Okay, but to be entirely fair, the cartoon in question is Steven Universe, a show equal parts adorable, interesting, and heartrending depending on the episode, and I was something like forty episodes behind. When you’re in that position, all you can do is watch several hours of television over the course of two days. There’s no other option, really.
Briefly: Steven Universe is about the eponymous character - a young boy with magical powers imparted to him by his alien mother - and his Bildungsroman as he’s trained to use his powers and help defend the earth along with his mother’s old allies, the Crystal Gems. Shenanigans ensue, as they’re wont to do - really, do shenanigans ever do anything besides inevitably ensue? A million narratives, and our own lives, have taught us that growing up is hard, and adding magic alien powers to the mix doesn’t help much.
But hey, this isn’t Currently Watching, so I’ll save my conspiracy theories and in-depth character analyses for another post. So instead of urging you to watch Steven Universe (you should), I’ll urge you to listen to it. The show’s got an amazing soundtrack, from its catchy opening theme to its full-fledged songs with lyrics and its wordless background tracks. My only complaint is that the songs are too short and deserve fuller versions. I have a defined weakness for cute soundtrack music, so trust me when I tell you that this is a good one. The songs are diverse, but typically incorporate an electronic element into acoustic music. Of course, the feelings of the songs change depending on what character they’re for; every character, episode, and situation carry their own motifs and associated sounds.
For example, the Crystal Gems are able to “fuse” themselves into stronger beings through dancing (no, I’m serious, it’s awesome), which of course means they get dancing music like “Amalgam.”
The blending of the classical piano sounds and the jazzier percussion reflects the contrasting personalities of the two characters involved in the fusion-dance, resulting in a song less about the two as individuals, but as them as one unique being that transcends both their personalities.
One of my favorites of the lyric-having songs, “Strong in the Real Way,” does a similar thing minus the cool fusion, instead using harmonies to contrast the differing motivations of the two characters, Steven and one of his gem guardians, Pearl. Steven’s been inspired by brute force strength and has been physically training himself, while Pearl consistently fights more with her head than her fists. Interestingly enough, the two are similar here in their strict beliefs in their definitions of “real” strength - Pearl can’t see physical strength as valid, while Steven ignores the possibilities mental strength can offer:
Individuals get defining songs as well. An antagonist with ambiguous morals surfaces in the middle of the first season. She’s a gem named Lapis Lazuli, motivated by her desire to return to the gem homeworld after being trapped on earth for hundreds of years. In the process she wreaks havoc on Steven and the gems, stopping at nothing to meet her goals. One of her main themes, “I Am Lapis Lazuli,” inspires the viewer’s sympathy in its soft piano melodies while still reminding them that Lapis is very much a threat through the discordant, ominous contrasting rhythms:
I could go on, but I’ll leave you to discover the rest yourself. The best way to listen to a soundtrack, I find, is to just track down a playlist and let it run in the background as it was written to do. Start some writing, do a bit of required or non-required reading, get homework out of the way, and let the songs wash over you. It’s fun, trust me. And if nothing else it’ll make that final paper you’re supposed to be drafting right now a little more bearable.