WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Steven Universe
Steven Universe is arguably one of the best cartoons ever made. Or, at the very least, one of the most popular modern ones. Whether it be because of its soft and cosy atmosphere, it’s large and lovable cast, or the stories and messages it presents, a lot of people love this show, myself included. Today, I want to highlight one of the show’s most notable aspects – its songs.
You can tell just by watching the show that the crew LOVE making music and song numbers. I can’t quite describe it but every song has the same level of heart and passion put into it, resulting in a unified yet varied soundtrack, with some of them sounding like they’d fit in a stage musical. So, with the Steven Universe movie almost upon us and it being a musical as well, I’m sharing my ten favourite songs from the show so far, in order of when they appeared in the show. And let me tell you, there were a lot to pick from.
1. Strong in the Real Way
Spoiler alert: Pearl is my favourite member of the original Crystal Gems trio, so expect to see a few of her songs pop up on this list. Like this one, which I believe was the first time her actress, Deedee Magno Hall, got to show off her solo singing talent. I mean, the whole cast are fantastic singers but Hall’s voice just appeals to me a lot.
I also love the lyrics as well. It starts out a little funny (“Why do you have to look up to her, aside from in a literal sense”) but the first part of the song is Pearl lamenting over Steven’s newfound admiration of Sugilite – the Garnet/Amethyst fusion – and how it’s misplaced. What I love about it, though, is that while Pearl is kind of right in that Sugilite isn’t exactly the kind of Gem one should try to emulate, there is a twinge of jealousy behind her words, which she tries to deny. And considering how much Pearl wants to be idolised and respected by Steven, it makes a lot of sense.
On top of that, Steven repeats the same chorus in the second half of the song, but the meaning is different now. His idea of being “strong” is that it’s something you physically are, as opposed to Pearl’s idea of being mentally/spiritually “strong” i.e. “the real way.” And during Steven’s portion, electric guitars come in and the song becomes more energetic to reflect that and match the whole exercising routine Steven puts people through, like he’s in some cheesy exercise video or something.
Basically, this song’s great and I’m pretty sure it helped cement Pearl as one of my favourite characters very early on.
2. Stronger Than You
Honestly, how could I NOT include this song? Pretty sure it’s one of the most iconic ones in the show, only helped by the fact that it accompanied one of the most iconic scenes – Garnet’s one-on-one fight with Jasper.
The whole song is oozing with well-earned confidence and pride. It’s basically Garnet hyping herself up, announcing that she can’t be beaten because of who she is. And considering Garnet is the manifestation of two Gems’ love for each other – itself an act of defiance against everything Homeworld represents and Jasper enforces – it becomes very sweet and even more awesome.
Not to mention that I feel like a lot of people might find the song somewhat relatable. Society conditions some people to feel like their very existence makes them weak and “wrong.” But Garnet, someone who is looked down upon by a Homeworld Gem like Jasper for being something different, proves that it’s her identity as a Fusion that makes her strong and worth a damn by taking Jasper down. This song is a confidence booster for not just Garnet but anyone else that needs to be reminded to find strength in who they are.
3. We Are the Crystal Gems (Full Theme Song)
Again, this one’s another no-brainer. The original opening theme is okay; it’s perfectly catchy, memorable and it suits the much simpler tone that the first season had (at least to begin with). But it’s this version that I always put on and sing along to. The part that’s used for the show’s opening is so much more energetic and feel-good, managing to cement how tightly-knit the group has become and that Steven – originally the tag-along kid – is now a proper member of the Crystal Gems.
But the extended version adds so much more to it. It starts off with a much younger Steven playing on his ukulele, revealing that the song exists in-universe and that it came from him, which explains the song’s very innocent and child-like nature, especially with the opening verses. But then it gradually gets more dramatic, with each of the Gems jumping in to explain why they fight and protect the Earth. Even Greg gets a brief moment to contribute. It’s just really invigorating; the perfect way for our heroes to introduce and establish themselves.
Now, can Season 6 please include a new version of this song that has Connie, Peridot, Lapis and Bismuth join in? Please?
4. Do It For Her
I said earlier that there were going to be more Pearl songs on this list, though this one is also a duet with Connie, and any song that features more than one singer tends to be a winner in my eyes (or ears, I guess?). With this one, it’s both the great piano work and the way that Hall’s and Grace Rolek’s voices harmonise with each other that makes me love it. I especially like how the pace quickens and almost becomes more intense as Pearl trains Connie how to fight.
But, while the melody itself is really nice, the song gets a tad unsettling as it goes on, as long as you’re paying attention to the lyrics. It’s pretty clear that Pearl is projecting a lot of herself onto Connie; allowing her own feelings about Rose and her own self-worth to influence Connie. She almost conditions her into thinking that her life is only worth for protecting Steven and nothing else. This song gives even more insight to her character and how flawed she really is. She may be a doting mother figure for Steven but she’s carrying so much emotional baggage that it negatively affects her and her own pupil (who need I remind you is a child). The fact that she keeps saying “Do it for her” is a pretty obvious giveaway. Though, honestly, this only makes me love Pearl more as a character.
Not sure what else I can really say. It’s a great tune that furthers the plot of the episode it appears in and is a neat character piece as well.
5. Mr. Greg
I get the feeling that the next few picks are going to annoy a lot of people. Not because they’re necessarily bad songs or anything, but because they all come from one episode – Mr. Greg. Now, I’d like to say that the reason all these songs are here is because I legitimately find them to be amongst some of the best ones in the whole show, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t any bias at play.
See, Pearl and Greg are two of my favourite characters in the show, and this episode is both a musical and heavily features both of them and finally tackles their distant and uneasy relationship. I don’t normally say this about TV shows and the like but Mr. Greg is easily my favourite episode. So, forgive me for putting four of its six songs on this list.
First, there’s the song of the same name. It’s really short but it’s vaudeville charms more than make up for it, as Greg allows himself to go on a bit of a spending spree now that he’s come into so much money. I also love the little backing group he gets from the staff of the hotel, especially that one guy with the silly voice (what IS that meant to be?).
And then Pearl joins in, allowing herself to indulge a bit and let loose; something she’s always struggled to do. It’s nice to hear her have fun and relax for a change (by the way, this has nothing to do with the song but she looks FINE in a tuxedo). But just as the song picks up to what you think is going to be an awesome finale where Pearl and Greg finally bond, she abruptly cuts it off. Sadly, a jaunty musical number isn’t enough to suddenly make them become good friends.
And honestly, it doesn’t get much happier afterwards.
6. It’s Over Isn’t It
Oh, what a shock, another Pearl song, though this time, she doesn’t have to share it with anyone. It’s a Pearl solo and it’s possibly one of the most tragic songs in the show – a song that unequivocally confirms just why Pearl always resented Greg and how she’s unable to move on from Rose Quartz’s passing.
I feel like it’d be very easy to listen to this song and think Pearl’s being selfish or entitled but, while I might agree with that first word, I think Pearl’s feelings are completely natural. She sings about a life of devotion, a life she spent with the Gem she loved and how she always felt that, in the end, it’d just be the two of them. She even admits that her constant fighting with Greg was almost like a game to her because she felt that he was just another man who wouldn’t matter and be left behind like all the others that Rose apparently… uh, had flings with.
But that’s not what happened. Rose loved Greg. And if that wasn’t heartbreaking enough for Pearl, that love led to Steven, which meant losing Rose. Now Pearl feels she’s been left behind, stuck with the two people who constantly remind her of these repressed feelings just by being here.
And what’s worse is that Pearl wants to move on. She knows her battle for Rose’s affections is long over, but she still can’t bring herself to completely get over it. She devoted almost her whole life to Rose – what does she do now she’s gone? Hall’s singing is not only fantastic but you can feel her sadness in her voice, especially by the end. It’s one thing to sing, but to sing AND act at the same time? That’s a talent I love and appreciate, much like this song.
7. Both of You
Another short one but, for me, it does so much in the little time it has. It’s a simple piano piece beautifully sung by Steven as he tries to convince Greg and Pearl to just let it all out and talk about the feelings they’ve kept bottled up for so long.
Ironically, my favourite part of the song is the bit without the singing. The moment where Greg and Pearl finally talk, with Greg admitting that he knew how Pearl felt about Rose but chose to stick around since, well, he was in love with her, and Pearl admitting that she doesn’t hate Greg for “stealing” Rose away or anything like that – she’s just hurt that Rose didn’t fall in love with her. And then the two get a nice, little bonding moment where they laugh about how Rose “always did what she wanted” – something that the two of them can relate to. Not only that but, as Steven himself points out, they share quite a lot in common, with the major one being that they both love Steven.
It might not be the most subtle of songs but between the slow melody, Zach Callison’s amazing voice, and the fact that two of my favourite characters start building a bridge between them, I can’t help but love it with all my heart. It may be difficult but, sometimes, the best way to overcome and move past your pain is to talk about it, especially if you can share it with someone who feels the same way,
8. Don’t Cost Nothing (Reprise)
I very nearly put both versions of this song on here but I realised that, between the two, I love the reprise a lot more, even though it’s way shorter. Whereas Both of You was the song where Greg and Pearl started to get past their animosity, this song is the aftermath where the two really do feel like their good friends now, just from Pearl joining in with Greg’s song.
It’s also really sweet/hilarious that Pearl gets the song wrong, which she can’t help but laugh at. And Greg doesn’t even mind; he’s just surprised she remembered any of it. The friendship on display here is genuine and really feels like the start of something beautiful. And then Steven wraps it up by reprising It’s Over Isn’t It, only this time it’s no longer melancholy – it’s calm and content, with Steven happy to see these two people he loves getting along after so many years.
What else can I add? It’s a perfect song to end a perfect episode.
9. What’s the Use of Feeling (Blue)?
For the longest time, this was my favourite song in the entire series, and I feel like that’s weird. Out of all the songs, THIS was the one that I gravitated to the most? Even now, I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because it’s the closest thing we’ve had to a “villain” song. And I put “villain” in quotation marks because it’s not even that. Most villain songs are all about the villain hyping themselves up, showing off how deliciously evil they are and explaining their horrendous plans with glee. This, however, is a song about one person trying to help another deal with their grief, albeit in an unhealthy way.
While Blue Diamond chooses to wallow in her sadness over Pink Diamond’s shattering (i.e. death), Yellow Diamond sings this to convince her that there’s no point in it. She’s not doing it because she doesn’t understand either; she clearly misses and grieves for Pink as well, but they’re Diamonds – the leaders – and they need to be strong for their subjects. Out of context, this may seem quite nice but the deep and ominous backing music reminds you that this isn’t an uplifting song about overcoming and dealing with grief – it’s about ignoring it.
Yellow deals with her grief by choosing not to feel it. She tells Blue she needs to get over it because, as a Diamond, she has a role to fill and she can’t fulfil it if she allows herself to be consumed by her emotions. It’s not subtle, but I love how you can read the song as either Yellow telling her that there’s no point in feeling sad or that she shouldn’t feel at all (which, given what we later learn about White Diamond, makes so much more sense).
This also serves as some fascinating insight into Yellow, who, at this point, was presented as a cold, ruthless dictator. And while she is still those things, the song does try and get you to understand her. Her coldness comes from her failing to properly cope with Pink’s shattering, choosing to bury that grief deep down and replace it with nothing but a desire to keep soldiering on and destroy the ones responsible, because apparently revenge will fix everything.
TL;DR, this song is fantastic for exploring our main antagonists and trying to make them slightly more sympathetic while still reminding us that they’re a threat. But, as I said earlier, this WAS my favourite song in the whole show.
10. For Just One Day Let’s Only Think About (Love)
THIS is my favourite song, mostly because of how much I feel I can relate to it. For context, Steven and friends are still reeling from the revelation that Rose and Pink Diamond were the same Gem; something that fundamentally changes almost everything they and we knew up until that point. On top of that, there’s still the oncoming threat of the Diamonds, who will no doubt come for the Cluster that’s in the centre of the Earth and, as a result, destroy the planet. Basically, there’s a lot of shit to deal with and worry about. But, for just today, they’re not going to.
It’s Ruby and Sapphire’s wedding. A day of happiness. A day they’ll want to remember as being perfect. So, the whole song is Steven going round to all his friends to remind them that while they could be worrying and fretting, they could also allow themselves to enjoy the moment and have a nice time. He’s not saying to completely ignore or forget all the stuff they have to deal with; just to put it aside for one day and enjoy the here and now.
I say it’s relatable because it’s something I think we’ve all experienced ourselves. There’s always something new and horrible to deal with and it can be incredibly overwhelming. So when you have days like this, be it a wedding, a reunion between friends or just a lovely day out with family, it’s okay to put all your worries and fears aside for the time being and focus on all the things that make you happy.
On top of that, this is Callison at his finest. He’s always been a good singer but I think this is his best work so far. I mean, listen to that last note. How is he able to hold it for so long and at such a high pitch?! That alone almost earns this song’s place on the list. Whenever this song plays, I get a spring in my step and the day gets a little bit brighter. Just give it a listen, and I’m sure you’ll feel a bit better too.