There are a million examples of fictional bands in popular culture, but a sizeable segment of them just do not get it at all—these are the films, books, and TV shows paid for and paid by people who have obviously never logged any time in a DIY venue or spent a dime on a self-produced 7”, let alone ever tried to make music of their own at some point.
Still, amidst all the bad fictional musicians like Mariah Carey in Glitter, Drive Shaft from Lost, and overly twee scenes like The Shins shoutout in Garden State are some fictional bands whose sounds are, honestly, legit.
Here are 11 of them.
The Ain’t Rights – Green Room (2016)
Signature performance: “Nazi Punks Fuck Off!” (Dead Kennedys cover)
The ultra-credible 80s hardcore revivalists from Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room are exactly the type of punk true believers you’d want by your side when you’re being attacked by murderous Neo-Nazis, particularly ones led by a maximum-intensity Patrick Stewart. Valuable pro-tip from The Ain’t Rights to all broke touring bands out there: skating rink parking lots are a great site for some quick, free gas, just there for the siphoning… just watch out for hockey players.
The Stains – Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains (1982)
Signature performance: “Join the Professionals”
This 1982 movie about a trio of teenage girls that form a punk band called The Stains predates riot grrl by almost a decade, but to watch, you’d swear it was released at least decade later. Even though it was a massive influence on Kathleen Hanna and others key players in the riot grrl movement both music and attitude-wise, L>FS only played to a small handful of theatres and is now out of print. It’s now hard to find a physical copy of Stains, but its girls-to-the-front ethos, not to mention early roles from both Laura Dern and Ray Winstone, makes it worth tracking down.
Sing Street – Sing Street (2016)
Signature performance: “The Riddle of the Model”
The details surrounding the titular band of high schoolers in director John Carey’s ode to his 1980s Dublin adolescence might not ring totally true—for one thing, no band of gangly teens would sound as put-together as the Sing Streeters do right out of the gate—but one thing the film gets right is the massive influence an older sibling can have on an impressionable teen’s musical ambitions. In Sing Street’s case, aspiring pop star Conor Lawlor should just be glad his older brother introduced him to Duran Duran and The Cure, and not, say, Stryper.
The Kelly Affair/The Carrie Nations – Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (1970)
Signature performance: “Look On Up From The Bottom”
The late Russ Meyer might not have been known for creating the most PC, or even marginally realistic, depictions of women in his work, but Beyond The Valley of the Dolls was still something of a win back in 1970—even if most of that’s probably due to Meyer’s co-writer: some young hotshot named Roger Ebert. Valley concerns the story of The Kelly Affair, a rock band who travel to Hollywood to make it big, and just like The Stains, figure out a way at every turn to twist an exploitative system to their advantage. Yeah, there’s also a lot of trademark X-rated Meyer sleaze in there, but still, a film about an all-girl rock band with enough agency to make their own way in Hollywood was a novelty in 1970, and it’s still an inspiration today.
Ho-kago Tea-Time – K-On! (2009)
Signature performance: “K-On Season 1 opening theme”
Sure, they might not be as intimidating as some of the other bands on this list, but the 2009 anime K-On! is a remarkably genuine depiction of making music with your friends in high school, as long as you can tolerate about 1000% more kawaii-ness per second than, say, Control. More fantastical anime scenarios sit alongside episodes about the more down-to-earth struggles of teen rockers Ho-kago Tea Time (aka Afterschool Tea Time), which anyone who’s ever struggled for weeks to pin down an F chord in high school will relate to.
Hard Core Logo – Hard Core Logo (1996)
Signature performance: “Who The Hell Do You Think You Are?”
Among the many strengths of Bruce McDonald’s still-definitive Canadian punk mockumentary Hard Core Logo are the strong performances: Hard Core Logo’s status as an enduring cult classic comes down to Hugh Dillon and Callum Keith Rennie’s intense turns as bandmates Joe Dick and Billy Talent. The production of Logo was something of a ramshackle bus tour in itself, so it’s not surprising the fictional band feels so real, which is also due to Rennie logged time on the bus with Dillon’s band the Headstones to really get into his character’s headspace.
CB4 – CB4 (1993)
Signature performance: “Sweat From My Balls!”
CB4, a 1993 mockumentary starring and written by Chris Rock, chronicles the rise of gangsta rappers MC Gusto, Stab Master Arson, and Dead Mike, who decide the easiest way to make it in hip-hop is to fake some gangster credentials by impersonating a crime lord. Just like… a certain someone, whose name escapes me. Anyway, CB4’s gangster credibility aside, you have to give it up for any group who sticks it to the man (personified in this case by Phil Hartman) by playing their track “Sweat From My Balls” after expressly being forbidden to.
Mystik Spiral – Daria (1997)
Signature performance: “Ow! My Face”
Sure, the music is pretty so-so, and Trent’s lyrics are worse, but that doesn’t make Mystik Spiral any less legit— in fact it makes them even more legit. If you can’t remember / pinpoint your high school’s Mystik Spiral, you probably were in your Mystik Spiral equivalent. Also relevant: Crippled Rejex.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Signature performance: “Midnight Radio”
Surprisingly few music movies about fictional bands get the one simple, unprofitable truth: most people who are driven to make (good) music are true outsiders, well beyond the sexy, Hollywood-approved version of nonconformity seen in most mainstream films. Thankfully, that’s not a problem for Hedwig director and songwriter John Cameron Mitchell, whose conception of Hedwig as a triumphant avatar for all the world’s offbeat misfits to rally behind shines through both the stage and movie version of Angry Inch, and is all the more powerful for it.
The Weird Sisters – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Signature performance: “Do The Hippogriff” at the Yule Ball
In our book—sorry, grimoire—any band who can deliver a wicked Avada Kedavra while kicking out some alt-rock jams, not to mention include Jarvis Cocker and members of Radiohead in the on-screen lineup, is the definition of “legit.” Just think of how much you could keep lighting costs down with some well-timed Lumos spells, too.
Morris Day and the Time – Purple Rain (1984)
Signature performance: “Jungle Love”
Wait a second, these guys were real?