As I type this, I’m sitting on a bed in Brooklyn using an IKEA velvet throw pillow as a lap desk and sipping an iced coffee, like any good millennial would do. Unlike most of my peers, however, I’ve been swirling around this article for months, watching and rewatching and researching and stewing — Julia Child’s boeuf Bourguignon level stewing — over how I can possibly start. It’s not because I lack the inspiration. It's not because the material is scarce. It’s because I cannot fathom how, with only the will and fortitude of a mere mortal, I am supposed to find a way to analyze, explore, celebrate, even simply outline the greatest gift we’ve been given in modern civilization since the advent of electricity: Meryl Streep’s singing voice.
But as I lay here now, it strikes me that Meryl Streep singing isn’t something to be rationalized nor unpacked. It’s there, simply, to behold, like the Mona Lisa or Patti LuPone’s bong lockers or the Sex and the City 2 movie. So, like the gay, millennial, Brooklynite version of Carrie Bradshaw, here I sit, in front of my laptop. And I couldn’t help but wonder: if Meryl Streep is willing to sing for us, who are we to continue to go about our lives without singing her praises every opportunity we get?
(Note: an asterisk denotes a movie wherein Meryl Streep sings, but one that is decidedly not a musical.)
The Deer Hunter (1978)*
This isn't an obvious first entry for many reasons, but I'm not writing this to be obvious. I'm writing this to help the 14-year-old who just happened to see the end of Mamma Mia! on Showtime after her step-brother made her watch Iron Man 2, and felt immediately, cosmically compelled to Google "Meryl Streep singing," and who cannot afford, mental-health-wise, to miss even a single note.
This is just the beginning of her musical career, and I like to think she knew exactly what she was doing. She had to start out with something simple, something everyone knew: a patriotic tune, a gift for her country! She kept it toned down. She didn't want to alarm us or get us too excited, for she knew it'd take years for her to grow into her full power, for her to climb the ranks of the Actress Brigade to reach her eventual peak as Commander-In-Chief.
And we were willing to wait for it.
Alice At The Palace (1982)
In this TV movie, Meryl plays Alice in yet another adaptation of the classic Alice In Wonderland story, so if you ever thought to yourself, "What's something I wish I had seen as a young queer child that would've made me feel truly at home in my skin?" I think the answer might be: This.
Admittedly, I downloaded the songs featured in this pseudo-musical from Limewire straight onto my Zune when I was 15, because back in the day, if we suddenly became (rightfully) obsessed with an actress, that was the only recourse for discovering their potential singing abilities. And discover, I did, but mercifully forgot about this cursed show until today.
Let's go through this together now.
Full disclosure, this is a movie I haven't seen and have literally never heard anyone talk about in my life, but that doesn't mean it's not worth including. In fact, if I were going off this clip alone and I hadn't Googled "what is ironweed," I'd be unable to be convinced that this movie isn't a campy backstage musical about a down-on-her-luck street vendor with a golden voice who woos the whole of New York not with her talent, but with her charm. Turns out, it's about the Great Depression. Whoops.
Postcards From The Edge (1990)*
Meryl Streep playing a lightly fictionalized version of Carrie Fisher in this adaptation of Fisher's novel opposite Shirley MacLaine as kind-of-Debbie-Reynolds in one of the most transcendent pieces of art to ever come out of Hollywood. And while it's not a musical proper, there are two distinct and iconic scenes wherein Meryl-as-Carrie is coaxed into performing by her Momma Rose adjacent mother, for which I, personally, am grateful.
Death Becomes Her (1992)*
If I, leading Meryl Streep singing expert of the tri-state area, had to pinpoint the exact moment at which everyone around Meryl Streep suddenly really SAW her ability, it would be Death Becomes Her. Now, everyone knows she's the greatest actresses who has ever lived AND that, relatedly, she is a master of camp. And what complements camp more than a show-within-a-show? A musical number within a show-within-a-show!
A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
We've reached another turning point, as this is the first bonafide musical of Meryl's career. From this point on, it's smooth sailing for us, the unworthy but desperate audience. The Prarie-Home-Companion to Dee-Dee-Allen pipeline is clear. She's entered a new phase of ultimate power. She's not just Commander-In-Chief of the Actresses. She's the brains behind this whole operation. She's the witch. We're the world.
While this movie isn't one of her most popular, there's lots to mine in the radio-play-brought-to-life, not least of which is that she's simultaneously playing the mother of Lindsay Lohan and the sister of Lily Tomlin.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
What can I say about Mamma Mia!? The definitive artwork of the century. The movie that invented overalls. The greatest celebration of female friendships, mothers, daughters, girl-bands, and goathouses that could ever exist. The highest grossing movie made by a woman until Wonder Woman was released. My favorite movie, despite having a degree in film from a real, non-fictional university. The sun. The moon. The stars. THEE musical.
Is Meryl-Streep-as-Donna-Sheridan the hero we deserve? Yes. But is she the one we need right now? Also yes obviously.
Into The Woods (2014)
We've now entered the Golden Age of Meryl's musical career. It was here she moved from "movies with music" into "full-blown musicals" as a choice. Up until now, her appearances and slay-age in Mamma Mia! seemed like just a fluke. Surely, Meryl Streep, the greatest and most decorated actress of our lifetimes, would return to the high drama and quiet heartbreak that made her career, and stray from the big dance numbers and blessed belting that made our collective 2008 worth living. But she didn't, reader. My very own Witch's Lament to Meryl — "stay with me, the world is dark and wild"— actually WORKED.
The result? Two full hours of Meryl Streep rapping about beans.
Ricki and the Flash (2015)
I know it's probably hard to tell which of these movies has changed my life the most profoundly just by reading this list, as with each new entry I only seem to become more and more unhinged by my deep and abiding love for Meryl Streep. But I can promise you, there is no other film on this planet quite like Ricki and the Flash.
The following is a list of things that are sure to plunge you headfirst into love with Ricki Randazzo and Co:
- insight into the heartbreakingly small moments that can change families forever
- the darkly comic and razor sharp stylings of (Oscar winner and Tony nominee!) Diablo Cody
- Ben Platt as an overly-enthusiastic bartender at a small-town dive
- Meryl Streep singing Pink
- Audra McDonald (ever heard of her?)
- Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep's IRL daughter, playing Meryl Streep's onscreen daughter
- Meryl Streep singing Lady Gaga
I could continue the list until the end of time, but if I haven't convinced you by now, there's no saving you. Or perhaps, more accurately, there's no saving me. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to listen to my favorite and most-played band on Spotify: Ricki and the Flash!
Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
The only thing better than Meryl Streep singing well, it turns out, is Meryl Streep singing poorly. And despite this having become one of Meryl's semi-lost works (no one talks about this movie, like ever), it still earned her a Best Actress nomination at that year's Oscars, because even when she's playing the worst of something, she's still the best.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
I've been dreading this entry for many reasons. The first being the fact that there's really only one song clip I can show you, and it's the saddest song in the movie. The second, and more pressing, is that I did not like this movie. I'm sorry, world. I knew I was asking for too much to expect even one one-hundredth of the joy, charm, and sheer bliss of Mamma Mia! from its sequel. But if I wanted to watch a bunch of teenagers running around falling in love with occasional interludes of 60-year-olds being wacky and 1000% more interesting, I'd just go back to high school and continue to care mainly about the teachers.
Furthermore, as a story about mothers and daughters at its core, I was inconsolable when I realized that, even as Donna's mother Cher is now in the picture, every possible scene that could feature a poignant mother-daughter pairing was rendered impossible with Donna out of the picture. They did keep our dear Donna in overalls though, and for that, I am grateful.
But all of these are my problems, dear reader, not yours! And as such, you have permission to enjoy this romp as much as you'd like. Just not more than you enjoy Mamma Mia! That's functionally illegal.
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
If you had the opportunity to rewind time and watch a portion of your life, onscreen, like a mini-documentary of your very best moment, which would you choose? Your graduation? The moment you knew you fell in love? The day you landed your dream job?
I'd choose the 4 minutes and 20 seconds I sat in a movie theatre in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania watching Meryl Streep as a character named Topsy in the new Mary Poppins sequel singing a song in a vaguely Russian (and absolutely inexplicable) accent called "Turning Turtle."
There is nothing about this performance that doesn't do it for me. Every move she makes fills me with the type of pure, uncompromised joy I can only imagine people feel when they're skydiving or, perhaps, winning an Oscar. It is off-the-charts Wactress™ behavior on every level. Frankly, it made me feel grateful to be alive to bear witness. And if turning turtle is wrong, I don't want to ever be right again.
The Prom (2020)
I'd promised myself I would avoid typing these words, but after that long gay's journey into Streep, it feels like I need to balance out the energy of the universe by saying: started from the bottom, now we HERE.
I was as disappointed as the next theater kid when I learned that the Broadway cast of The Prom wouldn't be reprising their roles in Ryan Murphy's film adaptation, but when I learned we were about to get to just watch Meryl Streep play DeeDee Allen on our TVs whenever we wanted, I forgot how to have any emotion other than "jfds#@&*($&*JFDFHJK!!!"
The TL;DR of The Prom movie is simply: it is about Dee Dee Allen. There are some wonderful performances all around, lots of moments of glee (pun intended but immediately regretted), and nothing but reminders of why art matters and can be life-changing. That said, this is Meryl Streep's movie. She is an actress playing an actress, the lesbian holy grail, and not only that: she's a musical theatre actress playing a musical theatre diva. The impossible dream! I dreamed it!!!!!
Despite having been watching this woman perform for all 28 years of my life, the moment she did a high kick on a stage in front of a room of disgruntled PTA parents and bored small-town high schoolers was the moment I finally SAW it. The most nominated actor of our time and the person thanked more often in acceptance speeches than God, Meryl Streep, being a girl after all, just wants to have fun.
Lucky for us, the thing she seems to have the most fun doing is belting and growling and glaring and WEARING outfits and giggling and harmonizing and, when we least expect it, talk-singing an otherwise melody-driven lyric that makes the or mean more than it did before, if you know what I mean.
Everybody say "thank you, Meryl Streep." Now say it again. If we say it a third time, all together, perhaps she'll materialize and we can finally convince her to do that Gypsy movie co-starring Lady Gaga as Louise, which will finally be the thing that breaks me. In the meantime: thank you, thank you, thank you for the music!