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.