As the bright spark that was Glee is getting set to burn out as we creep closer and closer to that March 20 finale date, focus is turning to a life after Glee for its cast and crew. Whether it’s giving a voice to animated characters, belting out a ballad on a Broadway stage or diving back into film and TV work, one thing is undeniable, Darren Criss’ star is ascending and this is just the beginning for him.
Fans have many different hopes and dreams for Criss for his life after Glee, but one thing that we can pretty much all agree on is the release of his long awaited, and much talked about, debut album. As well as being a top-notch performer, capable of engaging and holding an audience in the palm of his very skilled hand, he’s also a world-class wordsmith with a keen understanding of musicality.
As much as I have loved the covers that he has performed on Glee, it is his original songs that really showcase his talent. It is for this very reason that to celebrate his 28th birthday today, I give you my top 10 Darren Criss originals. We hope you have a very happy birthday.
The first “real” song that Darren ever wrote and written when he was a mere babe of 15. It’s raw, emotional, honest, and though filled with teenage angst, it can certainly be applied to and relevant for any age. A staple in most Darren Criss gigs, I love the innocent yearning for something more and bigger than yourself that comes through. Below is a performance from one of his 2011 London gigs at The Garage.
While I’m not a big fan of the verses of this song that was trialed at his 2013 Listen Up gigs, the chorus and bridge just blow me away and if this was ever released, it would probably be THE track of the album that soared up the charts. It’s cute, appealing and you can dance to it. Basically, it’s a fun, summer hit and who doesn’t love those? Check out the performance from the Chicago gig.
One of the new songs he debuted as part of his Listen Up tour, it’s one of my favourites from the tour. From the jazzy sound, to the catchy chorus, the chilled feel of the piece, to Darren’s sultry crooning, it has a very classic vibe with a modern cheekiness. I would love a studio recording of this. This performance is from the Paris acoustic gig at the Nouveau Casino.
“To Have A Home”
The big belting “musical theatrey” ballad from A Very Potter Sequel and while Darren wishes he didn’t sing the song because he doesn’t “have a vibrato or a very classically stage voice,” I personally love it. Yes it might sound better performed by a “real tenor,” but the passion and emotion that Darren brings to the song every time he performs it, more than makes up for any shortcomings he may perceive. The performance from 2013’s Broad Stage PSArts Event is so beautiful and effortless. Plus I love dorky Darren plugging StarKid at the beginning.
“Any of Those Things”
Another of the songs that debuted during the Listen Up tour, it’s poppy, catchy, and one that I could easily imagine soaring up the charts if it was ever released. A fun, f-you song directed to an ex, it’s the perfect song to play while getting ready for a night out to ramp up your energy levels and dance like crazy to around your living room. One of his earliest performances of the song, this clip comes from the LA gig.
From Darren’s Human EP, this song perfectly encapsulates those wonderful, yet utterly crushing feelings of unrequited love. Coming from a place where we all have been before (and if you haven’t, my hat goes off to you), Darren’s raw, passionate appeal to know why “don’t you want the way I feel for you” from the subject of his love, has all of us putting our hands up saying, “yes, yes I do!” I love old clips of Darren’s performances, primarily because you can actually hear Darren sing instead of the screams and shouts from the crowd. This performance is from 2010’s NYC’s Public Assembly gig.
As much as I love Joe Walker’s brilliant performance of this song as Mama Umbridge in A Very Potter Sequel, I was eager to hear Darren perform the song and luckily this version below was uploaded to YouTube not long after AVPS and boy am I glad it was. Much more powerful and gritty than the AVPS version, Darren’s original version strikes a chord with me and I could just watch this over and over. This is from his performance at NYC’s The Living Room over the summer of 2010.
“The Coolest Girl”
I can’t be the only girl who just has to belt this song out whenever it comes on my iTunes? It is a song about girl power, about the strength, resilience and intelligence of one kick ass female character, and it is such a fantastic pep talk song… what’s not to like? Here’s Darren performing at the Northalsted Market Days from 2011.
So many of Darren’s songs are about pushing boundaries, refusing to quietly accept your lot in life, and celebrating what it is about yourself that is different, unique and makes you you. Is it any wonder that he was a perfect fit for Glee? “Status Quo,” written for the StarKid musical Starship is the perfect example of this. It’s not flashy, it’s not in your face, this ballad manages to get under your skin, wrap around your heart and feels like a giant hug from Darren himself. No wonder it is a dear friend’s favourite song. This performance from the Cleveland Listen Up tour is not only beautiful stripped bare, but as Darren says, “typical of a Darren Criss show”.
On par with his cover of “Teenage Dream” as being the iconic Darren Criss song (to date!), “Not Alone” continues to resonate and touch of the lives of many who listen to it, fast becoming a pseudo-anthem for the Trevor Project after Criss performed it live at his first Trevor Live appearance back in 2010. Originally written for a songwriting competition while he was abroad in Italy, the song’s message of hope, inspiration to overcome the odds and the power of love, easily makes it still one of my all time favourite Darren Criss songs. Here is that performance from Trevor Live.
BONUS: “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry
Alright yes I know this list is about Darren’s original songs but you really can’t have a list of Darren songs without paying homage to his Katy Perry cover. It is, after all, the song that made the world take notice of the man that StarKid fans had long adored. Though Darren has probably performed this cover hundreds, if not thousands of times now, he somehow manages to make each version unique and totally his own. Check out this version from the Toronto leg of his Listen Up tour, a personal favourite for some of my friends (credit to lizjhpark).
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