When Schitt’s Creek airs its season finale next week, it will leave behind not a singular legacy, but a collection of indelible marks on pop culture: the inimitable Moira Rose and her singular accent. David and Patrick’s understatedly groundbreaking love story, immortalized on billboards and magazine covers alike. And a pair of wildly different songs that took on a life well beyond the show. One is a heartfelt cover of a classic that became a talisman for Schitt’s Creek’s most beloved relationship. The other is a frenetic, frothy synth-pop creation plucked from the ether that is Alexis Rose’s past.
It’s been just over a year since “A Little Bit Alexis” first entered our collective consciousness, in a season five episode that finds Alexis auditioning for the town’s unforgettable performance of Cabaret. “I have chosen to perform the title track off of my critically-reviewed, limited reality series, A Little Bit Alexis,” she proclaims proudly to a bewildered Moira and Jocelyn. “Feel free to sing along if you know the words!” Though that request is ignored on the show, in the real world, Alexis would find a lot of takers. Ever since the full track was released last year, a gradual snowball effect has taken “A Little Bit Alexis” from a fun character note to a bona fide hit that can be heard in gay clubs nationwide.
Over the past few weeks, as the coronavirus pandemic dramatically transformed daily life across the globe and sent millions of people into lockdown, "A Little Bit Alexis" took yet another new lease on life as a viral TikTok sensation. Dozens of quarantined fans across the world are, probably right at this very moment, trying out Alexis’s deranged dance moves as a means of staving off cabin fever. As Alexis herself would doubtless say: yum!
The appeal of “A Little Bit Alexis” only grows as you discover more about its creation: Murphy herself wrote those ingenious lyrics while enlisting two musicians—her husband, Menno Versteeg, and his former bandmate Nick Boyd—as her collaborators. Below, the full story of how “A Little Bit Alexis” was conceived, created, and shaped into a phenomenon, as told by Murphy, Schitt's Creek co-creator Dan Levy, and the entire musical creative team.
Dan Levy: From the first few days my dad and I spent brainstorming about what the show could be, I had come up with this little detail from Alexis’s past: She had a very short-lived, critically reviewed reality show called A Little Bit Alexis. It’s one of those things you write down as context for the character without knowing whether it’ll make it into the show. Four seasons later, Alexis auditioning for Cabaret felt like the perfect opportunity to hear the title track.
Annie Murphy: We were at the table read and I saw in the script, “Alexis performs ‘A Little Bit Alexis,’” and that’s all it said. I was both inspired by and jealous of Noah Reid in the previous season, when he did his own beautiful rendition of "Simply the Best." So I immediately said to Dan, "I will try to write this," not realizing that I am not a musician and Noah very much is a musician! And somehow Dan agreed to let this happen.
Levy: I like to hand over the torch to the cast and say “run free” with that kind of content creation. With Noah and his cover of "The Best," I had given him the choice of whether to take a stab at it himself or bring someone in. With Annie it was the same approach, and she said, "Please let me take a stab at this."
Murphy: Once I got the green light, of course I was like, "Oh fuck. Okay, resources, resources." So I found my two dear musician people, and told them, "Well, I just got myself into a predicament."
Menno Versteeg: I remember very clearly the moment Annie described it to me, the whole scene and what it needed to be and the backstory of the song. Earlier that same day, I’d been in some chain fashion store and “Work Bitch” by Britney Spears was on. The second she told me, I knew I wanted to rip off the feel of that song. We set out to make a song you want to do spin class to.
Murphy: We went into my friend Nick's studio, and we listened to "Work Bitch" so many times our ears started to bleed, but in the best way. We also listened to “Stars Are Blind” and a bunch of Paris Hilton stuff. And then Nick and Menno got to work on the melody, and I started writing the lyrics, and we all got on a roll.
Nick Boyd: Menno and I were in a band [Hollerado] together for years and years. We were all friends growing up and Annie would sometimes come with us on tour, so we’ve been making music and hanging out together as pals for literally 20 years.
Versteeg: When you're married to someone who's in a band, it's a very specific type of relationship. For the first half of Hollerado’s career, Annie was a struggling actress—she would get the odd commercial or bit part here and there, but she had a lot of time off. So she would often come on tour with the band, and that would involve sometimes coming onstage to sing with us. We ended up writing songs together—she wrote half the lyrics to one of the more well-known Hollerado songs, "Good Day At The Races." All of that backstory factored into what we were able to do with “A Little Bit Alexis.”
Murphy: We knew it had to be funny, and we knew it had to be kind of spoofy, but we all secretly wanted it to be a fucking banger of a song that people would actually put on to pre-drink to and, you know, dance to at the club. [Pauses] I sounded like such a grandmother there. “Dance to at the club”?
Boyd: When Menno and Annie came in, I had already put together a baseline and a groove, and they were feeling it, so we started brainstorming verse ideas. We knew the era when the song was supposed to have been released [the early 2000s], so we asked ourselves, what would Alexis’s younger self have wanted to put out, given the musical trends at that time?
Versteeg: There's something really fun about being able to do trashy garbage pop that's also tongue-in-cheek. It doesn’t need to be subtle in any way, you just throw in every single hook you can think of. Annie wrote all the lyrics, and she’s one of the funniest people on this entire planet, and that really reflected when she started having fun with the lyrics.
Boyd: Annie knows the character so thoroughly, from top to bottom, so it was easy to say whether a lyric was gonna work or not. I think somebody suggested, “I’m a little bit drunk when I drive my car,” and Annie was like, “Well, she wouldn’t say drunk. She would say tipsy.” And that lyric really spring-boarded the process, because the idea behind it is that she is above the law—she can get away with anything and has no sense of her own privilege. That became a theme for us.
Murphy: I think I just blacked out and when I woke up it was written down.
Levy: Everything in the show is considered, so we were never going to use a version of the song that didn’t feel right for the character. What’s so spot on about the lyrics they came up with is they really highlight this stark contrast between who Alexis was and who she is now.
Murphy: My favorite moment, when we were recording, was trying to make that “neigh” as sexy as possible. It’s an intense moment. I remember being like, "I never thought I'd be in the position of sexily whispering 'neigh' into a microphone, but here I am."
Chris Soper: I'd known Annie and Menno and Nick for years—they would do their records at the same studio I worked out of in Brooklyn. Menno approached me after they’d done the writing and recording and asked if I would mix the song. He described this vision for something that sounded like a 2000s Britney Spears dance hit.
Versteeg: There's a term producers use to describe music: a track is “in the box” or “out of the box,” and “the box” means the computer. So an out-of-the-box track would be something like Arcade Fire: all their gear is analogue, every single sound is a real sound that comes from an instrument, in some cases there’s no computer involved until the very end. “A Little Bit Alexis” is entirely the opposite: It’s made completely inside the computer. We didn't use one real instrument. It’s the cheapest, quickest, dirtiest way to get the most bang-for-your-buck sound. You’re not trying to get anything that sounds fresh.
Soper: It’s pretty much an assault from beginning to end.
Murphy: I took it to Dan and nervously waited by my phone. Then I got an “Obsessed with this!” which is the highest form of praise from Dan Levy.
Levy: I was expecting a scratch-track, a basic idea of the song. And they went ahead and fully produced a banger!
Versteeg: I own a record label, and part of that is being able to hear when a song is a genuine, certified banger. The second I got the mix back from Chris, I was like, "If they don't use it, they are literally deaf."
Levy: It really felt like a moment from her past. It couldn’t sound too current, it had to live within the world of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, people who were big in the early 2000s when Alexis would have been shooting this reality show. Annie just ran with it!
Murphy: I think the success is half people liking it and half it getting stuck in your head in such an intense way: “I guess I like this, or I’ll go insane.”
Levy: The cover art was really important. We got to dig in and say, 'okay, what did singles look like back then? What was the font like, what kind of photo would they use?' We had to ask Annie if she had sexy photos from her past, which fortunately she did! We worked with the CBC on it—Calum [Shanlin], who does social media for the Schitt’s Creek account, created [it].
Boyd: There was a moment, on the soundtrack chart, where it was neck and neck with a bunch of the songs from A Star Is Born. I think it was number four, and the top three were all from A Star Is Born. That was a real “holy shit” moment. To be clear, it was there for maybe a week, but still!
Versteeg: A portion of the proceeds are getting donated to this really great Canadian organization called MusiCounts. It's an organization that provides instruments and resources in schools that otherwise couldn't afford music programs.
Levy: "A Little Bit Alexis" didn’t have the same overnight instant success that Noah’s "Simply The Best" had. It was a smaller detail in an episode, it wasn’t the climax of a storyline in the way Noah’s was, so you didn’t necessarily have the same rush of people desperately needing to find the song. The scene is 60 seconds long, and yet slowly but surely, the song has made its way onto people's iTunes playlists and Spotify playlists and it's been played in gay nightclubs across the world!
Murphy: I was in New York in December, and I was meeting a friend at a drag bar and had arrived early. One of the queens came up to me and said, "Just so you know, I'm about to do a DJ set where I play "A Little Bit Alexis," and it goes into "Work Bitch," so if that’s gonna be uncomfortable for you…” I was like, "I’m obviously staying for this!" The whole fucking bar was singing, like word for word, and dancing. And it was at that moment that my friend arrived. I had to be like, "I swear to God, I have not paid these people off. This is just a really fucking weird thing that's happening to me right now."
Dan: It’s always great when once in a while, somebody tweets footage from the inside of a very dark, steamy gay bar, and all you hear is “A Little Bit Alexis” thumping over the sound system. I've had situations with both Annie and Noah’s songs where I've been driving my car and I hear the song, and I look over and it's the person in the car beside me, listening to it in their car on full blast! That's been completely surreal and amazing.
Annie: I mean, I just performed with Kelly Clarkson on Kelly Clarkson's talk show. In my wildest version of this, I never would have imagined that that would be happening. I knew I was going to be on her show, but I got a call about two days before from the producer asking, “Kelly was wondering if you'd consider performing 'A Little Bit Alexis' as a duet with her?” I was like “I’m sorry, did you just ask me if I would consider performing, with Kelly Clarkson, a song that I wrote?” It’s run away from me in the best way possible.
Dan: The song is ultimately a testament to Annie and her creativity and ingenuity as a performer, that she contributed in this way to the show, but also honestly to pop culture as a whole. We will all be listening to this song for years to come.
Emma Dibdin Contributor Emma Dibdin writes about television, movies, and podcasts, with coverage including opinion essays, news posts, episodic reviews and in-depth interviews with creatives.