From Ed Sheeran to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, a Guide to the Emmy-Nominated Songs

Even the serious ones play with comedic elements

Ted Lasso, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
"Ted Lasso" (Apple TV+), "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" (Roku)

This story about the Emmy-nominated songs first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Comedy issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

In the Emmys’ Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics category, it pays to be funny. After all, this is the category where the winners include “Antidepressants Are So Not a Big Deal” from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore” from the Tony Awards, “Dick in a Box” from “Saturday Night Live” and, um, “I’m F—ing Matt Damon” from “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

Over the past two decades, comedic songs have won more than two-thirds of the time. Most years, they’ve landed the majority of the nominations.

This year, four of the six nominees are from comedies: “Fought & Lost” and “A Beautiful Game” from “Ted Lasso,” “Your Personal Trash Man Can” from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Now You Know” from the TV movie “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.”

Another nominee, the viral TikTok hit “Marriage Is a Dungeon,” is a comic song from the drama series “Ginny & Georgia”; the last, “All About Me” from “The L Word: Generation Q,” is a serious empowerment anthem set in the humorous context of a 1950s sitcom parody.

We talked to the songwriters behind all six nominated songs.

Ted Lasso
Apple TV+

Songwriters: Tom Howe, Jamie Hartman and Sam Ryder

For the first two seasons of “Ted Lasso,” composer Tom Howe wrote the comedy’s score with Marcus Mumford. But when Season 3 was in the planning stages, he started hearing conversations about something new that might be added to his plate: an original song to complement the usual array of existing tunes.

At first, nobody was sure where the song would go in what seemed to be the series’ final season, but details gradually emerged: It should come at the end of the penultimate episode, as storylines are beginning to conclude and just after the title character makes up his mind to go back home to the U.S. when the football season ends.

“I started to get a better of idea of how it would sit in the show, so I called a friend of mine, Jamie Hartman, who’s a great songwriter,” Howe said. “We came up with a basic sketch, sort of a song idea.”

Before they finished the song, Howe and Jason Sudeikis went to the Foo Fighters’ London tribute concert for their late drummer, Taylor Hawkins. They were bowled over by singer-songwriter Sam Ryder’s performance with Queen. Howe chatted with Ryder briefly in a backstage hospitality room, and later brought up his name to Hartman — who was coincidentally scheduled to write songs with Ryder for an upcoming album.

Ryder had never watched “Ted Lasso” and doesn’t remember his backstage conversation with Howe (“I think I blacked out for most of that experience”), but he was immediately struck by the idea Howe and Hartman had come up with: a song about the beauty of failure. The three of them finished the song, and Ryder recorded vocals at different studios while he was on tour.

“It feels like a ‘We Are the Champions,’ but for everyone, not just the people that succeed,” Ryder said. Speaking of that Queen classic, the guitar solo in “Fought & Lost” came courtesy of that band’s own Brian May.

“After I put the vocal down, we were saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if Brian May played guitar on this?’” Ryder said. “Somehow the song got to Brian’s camp, and a couple of months later I got a phone call. Funnily enough, I was watching Ted Lasso at the time, and I was annoyed because this number that I didn’t recognize came up on my phone. I picked up the phone. ‘Hello Sam, it’s Brian. This song is…’ I can’t repeat the word, but ‘this song is effing wicked.’ He was absolutely stoked. He said, ‘I’ve just recorded a guitar solo. I’m gonna send it over and I hope you enjoy it.”

Ryder laughed. “I did. We all did, I think.”

Ted Lasso
Apple TV+

Songwriters: Ed Sheeran, Foy Vance and Max Martin

“A Beautiful Game” served a specific purpose in (what seems to be) the final episode of “Ted Lasso”: It made the coaches and players on the AFC Richmond football team cry. The song plays during a video that Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) has made of the team’s progress over the three years of Ted’s tenure as coach, leaving the players weeping on the sideline before their big match with archrival West Ham.

“I knew it was the end of the season and had to be a ‘come-all-ye’ of sorts — a culmination song,” said Foy Vance, who wrote the song with Ed Sheeran (who performed it) and Max Martin. “The script wasn’t written for that episode, but it didn’t have to be. It was somewhat obvious where the song would need to take you… It was implied that it was going to be the last show, (and) it seemed pretty clear that something so huge and impacting would want to end with pathos of some sort.”

The song is ostensibly a love song, but it clearly applies to a team, or a TV show, that has come to a conclusion: “Out of the embers, we’ll rise from the ashes/And write in the stars with our names/That we are here, we are bruised, we are damaged/But the joy was worth the pain/Love’s a beautiful game.”

But Vance said they weren’t specifically thinking about how the song would work inside or outside the context of the show. “In my opinion and experience, it’s best not to think when writing,” he said of the song, which he insisted presented no particular challenges “other than perhaps finding the studio where we wrote it. I went down a few wrong roads, but even that wasn’t a challenge worth speaking of. It was just a matter of kicking the doors open. Don’t think too much and whatever comes out, deal with it until you have a song worth singing.”

A friend of his, he added, has an appropriate saying: “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Amazon Prime Video

Songwriters: Curtis Moore and Thomas Mizer

When “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino told songwriters Curtis Moore and Thomas Mizer that she needed songs for an industrial musical about trash collection, you could have understood if they felt she was pulling their legs. But after three seasons of writing songs for the Emmy-winning comedy series, they knew better.

“It used to be that we would get a call from Amy about an assignment for a song, and we’d be like, ‘This is a joke, right? She’s punking us this time,’” Moore said. “But by the time we got to her talking to us about trash, we knew she was serious because she never punks us.” A pause. “Even though it feels like we’re being punked.”

Their songs for the “Susan” episode came over the course of three weeks of collaboration with the show’s writers and producers. “She said, ‘It’s an industrial musical about private waste management, and they’re gonna be tap dancing with trash can lids. Go!’” Mizer said. “It was back-and-forth over those three weeks, trying to picture the jokes, picture the lyrics and shape the script that she was writing.”

They also wrote other songs for the episode, in which Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge Maisel is strong-armed into emceeing a low-budget industrial musical to promote a waste management company. One of their songs was supposed to sound as if it had been written by old-school musical-theater writers, another by jingle writers — the nominated song, “Your Personal Trash Man Can,” was designed to sound like it came from young 1960s composers. “Imagine (‘Cabaret’ writers) Kander and Ebb,” Mizer said, “but they’ve been kidnapped by the mafia and have to write an industrial musical.”

The songwriters immersed themselves in the world of industrial musicals (the documentary “Bathtubs Over Broadway” was a big help) but also had to find room for dance breaks and rhymes for phrases like “medical waste.” (They landed on “plumbing paste.”)

“When you listen to those industrials, those are written by people at the top of their game writing the best music they can,” Mizer said. “It just so happens that it’s about a weird topic. And that’s what we wanted to do: to write the most sophisticated, clever song we could write about a mafia-run trash business.”

“That’s how ‘Maisel’ works, anyway,” Moore added. “The fun thing about it is how much time they spend being authentic to the period, but they also take everything up to 11. Everything’s a little bit faster, a little bit more colorful. And we want to feel like we are stepping up to that same level. We want to be part of that world.”

The L Word Generation Q

Songwriters: Heather McIntosh, Taura Stinson and Allyson Newman

In many ways, “All About Me” is the most serious of the nominated songs. But it’s sung by “The L Word” actress Rosanny Zayas in a black-and-white, ’50s sitcom parody, complete with canned laughter.

“The song was serious business,” said Taura Stinson with a laugh. “That’s why the contrasting visuals were really helpful. Like, they literally stuffed mashed potatoes in her mouth when she’s trying to sing about things like vulnerability and codependency — things you don’t usually get to talk about on original songs for television.”

The song was one of several in the “Questions for the Universe” episode, the first musical episode in the three-season run of “The L Word: Generation Q.” Series composers Heather McIntosh and Allyson Newman brought in Stinson to help on the quick turnaround for the mini-musical, in which the characters go on a new-agey retreat and fantasize a series of song-and-dance numbers that illustrate their life-changing decisions.

“It’s framed through this fantastical world, but everyone is speaking to their own truth and their own conflict,” McIntosh said. Added Newman, “As we were writing the songs they were working on the script, and it kind of went back and forth as both things developed.”

For “All About Me,” the sitcom parody was designed to place Zayas’ character, Sophie Suarez, in a setting where she could speak up for herself after being treated as a subservient little housewife by her partner, Sarah Finley (Jacqueline Toboni, dressed as a typical ’50s sitcom hubby).

“We knew the scene would have mid-century references, but the song has a very modern bent to it,” McIntosh said of the number that begins as a ballad and kicks into high gear with a rap. “It’s about Sophie finding her truth and being able to speak up.”

Writing the song, Stinson said, was a catharsis of sorts.

“We are women in entertainment, so we have to put our stake in the ground and stand up for ourselves,” she said. “We all talked about instances where we had been silenced — and even now, the creatives around us are striking and being silenced as their lifeblood is being cut off. The song takes on a different meaning for different people, but the gist of it is that we all need to stand up for who we know we are.”

Ginny & Georgia

Songwriters: Lili Haydn and Ben Bromfield

“Dark humor is the deepest humor,” said Lili Haydn, the co-writer with Ben Bromfield of “Marriage Is a Dungeon.” It’s a (sort of) funny song from a (mostly) serious series about abuse, depression, death and the complications of growing up.

“My mother was a standup comedian and she was engaged to Lenny Bruce the last year of his life,” Haydn said. “She took very dark subjects and brought them into hilarious light. So for us to be able to take these heavy, dark themes and deliver them with this twisted, darkly funny earworm felt like an homage to my mother.”

The song was an assignment on the Netflix series “Ginny & Georgia,” where Haydn and Bromfield usually write the score for each episode. The “Hark! Darkness Descends!” episode included scenes from an elaborate musical being staged at a high school — and in lieu of using an existing musical, the producers asked the show’s composers to write their own.

“We were tasked with writing an American songbook-style musical, but with a sort of Jane Austen, ‘Bridgerton’-esque Victorian bent to it,” Bromfield said.

“And feminist themes,” Haydn added.

“Marriage Is a Dungeon” was written to be an empowering duet between two characters. Before they wrote it, Haydn remembered that “marriage is a dungeon” were the last words spoken to her by a woman she refers to as “my grandmother’s evil older sister.” Writing a song based around those words, she said, “was so much fun.”

Bromfield added, “The ‘marriage is a dungeon’ hook was so strong that the song came out pretty fast.”

They also wrote an anti-love song, “I’d Never Love Someone,” and sketched out other parts of the musical.

“We had to theorize what this musical was in order to pluck out these songs that existed from it,” Bromfield said. “Some of the fun of it was that we had to imagine what some of the beats might have been in the different parts of it. So we fleshed out the broad concept of the musical in order to create these three songs.”

Would they ever be tempted to finish the rest of the musical? Haydn — who played with symphony orchestras as a teenager, has released more than half a dozen albums and won a Grammy — admitted she’d been considering that prospect. “We just passed 2 million on Spotify for ‘Marriage Is a Dungeon,’” she said, laughing. “And on TikTok it’s hundreds of millions of streams.

“So I have thought, this should be a real musical. I’ve actually got a list of other songs that could or should be a part of it. So who knows?”

Weird The Al Yankovic Story
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Songwriter: Al Yankovic

At first, “Weird Al” Yankovic figured that his wildly fictionalized biopic should end with a cover version of one of his song parodies — perhaps with a female vocalist singing a slow, somber version of “Smells Like Nirvana.”

“But it turned out that getting the rights to that particular song would’ve eaten up an appreciable percentage of the budget,” he said with a laugh. “So I thought, I’ll just write an original song that doubles down on the fact that everything you’ve just seen is completely true.”

In fact, almost none of “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” is completely true, but “Now You Know” insists that it is. The song, a blues-rocker in 7/4 time (a form Yankovic said he’d been wanting to use “for a while”), came pretty easily:

“Whenever I write a song, I start by just writing down notes — just any kinds of thoughts or phrases or jokes or anything tangentially related to the topic of the song I’m writing. I’ll get a few dozen pages of notes and then go through and say, ‘OK, what works? And what can I fashion into a pop song?’”

From the start, he knew that he wanted the song to comment on itself and on the credits it would be accompanying. The tricky thing is that he had to write the song before going on tour and before the credits had been finished, so he had to guess about when to drop in the jokes, references and breaks.

“I had to write a song a bit longer than it wound up being, so we could cut it down to match whatever was happening on the screen,” he said.

But when the film was picked up by Roku after its Toronto Film Festival premiere, he opted not to change the final line, in which he tells the audience, “This song is eligible for Oscar consideration.” No thoughts of making that “Emmy consideration”?

“Well, I was always pushing Roku to give it a one-week theatrical release in L.A. so it could actually be Oscar-eligible,” he said. “I twisted their arms as hard as I possibly could, but they weren’t into it because if you get one Oscar nomination, then you’re not eligible for the Emmys. And they really wanted to make a splash at the Emmys because they’re a TV company, not a movie company. I was upset for a while, but with eight (Emmy) nominations, I have to say that they knew what they were doing.”

Read more from the Down to the Wire: Comedy issue here.

Bill Hader Wrap magazine cover
Photo by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap