Law & Order

The Best Real-Life Music Subplots of ‘Law & Order’

Maura Johnston

By Maura Johnston

on 10.02.14 in Features

Last night’s episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit opened with a story familiar to anyone following the music tabloids this spring — a woman attacking a powerful male entertainer in an elevator, with security cameras catching the event as it happened and the paparazzi chronicling the aftermath. In the episode, titled “A Public Scandal,” the fight is between a beloved basketball player and an athletic wear company’s female employee, (the plot also dramatized the controversies surrounding ousted Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling), but the two were clearly based on Jay-Z and Solange, who famously scrapped in a New York hotel elevator this past May.

It’s hardly the first time the Law & Order universe has taken inspiration from pop’s back pages. We compiled a list of the most memorable plot lines stolen from the real-life travails of musicians.

David Lee Roth’s Wild Side and Mike Tyson’s Rape Case

The basic plot of this early-’90s episode, in which a coed accuses the hard rocker C Square (think the outlandish behavior of David Lee Roth, but minus all the joy) of rape, was inspired by Mike Tyson’s conviction for rape in 1992. But part of the musician’s eventual conviction hinges on the prosecution-presenting lyrics that show his proclivities toward coercion to the jury: “One more time on the kitchen floor/ Your tank’s on empty, but I want more/ I get what I want, it’s a one way trip/ You ain’t my lady, you my bitch.” Controversies over explicit lyrics continued to dominate chat shows in the post-PMRC early ’90s; courts are still arguing over their admissibility today. (Episode: “Discord,” Law & Order, Season 4)

Puff Daddy and JLo’s Nightlife Drama

Very blatantly inspired by the 1999 case in which Diddy (then going by Puff Daddy) and his then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez were implicated in a shooting at a New York nightclub, this episode is also notable for its casting: Cyrus Farmer (The Wire, The Fosters) plays the Diddy stand-in, Idris Elba makes an appearance and Kerry Washington (Scandal) plays the Lopez character — who was actually responsible for the shooting, thanks to her filling up with rage after a fellow clubgoer got handsy. (Episode: “3 Dawg Night,” Law & Order, Season 12)

Law & Order

Chris Brown and Rihanna

SVU is the last show standing in the Law & Order universe, and as a result it bears full responsibility for ripping off ideas from headlines everywhere. That it would have taken on the case of Rihanna and Chris Brown shouldn’t prove to be too much of a surprise; that the end result was one of the worst episodes in the entire franchise’s history, from its awful writing to its killing off of the Rihanna character to its unnecessary Perez Hilton cameo, is a bummer. Dave Navarro shows up at one point, too, because why not. (Episode: “Funny Valentine,” Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Season 14)

Courtney Love and Her Husband’s Band

This episode opens with the death of “Patty Voytek,” a troubled singer who was married to a died-too-young rock legend — clearly based on the relationship of Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain. That said, this episode takes the then-thick tension between Love and the surviving members of Nirvana to a whole new level: Not only did one of the band members bump off Voytek, he was also responsible for the death of his former guitarist. Levels! (Episode: “True Crime,” Law & Order, Season 13)

Michael Jackson’s Dangling Baby

The 300th episode of the mothership revolves around a comedian who’s rumored to have pedophilic tendencies, and who dangles his young son off a window to protect him while a fire ensues — only in the show the baby dies, kicking off the investigation into his life. It’s clearly based on the stories swirling around Michael Jackson, only with a much more gruesome end for the son. (Episode: “Smoke,” Law & Order, Season 13)

Law & Order

That Lavish Rap Life

Musicians who cameo on shows in the Law & Order universe often stretch their wings, playing suspects and even corpses. But in this episode, Big Boi cameos as — surprise! — the MC Gots Money, who collects wild animals because of his obsession with Scarface. His role seems to exist solely for the gag (on both levels) that occurs after his death by hyenas: One of the animals vomits up the giant gold chain he wore as his signature piece. (Episode: “Wildlife,” Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Season 7)

The Trials of Britney and K Fed

The rocky relationship between a famous new mom Sky Sweet and her boyfriend J-Train (who happens to be a pretty lousy rapper) is clearly based on the union of Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, who dominated the tabloids when this episode aired in 2006. The episode-activating crime occurs when a police officer is murdered during the robbery of a paparazzo’s apartment, but the real crime occurs when the audience at home is subjected to a TV writer’s idea of what crappy rap sounds like. (Episode: “Fame,” Law & Order, Season 17)

Law & Order

Spider-Man (The Musical) and Bono

In the early 2010s, the theater world was riveted by the problems plaguing Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, the musical retelling of the Webbed Crusader’s story with music by Bono and The Edge — production delays, accidents, bad buzz. In this tweaked take on that story, the musical is a retelling of Icarus’s myth (get it?), the director is played by Cynthia Nixon and turns out to be a raging alcoholic and Bono’s over-the-top public persona is satirized through the even more out-there rock star Adam Winter. The episode also has a cameo by Patti Smith, who plays a non-singing professor pal of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Detective Bobby Goren. (Episode: “Icarus,” Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Season 10)

The Death of Jam Master Jay

More memorable for its ending — in which Elisabeth Röhm, before departing the show, asks her boss if she’s being fired because she’s gay — than anything else, this episode was based on the 2002 recording-studio murder of Jam Master Jay. As in “Discord,” lyrics by the suspects figure heavily into the investigation. (Episode: “Ain’t No Love,” Law & Order, Season 15)

Law & Order


The notorious 2009 crimes dubbed “the horrorcore murders” inspired this episode from the last season of the original iteration of the series, wherein a Juggalos-inspired character goes on a murderous tear. Predictably, people within the horrorcore community were not very happy with the way they were portrayed: “I understand that the show deals with criminal matters but to take our whole musical genre and following and peg us as unstable shit bags with steak knives to little kids’ necks is taking it WAY toooooo far! That just simply NOT what we (the Family) represent,” the duo Twiztid posted shortly after the episode aired. (Episode: “Steel-Eyed Death,” Law & Order, Season 20)

Hipster Rock Stars

Jeff Goldblum joined the exiled-to-cable Law & Order: Criminal Intent in 2009, and his debut was an episode set in pre-gentrification Williamsburg, where buildings owned by unscrupulous rock lifers doubled as incubators for Next Big Things. (Kind of like music blogging back then, if you think about it.) Gillian Jacobs turns in a guest-starring role as a starry-eyed resident of the building where jealousy can culminate in death, and in one of the series’ most rip-roaring moments, Goldblum takes the stage at the Williamsburg club Public Assembly to show off his piano-playing prowess. (Episode: “Rock Star,” Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Season 8)