So I feel like I’m the only person in my friend group who is caught up with “Steven Universe” and it’s been… agonizing, to say the least.
And yes, I know the elephant in the room of making a post like this about this cartoon is all the controversy surrounding it, and how there’s a whole dedicated group of people on the internet who really just want everyone to know how this show, personally, killed their whole family, salted their fields, and laid a plague upon their village, but I’ve watched all the way up to the most recent episode and have gotten nothing but enjoyment from it. Honest.
It’s not a perfect show by any means, but I still really love it. I think it’s charming and it makes me happy and I’d really like to see where the story ends up. And I think one of the best parts of this show is its music. So I figured it would be on-brand for me to
dodge the controversy count down my favorite songs from this show.
As with my similar Crazy Ex Girlfriend list, spoilers will be marked, but I won’t be avoiding them in my actual ruminations on the songs themselves, so please proceed with caution if you haven’t caught up. Seriously. If there’s one thing this show is definitely good at, it’s dropping huge plot twists.
20. What’s the Use in Feeling Blue?
One of the things I’ve really appreciated about the newer episodes is the surprising humanization of Yellow and Blue Diamond. We’ve come a long way from them just being mysterious, ominous threats on the horizon. They served their purpose as faceless, unfathomably evil tyrants, and have settled into the far more interesting role they play now of morally grey antagonists.
I’m not gonna sit here and say that the Diamonds are just “misunderstood” or whatever, because they definitely are tyrants and ruthless colonizers, but they’re not only evil. It’s actually really fascinating to see how much they care about Pink Diamond, and I think it fits well into the overall theme of Steven Universe, in that all people (or space rocks) have feelings that matter to them.
This song in particular is just really thematically interesting. There’s a very ominous, techno beat to the background, and the way Yellow Diamond sings is definitely in line with her domineering and brutal role as leader, but there’s a lot of emotion in it too. It’s clear that she too feels pain at Pink’s supposed shattering, but thanks to her personal emphasis on purpose, feels it’s useless to dwell on it. It’s fascinating.
19. Something Entirely New
The Crewniverse had a giant task when coming up with a suitable backstory as to how Ruby and Sapphire met. Garnet’s reveal as a fusion was the earliest twist to really change the game of the whole series, so the story of how her two component gems came to fall in love had to be just as impactful.
And boy it really is. Sure, it’s not as huge and in-your-face as “Jail Break” was, but the quiet beauty of this song really captures the small-yet-gorgeous miracle that was these two gems’ meeting and first fusion into Garnet. Everything about this song, from the hesitant, uncertain sound of Ruby and Sapphire’s voices to the soft instrumentals really drives home the idea that these two have no idea what they’re getting into, and yet they can’t help but be enchanted by it.
Add in the gorgeous visuals with a real focus on the thematically-relevant pinks and blues of an evening on earth, and you have a really meaningful little number that describes perfectly what is going through the minds of these two gems as they come to form a character the audience is already in love with. And also! The reprise of “Stronger than You” they hum at the end! Just makes me cry every time.
18. Giant Woman
When thinking about songs that really established Steven Universe as a special show for me, I always think about this one. Silly as it is, “Giant Woman” does a surprising job at being meaningful.
Yes I know that’s wild, but hear me out. At this point, fusion was a pretty unknown concept to the audience, as well as to Steven, the audience stand-in. So, how much did you want to see more fusions, as soon as you first learned about them? I know I did. It’s goofy, but I totally related to what Steven was singing here, because I really did want to see them turn into a “Giant Woman”!
And what’s brilliant about that is that in order to do so, Pearl and Amethyst have to work out their differences and both grow as characters. And so even if you aren’t as invested in these two as characters yet, so early into the first season, the chance of seeing this new and exciting bit of lore in action is enough to really motivate the audience to root for the two of them to grow as individuals so they can fuse.
Plus, it’s a fun and catchy song. I love Steven, even early, kinda-annoying Steven, and this song is one of his most charming moments in the early show.
17. Let’s Only Think About Love
I love Steven! I do, I really love Steven. I think Steven is a huge, huge benefit to this show as a whole. A lot of times, young boys in cartoons are ANNOYING and terribly unrelatable but Steven? Steven is a breath of fresh air, and it makes it so easy to root for him and those he loves. This song is really indicative of just how lovely a character he is.
After the revelation that Rose Quartz was Pink Diamond the whole time, it was pretty obvious that the characters and the world of the show was rocked dramatically, but how they manage to continue on thanks to the hope Steven inspires is really heartwarming. This has been said before, but I love how Steven’s role as leader of the Crystal Gems becomes more and more apparent as a result not of him becoming stronger or tougher or whatever – it’s a result of him supporting and inspiring them, using his empathy as his greatest leadership quality. That doesn’t happen often in cartoons like this, and it’s really cool.
Plus, this song is just cute! I love the Broadway feel to it, which gives even this up-tempo, positive little number emotional weight that is justified after all the crazy plot stuff that’s been happening. Many of the gems make great appearances in this song too, showing repeatedly how they’re able to persevere through their worries and put on a bright face for the happy day.
16. The Jam Song
This will be a short little paragraph on such a short little song, but I picked this one because it’s just so charming. Lots of fun little wordplay, and such a cute way to portray the friendship between Steven and Connie, especially right before an episode where that friendship is tested and explored. I love how they both play their instruments and… ugh it’s so fun.
15. Ghost Song
While I’m not sure how much I enjoyed the band subplot’s timing in Season 5 after so many big crazy plot things were happening, I can’t help but love this song. Sadie is one of my favorite characters in this show, and her development up until this point is something I really enjoyed watching.
This song in particular captures a lot of that growth symbolically, I think. Earlier in the show, in the song “Haven’t You Noticed I’m a Star,” we saw Sadie back down from live performance, and though that was due in part to the performance being out of her control, it’s interesting to see how she reacts when she is in control of the way she presents herself. It’s certainly a stark contrast to the bubblegum pop image her mother and Steven wanted her to have (more on that song later, though).
This song, in contrast, is dark, and a bit unpolished. Sadie’s singing isn’t pitch perfect, and she puts a lot more into the emotion of the song, which is good because I think the theme of being unnoticed is an important one to Sadie, who is just now figuring out how to find confidence in herself and be comfortable in the spotlight. Anyway, I also love how this song sounds like some sort of spooky reggae rock mashup, and it’s just a good time… even if I spent most of the episode wanting more plot-important things to be happening.
14. Let Me Drive My Van into Your Heart
I’ll probably talk about this more later, but I love how the show depicts the many ways, both outright and subtle, Steven’s parents influence him. Of course Rose is a huge shadow over Steven and that is acknowledged many, many times in the show, but just as important and just as demonstrated in the show are the many ways Greg influences him.
Greg is just a well-done character with so much about him to love. He’s doofy, badly dressed, constantly sunburned, and lives in a van, but it’s inspiring just how much he sacrifices for and cares for his son. It’s made explicitly clear that Greg is in over his head with all the Crystal Gem shenanigans, and yet he does all he can to help Steven all the way to building him a house! On the beach! A house for his son and all of his weird space aunts! Could your fave ever?
Anyway, I think this song really shows that, and right from the very first episode. It’s not a well-done song by any means, it’s rough, but it has a lot of heart to it, just like Greg himself. And it’s just so darn catchy.
13. Strong in the Real Way
I’m gonna talk about Pearl’s characterization in a later song where I think it’s more on display, but Pearl is great and a really fascinating character and this song is one of the first times that is on full display.
Instead, I’ll talk about the careful balance this show has to strike between humor and serious plotlines. I can’t say it always nails the combination (often erring too far for the side of humor, in my opinion), but when it does stick the balance it’s a real joy. And this song does it! Not only does the conceit and theme of the song establish a very serious character conflict for Pearl, it’s also a fun little moment for Steven to pump up Sadie, Lars, and his dad.
Adding to that is the interesting transition from the ballerina-like instrumentals accompanying Pearl’s part to the rock sound of Steven’s. It’s a solid song and one of the best, for sure.
12. Haven’t You Noticed (I’m a Star)
Remember earlier when I was talking about Sadie stepping down from a performance? Here’s where that happens. Though Sadie was initially going to perform this song, interference from her mother and Steven himself causes her to feel uncomfortable with the presentation of it. And so… Steven steps up to perform it instead.
Very real in the discourse of this show is the strong socially conscious messages within. I touched briefly on how Steven is a unique hero in that he relies on his empathy as a strength more than the normally masculine traits of physical strength or toughness. And that leads to a lot of scenes like this one – things that to an outsider might seem wild and out-of-the-ordinary, or even like a ridiculous joke, but when taken in context are played completely straight.
Steven wears a skirt, a crop top, and heels and prances around to a pop song not really as a joke at his expense but rather as a pay-off to something he wanted to do the whole episode, have fun and perform a song he loves. It’s explicitly stated by him that he pushed Sadie into a performance like this because it’s how he would have done it, and so when he gets on stage and performs this number it’s not really weird, it’s what the episode has been setting up for.
Anyway, I hope scenes like these make Steven a healthy role model for little boys who might not fit the traditionally-masculine mold often promoted by other shows. And this song is a bop.
11. That Distant Shore
I feel like every single song so far I’ve been like “So-and-so is a great character and I love them” but like… Lapis a great character and I love her.
I’ve seen a lot made of how Lapis is a terrible person (or, uh, space rock), and is IRREDEEMABLE and they HATE her but I’ve never really understood that point. Like, yeah, Lapis isn’t exactly the kindest or sweetest character, but she’s been through a lot of terrible, terrible stuff. It doesn’t excuse her cruelty to other characters, sure, but it also doesn’t make her into an irredeemable monster. I’m glad the show is so adamant about characterizing her as uncertain and anxious about the forces that imprisoned her but makes her growth as a character about overcoming these uncertainties. Lapis never fully recovers from her fear, but watching her do what is right despite it is inspiring.
I’m so glad she got this song, too. I really hope Lapis will become a more constant member of the Crystal Gems going forward, and I really hope she establishes more of a rapport with the other gems besides Steven and Peridot (though admittedly I adore her dynamic with Peridot the most so like, I still want them to hang).
Beyond all that though this song is so beautiful and such a highlight.
10. Full Disclosure
I forget about this song sometimes, which is a real shame because it’s actually a jam. First and foremost it’s a surprisingly well-done almost radio-single-like song, contrasting the usual ukulele fare in this show. I love how Steven’s ringtone integrates with the music itself, and the song has a great build into it’s sudden, abrupt ending.
And then you’d get into its role in the plot of the show. This song takes place right after “Jail Break,” which I’d say was the first HUGE plot-heavy episode in the show, so the shock and uncertainty about the future Steven is feeling here is absolutely earned. Add on top of that the really engaging conflict between Steven and Connie here and you’ve got yourself a real emotional gut punch of a song.
This song, and this entire episode, encompassed a really tense conflict on the audience’s part. I remember watching this episode for the first time and it really affecting me because I know how it feels to feel uncertain whether or not you should involve friends in your troubles. Sure, I’ve never been in an alien space ship watching my adoptive space mom beat up a giant space enemy but both situations feel similar enough to relate to. It really made me root for Steven in this episode and in this song to get the courage to involve Connie, even if it was hard.
9. Be Wherever You Are
As much as it might be perhaps… misguided of me to think? But I really love Lars and Sadie’s dynamic. Sure Lars is a jerk even at the best of times and Sadie deserves better and all that… but I’m still very interested in how these two will eventually grow together. And with all that’s happened to both of them in the most recent episodes, I’m optimistic that whatever will happen between them will be truly fascinating.
This song marks one of their first pieces of character growth. Though much of it is undone after they return home to the “real world,” the importance of this song is in the possibility it introduces. In a perfect world, with no responsibilities or outside influences, Sadie and Lars make a great team, and that’s an interesting concept. Whether they ever manage to ignore the outside influences in their real lives enough that they can achieve this dynamic again is up in the air, but I hope so.
Beyond all that though this song is charming and beautiful. The normal ukulele sound so common amongst Steven Universe works so perfectly with the island aesthetic.
8. Do it for Her/Him
Up to this point I’ve talked several times about how important and easy to root for Connie and Steven’s relationship is. As the show continues their dynamic just continues to improve, and I can’t help but give major kudos to this song for laying the groundwork for Stevonnie being able to wield both sword and shield together. It’s adorable.
And I’ve also talked about how interesting a character Pearl is. She tries so hard to be a good role model for Steven and, in this case, Connie, but it’s first made clear in this song that Pearl has gone through so much in her past that it now affects her ability to see what a huge pressure she’s putting on both Connie and Steven. The little flashback Pearl shows was one of our first glimpses into the deep and complex relationship not only between Pearl and Rose but also between Pearl and her own self-image.
Pearl sees herself only as a servant of Rose, which has gained more meaning now that we understand that Pearl once “belonged” to Pink Diamond before she became Rose, and this song is so incredibly dark as a result. It’s a beautifully performed little peek into Pearl’s fractured self-image, and a fantastic characterizing moment for not only her but also Steven and Connie.
7. Stronger Than You
I don’t think any good list ranking the songs in this show can possibly ignore this song. It’s… iconic. And for good reason too. I’ve mentioned how monumental this episode was a few times throughout this post, and it’s for so many reasons. The reason most exemplified by this song, however, is Garnet.
I haven’t talked much about Garnet mainly because she hasn’t yet been in any of the songs on this list, but my god, GARNET. I love Garnet. Doesn’t everyone? And the reveal of Garnet’s true identity as a fusion was just so well-done, such a gorgeous pay-off and so well-foreshadowed, to the point where wild fan theories had figured it out even before this episode aired. I think fusion is one of the coolest things about this show, and it’s such a neat way to explore character dynamics and illustrate very literally how two characters are when they’re together.
It’s easy to see Garnet as a symbol of the love between her two component gems, but I also like how this song points out the other things she represents “their fury, their patience, a conversation.” It’s just so beautiful and it makes so much sense that this song tops so many best lists for this show. Truly unforgettable.
6. We are the Crystal Gems
The theme song itself is a wonderful, catchy little tune that has yet to become annoying even after the hundred and hundreds of times I’ve heard it at this point. It captures the joy and togetherness that are such central themes of the show and also introduces it’s characters. But I chose the extended version for a reason because, while I don’t think I’d want a version this long at the beginning of every episode, I love how much emotional punch it has.
There are so many fantastic moments in this version. The beginning is adorable, right off the bat. While we know how Steven came to live with the Crystal Gems, that period of Steven’s life is rarely seen, so I love seeing how they all interact with him when he still isn’t quite comfortable with them like he is now. And the lengthened “intros” of sorts for Garnet, Pearl, Amethyst, and Steven are so meaningful and perfect.
Of course, Garnet’s refers to her status as a fusion, and her fight to “live together and exist as me” is extra meaningful now that we know that it was a huge motivating factor for Rose Quartz starting her revolution. And speaking of Rose Quartz, Pearl’s little intro furthers on the theme that she has difficulty defining herself without Rose. Amethyst’s is pretty standard, although I do like how her not knowing Homeworld like the rest of the gems do is a point of self-consciousness for her often. And Steven… oh Steven. “I will fight to be everything that everybody wants me to be when I’m grown” while Rose Quartz drifts menacingly in the background? Ouch. OUCH. Hey Crewniverse? RUDE.
This version highlights all the many parts of this show there are to love, and I still sort of wish we could get an updated version soon with all we know in the recent episodes.
5. Here Comes a Thought
And now that we’ve entered the Top 5, we’ve also entered the “Gillian cries over all of these songs” zone, and this one ESPECIALLY.
This show tends to like to use many of its more fantastical elements as symbols of more realistic problems and concepts. And quite obviously “keeping the fusion together” in this case is meant to be a symbol for managing anxious thoughts and… yeah there’s a lot to unpack here.
First of all, I love the butterfly imagery and how it symbolizes the different ways people can approach their thoughts in unhealthy ways. Ruby is shown screaming and agonizing over one thought, while Sapphire’s one or two anxious thoughts become a thought spiral (relatable). Meanwhile, Garnet teaches Stevonnie to manage their anxiety over an unfortunate accident Connie caused by going to others for help and “taking a moment” to allow themselves to calm down. It’s… really amazing advice for not just young viewers but every viewer and it’s packaged so beautifully into the world of the story without feeling preachy or out of place.
I also think this song is an example of the strength of Garnet as a character. She’s just such a role model and I love that about her. Add in Estelle and AJ Michalka’s vocal talents (Yes, THAT AJ Michalka. Of Aly and AJ. My most favorite band as a kid. How beautifully things come together), and you get a truly special song.
4. Peace and Love (On the Planet Earth)
Have you been sitting here thinking to yourself “Wow, Gillian’s gone on and on about all these great characters and hasn’t yet identified a favorite. That’s weird.” No? Definitely not? Well you get to know my favorite character now anyway. It’s Peridot.
I love Peridot. She’s ridiculous and hilarious and maybe doesn’t get a Zuko-level redemption arc, but she still gets a really charming redemption arc and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. Like many of the gem antagonists who aren’t literally the Diamonds, Peridot has only ever known their tyranny and so much of her arc as a character is beginning to understand the Earth as a place of freedom and place to be protected. This is done partially through her friendship with Steven, though eventually extends to friendships with the other gems.
This song is a nice little illustration of that, as Peridot uses her connection with Steven and the things she learns from him to begin to relate to her new world. I love how this song doesn’t shy away from showing the flaws in her reasoning, but also encourages the audience to cheer for her as she starts to make strides forward in changing her point of view.
Also the beginning part where Steven teaches her how music works is just so cute and such a wonderful frame for the rest of the song. Plus, all the other gems have such pleasant parts in this song. Really a fave.
3. What Can I Do (For You?)
Probably my second favorite character (don’t quote me on this, though), is Rose. And yes, I stand by that even with all the new stuff we know about her. As flawed of an individual she was, I think it’s the gradual discovery of all of her flaws that makes her such an interesting and well-done character.
At the beginning of the show, Rose was portrayed as this pure, untouchable figure of the revolution, someone all the gems except Steven knew and missed and wanted to emulate to the best of their ability. Yet, as we came to learn more about Rose, it became more and more clear that this view of her as a perfect flawless individual is… well, flawed. Rose was distant from her followers, and distant from the humans, and now that we know she was once a Diamond, was at one point responsible for destruction and tyranny.
This song and this episode is one of the first times this idea of Rose’s flaws are explored, and in this case they’re specifically investigated in the context of Greg’s relationship with her. Though this is early in their relationship, it’s still fascinating how Rose belittles Greg and humans as a whole, seeing them more as entertainment than anything to take seriously. It was a real shock at the time to see her acting that way after only seeing her as a beautiful, motherly figure for so long, and this song is brilliant in subtly hinting that there is more to her than we knew.
And the song is a jam. Sultry, catchy, edgy in all the right ways. Just fantastic.
2. It’s Over, Isn’t It?
The time has come. It’s time to talk about Pearl.
Besides Steven, I think the memory of Rose has affected Pearl the most. And, in a lot of ways, it makes sense from the very core of her character. Pearl’s “purpose” before she came to Earth was to serve Pink Diamond, and once Pink became Rose that drive to serve her no matter what never left Pearl. Though I think the distinction is important between Pearl’s love for Rose and between Pearl’s desire to serve her. I’ve seen some criticism surrounding how Pearl hasn’t been able to move on from Rose having a much more sinister meaning now that we know it’s ingrained in her to want to serve the Diamonds, and Rose was once a Diamond, but I honestly think that adds another layer to the tragedy of their relationship.
Because when Rose touched down on Earth, to her the revolution was getting to live her own life free of the responsibilities of the Diamonds. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that Rose wanted to give that chance to all the Crystal Gems, including Pearl. She wanted to free them from the structured lives they would have lived on Homeworld. Yet, Pearl never really wanted to stop serving Rose. On the contrary, she wanted to serve her to the point of falling in love with her. But that love, rooted or not in Pearl’s instincts, was not returned by Rose.
And now, Pearl is on her own and her character conflict is learning to live with that. This song is a gorgeous representation of that struggle. Just… ugh. It’s heartbreaking. Especially that final note… it always gets to me.
A song like this really makes you root for Pearl to work through her problems and get better, and I’m really excited to continue to watch the progress.
1. Love Like You
Of all the many mysteries that still exist in the show, the one I’m most excited to get the answer to is the one that encircles this song.
“Love Like You” has been the ending theme for this show for many, many seasons, but the thing about it was different parts of the whole song would be used for different stretches of episodes. At this point, all parts of the song have been used at some point, making it capable to string together the entire song like it is in this video (fan-made, I should specify).
However, we still don’t know who is singing this song, nor who it is being sung to. At this point I’m pretty convinced it’s Rose singing to Steven, but lots of other theories have been tossed around, including Lapis, the Cluster, and even more.
My belief stems a lot from the lyrics themselves “I always thought I might be bad / now I’m sure that it’s true because / I think you’re so good and I’m nothing like you” connects so well to what we now know of Rose’s past identity as a Diamond. And! The line “I wish that I knew what made you think I’m so special” could easily tie into to the overarching theme of slowly deconstructing Rose’s character from the perfect image she once had to the much more flawed individual we now know she was.
But I think that’ what keeps me coming back to this song. We don’t know for certain what it’s about, or where it came from. And yet it’s beautiful melody has echoed over countless episodes, long before we even knew many of the characters fans now speculate is singing it. There’s something so special about that.