The Many Musical Elements of “Grey’s Anatomy”

“Grey’s Anatomy” is a medical drama television series that has been running for 17 seasons now, and has made a pretty significant impact on American pop culture. Something I’ve found intriguing about the show is just how much of it is centered around music. For a medical drama, there are many elements of the show that relate to music, almost an uncanny amount.


Season 7 Episode 18 “Song Beneath the Song,” also known as the musical episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” is one of the most unequivocally beloved and hated episodes of the series. The episode contains tracks sung by the cast members ranging from the often-featured “How to Save a Life” by The Fray to “Breathe (2 AM)” by Anna Nalick. Without offering a full-fledged analysis of the episode, I will say that perhaps an episode where a character is on the brink of death is not the best timing for an episode with nine musical numbers. 


Every single episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” (save for one) is named after a song. The first episode is named “A Hard Day’s Night” after the Beatles track and the most recent is named “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” after the Elton John track. The only exception is Season 14 Episode 9, titled “1-800-799-7233”  after the domestic abuse hotline in the United States. They did this because of the topic being addressed in a plotline dealt with by one of the main characters. 

Much to my delight, a Spotify user by the name of courtneymg1996 did the brunt work of making a playlist that contains (almost) all of the songs used in “Grey’s Anatomy” episode titles.


There are a few songs that represent certain motifs within the show’s plot, the two most notable being “How to Save a Life” by The Fray and “Portions For Foxes” by Rilo Kiley. 

“How to Save a Life” plays during the tragic moments on “Grey’s Anatomy”; if that track or “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol starts playing during an episode, you know you’re in for trouble. The episode named after “How to Save a Life” is the episode where Derek Shepherd, the title character’s husband (portrayed by Patrick Dempsey), meets his tragic ending.

As I’ve written about twice previously, “Portions For Foxes” by Rilo Kiley plays in the very first episode of the series, and is often used when the characters reminisce about their early years as interns at the hospital or for flashbacks to that time.


In a 2009 article in The Guardian, Mark Lawson credits “Grey’s Anatomy” for its popularization of the “songtage.” Lawson defines the “songtage” (a portmanteau of song and montage) as “the choice of an evocative tune to echo the emotions of the characters during a slow, silent section featuring the actors looking thoughtful or mournful.” The series is infamous for this type of scene, and it has been spoofed many times throughout the years by MADtv and others.

In my opinion, the tight and intertwined relationship that “Grey’s Anatomy” has with music is one of the main contributors to its success and sets it apart from similar medical procedural series’.

By Caitlin

Howdy, I'm Caitlin and I'm a senior in Communication Media. My favorite genres of music are pop and indie-rock, though I dabble in most genres. Hope you enjoy my content!