The first season of Downton Abbey introduces us to Mary, the beautiful eldest daughter of the Crawley clan who is to inherit everything! Um, as long as she marries her cousin. Being a team player, she agrees to the arrangement, but then the Titanic sinks and, with it, the hopes of a comfortable life in the family home forever and ever. Everyone gets depressed and we all know the best remedy for depression is match-making! Since OkCupid was still in development in the early 1900s, her family assembled a list of men for her to try out. Mary was not amused. Shania can fill you in on the rest.
Robyn: "Call Your Girlfriend"
By Season 2, Mary is in love with a different, non-dead cousin, who happens to be the new heir (convenient!). Problem is he has a new gal pal. Lavinia is everything Mary isn't: normal, level-headed, a ginger. Being the alpha female brat that she is, Mary spends the entire season pouting and pretending not to want to rip Lavinia's throat out. Despite everything going on around her at the time (World War I! Paralysis! Getting engaged to a Disney villain!), Mary stays on message: dump your lame girlfriend already. Take it away, Robyn!
Ronette's: "Chapel of Love"
As a consequence of hogging the spotlight in previous seasons, Mary doesn't have much going on this year, other than getting married at long last! Huzzah for love and putting a ring on it and being a nicer, more compassionate person! Oh, wait:
At the death bed of their sister
Edith: Oh, Mary. Do you think we might get along a little better in the future?
Mary: Doubt it.
Lykke Li: "Sadness is a Blessing"
Meet Edith Crawley, the patron saint of oppressed misunderstood Jan Bradys everywhere. Her parents pity her, her sisters think she's annoying, and boys don't think about her at all. So what anthem sums up poor Edith? Most songs by the Smiths or the Cure would do, but it's a couplet from Lykke Li's "Sadness is a Blessing" that really gets to the root of our favorite spinster-in-training: "Sadness is my boyfriend. Oh, sadness, I'm your girl."
Bonnie Raitt: "I Can't Make You Love Me"
World War I livens up poor Edith's sad existence. Downton Abbey becomes a convalescent home for wounded soldiers and she likes to hang out with them (their injuries hinder them from finding someone more interesting to talk to and Edith likes this). She also likes a disfigured burn victim who claims to be the dead Titanic cousin! She reads to him and he throws temper tantrums and breaks stuff for attention, which leads to hints of romance. But, like everything in Edith's life, things don't work out and he runs away. Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" captures the sadness that comes with never getting what you want and being dissed by someone who doesn't even have a face.
The Carpenters: "Goodbye to Love"
After a few strike-outs, Edith finally finds happiness in an older disabled veteran and starts saying stuff like: "Something happening in this house is actually about me!" It doesn't take long for that Gypsy curse to stick it to poor Edith once again; this time, her fiance breaks up with her AT THE ALTAR! If this was Mary, she would have cut all her hair off and then thrown herself on some train tracks, but not Edith. This girl knows what defeat feels like and it feels like home. Who better to explain that feeling than the saddest singer ever, Karen Carpenter? Edith could have written "Goodbye to Love" herself, a song about giving up on love and moving onto more productive pursuits. "So I've made my mind up, I must live my life alone and, though it's not the easy way, I guess I've always known." Who needs men, when you can start writing a feminist newspaper column?
Joan Jett: "Bad Reputation"
Speaking of feminism, Sybil is the resident troublemaker of the bunch. She wants to vote. She wants to learn how to cook. She treats the servants like human beings. And the coup de grace, she loves a good pair of harem pants and isn't afraid to show it. Her family is outraged by her whole women-can-do-things-too attitude and they warn her about what people might think or say about her. Sybil's response can be best expressed through the vocal stylings of Miss Joan Jett.
Madonna: "Papa Don't Preach"
By Season 2, Sybil is a nurse, changing lives for the better while wearing a super stylish head wrap. In her free time, she almost kisses the Irish chauffeur a bunch, like that "Kiss the Girl" rowboat scene from The Little Mermaid on repeat. They eventually get around to tongue wrestling, which leads to taking off into the night, family feuds, wedding bells and getting knocked up. Throughout this whole process, her father huffs and puffs, threatens to disown her, and is generally a snob and a half. Good-natured Sybil pleads for some understanding and acceptance without much luck. Madonna feels her pain generations later.
Elton John: "Candle in the Wind"
Oh, god. No. It can't be! Some rare disease called eclampsia killed the most sympathetic and fashionable Crawley! Pregnancy is the worst. So is the doctor who advised not to treat her symptoms. I would write more, but I'm too busy ugly crying and beating my chest so I'll let Elton speak for me.
The Dowager Countess is the Sun and everyone else is Pluto (i.e. they don't even count). Armed with the finest lopsided hats and the most barbed tongue in the land, she runs everything and she's not afraid to let you know. Also, she's not available to hang out with you this weekend cause she doesn't even know what that is. Unlike the other Downton characters, Violet doesn't change from season to season. Birth, death, war, social upheaval, and prostitutes working as maids all have come to pass over three years of Downton, yet nothing can shake the diva off this brick house of a sister who is doin' it for herself. Let's all be more like Violet starting right now.
Commodores: "Brick House"
Eurythmics & Aretha Franklin: "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves"