The mood got decidedly funnier and edgier in this year’s Emmy race for Original Music and Lyrics. It was a badly needed tonic for the country. Most notably, Tina Fey joined the musical fray for the first time, looking for her 10th Emmy with the hilarious “Hell No,” a tribute to Beyonce’s “Lemonade” (featuring an enraged Tituss Burgess) from “Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt.”
But, given the current zeitgeist, it’s not surprising that Chance the Rapper was nominated for his Run-D.M.C.–inspired rap tribute to Obama, “Last Christmas,” from “Saturday Night Live,” or that Rachel Bloom was back again with the raunchy “We Tapped That Ass” from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” There was even room for the excruciatingly uncomfortable “The Ballad of Claus Jorstad (Devil Stool)” from “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and and the animated burlesque of “Jing-A-Ling-A-Ling” from “Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special.”
Apart from comedy, there’s also Common’s impassioned “Letter to the Free” about mass incarceration from Ava DuVernay’s “13th.” Don’t count it out because last year’s winner was Diane Warren’s “Til It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground.” However, the odds are probably with “Last Christmas” or “Hell No.”
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“Saturday Night Live” — “Last Christmas” (Eli Brueggemann, Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, Kenan Thompson, Will Stephen)
In the tradition of Run-D.M.C’s “Christmas in Hollis,,” Chance, Kenan Thompson, and Leslie Jones gave a rollicking yuletide sendoff to Obama, while at the same time bemoaning the apocalyptic coming of Trump. Topping it off were cameos from host Casey Affleck (as a breakdancing Jesus) and Darryl (D.M.C.) McDaniels, who’s personally known Obama since childhood.
It was “SNL” at its most politically biting and entertaining. First the good news: “Yeah, it’s been a dope eight years but now we got one last Christmas with Barack Obama. So, if we going out, we going out with a bang.” Then the bad: ” Hey, kids enjoy the presents while you can. ‘Cause next year you might get a bomb from Iran.”
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — “Hell No” (Jeff Richmond, Tina Fey, Sam Means)
How would drama queen Titus Andromedon (Burgess) exercise his anger after suffering a broken heart in the second episode of Season 3? He’d one-up Beyonce’s “Lemonade” by dressing in her signature yellow dress, strut down the street, and do some damage with a baseball bat. Instead of “Hold Up,” it’s “Hell No.”
It’s Titus’ own version of the confessional visual album and it perfectly displays the actor’s physical comedy chops. “What’s worse, being heartbroke or roach bit? Heartbroke or roach bit? Or like, seeing you in your outfit? I gave you that outfit I’d rather be roach bit.”
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” — “We Tapped That Ass” (Adam Schlesinger, Rachel Bloom, Jack Dolgen)
After being denied the Emmy in its first season, the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” team was back to push the sex envelope further. In the fourth episode, Rebecca (Bloom) is haunted by “memory spirits” of ex-lovers Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) and Greg (Santino Fontana), who joyously sing and dance about all the locations they’ve “banged” and “nailed” her.
It’s tap dancing vaudeville, where once again the past and present collide. Life’s always a tug-of-war for the conflicted Rachel, and this is another great instance in which everyone but Rachel has fun. Breaking up with Greg has been so hard to do. But out of this trauma emerges one the season’s most memorable showstoppers.
“Jimmy Kimmel Live” — “The Ballad of Claus Jorstad (Devil Stool)” (Jonathan Kimmel, Gary Greenberg)
Riffing on a Norwegian who bought a shower stool from Ikea and got his ball stuck in the shower, Kimmel’s younger brother, Jonathan, wrote a scary song with Greenberg. Justin Moore performed it intercut with a man acting it out in the shower.
Between the country star’s deadpan performance and the painful re-enactment, the result was one of Kimmel’s more creative skits: “The seat had holes and of all the luck, Claus’ left ball got permanently stuck,”
“Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special” — “Jing-A-Ling-A-Ling” (Christopher Willis, Darrick Bachman, Paul Rudish)
When Donald Duck skips his annual migration to experience his first wintry Christmas, Mickey and the gang pull out all the stops with the ultimate to-do list of yuletide experiences, And the song captures the frozen ordeal with theatrical glee (there’s even a toy soldiers nod from “Babes in Toyland”).
Talk about pain. While paying homage to Art Deco musicals, Donald endures plenty of teeth chattering, and Mickey can’t suppress his frigid grin. That alone becomes the lasting image.
“13th” — “Letter to the Free” (Common, Robert Glasper, Karriem Riggins)
For DuVernay’s documentary, which explores mass incarceration of African Americans as a form of institutional slavery, Common composed a compelling song about police brutality and the racism of the prison industrial complex. It is meditative and propulsive.
“I wrote ‘Letter to the Free’ to bring awareness to the epidemic of mass incarceration, a problem that our country has been dealing with for decades and which is rooted in slavery and Jim Crow,” Common said. “I wanted to acknowledge that history but also use the lyrics in the song and chants of “Freedom!” to empower and inspire listeners to be the change we want to see in the prison system and in America’s treatment of Black and Brown people. Somehow throughout all of this, I wanted to provide some hope and redemption.”
Will Win: “Last Christmas”
Could Win: “Hell No”
Should Win: “Last Christmas”