A Little Writing Playlist
Over on Twitter, I mentioned wanting to share a playlist with you all as a little glance into my life so here: please enjoy a little bit of music I do some of my best writing to.
I Don’t Understand “This is America”: Maybe That’s the Point
I somehow managed to miss the cultural whirlwind that came with Childish Gambino releasing the music video to his song This is America in 2018. I knew about it, I knew people talked about it but I had mostly skipped over the song because to be Childish Gambino just means Donald Glover and Donald Glover means Marshall Lee the Vampire King and that one guy in Community; a show that I had never watched but knew about thanks to my inner circle. It wasn’t that the song was offensive or worrisome to me with the limited context I had for it; it just didn’t float into my usual musical sphere of French house DJs and sad music by hot Japanese men.
When I finally did the video due to Youtube Music’s aggressive autoplay feature, I was at first watching mostly just sort of overwhelmed; nearly to the point of disliking the video. The initial act of shocking violence via a gunshot delivered to the back of a man’s head took my breath away in a way that very few pieces of media can. Thanks to a childhood and teenage years spent desensitizing myself to sex and violence; I was shocked to feel so viscerally unsettled within seconds of the video starting.
Now, I want to cover a few things immediately. I do “understand” the message behind the song and video. The video perfectly explores the shock and fear that comes with being black in America; a version of violence that lurks around every corner. The uncertainty that comes with large gatherings and public spaces, the rightful and generational fear of the police, the loss of life and the capricious nature of existence and the utter lack of value to a black man’s death in comparison to a white man’s. I understand racism, violence, trauma and fear.
I suppose overwhelmed is still the best word that comes to mind. I spent so much time trying to understand the video and the many influences it draws from. Glover’s moments are so exaggerated and othered that he almost feels like a Sambo stock character, the pants he wears to evoke the uniform of sharecroppers and those who worked the fields, the different guns used and the specific act of violence against a church choir. There’s an unsettling nature to the tonal dissonance that comes from following up a shooting with a dance and there’s always something uncanny and strange about that slapped on grin Glover has that can and does quickly turn steely and frightening.
When I say I don’t understand This is America, it’s mostly rooted in that despite playing it multiple times, knowing the lyrics (and having done most of this before deciding to blog about it) and seeing the music video multiple times; I don’t know if I like the song yet. It isn’t that I don’t get the references or don’t get the fear or the message, I just don’t know how the song makes me feel yet. I’ve struggled with my place and my blackness for years and while I absolutely feel the heavy burden of generational trauma and the weight of systemic oppression, I’ve always been very open and up front about my privilege. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a neighborhood that’s constantly shot up and full of police. I don’t know what it’s like (until recently) to know what it’s like to have a neighbor raising chickens and clothes hanging outside on makeshift lines and boards on some of the windows. And while I feel the dread and fear of every single shooting that happens to an unarmed black person; because of the luxuries afforded to me, that violence is a distant boogeyman rather than an oppressive force literally and figuratively standing on my neck.
I’m almost glad I waited to find this music video. As violence against unarmed African-Americans only grows, distrust and misinformation spread and you can’t believe what anyone says and can only rely on what you see in front of you and the lenses we all have thanks to our life experience.
I find that I like the song most when it feels almost like the information given by a loving black grandmother. Lines like “Get your money, black man” feel like something my aunts would tell me and honestly, have told me during the days I was willing to give out my talent for free rather than know and feel my worth and ask for payment for the things I was doing to enrich the lives of others. When the tune is cheery but still with that edge of having to be careful and sly to stay safe are when I like this song most. I appreciate the choice not to have the group of children dancing with Donald Glover not be shot because the entire time the video ran I was waiting for him to turn one of the many weapons on them and my heart just wasn’t ready for that. I grew up in the shadow of Columbine and I have seen too many children die that way after being told time after time, bloodshed after bloodshed, that this would never happen again only for it to happen again. The tonal changes feel just like real life code-switching that many African-Americans have to do just to survive in this world; switching easily from how we talk “proper” to fit into the patriarchal rigors of white hegemonic society and the more informal but yet deeper way we speak to each other about our pain, our fatigue, our generational trauma and hopes that one day things will indeed be better.
I’m rarely left wondering like this anymore. As a seasoned media critic, there are few things that have me continuing mining for meaning and more importantly, continuing to search myself and form a damn opinion. Despite how many times this song comes up in my queue, I am never sure whether to skip it or play through: again, I am not sure I even like this song. I respect it, for sure, but that sense of dread and discomfort is still present. I don’t “get” this song but I also don’t “get” racism, sexism, the patriarchy and misogyny. I don’t get how someone could kill someone else just because they look different or want to suppress an entire group. I don’t get these things and maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point is to continue to examine these senseless things and figure out why they are so ingrained in society despite being so damn needless.
I’ve had a lot of time to sit down and listen to music recently. Music keeps my work days flowing and with a pace that makes it easy to write to. My taste in music hasn’t changed much over the years, I still listen to a lot of EDM and techno. But with my recent transition away from Google Play Music to Youtube Music, a botched transition to say the least, has given me access to a pretty intuitive endless radio stream based on my tastes and artists I already like and have listened to.
And while that means exposing me to plenty of new music like that of Porter Robinson and more Zedd than I like admitting it’s also given me access to a discography of an artist that I thought I knew but apparently I had much more to learn.
I still remember the day I found out Avicii died. I was driving with some coworkers to a work function in another city none of us wanted to go to. We blasted Wake Me Up while driving too fast down the highway and lamented the loss of a human being while badly dancing in a car too small for all of us to fit in on a journey none of us asked to be part of. It didn’t matter to us why Avicii died; just that he was gone. And while many spent a lot of time discussing his mental health and the factors that led up to such a bright and young shining star dying; I mostly just processed the loss as I would have the death of any celebrity: sad for the loss of human life but that this was clearly more complicated beyond my comprehension with factors that would perpetually remain to be seen and with demons that were not privy to anyone; yet alone a nameless mass of fans. That’s the nature of DJs, really. Many obscure their faces, few use their real names. There is the DJ and the man. Madeon may be Hugo but they are not the same person. There’s a perpetual wall built between DJs and their fans built physically by their equipment and metaphorically by their oftentimes larger than life personas that make them almost more like characters in a pantheon rather than men and women like the rest of us.
His death wasn’t as personal to me as Anthony Bourdain, who I looked up to and admired in a way that felt so intimate so his death resulted in friends checking in on me in the same they had after my mother died. I felt like I knew Tony, I felt like I lost a friend with Tony. That’s just who Anthony Bourdain was. He wasn’t an edifice or a persona, he was authentic; painfully so. He was always him and we were able to, as fans, believe that he was right there with us; sharing a meal, telling an off-color joke, being vulnerable to discuss his mental health or addictions and of course, making us smile and more importantly, think.
Avicii wasn’t a close friend or mentor; he was a DJ. A DJ I liked, sure. A DJ I wouldn’t pass over if I got one of his songs on an endless shuffle mix. Hell, I may even pay to see him in concert if given the opportunity. And one I didn’t think I’d miss so much.
The endless mix of songs that’s given rhythm and life to my blended together days has given me a lot of Avicii; a DJ I mentioned to Youtube’s algorithm that I liked because of a few songs I had saved on my old Google Play Music Player and in a stroke of genius and the algorithm for once getting something right, almost every song I’ve gotten from the DJ has been a new and unexpected hit that I had never heard before. I thought that I was a fan by knowing literally 3 or 4 songs but there are so many tracks I just hadn’t heard before and each one just showed more and more skill and diversity that I just didn’t expect from the young DJ. I didn’t think Trouble would hit so hard or that Dear Boy would nearly bring me to tears. I didn’t think that Broken Arrows or Heaven would be so easy to dance to. I thought I knew Avicii but I was so so wrong. I’m glad now, for once, to have been corrected.
But a theme emerged as I continued to listen deeper into his discography, a feeling of emptiness and loss. I suddenly found myself mourning all over again: not just for the young life snuffed out too soon but also for the loss of talent that he took with him to his eternal rest.
It’s a complicated relationship that fans have with creators that have passed on. Many of us lament the time taken from us as fans as if we are owed creation. Many of us wish for just one more book, just one more song, just one more when really; that’s usually far from what we want. We selfishly wish for more time that death has so cruelly taken from us as avid fans and dedicated listeners while willfully shunning the fact that more time does not always lead to genius. We had many years with Harper Lee, only to be bitterly disappointed by the treasure that time can bring. But with Avicii as I continue to listen to each song he crafted, I can’t help but feel that familiar pang in my chest of “what if”.
What if he was given more time? What if he had one more set? One more studio album. One more single. What would he be making now? What would his style be? Would he dabble in tropical house again? Would he partner with DJs that I also admire? Whose vocals would he use next? What would his sound be like as he gained skill and matured? What songs that are out now or ones out before would he sample or experiment with?
What would Avicii be doing now?
I lament the loss of potential now, with Avicii’s death. And while of course, I mourn Tim as a person, I just wonder what we could have now if he was still with us.
Something Unpredictable, But in the End It’s Right- Music in Medical Dramas
To combat the acedia and tristia that have come along with our current reality, I have been watching medical dramas even more so than usual. Longtime readers of the blog and those who know me in real life know that I happen to love medical dramas. I’ve always been fascinated by medicine and the thrill of surgery and the rush of figuring out just what is killing the patient. A good medical drama mixes the human element with intrigue and genuine thrills. But as I’ve been trying to pass the time by living vicariously through the lives of fictional doctors, I noticed something curious: the music in these shows is fascinating and at times incredibly appropriate.
Medical dramas have a lot to do in a little amount of time. Many of them are serialized and do their best by telling season-long or arc-long stories while also telling a day to day story. So a series like ER works best because you have characters you can follow for sometimes years and see their arc(s), see their loves, wins, losses and more while also seeing their day to day interactions and daily goings on in the hospital. House works in a similar fashion but is even tighter and has a team with less actor-based turnover so you spend even more time with one tight knit team going through nearly impossible cases for in the case of House literally a decade.
At their core, though, a medical drama is still a drama and you need something to go along with all of the beeping machines, flatlining patients, heavy dialogue and euphoric highs. And it certainly can’t all be church music or public domain classical tunes. What has become truly curious is as I go through early seasons of shows I watched with my parents is that every once in a while as I work or write and my attention waivers from the show, a melody will catch my attention.
It actually started with an early season of ER. A young man dies and a common thread during his arc was his love of Green Day. During his funeral, his loving and attentive nurse sings to his casket one of his favorite songs and in that acapella melody I noticed a song that I also shared a love for with my father who passed away.
The song was a perfect encapsulation of all the themes of the arc and episode: loss, grief, regret, hoping that when it’s over it means something and that at the end; there will be someone there for us hoping that we had the time of our life. It was also a beautiful time capsule of the late 90s and the cynicism that came along with it.
ER was pretty masterful with its use of music, even if some of the moments were ham handed. I wasn’t expecting to hear Clocks during an episode where a disabled surgeon comtemplates suicide via jumping off of the hospital as that all too familiar opening harmony begins to play, that same few bars on the piano that every basic high schooler I knew could play when I was younger. The music swells as the doctor loses his head covering in the wind and he backs away from the dizzying height to a song that was the anthem for most thoughtful emo kids when I was in high school.
As ER plays in the background of many of my days I’ll notice more and more little songs that resonate and hit closer to home now as an adult than it did when I watched the show as a child with my parents. I noticed Claire de Lune (which may be my favorite piece of classical composition) during a romantic dinner which seems ironic since Verlaine wrote the poem that inspired the song and Verlaine was…I guess legally a romantic.
House is a unique show in that it centers around a main character who is not just a sociopath but also a musician. Dr. House plays a lot of instruments and thus for a medical drama, there is a lot of music. I think House is one of the better series to handle its music choosing from a catalogue that includes folk, gospel, pop, rock and more all to fit the mood and tone of an episode. I’ve heard plenty of songs from House that sound like a Spotify playlist from your favorite Starbucks barista but they’re usually done with thought in mind.
Which is I think best show here.
A funeral scene for a colleague lost where a sad song plays; but not just any sad song. It is, to quote a friend, the saddest song she had ever heard. I remember immediately using SoundHound (yes, I’m old) to find the song and once downloaded I rarely listened to it except for moments of extreme melancholy. I can still remember how viscerally the scene made me feel the first time I saw it. I had lost my mother, I was home from college, I was mentally exhausted and I laid in bed catatonic for a while in the dark as I processed the intense feelings behind the song and it’s scene. That’s what suicide does: it makes someone lose you and not to say that the scene in question wouldn’t have been powerful if filled with ambient noise or simply the heavy silence funerals tend to bring with them but it echoed so much more thanks to a brilliant soundtrack choice.
This was a post I never expected to work on. A post I never expected to find so much intense interest in. I guess it’s the pandemic. I guess it’s pareidolia. Maybe it’s just the fact that now I’m more aware of music and soundtracks after years of film and television criticism and viewership. I went in hoping to find a simple curiosity behind some of the music choices in medical dramas and what I found were moments that brought me intense joy,
Madeon Takes Us to Church
I have followed Madeon’s music since I saw him open for Lady Gaga years ago. As soon as I heard his music, I fell in love. His bass drops made my heart race, his transitions were fantastic and each song of his felt like a frantic video game’s mad dash to the end. His early music all felt like beautiful game background music and I rode every single high and low for years. His music powered me through college and through some of the darkest days in my home waiting for my life to start. Madeon is a talented DJ, always has been since he was too young to drink in the clubs he kept playing.
I was thrilled when Madeon decided that he was going to do a full debut album. When Adventure came out, nearly all of the tracks felt like something new from the DJ I came to love. It all felt very pop, which was fine. I loved the featured artists that joined Madeon’s beats during Adventure and found myself nearly in love with every song on the album from the oppressive hype that was Imperium to the slow ballad that was La Lune.
Adventure was exactly the album I needed when it hit me at all of 24 and moody and filled with ennui. I had just ended a long-term relationship, I was on my own and nothing felt like it used to. But Adventure wasn’t popular with everyone as it was probably one of the most pop ventures Madeon had ever done. If you came into Hugo’s work with him sampling Alphabeats or even The Killers then Adventure seems rather on point but if you came into Hugo’s work with Ellie Goulding or deadmau5 then yeah, Adventure is pop trash and you’re a dummy for liking it, I assume is what they think. In hindsight, I’m hot and cold on it. La Lune and Only Way Out still mean a great deal to me and Ok and Beings can still get me dancing and listening with a few years behind it, Imperium seems like the kind of song that Raihan from Pokemon: Sword/Shield works out to.
But we are spending a lot of time talking about an album that is a few years old and that’s not what we’re here to do. We’re here to talk about Good Faith. When Madeon released a single in 2018, I was happy. I had missed Hugo’s music. That single was All My Friends and in video theme and tone, this didn’t feel like a Madeon song. I was confused and frankly concerned that perhaps Porter Robinson was punking all of us. The video featured a ton of hand geometry and an interesting enough beat to it that I was curious but not sold. It was fine but it wasn’t Hugo.
All I had to do was wait.
Dream Dream Dream was where I was sold before the album was even an album. The mood, the lyrics…all of it just spoke to me. I have also felt the weight of my dreams and indeed it does move me forward. I was still a little weirded out with the hand geometry in the videos but there was something about this song that reminded me of something that I had felt in the back of my mind and had noticed in the two songs that started up this album was suddenly clear.
My thoughts about Good Faith being Madeon’s attempt to take us to church were confirmed when the album got its name and when I heard No Fear No More. It wasn’t just the piano pieces of the literal damn choir or the literal damn children’s choir but it was more the themes. The idea of being fearless, of being joyful, of having that internal strength that tells you everything will be fine (yes, I made a pun about my other favorite song on the album) are all themes in Southern gospel. Black people have been telling themselves to have fear no more since slavery was a thing and encouraging their children and loved ones that through faith and perseverance that everything will be okay.
Miracle more aggressively takes us to church with more pianos, more choirs and even more overt allusions that supernatural things will happen and while it’s a good song, I’ll trade it for Be Fine almost any day; mostly because the front half of Miracle features what I can only describe as Hugo’s pillow talk before it turns into a great song in the second half.
I want to close with the song that shocked me and the one that made me really feel a deep connection with the album: Heavy with Hoping. Without getting too personal, 2018 ended with me cutting several ties with people that meant the world to me but I had to remove from my life for personal reasons. I was going through a breakup so lines like:
If I let you go
We end in tragedy
How would you know
How to get back to me?
I felt it in my bones. And the heavy vocals, minimal beats until the end (which is actually where the song loses me) that fades into heavy distortion as grief and pain often does distort voices and feelings just really spoke to me. But it was bluesy in a way that some gospel songs are as a way to remind Southern black of the pain and hardship we have endured and to show us that indeed, that pain is not invalidated by time.
In Good Faith, Hugo takes us to church. He shows his wide influences and while honestly, I didn’t like all of the songs on the album, the ones I adored are ones that will remain close to my heart for the remainder of my days. A few articles claimed Good Faith was Hugo’s most pop-influenced album but to me that sells the damn thing short and erases that his influences are much wider than just pop or video game loading screen music. I maintain that Madeon is one of the most talented DJs alive and I’m proud to be a devotee of his work and indeed the album had me clapping along and raising my hands to the Lord above chanting “No fear no more.”
The Gospel of Lizzo
My taste in music has changed a lot recently as I moved away from the heavier, moodier music of my teens years and move onto music that a younger me would scoff at. I like a lot more pop than I ever have but since I don’t listen to the radio, the ways I find new music is limited. I mostly pick up songs from pop culture like commercials or movies and as recommendations from artists I already like.
But I titled this post with the artist already in question, so let’s skip the foreplay: let’s talk about Lizzo.
Lizzo is not an artist that I think I would normally like. She’s in a weird mix of pop and hip-hop that normally wouldn’t appeal to me but fortunately, Lizzo is an incredibly talented musician and she doesn’t care about my feelings towards genre. Lizzo is an immortal goddess and I just want to gush about her for a little while; so sit down, get some juice and let’s talk.
I don’t really remember how I started to like Lizzo’s music. I think I heard one of her songs on a commercial and just sort of accepted her into my life. I mostly fell in love with her Twitter first. As a personality, Lizzo seems to be everything I’m not in real life: proud, confident and beautiful. She famously stated that big girls are not brave for just existing and her humor feels like it was a mood board created just for me. Her whole compilation of just her saying “Bye, bitch” and leaving various scenarios reminds me of Carlos and I hiring a bike rickshaw to take us back to the car during A-Kon.
Lizzo being a giant mood board may sound a little cliche but as a fuller figure black woman who has fat in most of the wrong places, zero thigh gap and a body I’ve been ashamed at since I was probably about 14; seeing a woman who really does look like me live radically free and happy is frankly inspiring. She doesn’t claim that she’s big and beautiful, she doesn’t quantify it; she’s just beautiful.
There’s also something wonderful about being unapologetically herself because especially as a black woman, there is a lot of policing from the community and others about one’s “blackness” and yet there’s Lizzo, letting Meg Thee Stallion twerk to flute music. That’s just who she is. She’s proudly nerdy, quirky and fantastic and as a very chocolate sister in the woodwinds section: she has my adoration and respect.
Lizzo’s music is also just fun. I mentioned earlier that pop wasn’t my thing but Lizzo is just a good musician. Truth Hurts is so much more than just a bop, it’s a breakup anthem that actually has some soul to it. Most post-relationship songs are pretty hard to listen to unless you are recently at the end of a relationship but Truth Hurts is just good even outside of being memetic. Good as Hell is a beautiful ballad to self-love and self-care done by a woman who seems to actually practice what she preaches. Again, from any other artist most of those “take care of yourself, you got it” songs seem very hollow. As a person who struggles with depression and anxiety, I think from literally anyone else telling me that I should be feeling good as hell; I’d probably complain.
Juice did get a little overplayed for me but it’s good music and its popularity makes sense to me. Besides, if you’ve seen me shopping for the pod over at Total Wine right at opening, I’m probably singing this as I’m looking for wine or whatever materials needs for the weekend’s drink.
Lizzo’s message is just so authentic and that’s the word I keep coming back to. When she brings out a truly diverse group of backup dancers showing off that talent and beauty are not a market corned by thin white women or thin black women with relaxed hair. When Lizzo is on stage she just looks like she wants to be there and that’s amazing. She’s been working towards this for years and it’s fantastic seeing her get everything she deserves and more.
Now with her being human, I do have to admit some of the places where she’s made mistakes. The fussing over food delivery app orders was a thing but she quickly apologized and was better. She even gave credit to the Twitter user who created the now famous line from Truth Hurts. Most artists wouldn’t have done that organically; hell, it took Pharrell and Robin Thicke a goddamn lawsuit to make them realize they stole music.
Overall, I don’t think there are many artists today who are such genuinely kind and are themselves without being monstrous or hurting others is exactly what we need in these trying times. Lizzo isn’t asking anything of anyone by twerking and playing the flute. She is educated, eloquent even though neither of those things should be judges of character. She likes what she likes, does what she does, speaks when she wants to and empowers others around her. She is a 100% the icon we need now in these trying times. So before we go, I want to talk about what I think goes into The Gospel of Lizzo and why it’s worth following.
Lizzo’s chief commandments are easy to follow. Lizzo wants us to love ourselves. Now, that’s hard to do but it does help seeing women who look like you actually living free and beautifully helps a lot. Next is to handle business. Lizzo is not coy about making money moves but rather than those being mostly just vague bragging from rappers it’s rooted in a real desire to ensure that we all get what we deserve in this life. Next commandment is to take care of each other. Sisterhood has always been important to the black community but we have lost our way in more ways than one: Lizzo wants each of us to see each other as sisters and to support each other. So if your girl is going through it, it may mean taking off your satin cap but you should be there for her. Last but not least is being joyful and having fun. Life is short, we all die, enjoy what you enjoy. If you’re a fan of musicals, be a fan. If you like twerking to your favorite song, do it. If you wanna play hip-hop classics on the flue, just go for it.
That’s it, that’s the Gospel of Lizzo, as written by one of her loyal disciples.
My Top 20 Songs from Anime
We’ve done a few lists now, haven’t we? I think they’re a fun exploration of a genre or form. And in the spirit of Lists: let’s try one that’s a little bit different: we’re going to be discussing in no particular order, the music of various different anime! This includes opening themes, background songs, ending themes and more. I’ll give you the series and a brief reason why that song means the world to me.
Oh, and you’ll likely see plenty of overlap between the music I like and the anime I like: reading over that list may give you a vision of the future. You’ll likely also see some repeats from a few core series: that’s likely for a reason.
Funny Bunny, The Pillows
FLCL is one of my favorite series of all time and it has one of the best soundtracks I can think of. Don’t be surprised to see this series on the list more than once. Funny Bunny is sweet, sentimental and emotional: The Pillows as a band are good about using puns, wordplay and most importantly: heart. This song has made me cry too many times and one of my favorite moments of all is driving down the highway with Carlos singing this little song during A-Kon. It’s a love song for the ages.
Hybrid Rainbow, The Pillows
I told you FLCL would appear on this list more than once. Even though this was just a background song, this was my anthem in college. A song about disillusionment, overcoming the sameness over the world and how what appears is not always as it is was the perfect song for the angsty college kid that I was.
Anti-Nostalgic, Kotani Kinya
Who knew an anime about music would have great music? This song still makes me super emotional and as a ballad to a lover, it doesn’t get much better. I always really related to how Yuki Eiri felt about love, time and relationships and how trauma colors your perception of all of those things: because of that, this was one of the first songs I remember committing to memory as a young fan.
Shining Collection, Iceman
Now, this is the real song from Gravitation that sold me. In the OVA, this song is the last thing Shuichi has to sing and he has the privilege to sing it with his idol, Ryuichi. Now, traditionally, the OVA says that this is a song that Yuki wrote for Shuichi. But that’s when my fangirl senses began to tingle. Yuki wrote a song with Ryuichi Sakuma and it made Shining Collection: one of the least romantic love songs possible. Here’s my theory, and this for all of us who still know this old anime: this song is about Yuki’s former lover and tormentor: Kitazawa. The tone, the feverish pace and all seems to add up more to this being a song about Kitazawa rather than the somewhat useless Shuichi: but that’s just an Amanda Theory. I love this song and it’s frantic pace keeps me typing away: you’ll often hear it while I work on my blog posts, my fiction projects or my panels.
Sleepless Beauty, The Seeker
Last one from this series, I promise. The confidence that Ryuichi Sakuma has when performing this song is a strong motivator for me. I’ve used this song to get me through some of the toughest patches in my life and the fact that it has an almost lullabye-like acoustic version that ramps up into an electrifying dance track only ensured that this song stayed in my heart for over a decade.
Fukai Mori, Do As Infinity
I’ve gone on record saying that this anime is the one that made me sell my soul to fandom and this beautiful ending theme is part of the reason I was ready to make that leap. I listened to this song on repeat before going to bed as a teen and I was so happy when I learned even a part of it in Japanese. I picked up a CD copy of InuYasha’s OST and Amber and I sang along the entire time. This song is a part of my childhood and a part of who I am as a fan.
My Will, Dream
Not to be outdone by Fukai Mori, My Will is beautiful, amazing, haunting and more. It had a stunning key visual, too that cemented to many Americans into anime. What more can be said about one of the most iconic songs in all of fandom?
This song makes me cry. This song comforts me when I am sad. This song helps lift me up. Naruto’s themes of not always fitting in, finding your family and your worth and being more than a painful past always hit home with me and a song as reassuring as Wind was vital to helping me cope as an angsty teen and even now as a sometimes melancholic adult.
Blue, Mai Yamane
Now is where things get serious. Bebop is probably a close attempt at number one for me as far as anime go. And this song, wow. It is in my actual will that this will be played during my funeral service. It is that serious to me. This song is haunting, emotional, raw and just…so powerful. I had a moment while driving to visit my mother’s grave and this song came on thanks to my phone’s cursed shuffle. I sobbed. I cried just over and over again repeating: “I’m so free.”
I cried, I put the flowers I got for my mom on her headstone, I spoke to her and visited my grandparents. And all the while I just kept repeating: “I’m so free.”
Space Lion, The Seatbelts
Didn’t think a song with almost no lyrics could bring me to tears but it did. Space Lion is a beautiful song that so perfectly bookends season 1 of one of the most perfect anime to ever exist. The song pulls elements from another part of the OST, Goodnight Julia, a song attached to Gren (who we meet during the last two episodes of season 1). Space Lion is the song we see Gren die to. It’s the song that closes this part of a chapter and it’s just stunning.
Shiki no Uta, Minmi
Champloo has an energetic opening that deserves an honorable mention but as soon as I heard the first bars of the jazzy closing, Shiki no Uta I was in love. The vocals are top notch and the whole vibe is calmer, more collected and more mellow than the high energy of the anime.
Who’s Theme, Minmi
Watanabe-sensei can do no wrong when it comes to picking music and this mid-season finale song for Samurai Champloo is a stunning piece of music that I simply cannot skip if it starts playing.
Viva Namida, Okamura Yasuyuki
Okay, Dandy is another Watanabe-sensei special and honestly, this song sold me on this weird anime about a dandy guy in space. The lyrics are deeper than you’d think, so be sure to pull up the English lyrics and simply enjoy.
Life Goes On ~Side K~, Chemistry
Have I told you lately how much I love this anime. Within moments of this opening song I was sold. It’s an anime about cake, pretty boys, emotional drama and had an amazing art style and the music, god this song did it for me immediately. It’s upbeat and fun and matches the energy of the series just right in places.
Life Goes On ~Side D~, Chemistry
If I ever get married, I want this to be my first dance with my new life partner. This is true and has been true about me for years now. ~Side D~ is the slower ending to Antique Bakery and while the lyrics are the same, the beat is way slowed down and turns an upbeat J-Pop song into a loving ballad. It stole my heart immediately.
Ranbu no Melody, SID
I don’t think I can impress upon you all how much I love Bleach as a concept and show but am disappointed by its narrative choices. I fell in love with the characters almost immediately (Famously, I watched a fair amount when the show was first released and then fell out of it when the show started to bloat in the middle. I fell back in love during the Espada Arc because it’s some of the best writing the series has ever done and some of the best character design and arcs given in shonen anime.) and the music has always been top-notch. Even when the music isn’t firing all on cylinders, it’s some of the best in the shonen genre. So when I had to pick just a handful to represent this series on this list, it was difficult but only so. Ranbu no Melody is a stunningly beautiful song, it’s easy to see this as maybe a movie theme or something rather than just one of maybe 30 openings for the series. And it happens to be one of my favorites because of its unique feel: I’m also a little biased by the fact that the animation that goes with it may be some of the most stunning in the series’ history.
Life is Like a Boat, Rie Fu
Of course I like this song. Of course I like this melancholic song with a little twinge at the end that even the heaviest of burdens can be shared with the right people. The vocals on this one alone are some of the best in anime and even though, yes, this song does feel melodramatic and sappy for those who haven’t felt the cold embrace of a tough life, for someone like me, it was and still is exactly what I need to hear after a difficult day.
The World, Nightmare
In the theme of melodramatic, I happen to love Death Note and in this week’s entry in the category of: Someone really should have listened to young Amanda when she said she related to Light Yagami. The whole season one soundtrack is powerful and brooding and made my young vampire heart sing.
Okay, it may be cheating to put an opening and a closing from the same season but come the math on! This song is moody, misanthropic and really helps to put you in Light’s headspace: he has a terrible but great responsibility to be the god of a new world and Alumina perfectly illustrates the miserable yet tantalizing burden that being a human shinigami carried with it.
Okay, it may be cheating to put an opening and a closing from the same season but come the math on! This song is moody, misanthropic and really helps to put you in Light’s headspace: he has a terrible but great responsibility to be the god of a new world and Alumina perfectly illustrates the miserable yet tantalizing burden that being a human shinigami carried with it.
Honestly, I could dedicated an entire blog to writing about anime music and its influence on me as a writer, human person and I found that this list changed depending on what day I wrote it. This list as it is now is far from the one it started as. But here’s where I want to give a shout out to the albums that you have probably heard me talk about but did not end up on this list. Namely the soundtrack for Axis Powers: Hetalia should have and needs to be mentioned. You learn so much about the characters in these songs and I am still shameless in my ability to sing The Delicious Tomato Song or Paris is Indeed Splendid.
I’d also like to talk about the rest of the soundtracks to a lot of the animes I mention. Just because I picked one or two songs from each series does not mean the rest of the soundtrack is garbage. Bleach has amazing music, Naruto has amazing music: these series have fantastic soundtracks and you’re welcome to ask me more about it in the comments below. Additionally, there are songs particularly that are special to me despite not fitting neatly on this list that I’ll speed round here a little.
- Haru no Katami – Ayakashi Samurai Horror Tales
- Genesis of Next – Cyborg 009
- Most of the soundtrack to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and the original Fullmetal Alchemist
- A good portion of the soundtrack of Naruto: Shippuden
- Cruel Angel’s Thesis and Fly Me to the Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion
- The entire OST to Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt
- The rest of the FLCL soundtrack
- Most of the Code Geass soundtrack
- The OST to Air Gear
- Is it cheating to mention how much I love the music of nearly every Miyazaki movie?
Now, onto the main event.
Ready, Steady, Go!, L’Arc-En-Ciel
You know this was going to be the official, unofficial number one, right? You knew I had to do this. You knew that there was no way I could get through this list without mentioning the anime theme song to end all anime theme songs. This song gets me so hype and it ignites something in me that I’ve felt for damn near twenty years now. The opening animation only continues to sell the song as uplifting, emotional and powerful. There are so many memories of me and my friends singing this song on road trips, during conventions, on stage and more. It’s brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. The vocals sell the song and lifts me to greater heights. I could dedicate more to this song but I’m sure it doesn’t do this song justice. If you’ve somehow never heard it before, just give it a listen.
Thanks for sticking with me through this post! I like doing these Top 10s! What’s the next thing I should rank?
Forgiving “Let it Go”
I didn’t like Frozen. Well, let’s back up. I didn’t like how saturated the market became after the release of the uber popular Disney film Frozen. And that centered around the movie’s super popular song Let it Go. I hated the song, I hated every child who sang the song, I hated every teen on Youtube singing covers of the song.
I hated that it was “the anthem” for the youths.
And if I sound like The Grinch, you are right.
But Frozen didn’t fire on all cylinders for me for more than just the inundation of the song. I wasn’t wowed by the story. Now, mind you, it’s a stunning film and I could have my arm twisted and see some of its appeal. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go over the film. Frozen centers around Princesses Elsa and Anna. Elsa has ice powers and Anna has BenDelaCreme’s terminal delightfulness. Elsa does her best to hide her ice powers and Anna continues to be painfully optimistic. After one party, Elsa’s ice powers are outed, she runs away dramatically and builds an ice palace (as you do) and Anna has to go on a mission to “save” her sister. There’s a boring subplot about Anna wanting to marry the first man she meets, Hans, and another boring subplot of Anna trying to rationalize her dumb choices to male lamp that carts her around. Hans ends up being an Alex Jones-style false flag villain and Elsa nearly kills Anna with ice magic. Elsa laments this and the moral of the story that the truest love possible is one between sisters despite the fact that Anna still shacks up with the male lamp.
This movie just dances along the line of being obviously made for children while also being aggressively allegorical for the adults in the room in parts. Disney has recently been very meta with its movies and Frozen really kicked off that trend. Anna’s determination to marry the first man she meets is a staple plot point of the 90s Disney movies and every other character around her is insistent on telling her that her assertion is wrong and is bad and she should feel bad. The abundance of cute sidekicks is also very 90s Disney, so all the terrible ways Olaf is maimed and damaged during the film is an interesting inversion of that trope.
But we’re here to make amends to Let it Go, the breakout anthem of the entire damn film.
It was actually another Idina Menzel song that made me forgive the transgression that was Let it Go.
It’s Defying Gravity from Wicked. Many of you will know I am a huge musical theater person which makes the next statement a little strange: I don’t like the musical Wicked. Now, I do love the music of Wicked. Popular makes me smile, For Good makes me cry and Defying Gravity…let’s get into that.
Defying Gravity is right towards the end of the musical and it’s all about Elphaba breaking free of Glinda and her narrow view of how to do things right. The song is triumphant and beautiful and I do relate to on so many ways. Elphaba uses this song to finally free herself of the expectations set upon her by society, Glinda’s gaslighting and her dead-end relationship with The Wizard. It’s beautifully sung and beautifully performed and it does all the right things for me as a nerd, musical theater person and person who loves Idina Menzel.
My relationship to the song is a little more than just appreciating a damn fine musical number. As someone who felt held down by a hometown littered with ghosts, a family that was prone to gaslighting me into staying in one place and a myriad of societal expectations that only exhaust me, I wanted to defy gravity. I wanted to fly free. I wanted to reconcile all those feelings and be the best me I could be from precisely 278 miles away.
And it was as I belted the lyrics to this song at the bus stop before the sun rose just outside of my tiny apartment, I realized something: this is what the people who so passionately sang Let it Go must feel like. This feeling must be the exact same of finding form to the feelings you’ve had for so long and finding a song that so perfectly illustrates your desire to just break free. Disney has plenty of anthems like that from Part of That World to How Far I’ll Go; every generation of Disney fan has theirs. For me, it was Reflections because of course it was and for a whole generation of children, it’s Let it Go. And the parallels to Wicked and other coming of age narratives don’t stop there. Frozen allegorically can be seen as one of the best metaphors to coming out as LGBT+ put to film.
As Elsa becomes comfortable with her powers and who she is, she stops concealing and not feeling and lets it go. For many that had to remain in the closet, it’s liberating to live your truth and not have to hide who you are. Many find a family or build one of their own, they find safe places that do not make them compromise and they relish in being who they really are; just as Elsa did when she built her ice castle, built her minions and changed her clothes and let down her hair: she became the most free version of herself and that’s wonderfully powerful to those who have felt that way or are trying to feel that way.
Just because at first it didn’t do anything for me does not mean that I can or will continue to deny the importance of this narrative to a new generation. Just because something isn’t my cup of tea doesn’t mean I have to demean its importance to others.
And for being a stick in the mud about Frozen for literally years now, I do apologize. It’s not my job in this world to steal someone’s thunder. It’s my job to be understanding, as those have been with me. To be critical without being cruel. To be skeptical without being cynical. To be intelligent without condescension. That is what I am here to do.
How Rebecca Sugar Uses Music
I don’t have many nice things to say about Rebecca Sugar. I couldn’t tell you why I bristle at her mere mention but I simply don’t have many kind words to say to her. I do like many of her works, I think she was one of the best parts of Adventure Time and her writing made the show better and Steven Universe…well, that could be an entire other post. But I have to give credit where credit is due: Sugar is a fantastic songstress. And for that very reason, I want to give a little time to talk about how Sugar uses sound, lyric and score and to praise her, even briefly because game does recognize game.
If you listen to me gush about Adventure Time many times the moments that are most powerful to me are the ones that involve songs. I’m a musical person, I relate easily to music. But before we jump headfirst into a list of songs that probably made me cry, let’s start with some history. Rebecca Sugar is cut from a cloth that I got to also be cut from: fangirl on the internet. She’s most notable for me for his fanfiction and fan art. She is an animator, artist, musician and more and we grew up with similar fandoms and shows even though we do not in any way know each other. She worked on the staff of Adventure Time under Pendleton Ward during what may be the best run of the series but she’s most famous for breaking away and doing her own show: Steven Universe.
Sugar is a songstress in so many ways. She writes lyrics, she sings, she plays instruments and she is incredibly tactful with how she employs song.
I want to go over a few in depth because I think they merit analysis.
Let’s start with Remember You, employed in Adventure Time between Marceline and the Ice King. This song is gone into more depth in another post but I want to talk about the use of lyrics are plot device here. Sugar is able to blend plot, character and more using a song to bridge the gap built by these two characters and thus fill us the audience in on a secret hundreds of years in the making. It’s a heartbreaking moment that I won’t forget and is responsible for making me cry alone in my car at least once.
Next up is Stronger Than You, sung by Estelle in Steven Universe. How SU uses gender and sexuality could be its own blog post if I cared more to write about it but with Garnet I am particularly invested. As a person who doesn’t follow the gender binary, a duet with the self is incredibly powerful. Both parts of me are fantastic and make me the whole as both parts of Garnet, Ruby and Sapphire are fantastic. The triumphant tone of the song was such a power anthem for me for so long and was a great way to help me analogize my gender identity to questioning Muggles.
We’ll take another dive into SU with It’s Over, Isn’t It sung by Pearl in an episode that was entirely musical. But this song was clearly meant to be the showstopper. It’s a deeply emotional ballad where Pearl discusses her love for the fallen Rose Quartz and the bitterness and jealousy that can come from loving a woman who doesn’t choose you. Pearl has had to cast aside every negative feeling she’s had to raise Steven and she’s clearly still quite raw about the whole thing. This song was so vulnerable and emotional and very resonate for many women (especially ones like me) who have longed for another woman only to see them leave and have to maintain the facsimile of a friendship with them and do your best through gritted teeth respect the man they chose over you. Not to say this is healthy or perfect. The one-sidedness of this song does highlight the fact that Pearl’s feelings, while valid, are still unhealthy and her damn near predatory romance when it comes to Rose and her deep resentment towards Steven and Greg Universe continue to be antagonizing forces in the narrative of the show.
Which brings us to the most recent song that made me cry: Time Adventure. This song was used in the final episode of Adventure Time and while the finale to me was mostly blah this song was so heartfelt and emotional that as soon as I heard Sugar sing it during the final cast panel at NYCC, I cried. It’s a song about friendship, how time is a trick and it doesn’t matter who you are at your worst or who you may be, what matters is the bond formed because that is in fact timeless. The way she uses language in the lyrics is actually quite brilliant:
Will happen, happening, happen
It’s all a funny trick of tense that carries you melodically but also logically. And it’s simple rhyme scheme and lyrics make it easy to remember. This is one of the rare instances where I do think a cover is better. In the finale (SPOILER) Bee-mo is the one to sing this song and in Bee-mo’s auto-tuned voice, it rings a little hollow and hard to understand. But Sugar singing this carefully, softly, clearly and over the ukulele (because of course she did) made the song sound so intimate and personal: like you were the only person in the room hearing her play even though it was in fact, a packed convention hall that got to share in such a precious moment. Time Adventure is a gut punch of a song that I found myself singing by myself in moments of quiet when my inner demons got a little too loud. Like a little lullaby I could sing to myself to soothe my insecurities about myself and those I have surrounded myself with.
I wish I had kinder things to say about Rebecca Sugar. I wish my feelings weren’t so muddled in not liking the fandom she helped create and the person who is simply a creator. I wish I could go home again with many of these shows. But despite my cynicism and disenchantment, I have to give her credit: she sure can sing.