Well, guess what: The theme song for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is in your head now. It will probably be there the rest of the day. I’m sorry. It’s not something I can help, really. The song is so powerfully catchy that even just the suggestion of its existence — in, say, a headline or a tweet — can burn it into your brain all over again, even though you just got it out of there a few hours earlier. It’s more viral than the flu and… do you know what? I lied earlier. I’m not sorry I got it stuck in your head. I’m glad I did it. It’s a fun song. You should have it stuck in your head. You could do a lot worse, really. You’re welcome.
It’s a good time to have it stuck in your head, too, because Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt came to an end this month. Or, at least, it came to an end as much as anything comes to an end on Netflix. The episodes are all still there and probably will be until Netflix runs out of money or the sun swallows the Earth whole and turns people and servers into space dust, both of which are on about the same timetable. Still, this is as good a time as any for a tribute to one of the greats, and the theme song definitely falls into that category.
It probably makes sense to start at the beginning. The song wasn’t always the show’s theme music. The pilot episode opened with Kimmy and her fellow Mole Women — the victims of a mad man who kept them underground as prisoners for years, your typical silly sitcom plot — being freed by the FBI. People nearby were interviewed about it and in one of the interviews, with a character named Walter Bankston, things suddenly got Auto-tuned and Songify’d. It wasn’t until the second episode, though, that the interview was cut and spliced and patched together into the song that you recognize. Yes, it is still in your head right now and, no, I’m still not sorry about it.
The theme was a group effort. Series creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock provided the raw material and Jeff Richmond — Fey’s husband and the composer of the also very catchy 30 Rock theme — provided the score. For the actually Songifying of it all, they turned to the Gregory Brothers, the people responsible for the rise of Autotuned news clips in the first place. From Vanity Fair:
Fey and Carlock wrote a full monologue for the character of Walter Bankston, “a neighbor who watched all the drama unfold,” and though Richmond had already written the music and the producers had selected certain lyrics—“It’s a miracle!”; “females are strong as hell”—the idea was to give the Gregorys a lot to work with, including a lot of jokes that never made the cut. “They knew that they wanted the theme to be derived from this one scene, so they wrote a ton of stuff for him,” explains Evan. “After the fact we could kind of compose out of a collage of that dialogue.”
It’s a little crazy that the song remains so infectious and fun today, in 2019, given that when the show premiered, in 2015, Songifying the news was already on its way out. The heyday of it all was the “Bed Intruder” song and it stayed relevant to some degree through the 2016 election, but a quick glance at the view counts of videos since then shows how quickly the whole thing burned itself out. I have a theory about why the Kimmy Schmidt theme escaped feeling horribly dated, like a “Chocolate Rain” cover or Dramatic Hamster reference, but it’s all very unhinged and thinkpiece-y and I would never dare share it in public unless I put the whole thing in parentheses or something.
(Hello. It goes like this. I think a part of it is that the Autotuned news clip thing reminds us, possibly subconsciously, of when the internet was good and fun and less about yelling at each other about politics while three tech conglomerates hoard power. But because we’re all so hopelessly cynical now, we can’t just admit to each other that those old clips were fun and good, so our brains have to trick themselves into letting it in, and “hey, my favorite theme song!” serves as the Trojan horse. Either that or it’s just hecka catchy. This looks worse now that I typed it all out. I’m glad I used the parentheses.)
All of which is to say, man, is this song ever a bouncy little earworm. I don’t know how many times I’ve caught myself mumbling the words under my breath. Dozens? Hundreds? The “they alive, dammit!” and “females are strong as hell” are the lines that most people think of when they think of the song but, for me, it’s the “ooooooo, dammit!” at the end that gets me. I’ve been on an elevator, with people, and found myself quietly singing that, which would be a very weird thing to sing in a full elevator if I hadn’t also once found myself humming “The Chicken Dance” in the same elevator. Remember when I said you could have a worse song stuck in your head than the Kimmy Schmidt theme? I know this from experience.
Theme songs are in a weird place right now. A lot of network and cable shows are phasing them out to pack in as much content and commercials as they can. (Contrast the extended woodwind-y intro of Parks and Rec — another damn delightful earworm — with the abbreviated title screen of The Good Place.) But as that’s happening, streaming outlets with no concern about runtimes or advertisers are bringing them back. BoJack Horseman has a funky synthy theme that I have actually listened to while driving. The Marvel shows — rest in peace — had solid full-length themes.
But even then, Kimmy Schmidt was one of the only shows to utilize the full-on Fresh Prince/Gilligan’s Island style of using the theme song to tell you what the show was. I liked it. I would pay good money for one of those theme songs at the beginning of, like, Westworld, just to see if they can explain the show in 60-90 musical seconds. I would also settle for an off-putting cheery intro for a bleak show like True Detective. Let’s get weird.
I’m getting off-topic. I think maybe what I’m saying in all of this could best be expressed through a series of images.