she's thinking the ex is getting in the way. They Get Better by agreeing to forget it.... for the time being.
  • "The Boy is Mine" by Monica and Brandy
  • Also "The Girl is Mine" by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.
  • "The Irony of It All" by The Streets as an argument between the thuggish drinker Terry and the quiet pot-smoker Tim as to which drug, alcohol or weed, causes more problems and is the more deserving to be illegal.
  • "It Tango" by Laurie Anderson
  • "Romance Is Boring" by Los Campesinos! is a bitter dialogue between two "lovers" — long past their initial honeymoon period — who realize how dissatisfied and tired they've become of each other, throwing snarky-to-vitriolic jabs towards their partner for not even attempting to improve their relationship.
  • "Not In Our House" from !HERO: The Rock Opera is an argument between the main character and Chief Rabbi Kai.
  • "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye, specifically Kimbra's rebuttal to the narrator.
  • "Well It's True That We Love One Another" from Elephant by The White Stripes, where Jack White, Meg White and guest singer Holly Golightly bicker about.
  • "Fairytale of New York" by Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues is essentially a blazing row in the form of a song.
  • "I Need a Little Time" by The Beautiful South consists of the male singer explaining his reasons for needing space in the relationship, and the female singer shooting them down. "I Keep It All In" is about the aftermath of a blazing row leading to it starting up again.
  • The Human League's "Don't You Want Me" is a bitter breakup between a sleazy agent and the starlet he discovered "working as a waitress in a cocktail bar".
  • "ifuleave" by Musiq Soulchild and Mary J. Blige is partially this and partially them agreeing to work things out.
  • Guilty Conscience by Dr. Dre and Eminem is an interesting take on the idea, with the two rappers in the role of the proverbial angel and devil on the shoulder of characters caught up in a variety of situations. Subverted at the end (at least on the uncut version) where the "angel" Dre agrees with the "Devil" Em that the "protagonist" should kill both his cheating wife and the guy the protagonist just found her in bed with.
  • Stuck With You by Voltaire is sung by a recently-married couple who bicker like they've been married far longer throughout the song. However, by the end, when they've both died and are in the Afterlife Antechamber, it turns out they actually loved each other quite a lot.
  • "A Reason For It All" by Eric Bogle and John Munro is two people discussing the death of an old lady, with Eric's character wondering what it all means, and John's replying that bad things just happen.
    Eric: We are not born just so we can die,
    There must be an answer and we've gotta try,
    To make some sense of it, to try to find a reason for it all.
    John: From the moment we're born, we've started to die,
    A man can go crazy if he keeps asking why,
    That's just how it is, don't look for a reason for it all.
  • "Baby, It's Cold Outside" written by Frank Loesser, often recorded as a Christmas Song, gives a flirtatious variant. A guest (dubbed "Mouse" in the score) tries to make excuses to go home, while their host ("Wolf") argues that it's too cold to go outside (the implication being that therefore they should spend the night together).
  • "Hit the Road Jack" by Ray Charles is about a woman arguing with a man that he "ain't got no money" and he "Ain't no good" and thus he should leave. The man argues that she is "the meanest old woman that (he's) ever seen." and she shouldn't "treat (him) this-a way 'Cause (he'll) be back on my feet some day.". He does realize eventually that he lost this argument and accepts that he'll "have to pack (his) things and go.".
  • "Jackson" a duet by Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash, has Johnny singing about how he will go down to Jackson, Tennessee and make a name for himself and she arguing that all he will do in Jackson is "wreck (his) health" and "Make a big fool of (him)self". She also argues "they'll laugh at (him) in Jackson"
 And "lead (him) around town like a scolded hound 
With (his) tail hung between your legs", all of which he agues otherwise.
  • The Living Tombstone has the song "No Mercy" which is about a male Overwatch player blaming a female player on his team for causing them to lose because she didn't pick Mercy as her character and the female player responds by making fun of him for getting so mad.
  • Kendrick Lamar's "We Cry Together" is an infamously brutal take on the trope, consisting of Kendrick introducing the song as "what the world sounds like," kicking off a loud, messy argument between a couple (played by himself and Taylour Paige). Both of them are so heated and the language so profane and angry that the only stylisms that keep it a Quarreling Song is the flow and the fact it rhymes — it otherwise plays out like a genuinely toxic domestic dispute set to music.

  • "You're Not Fooling Me" from 110 in the Shade, for Lizzie and Starbuck.
  • "Piddle, Twiddle, and Resolve", from 1776, towards the end of which John Adams quarrels with his wife Abigail as they correspond through letters. John wants Abigail to organize the local ladies to make saltpeter for the war, while Abigail wants John to do something about the local pin shortage.
  • "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" from Annie Get Your Gun where Annie and Frank argue about many, many things such as drinking liquor, shooting better, and singing higher.
    • "Old-Fashioned Wedding", a Counterpoint Duet where Frank wants to have a quiet simple wedding and Annie wants it at the Waldorf with all kinds of fancy stuff.
  • Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto has a leitmotif of this, with Cesare arguing complex viewpoints against other characters. It first comes up in the classroom scene, where he gets into a debate, first with Giovanni, then with Angelo, about the story of Ugolino from Dante's Inferno. Later, the same melody comes up when he and Giovanni are discussing the merits and drawbacks of their respective positions — Cesare being noble but illegitimate, Giovanni being rich but without title. Near the end, when Giovanni is being questioned in order to become a cardinal, Cesare brings up points he discussed in the previous scene when they were alone, and plays devil's advocate, making Giovanni defend himself. He's gained just enough depth to do it, but the 1990's-ballad style of his solo shows that he's still more or less an airhead.
  • Chess: "A model of decorum and tranquility" is a four-way argument between Florence, defending Freddie's walk-out, Molokov harshly attacking the American, Anatoly trying to hold Molokov back but showing concern for the integrity of his opponent and the competition, and the Arbiter, who is just trying to get the match back on track.
  • In City of Angels, "You're Nothing Without Me" has Stine trying to put Stone back in his fictional place and Stone countering that Stine is living proof that Writers Suck.
  • "Fandango" from Closer Than Ever has a Yuppie couple arguing over whose career is more important and which of them ought to look after the baby.
  • Evita has a lot: "Eva, Beware of the City": Eva wants to go to the Big City, Magaldi says she's too young. "A New Argentina": Eva thinks her husband should be politically ambitious, he's less sure. "The Actress Hasn't Learned the Lines (You'd Like to Hear)": Aristocrats don't approve of the lower-class Eva. "Waltz for Eva and Che" has Eva arguing with her narrator about whether the ends justify the means.
  • The Act 1 finale in The Grand Duke centers around a staged quarrel of the Volleying Insults type, sung in duet with chorus, between the titular Grand Duke and a man who is scheming to overthrow him. This leads to an equally staged nonlethal duel, which in turn sets the stage for the events of Act II.
  • "Fugue for Tinhorns" from Guys and Dolls is three guys arguing about the different tips they have on horse racing.
  • Hamilton has several (probably not surprising, considering the protagonist's personality):
    • Cabinet Battle #1 and Cabinet Battle #2 are classic Battle Rapping between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson about federal debt assumption and America's foreign policy of neutrality, respectively (It's Better Than It Sounds).
    • "Meet Me Inside" is an argument between George Washington and Hamilton about military command (and Hamilton's daddy issues).
    • "Your Obedient Servant" is the Passive-Aggressive Kombat version of this between Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
    • "Farmer Refuted" has Hamilton trying to debate Samuel Seabury and his opposition to the revolutionary war, but when the guy just keeps repeating himself without responding to him Hamilton gets bored and just starts mocking him outright instead.
  • "Your Fault" from Into the Woods has all the fairy-tale characters arguing in a Patter Song.
  • There was also a song called "Confrontation" in Jekyll & Hyde where Jekyll and Hyde argue over who should be in control of their body. An interesting scene to watch, as Jekyll and Hyde are played by the same actor.
  • Jesus Christ Superstar: in "Everything's Alright", Mary Magdalene tries to stop Jesus and Judas from arguing, telling Jesus to relax. Judas says that they should be helping the poor instead of relaxing. Mary tries to get Jesus to ignore him, but he won't. And then the same thing happens during "The Last Supper", with Jesus shrieking for Judas to get out, and Judas, needing the last word, giving him a few lines of the title song, the solo he'll sing once they're both dead.
  • In the song "See I'm Smiling" from The Last Five Years Cathy argues with Jamie about how he never seems to have time for her anymore.
  • In Lestat, The Musical of Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat, "Embrace It" is an argument song between Louis and Lestat about giving in to vampirism.
  • "Confrontation" from Les Misérables. Javert has come to take Valjean to prison but Valjean has to find Cosette.
  • Midnight Channel: The Musical has a rare five-way example in "Captain, Oh Captain", where the heroes argue over whether or not to kill Namatame.
  • Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 has a couple:
  • "All Or Nothing" from Oklahoma!, Will and Ado Annie argue about her being a Good Bad Girl.
  • Jason and Claire bicker on the way to visit Claire's cousin in the song "Fine" from Ordinary Days. It ends with him proposing.
  • The Pirates of Penzance has two operatic quarreling duets:
    • The first act has "Oh, false one, you have deceived me," for Frederick and Ruth, when he realizes that she is old and no longer beautiful, which is treated as Serious Business.
    • The second act has "Stay, Frederick, stay," in which Mabel unsuccessfully tries to persuade Frederick from putting Honor Before Reason and making a Face–Heel Turn.
  • Pokémon Live! has "You Just Can't Win," sung by Ash and Giovanni. After Pikachu's defeated, Ash tries to fight Giovanni himself, leading to a fistfight/argument.
  • In Pokémon: The Mew-sical, Ash and his rival, Gary, have at least three arguing songs.
  • "Another Day" from RENT. Mimi wants to go out and party with Roger and some heroin, but he wants to stay home and brood with his guitar. Also "Take Me Or Leave Me". Maureen is slutty and her girlfriend Joanne is controlling.
  • "I Think I Got You Beat" from Shrek: The Musical is an argument between Princess Fiona and Shrek over who had the most unhappy childhood.
  • Song And Dance has several, including the oft-reprised "Take That Look Off Your Face", though this is a one-woman show and all the responses to her arguments are unheard by the audience.
  • The Titanic musical has "The Blame", in which the captain, designer and owner of the ship argue over who is most responsible for the situation they're in.
  • The "Act One Finale" from Urinetown has Bobby insisting that the poor have a right to pee for free, while Mr. Cladwell argues that doing so would dry up the water supply and cause worse suffering in the future.
  • "A Boy Like That / I Have a Love" from West Side Story (1961) - Anita warns Maria that white boys are no good in the wake of Tony's killing of Bernardo, but Maria loves Tony.
  • Wicked:
    • "What Is This Feeling?": Glinda and Elphaba, who really dislike each other, have just learned they're going to be roommates at campus.
    • The beginning of "Defying Gravity" starts with Glinda furious at Elphaba for running off and ruining her chance with the Wizard, while Elphaba is furious at her for being willing to support him in exchange for power.

    Video Games 
  • In Stray Gods, the Freddie and Pan song revolves around Freddie and Pan both vying for Grace's favor in a duet. Grace can choose one or the other, or reject both.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs: In "I'm Mad", Dot and Yakko argue, and with them being Warner siblings, they of course do it in song.
  • Centaurworld: In "Fragile Things", the titular song begins with Wammawink singing that she has to protect her herd, but Horse argues that they can protect themselves. The song turns into an argument about what's best for the herd and which of them should be the leader.
  • Central Park:
    • "Hat Luncheon": In "The Park Is Mine", Bitsy gets the politicians and socialites into a musical argument over the Park League's contract being frozen by city hall.
    • "Rival Busker": Griffin and Birdie sings "Too Close", where Griffin argues that Birdie's "way too close" to the Tillermans and should keep himself at a distance, giving examples of how getting "too close" physically (a window washer and an undressed person on the other side of the glass) or emotionally (a farmer's son who loves a pig that ends up being taken away by the father to be slaughtered for bacon) leads to discomfort and heartbreak. Birdie claims that none of the examples apply to him, the Tillermans are his family, and that he’s "never too close".
  • Hazbin Hotel:
    • "Radio Killed the Video Star" has Stayed Gone, in which Vox reacts to Alastor's return by putting out a news report claiming the older demon Overlord is a washed-up hack, while Alastor puts out his own radio broadcast that manages to provoke a blackout-inducing temper tantrum from Vox in just a couple verses.
    • "Scrambled Eggs" has Respectless where Velvette tries to goad the Overlords into open war with the Exorcists while Carmilla advises caution and dismisses her as an arrogant upstart.
    • "Dad Beat Dad" has Hell's Greatest Dad, which starts as Lucifer singing about how he can help his daughter Charlie before Alastor butts in and starts competing for the role of "father figure". Towards the end, things have degenerated enough that they're on the brink of simply trading insults when a new figure, Mimsy, intrudes and promptly hijacks the song into her introducing herself as having arrived.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: "Your Heart Is in Two Places" from "Surf and/or Turf" has Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle disagree over which should be Terramar's permanent place of residence: Seaquestria or Harmonizing Heights.
  • Ready Jet Go!: In "Which Moon is Best?", Carrot and Celery argue, in song, about which moon is better — Enceladus or Europa.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Argument Song


"Hell's Greatest Dad"

"Hell's Greatest Dad" starts with Lucifer singing about his willingness to help Charlie as only a loving father would, only to transition into a Quarreling Song when Alastor butts in and starts competing with Lucifer over the role of "father figure."

How well does it match the trope?

4.73 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / QuarrelingSong

Media sources: