Since bursting onto Aussie screens in 1998 via the descriptively titled debut ‘Cartman Gets an Anal Probe’, South Park has consistently brought the funny to our lives with its filthy yet sneakily whipsmart satire. For twenty-three seasons Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s animated sitcom about four young boys growing up in small-town Colorado has found new ways to make us all laugh our asses off, in real life, via a mixture of lampoon lunacy, absurdist explorations, carnivalesque chaos, poop jokes and well…whatever Woodland Critter Christmas is meant to be! Like all good artistic pop-cultural phenomenons, South Park has courted more than a little bit of controversy, often by design, but sometimes simply by being the only show batshit insane enough to show us the worst version of ourselves and those we idolize. Especially our celebrities.
A show that reacts quicker than most, thanks to an innovative production process that allows episodes to be made on a six-day turnaround, South Park holds a series of funhouse mirrors up to our society, offering us all a skewered look at who and what we value most; with a generous side helping of scatological humour, of course.
Here at Music Feeds what we tend to value most is music, so in celebration of season 24 of South Park hitting screens next week, and in light of SBS parting ways with the show after 23 years, we’ve made a chronological list of South Park’s most memorable music moments, with sendups of everyone from KORN to Metallica to Jonas Brothers to Alan Jackson, to Lorde and of course Kanye West. Some are a bit blue, but you knew that going in, so to paraphrase the show’s opening credit disclaimer, all characters and events in this article – even those based on real people – are entirely fictional…the following article contains coarse language and due to its content it should be read by everyone.
Barbara Streisand AND Robert Smith
Season 1, Episode 12
South Park came out hot in season one with a dynamite duo absolutely no-one saw coming as Mecha-Streisand faced off with Robert Smith. “What! What! What?” We hear you say. Allow us to explain. When the boys go on an archaeological field trip with Mr Garrison, Cartman digs up an ancient triangle. Barbara Streisand finds out, kidnaps the boys and obtains the triangle from them by torturing them with song. Barbara then uses the triangle to complete something called the ‘Diamond of Pantheos’ and transforms into Mecha-Streisand, a giant robot version of herself that wants to destroy the world. All hope appears lost for the world before a giant robot version of The Cure’s Robert Smith (voiced by actual Robert Smith!) arrives to save the day. It’s one of the oddest musical moments on this list, but for some reason, it holds the hell up, even today. Beware though, Mecha-Streisand may well live to strike again…twice in season 14.
Joe Strummer, Elton John, Rancid, Ozzy Osbourne, Primus, Ween, Meat Loaf, Rick James, Devo and DMX (who ALL play themselves!)
Season 2, Episode 14
South Park went all-out with the musical madness with this one. When Chef discovers that Alanis Morisette has a new hit single called ‘Stinky Britches’ that he actually wrote, 20 years ago, he tries to claim his credits from ‘Capitalist Records’ but in a moment of true corporate music business bigwig villainy, ‘Capitalist Records’ sues Chef and thanks to Johnny Cochran and ‘the Chewbaca defence’ they win the case, resulting in Chef needing 2 million dollars to stay out of jail. The boys discover Chef is friends with heaps of rockstars, resulting in them selling them chocolate bars to raise funds for Chef’s bail. When they fail to raise enough, they change tact and with the help of Elton John, they arrange a benefit concert called ‘Chef-Aid’ featuring *take a deep breath* Elton John, Rancid (who let South Park use ‘California Sun’), Rick James, Primus (writers of the South Park theme song), Joe Strummer, Ozzy Osbourne, Devo and Ween. The on-stage banter from the musicians is hilarious, the avatars are perfect and this episode gets a bonus fist-bump for leading to the star-studded Chef-Aid compilation CD, which gave us triple j hottest 100 1998 #19 entry ‘Bubblegoose’! It also gave us the hilarious idea of Meat Loaf originally being called CousCous. Genius.
Season 3, Episode 10
In 1999 few things were bigger with the young adult demographic than Korn and South Park, so when South Park themed this Halloween episode around Korn coming to South Park to play a concert called ‘Halloween Haunt’ it was destined to be a cult hit. In the episode, Korn voice themselves, taking on the role of a Scooby-Doo type gang investigating spooky Pirate Ghosts who have been terrorizing the town to try and stop the concert. A few bits of dialogue don’t pass the 2020 test, but everything involving Korn is fantastic, with South Park nailing both the Scooby-Doo satire and the Korn sendup. There are some clever references to the witch hunt-style attempts by Christian churches and politicians to blame heavy music for violence, a so lame it’ll make you LOL IRL site gag involving Korn turning into different types of, well corn, and some stellar Jonathan Davis quotes. The fact they close out the episode with a banging rendition of ‘Falling Away From Me’ just puts the butter on the popcorn for us. Don’t overthink this one, just have fun.
Metallica + Britney Spears, Master P, Ozzy Osbourne, Missy Elliott, Blink 182, Alanis Morisette, Meat Loaf, Rancid
Season 7, Episode 9
You had to know that South Park would come for the music industry’s response to the Napster lawsuit eventually, and in season seven in 2003, they did so, mercilessly with ‘Christian Rock Hard’.
After the boy’s garage band Moop have a falling out about musical direction, Cartman quits and bets them that he can score a platinum record with a Christian rock band, before Moop can get one as Moop. Seeking inspiration for Moop’s sound, Stan, Kenny and Kyle download some music on Napster and are immediately busted by the FBI. Cue a hilarious sequence where the FBI agent explains the drastic consequences of music piracy, showing Lars Ulrich, Britney Spears, Master P and more having to downgrade their lavish lifestyles in minuscule ways with hilarious effect. The boys are horrified though and go on strike from playing, earning the attention of Metallica, Britney Spears, Master P, Missy Elliot, Ozzy Osbourne, Meat Loaf, Blink-182, Alanis Morisette and Rancid who join their strike, refusing to play until illegal downloading stops forever. You can probably guess how that goes for them.
The impersonations of Lars Ulrich and co. here are bang on and worth watching the episode for alone, but the true hero of this episode is Cartman’s Christian rock satire group Faith + 1 who deliver some genuinely brilliant Christian rock parodies and a solid U2 ‘Joshua Tree’ joke, while making a very accurate point about the amount of ‘fake’, or at least disingenuous, bands and suspect sales practices that populate that side of the industry. This episode delivers the laughs, but it also makes several points that hold up today, on both sides of the argument, and anyone who has been privy to the rise of Hillsong, knows that Faith + 1, isn’t far off the mark.
Season 6, Episode 12
Part of the charm of South Park is the hyper specificity of the references they’ll make to serve a point. One of the best examples of this is the very targeted shot at country superstar Alan Jackson’s megahit ‘Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)’ in season six episode ‘A Ladder to Heaven’. Matt Stone thought that Jackson was “cashing in on the sentimentality of 9/11” by releasing the song, so he did what he usually does when he feels strongly about something and went all-out to lampoon it. So when the boys decide to build a ladder to heaven, so that they can see the recently deceased Kenny and it captures the town and then the world’s attention and input, Alan Jackson turns up to cash in on the moment with not one, but a collection of songs detailing every new development in the construction process. As viewers, we are treated to classics such as ‘Where Were You (When They Built The Ladder To Heaven)’, ‘Where Were You (When They Ran Out of Stuff To Build The Ladder To Heaven)’, ‘Where Were You (When They Saved That Ladder to Heaven)’ and ‘Where Were You (When They Decided Heaven Was A More Intangible Idea and You Couldn’t Really Get there)’. It’s an absolutely savage turn from South Park that angered a lot of country music fans at the time, but it’s also absolutely hilarious. The episode itself has a lot of layers to unpack, but it is the Alan Jackson takedown that you remember.
Season 11, Episode 9
South Park is often at its best when it takes the most serious and protected of celebrities and places them in ridiculous scenarios for comedic impact. It’s hard to think of a celebrity who takes themselves more seriously than Bono, so in season 11 episode ‘More Crap’ they take aim at Bono for “seeming like a piece of crap”, by placing him in an ego-fueled battle with Randy Marsh as they both try to set the record for the ‘biggest crap ever taken’. Based on the excellent documentary ‘The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters’, ‘More Crap’ sees Bono go to painstaking efforts to avoid being ‘number two’, using his money and status to create loopholes that allow him to play by different rules to Randy. As he gets continuously desperate, his antics become increasingly deranged and bring the focus to what South Park’s creators see as his inherently hypocritical nature. It’s a surprisingly salient point, made during an episode that is literally full of shit. It’s ridiculous and ridiculously funny at the same time and the depiction of Bono, is, in my opinion, bang on the money. Consider this episode came out 7 years before the whole ‘Songs of Innocence’ scandal happened and this poop-joke-a-thon seems quite prophetic!
Season 13, Episode 1
Some of South Park’s most memorable episodes focus on the absurdity of the dogmatic traditions of many organised religions. From their infamous takedown of Scientology to their relentless attacks on the Catholic church and, of course, their multiple takes on the Mormon faith they grew up surrounded by, (that they ended up turning into the basis for their broadway hit The Book of Mormon). So when they decided to take aim at the modern evangelical Christian tradition of wearing a purity ring AND that cult-like icon of American capitalism; Disney, via a portrayal of the Jonas Brothers and a fascist Mickey Mouse, hilarity predictably ensues. Based on the rollout of the then-current Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, the episode shows the Jonas Brothers being quite obviously manipulated and used by Mickey Mouse and Disney to sell the idea of sex to young, Christian girls, using their wearing of ‘purity rings’ to disguise the morally corrupt intentions of Disney. It’s pretty deep stuff and despite featuring the Jonas Brothers and their songs, quite heavily, this isn’t an instance of South Park tearing down a musical act, they are actually pretty kind to the Jonas Brothers here, presenting them as innocent pawns in an evil scheme by Disney. It’s an incredibly clever and utterly hilarious episode and one of the kinder depictions of musical celebrity in the South Park pantheon.
Season 13, Episode 5
With a personality and celebrity status as bold as Kanye West’s, it was inevitable South Park would take aim eventually and in season 13 episode ‘Fishsticks’ they did so in the most unusual and yet unrelenting way. An attack on Kanye’s mammoth ego, the episode is based around a joke made by the boy’s friend Jimmy, which gets stolen by accused plagiarist comedian Carlos Mencia and performed on Conan O’Brien’s show and goes viral. Seemingly everyone in the world loves the joke, except for Kanye West, who doesn’t get it. Believing himself to be a genius, he refuses to admit that he doesn’t get it and goes on an increasingly deranged journey to try and find understanding, ultimately failing in his mission and instead of admitting as such, going all-in on his misunderstanding and adopting a new lifestyle as an actual ‘gay fish’. It’s a silly concept that serves up so many laughs while making a solid point about the poison of an inflated ego. The caricature of Kanye here seems to get more accurate and relevant by the day, and the show-closing song ‘Gay Fish’ a parody of Kanye jam ‘Heartless’ is as absurdly funny as the best Weird Al songs. You know it made an impact on Kanye too because he’s referenced it in song, twice, on ‘Gorgeous’ and ‘Made in America’. Maybe he did get it, after all?
Lorde (played by Sia!)
Season 18, Episode 3
After first appearing at a child’s birthday party in episode two of Season 18, ‘Gluten Free Ebola’, Lorde (who is secretly Randy Marsh but is actually voiced in song by Sia) makes a return as a b-plot in episode three ‘The Cissy’ an episode focussed on issues surrounding community attitudes towards transgender people and gender identity, more broadly. Partly intended as a tongue-in-cheek response to a scathing hot-take on Lorde’s depiction in ‘Gluten Free Ebola’, Randy’s presentation as Lorde actually plays a pretty progressive role in the story, with Randy’s wife Sharon encouraging Randy to continue to identify as Lorde if that’s the identity that feels most true. Elsewhere the episode seems refreshingly trans positive, with the villains in the episode being those with unaccepting and problematic views, and the prevailing community attitudes being transpositive. The episode ends up making some pretty important points about the need for gender-neutral bathrooms, but the reason for its inclusion in this list is primarily because the Lorde characterisation is so funny it even got the stamp of approval from Lorde. Featuring a wonderful Lorde parody ‘Push (Feeling Good On A Wednesday)’ that is performed by Sia of all people, this is one of the more bizarre but ultimately lovable musical representations. I am Lorde, Ya, Ya, Ya!’
Killer Mike (Run the Jewels)
Season 21, Episode 5
From Kanye to Diddy, to the Notorious BIG, Master P and Missy Elliott, South Park has had its way with quite a few of hip-hop’s biggest stars. Featuring them in quite prominent roles with varying levels of kindness or venom. In season 21 episode ‘Hummels and Heroin’, Killer Mike makes the rarest of South Park cameos, in that he doesn’t actually appear on-screen at all, but rather wrote an original song ‘They Got Me Locked Up In Here’, focussed the reality of life in a badly run nursing home. The song’s verses are fire by themselves, but when they’re put to a video montage of the soul-crushing banality of nursing home life, which is compared to a prison, they take on a genuinely moving connotation. Inspired by Killer Mike’s outspoken anti-prison system stance, that it also appears on an episode with another plot that focuses on the opioid crisis (another frequent Killer Mike issue) is a perfect piece of symmetry. Unlike the other entries on this list, this inclusion seems to be a display of open appreciation of Killer Mike’s talents and messaging from the South Park creators, so seemed a nice place to end this list.
If you enjoyed these, there’s plenty more where they came from, with other notable episodes featuring the likes of Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion, Notorious BIG, Radiohead, Phil Collins, Diddy, Brad Paisley, Enrique Inglesias, Jennifer Lopez, Jimmy Buffet, Kid Rock, Phillip Glass, Stevie Nicks, Will Smith, Wing, Taylor Swift and more that we’ve chosen to omit for a variety of reasons. Oh and the show’s original music is fucking fantastic, but that’s a whole other article…waiting to happen.