You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Portlandia’: Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein Pick Their Proudest Musical Moments

The IFC series recently wrapped its eighth and final season.

It doesn’t take a lot of dot-connecting genius to figure why music was a crucial component of “Portlandia,” which recently wrapped its eighth and final season. The host city is a rock town, but more than that, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein came of age in the punk scene, although that was her initial claim to fame and his secret identity. They incorporated so many original songs into the IFC series that you could just about make a claim that it beat “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” through the gate as a major weekly musical-comedy series.

In honor of eight seasons, Variety asked Brownstein (also of Sleater-Kinney fame) and Armisen to weigh in with four highlights each from their show’s substantial library of original tuneage. Some of the duo’s choices involved famous guest stars from the music world (Henry Rollins, k.d. lang) or fellow cast members (famously, Kyle McLachlan), and in some cases, Armisen chose tunes primarily written by the other partner. Their picks:

“Mayor’s Song for Portland” (2011) with Kyle McLachlan

BROWNSTEIN: The final beat of that wrap-around sketch was that the mayor would sing a love song to the city. We had the music. We didn’t really have the lyrics. And a lot of things we do on the show, especially early on — and that was in the second season — are improvised. Kyle listened to the song before we shot, and wrote down some very silly lyrics that sort of evoked like a Tom Jones kind of character. It was very strange and surreal. He was nervous. He took it seriously, which I love. Kyle always relishes the opportunity to demonstrate I think his breadth as an improviser, and also has eccentricities that I think obviously were mined early on and fomented by David Lynch, but it really is part of who he is. He’s so sophisticated, and then also there is a silliness to him as well. That song somehow embodies these seemingly disparate qualities in Kyle — this suaveness, but also a clumsiness, or fecklessness, I guess. So that one definitely has a life of its own, like, I think, anything that Kyle McLachlan does that speaks to his uniqueness.

“Animal Parade” (2013) with Matt Berry

ARMISEN: Squiggleman was a character (played by Berry) who was a popular singer of children’s music. When our characters, Brendan and Michelle tried to make some more challenging music, the kids in the crowd were not interested. “Animal Parade” seemed like a perfect — and hopefully accurate — depiction of that genre. The lyrics are about a parade or animals and the sounds they make, but then all of a sudden it was about a dump truck.

“I Refuse” (2018) with Henry Rollins, Krist Novoselic and Brendan Canty

BROWNSTEIN: It was undeniable, the excitement that all of us felt — cast, crew, writers — to be able to put together a group, Riot Spray, consisting of Krist from Nirvana, Brendan from Fugazi, and Henry Rollins from Black Flag and many other things. That was so unique to the world of “Portlandia,” that that could coalesce in the context of a comedy. Fred wrote that song and it was perfect in terms of the era of music we were trying to portray. Fred and I both come from punk and indie bands and certainly lionize that genre as very formative for both of us.  That song and that sketch were about the exploration of, like, how does outrage age? How do we reconcile that with the desire to live comfortably? We believed in this thing when we were young, which was sort of anti-corporate, anti-capitalist, and then eventually we wanted to take care of ourselves and our family and our city and our country, so sometimes that means compromise and being open instead of being closed. And a character like Spyke, who Fred plays, is the last one to kind of deal with those things, so he sees his friends as traitorous.

“She’s Making Jewelry Now” (2015)

ARMISEN: It was a statement we were hearing a lot around then. Carrie wrote it and we did it live a few times, which I really enjoyed.

“Two Bananas” (2014) with Maya Rudolph and Tuck & Patti

BROWNSTEIN: That really encompasses the absurdity of our show that we were always trying to get at. It’s just such a ridiculous idea, lyrically — really shoehorning a metaphor into being workable. This idea that somehow two bananas are akin to a man and a woman, and that is somehow how the romance works and the fire stays lit, is a really tenuous concept. But it’s sung with such sincerity by Maya Rudolph and Tuck & Patti and then Fred and I.

“Going Home” (2014)

ARMISEN: From a sketch called “The Best Part is Going Home.” It’s us going out to see a band and experiencing all the things in a night that make it kind of exhausting —standing in different lines, getting pushed, having to stay for multiple encores. This sweet voice comes in as we start the best part of the night: going home.

“What About Men?” (2016)

BROWNSTEIN: “What About Men?” is a song that keeps coming back into the conversation. It’s a video people will send each other when something comes out in the news that reminds people of the desperate plight of the straight white male. Because of the nature of “Portlandia,” we’re interested in taxonomy, so even with satire, it’s still an explanation of who these characters are and not an indictment of them. Instead of just pointing a finger and saying “That’s ridiculous that you should feel that way,” by pairing it with an anthem, we’re saying, okay, we might not agree with the men’s rights movement, but it’s interesting to explore the reasons behind something and do that in a way that is about trying to gain comprehension and understanding. And when you reach the result of your exploration, you might still be in a place of disagreement, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying to understand people’s motivations.

“Down to the River to Pray” (2014) with k.d lang

ARMISEN: Even though this song being sung by k.d. lang out on a country road is the last scene of season 4, I like to think of it as the last scene of the whole series. My assumption is that people watch the show out of order, and this is such a perfect tone for the ending: an optimistic spiritual sing-along.

More TV

  • Al Burton

    Al Burton, 'Jeffersons' and 'Diff’rent Strokes' Producer, Dies at 91

    Television producer and executive Al Burton, known for his work on “The Jeffersons” and “Diff’rent Strokes,” died Tuesday at his home in San Mateo, California. He was 91. Burton leaves behind a six-decade legacy of hit television shows that also included “One Day at a Time,” “Silver Spoons,” “Square Pegs” and “Facts of Life.” However, long [...]

  • Dwyane Wade Sets Multi-Year Development Deal

    Dwyane Wade Sets Multi-Year Development Deal at WarnerMedia

    Dwayne Wade is bouncing his way into WarnerMedia’s court. The retired NBA All Star has signed a multi-faceted, multi-year deal with the company, including a development deal via his 59th & Prairie Entertainment production banner. Part of the deal sees Wade sign on as a commentator at Turner Sports. He is set to make appearances [...]

  • Katie Couric Sheryl Sandberg

    Katie Couric Steamrolls Sheryl Sandberg in Roving Vanity Fair Summit Interview

    Sending a jolt through a luxurious and excessively polite afternoon in Beverly Hills, veteran journalist Katie Couric delivered a relentless series of hardball questions to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday. Speaking in conversation at the sixth annual Vanity Fair New Establishment summit at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Couric’s [...]

  • EVIL is a psychological mystery that

    CBS Renews 'Evil,' Orders Full Seasons of Four Other Freshman Shows

    CBS is doubling down on all its new shows. The network has renewed “Evil” for a second season, and handed out full-season orders to its other four freshman series, namely “All Rise,” “Carol’s Second Act,” “The Unicorn,” and “Bob Hearts Abishola.” “Evil” is set to conclude its 13-episode first season (creators Michelle and Robert King [...]

  • Jamie Lee Curtis

    Jamie Lee Curtis to Produce Military Drama With Put Pilot Order at Fox

    Jamie Lee Curtis is teaming up with April Fitzsimmons and Berlanti Productions for a drama project that has received a put pilot order at Fox. Titled “Chain of Command,” the one-hour project follows a young Air Force investigator with radical crime-solving methodology who returns to her hometown to join a military task force that doesn’t [...]

  • Michael MannLACMA: Art and Film Gala,

    TV News Roundup: Michael Mann to Direct and Executive Produce HBO Max's 'Tokyo Vice'

    In today’s TV news roundup, HBO Max names MIchael Mann as a director and executive producer of “Tokyo Vice” and Chip and Joanna Gaines announce the first original series coming to the couple’s Magnolia Network. DATES Netflix announced a six-episode docuseries centered on Nasty Cherry, the latest all-female group signed to Charli XCX’s label will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content