After more than 20 years in the spotlight, queer indie pop duo Tegan and Sara Quin are taking a moment to reflect on their humble origins.
High School, the new Amazon Freevee television adaptation of the sisters’ 2019 memoir of the same name (out Friday), follows the lives of teenage Tegan and Sara (played by TikTok stars Railey and Seazynn Gilliland) as they come to grips with their sexualities, learn to live with one another, start their careers and survive the “universally sh–ty” experience of being teenagers, as Tegan told Billboard.
Not only is the show a fascinating look into life as a misunderstood teen in the ’90s; it’s a testament to the pair’s staying power as a musical duo. Their decade-spanning career has seen the Quin sisters take on whatever mantle best suited them in the moment, constantly adapting to the kind of art they were interested in making.
Look no further than the pair’s upcoming tenth studio album Crybaby, due out on Friday, Oct. 21 via Mom + Pop Records. The project blends elements of punk, pop and folk music to create yet another new sonic landscape that feels uniquely suited for Tegan and Sara
With their new show, a new record and years of experience under their belt, it would be only natural that the twins start thinking about their legacy as pioneering performers. Billboard is here to help in that exercise — below, Billboard staff members take a look back at the 15 songs (in no particular order) that best exemplify the breadth of work Tegan and Sara have given their fans since 1999.
At once, one of Tegan and Sara’s most accessible and most inscrutable pop songs. The clipped lyrics tell a story in puzzle pieces without ever zooming out to reveal the whole picture, playing like an emotionally overwhelmed memory and belying Sara’s claim of “My motormouth runs over you.” But the sublimely harmonized and hip-swaying central refrain (“O-ver you, o-ver you“) is positively Motown-worthy, and the song’s centering of piano over guitar — Sara says it was the first song she wrote for the duo without even considering the six-string — points to the synth-heavy direction of the twins’ 2010s. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
Listen to “Alligator” on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.
Chris Walla, best known for his Death Cab For Cutie tenure, produced Tegan and Sara’s 2007 album The Con, but his work on 2009 follow-up Sainthood — and specifically lead single “Hell” — more clearly adopted his brand of tight, muscular indie-rock, and the twins ran with it. “Hell” still rips, its dueling riffs complimenting Tegan and Sara’s quick-trigger declarations, which still inspire raised fists a decade-plus later. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
Listen to “Hell” on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.
“Everything Is AWESOME!!!” (feat. The Lonely Island)
Hailing from The Lego Movie, a flick based on a toy that was 10 times smarter than it needed to be, “Everything is AWESOME!!!” is a thumping techno anthem of positivity and togetherness that earns all three exclamation points. Existing somewhere between the kumbaya earnestness of Barney & Friends and the satiric wit of Devo (Mark Mothersbaugh was, in fact, one of the song’s producers), this early hyperpop classic demonstrated that when it comes to Lego music, tha block is indeed hot. — JOE LYNCH
“Love They Say”
In its purest form, love is a foregone conclusion, a healing force that is reliable because it is natural; Tegan and Sara understand this, and use “Love They Say” to both ponder the power of love, and confirm it through experience. As a pop song, “Love They Say” is just as straightforward and effortlessly gorgeous as its subject; there’s a reason its simple grace made for a perfect first dance song at my wedding. — J. Lipshutz
Listen to “Love They Say” on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.
This haunting track off of 2000’s This Business of Art offers something of a perspective switch; while we’re used to hearing songs about unrequited love from the perspective of the romantically spurned, it’s not often we get to hear such honest musings from the rejector. “My Number,” as with so many other songs in the Tegan and Sara pantheon, excels at taking frank topics and elevating them to a place of artful lyricism, as Tegan and Sara reflect on a relationship that simply wasn’t meant to be. — STEPHEN DAW
Listen to “My Number” on Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube.
“I’ll Be Back Some Day”
It may have been written when Tegan and Sara were in the throes of teenage melodrama, yet “I’ll Be Back Someday” benefits immensely from the historical context of a duo whose had years to polish their talent. Containing all of the laid-bare emotional messaging you’d expect to hear from the perspective of a high schooler, the song’s punk-adjacent production is immaculate, filtered through years of refinement and life experience. — S.D.
Released as the lead single off Love You To Death, the duo’s eighth studio album, “Boyfriend” taps into Tegan and Sara’s synthier sensibilities. A true dance-pop track, “Boyfriend” was in many ways a precursor for a current hit like Dove Cameron’s of the same name, which similarly flips the script on gendered roles in a relationship. While Cameron’s track teases out the drama and secrecy of her desired relationship through a whispered pre-chorus and darker production, Tegan and Sara refuse to hide on their 2016 banger, proudly declaring: “I don’t wanna be your secret anymore.” — LYNDSEY HAVENS
Listen to “Boyfriend” on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.
The title track from the first Tegan and Sara album to hit the Billboard 200 (peaking at No. 34), “The Con” is a strummy, crunching tune that goes down the rabbit role of romantic self-loathing and emotional manipulation. But thanks to the duo’s chaotic tunefulness and urgent delivery, it’s more cathartic than draining. — J. Lynch
Listen to “The Con” on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.
“Back in Your Head”
The keyboard line on “Back in Your Head” smacks of melancholy — ringing out, descending, repeating — and provides structure to a dissolving relationship (“Remember when I was sweet and unexplainable?”). Sometimes romance sours when the mystery evaporates, but “Back In Your Head” endures as a testament to Tegan and Sara’s wry songwriting and ornate arrangements. — J. Lipshutz
No breakup playlist worth its salt is really complete if it doesn’t include “Nineteen.” A fan-favorite track from 2009’s The Con, “Nineteen” paints in broad, melodramatic strokes, romanticizing a forgone relationship with unfiltered anger and sadness. The raw scream-chant of the chorus is practically made to be sung at the top of your lungs in your car, tears streaming down your face after your high school sweetheart told you it was over. — S.D.
Listen to “Nineteen” on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.
“I’m Not Your Hero”
Few things alienate artist from audience like the latter looking to the former to have all the answers to the biggest questions, politically or personally, when they’re really just as scared and confused and unsure as anyone listening. “I’m Not Your Hero” is what comes from that disconnect, with Sara proclaiming on the panicked bridge, “Sometimes it feels like I’m all that they’ve got/ It’s so hard to know I’m not what they want.” It’s not clear if she’s talking about her own romantic history or her status as an LGBTQ icon and role model to so many, but it’s probably equally true and important regardless. — A.U.
Listen to “I’m Not Your Hero” on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.
“Walking With A Ghost”
Hailing from the duo’s commercial (relatively speaking) breakthrough LP So Jealous, “Walking With a Ghost” sees the sibs toss in some Ric Ocasek-styled new wave flavor (check those gently insistent synths and spiky guitar riffs) to their heartfelt, lo-fi soundscape. The result is one of the most modest-yet-irresistible indie-pop tunes of the 2000s – it even spurred The White Stripes to cover something other than a decades-old blues tune. — J. Lynch
Back in 2016, the LGBTQ community in the U.S. was still celebrating a year of marriage equality following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, finally earning the right to express their love just the same as everyone else. Tegan and Sara easily could have released a sweet, sappy wedding song to commemorate the moment, but that would have been inauthentic. Instead, fans got the thrilling “BWU,” a synth-fueled ode to love that also served as an apt political commentary on society’s obsession with the concept of marriage itself. Add onto that the simple fact that the music is some of the best, most sharply produced pop in the band’s history, and “BWU” is an instant standout in the pair’s catalog. — S.D.
Listen to “BWU” on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.
“Where Does The Good Go”
Few opening acoustic riffs are as recognizable, and chilling, as the one that intros “Where Does the Good Go.” Arguably made most famous by its repeated appearance throughout seasons of Grey’s Anatomy (most iconically soundtracking Christina Yang and Meredith Gray’s final scene together), the song has become a sad-girl staple. Tegan and Sara harmonize so sincerely while asking big-picture questions like, “How do you know when to let go?” as if they expect listeners to have the answer. And there lies the beauty in the song; “Where Does the Good Go” works as an unintentional call-and-response, wondering aloud the things that no one can ever really answer. — L.H.
Listen to “Where Does The Good Go” on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.
“Closer,” the lead single of their album Heartthrob, is a synth-pop masterpiece that celebrates the often indescribable feeling of having a crush. It’s earnest and uncomplicated, a bubblegum dance-pop track that somehow still manages to be cool enough to be beloved by radio listeners and hipsters alike. Looking back on it, almost a decade after its release, “Closer” is also quite an emblem of its time. Released in 2012, it was soon featured on two of TV’s hottest shows, Glee and BoJack Horseman, and earned itself the Juno Award for single of the year, Canada’s highest musical honor. — KRISTIN ROBINSON