- Alternative Character Interpretation
- "The Greatest" is the titular "Greatest" actually a ButtMonkey who's being constantly mocked, or is he a genuinely liked performer suffering from severe social anxiety and trying to read the worst out of the praise he receives
- Archive Panic: The Other Wiki guesses that they may be the most prolific artists ever in terms of released material, in no small part due to Dial-A-Song, plus their fondness for Miniscule Rocking. It's almost impossible to own everything they've ever released. Even people who pick up and enjoy every studio album are sometimes surprised by songs they don't know that were never released in an album.
- Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: Of a sort in "Particle Man" from Flood with Universe Man, whose description is a total Mind Screw and, unlike Particle Man and Person Man, never fights Triangle Man.
- Covered Up:
- "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" from Flood was originally a Four Lads song, but most people these days only know the TMBG version.
- "Dog on Fire", the instrumental theme song for The Daily Show, was originally written and performed by Bob Mould. However, once Jon Stewart became the host a few years into the show's existence, Mould's version was replaced by one performed by They Might Be Giants. Following Stewart's departure, "Dog on Fire" was replaced with a remixed version arranged by Timbaland and King Logan.
- "New York City" is a cover of a song by the all-female twee band Cub, whom the Johns were friends with. The original appears on Cub's 1994 album Come Out, Come Out, which had only been released two years prior to TMBG's cover of the song, which helped the fact that more people remembered the cover rather than the original. Flansburgh mentions in the DVD Commentary for Gigantic that he wishes more people knew this, but their version is so popular it's usually near the end of the show and he doesn't feel "Thanks for coming, by the way this next song is not by us..." sounds right.
- "Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)" is a cover of a 1959 song by Tom Glazer. The song was woefully obscure when TMBG covered it and actually features a handful of now-inaccurate facts (notably that the sun is actually made of plasma, not gas). TMBG recorded "Why Does The Sun Really Shine?" a factually accurate new version of the song for their 2009 childrens' album Here Comes Science.
- "What Is a Shooting Star?", written by Lou Singer and Hy Zaret (who also wrote the aforementioned "Why Does the Sun Shine").
- "Walking My Cat Named Dog" from "Why?" is a cover of the 1966 song by Norma Tanega.
- Critical Dissonance: Flood got some surprisingly harsh reviews when it was released, even from reviewers who praised their first two albums (Rolling Stone, Robert Christgau), either accusing them of getting too slick for their major label debut, or fretting that they didn't seem to be getting more "serious". It's their biggest-selling and most beloved album.
- Ensemble Dark Horse: One or two of the backing band members:
- Danny Weinkauf. Starting around No!, he began to write songs for the band, on which he would sing lead. These include some of the group's most memorable children's songs, past and present. He's since parlayed this into a solo career, complete with a backing band of his own.
- Dan Miller, who really gets the chance to shine in the group's live shows. On top of playing guitar, he'll occasionally sing lead, and he plays Linnell's keyboard parts in songs where Linnell plays two instruments. That, and he usually gets at least one opportunity to bust out an awesome guitar solo.
- Epic Riff:
- "The Lady and the Tiger", in full effect.
- "Ana Ng". The Johns even rhythmically tap their teeth to it in the video.
- "The Guitar" has a pretty nifty bass riff.
- Epileptic Trees: The band seemingly invites these with their abstract approach to songwriting, as shown in the Gigantic documentary with a debate club analyzing the lyrics of "Particle Man". The band neither confirm nor deny any interpretations of their work.
- Face of the Band: John Linnell and John Flansburgh (the original two members) are the ones that all fans of the band think of, although they have other members backing them up, many of them named Dan. Which of the two Johns is more likely to be considered the face depends on your approach to the band. If you go by albums, Linnell sings more of the iconic hits and album headers. But going by concerts, Flansburgh tends to be more of a showman.
- Genius Bonus: In-song references can be both diverse and obscure, including history, literature, and pop culture.
- Germans Love David Hasselhoff: While they have a decent following in their homeland of America, they were (at least early on) much more warmly received at shows during tours overseas in the United Kingdom and Japan.
- Heartwarming Moments: Ampersand, which is, in a rarity for TMBG, a legitimately very sweet love song.
- Also of note is Definition of Good, an adorable celebration of the nice things in life from the silly to the sweet.
- Hilarious in Hindsight: Cartoonist Mark Marek designed the cover art of the single for "(She Was A) Hotel Detective" in 1988 and did the animation for the "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" music video in 1990. Nine years later, the videos for "Doctor Worm" and "Why Does The Sun Shine" aired as part of the final season of KaBlam!, which Marek worked on (he made the Henry and June wraparound segments). He later did the animation for "Underwater Woman" in 2015.
- The cover photo for John Henry◊ is a wonderfully dark parody of the cover photo for ...Baby One More Time◊ by Britney Spears, except John Henry came out 4 years earlier.
- "Celebration, from Join Us, rhymed, among other things, "Anonymous" and "Hieronymous Bosch." The rhyme doesn't stick out as much here as it did when one of their favorite bands used it in the title track of Hippopotamus, six years later.
- Iron Woobie: Mr. Horrible from "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair" gets continuously abused and/or humiliated by the narrator and his Ugliness Men. Horrible's only complaint is the comically disproportionate song title.
- Jerkass Woobie: Johnny from "Can't Keep Johnny Down" is a jerkass with a big me-complex, but the root of this behavior is that he feels as if the entire world is against him, and he's made to suffer for it.
- Memetic Mutation: ARE They Giants?
- The Blue Canary nightlight from "Birdhouse In Your Soul" became this on Amazon as basically every question about the product is a reference to the song, as is every answer.
- Misattributed Song: "88 Lines About 44 Women" by The Nails is often attributed to them.
- Paranoia Fuel: "Hide Away Folk Family", "Where Your Eyes Don't Go", "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair", "It's Not My Birthday", "Hall Of Heads", "A Self Called Nowhere", "The Bells Are Ringing", "Rat Patrol", "Older", "Ant", "Bastard Wants To Hit Me", "I'm Impressed", "Can't Keep Johnny Down", "Black Ops," "Aaa", "What Did I Do To You?", "This Microphone"... That's a song off of each (non-children's) studio album (and at least one compilation). Yeah, it's one of the band's favorite tropes, and at least half of those have serious Lyrical Dissonance. "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair" is downright upbeat.
- Periphery Demographic:
- They've always been popular with children, even before they wrote or performed with them specifically in mind. Throughout the '90s, their music routinely appeared on children's cartoons, and they even made live appearances on children's television. "Why Does The Sun Shine?", a fan favorite dating back to the 1980s, made its album debut on Here Comes Science.
- Conversely, their children's music is just as popular with adults. Songs from No! made their way onto greatest hits compilations years later, and "The Bloodmobile," from Here Comes Science debuted as a bonus track on a non-children's compilation. Songs from their children's albums, even the educational ones, routinely make their way onto live setlists. The promotional campaign for Why? even lampshaded this, with the slogan "It's for you, too."
- The sessions for Glean and Why? ran concurrently, and occasionally, John and/or John weren't sure which songs were meant for what album.
- Sampled Up: The saxophone hook in "Number Three" is a loop taken from Lou Monte's "Skinny Lena." The band found it on a record they discovered while cleaning out an abandoned apartment.
- Sequel Displacement: By far, even to this day, the most well-known album the band has put out is its third, Flood. This is the album that has "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)", "Particle Man", and "Birdhouse In Your Soul". Since it's the most common gateway into fandom of the band, there's even a Fan Community Nickname for those that bought Flood as their first TMBG album: Floodies.
- Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: "Your Racist Friend"
- They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: In their early days, the Johns worked by themselves and used double-tracking and drum machines to complete the tracks, and they'd play to recordings live. When they finally decided they needed a backup band, fans were pissed. They got over it eventually, though, and now it's hard for most of them to imagine what it would have been like if that had never happened. Their first band album, John Henry, has a controversial status among fans.
- True Art Is Incomprehensible
- Unintentional Period Piece: Surprisingly "I Can Hear You" off of Factory Showroom, and more than just the fact that it was recorded on a wax cylinder. It references the Viper Car Alarm, the newness of being able to call from an airplane, and the then-brand new super-sizing.
- What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: "One Everything" is about the convergence of number theory and cosmology. Not peripherally, but as the entire premise. As a whole, the song could easily blow the mind of a grad student. It's on the album Here Come the 123s, which was released by Disney Records, aimed specifically at children, and has songs that are obviously for the under-ten set (e.g., an explanation of even versus odd numbers). On the other hand, these deceptively-advanced topics are presented in a way that's nothing but kid-friendly, so maybe it subverts the trope—and the kids!What if you drew a giant circle?
What if it went around All There Is?
Then would there still be such a thing as an outside?
And does that question even make any sense?
- What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: Even with some rather esoteric lyrics, it's pretty obvious that many of their songs touch on more mature themes. Yet their songs have appeared in multiple kid-friendly places (such as Tiny Toon Adventures and the first Power Rangers movie) even before they specifically made children's albums. They try as hard as they can to avoid falling under this trope completely by splitting their tours in two to join to their two distinct fanbases (their original alternative rock fans and their new children's music fanbase). The "adult shows" (the one where they play their non-children's material and back catalog) have a 18 (or 21 in some places) cover for when someone tries to bring their kid into an adult TMBG concert expecting to hear music from their children's albums. In addition to the difference in content, this is because "adult shows" tend to take place in venues that serve alcohol, so bringing someone under 18 would generally be illegal.
- The Woobie: In "Nonagon" poor Heptagon isn't even mentioned, let alone does much. The comments that lampshade this have been voted down.
YMMV / They Might Be Giants