The 10 Greatest Musical Moments from 'The Bear' Season 2

Every second counts

Photo courtesy of FX

BY Alex HudsonPublished Aug 16, 2023

Season 2 of The Bear is one of the greatest seasons of television in recent memory, earning a rare perfect 10 rating here at Exclaim! Much of the show's emotional impact comes from its impeccably chosen needle drops — which, unlike other shows that have acted as tastemakers, are notable precisely because they're not very cool.

None of the songs on The Bear's soundtrack are fresh or forward-thinking, with the show often highlighting lesser-known songs from Gen X rock bands. Chosen by creator Christopher Storer and executive producer Josh Senior, the music perfectly matches the scrappy, underdog spirit of the show. These songs are a little outdated and unhip, but they're full of heart and deserve a second chance at relevance — just like the characters on The Bear.

Interestingly, given how prominently Chicago features on The Bear, none of the songs on this list come from Windy City artists; instead, they seem more like songs the characters in the show might listen to.

As we prepare ourselves for a rewatch, here are the stand-out musical moments that stuck with us from Season 2. As with our list of musical moments from The O.C., this isn't a ranking of the songs themselves, but rather of how effectively they're used within the show.

Warning: lots and lots of spoilers are ahead.

10. Counting Crows
"Baby, I'm a Big Star Now"
Episode 2

"Mr. Jones" and "A Long December" are karaoke classics, but I never look to Counting Crows for the deep cuts — then again, maybe I should, since "Baby, I'm a Big Star Now" is a B-side from 1999's "Hanginaround" single that later appeared as a bonus track on 2008's Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings. Adam Duritz's plaintive voice drives home the emotional moment that follows after the staff of the Bear open up the locker that once belonged to the late Mikey (Jon Bernthal). I love you dude. Let it rip.

9. Weezer
"The Christmas Song"
Episode 6

Episode 6, "Fishes," chronicles an excruciatingly tense Christmas dinner, escalating to a gruelling climax involving fork-throwing and mom driving her car into the house. As the anger that has simmered all episode finally boils over, it's punctuated by a Weezer rarity in the closing credits. "The Christmas Song" comes from the Green Album era, but the song's angst harkens back to an earlier era of Weezer.

8. The Replacements
"Bastards of Young"
Episode 5

If there's one band that best captures the tone of The Bear — prickly, raw, uplifting — it's the Replacements. Their greatest-ever song would sound amazing wherever it was placed, and this spot at the top of Episode 5 certainly delivers. In the early moments of the episode, we see that Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) has ditched his training, and after a pensive moment spent smoking by the lake, the clang of electric guitar brings us into the fast-paced energy of kitchen construction.

7. The Durutti Column
"Future Perfect"
Episode 3

Episode 3, in which Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) goes on an eat-athon across Chicago, is a stylistic departure from the rest of Season 2, featuring a montage that's full of snazzy edits and feels more like a music video than a gritty show about a restaurant. The most stylish bit of all is soundtracked by the echoing piano hits and hypnagogic electronic grooves of "Future Perfect," a 1996 song that has a chillwave feel despite predating that genre by a decade and a half.

6. R.E.M.
"Strange Currencies"
Episodes 2, 5 and 9

Another example of a less-loved song from a well-known band, this country rock ballad from 1994's Monster becomes something of an anthem for Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) and Claire Bear (Molly Gordon), playing at key moments during their budding relationship. The best of these comes during Episode 2, when they meet in a store. It plays quietly throughout their conversation, and the beginning of the end credits perfectly coincides with a pivotal lyric from Michael Stipe: "I need a chance, a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance, a word, a signal a nod, a little breath / Just to fool myself, to catch myself and make it real."

5. Eddie Vedder and Neil Finn
"Throw Your Arms Around Me"
Episode 8

Eddie Vedder's quivering vibrato emerges at several points during The Bear, with Pearl Jam's "Animal" soundtracking an intense moment in Episode 10. But the best moment of all is Vedder's duet with Crowded House singer Neil Finn on a cover of a song by Hunters & Collectors. After the tension of the fire suppression test, "Throw Your Arms Around Me" reinforces the relief and catharsis as they finally fire up the stovetops, and Carmy finally refers to Claire Bear as his "girlfriend."

4. Bruce Hornsby & the Range
"The Show Goes On" 
Episode 1

Logically, Storer probably should have picked a Chicago band to soundtrack the montage of the city that plays near the beginning of the first episode — but the song he chose instead is absolutely perfect. "The Show Goes On" is a synth-y heartland anthem, the kind of thing the War on Drugs have built a career on imitating. Full of beauty and longing, it's the perfect soundtrack for a bird's-eye introduction to the Windy City, setting the tone for the heart-tugging Season 2.

3. Freddy Fender
"Before the Next Teardrop Falls"
Episode 5

Liza Colón-Zayas delivers one of Season 2's most revelatory performances as Tina, the prickly chef who gradually opens up and embraces change and new experiences. It's a thrill to watch her grow during her time at culinary school — and her butterfly moment comes when she joins her much younger classmates at a karaoke bar. It turns out that Tina can really fucking sing, and she absolutely brings the house down with a rendition of the bilingual country ballad "Before the Next Teardrop Falls."

2. Nine Inch Nails
"Hope We Can Again"
Episode 10

Most of the songs on this list are big needle-drop moments — but Nine Inch Nails' creeping, meditative "Hope We Can Again" (from their early-pandemic ambient album Ghosts V: Together) plays quietly in the background for 10 crushing minutes during the season's white-knuckle crescendo, as Carmy is locked in the cooler on opening night. It starts as his mom (Jamie Lee Curtis) flakes on dinner, plays throughout the kitchen's triumphant completion of service, continues through Carmy's fuck-up with Claire Bear, and concludes when he flips out on Ritchie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Throughout that roller coaster of emotions, "Hope We Can Again" somehow fits each scene perfectly, going from poignant to ominous to soothing without the music ever really changing. It's no wonder NIN's Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have become highbrow Hollywood's go-to composers.

1. Taylor Swift
"Love Story (Taylor's Version)"
Episode 7

I'm a fan of Taylor Swift, but I've never really connected with 2008's Fearless — which, with its sparkly tales of princes and princesses and Romeos and Juliets, has always felt a bit too tween-y for me. But holy shit does "Love Story" ever hit like a ton of bricks here. Ritchie is the season's standout character, a numbskull with a heart of gold whose brash exterior barely disguises a deep reservoir of inner pain and yearning. Just like the rest of us, Ritchie's trying to score Taylor tickets (in his case, as a way to connect with his young daughter), and he's working on overcoming his jaded cynicism by bettering himself with a short-term job at a fancy restaurant. The first time "Love Story" plays, it's a punchline, as Ritchie jokes around with his coworkers and then drives home singing loudly (in between cursing at other drivers). But when the song returns in the final moments, following Ritchie's revelatory heart-to-heart with the restaurant's head chef (Olivia Colman), it's an absolute gut-punch, reinforcing the personal victory of his emotional growth.

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