la-et-steven-universe-soundtrack-volume-1-20170411Cartoon Network announced in early April that it would be releasing “Steven Universe Soundtrack: Volume 1” as a digital album in early June 2017. This great news for fans of the show because the music is such a large part of the show’s storytelling.

The tunes of the album have been hand-picked by series creator, Rebecca Sugar, including the theme song, “We Are the Crystal Gems.” I don’t envy her task because the Emmy-nominated series has featured performances from many guest musicians including Nicki Minaj and Aimee Mann as well as Grammy Award winner and series regular, Estelle (as Garnet).

Like Doctor Who, Steven Universe excels in using music to set the mood of its tale. However, Steven Universe also uses its music to advance the plot and its world building through character exposition. Using music in this manner wouldn’t work for most shows, but Rebecca Sugar and composers Aivi Tran and Steven “Surasshu” Velema make it work. Below are a couple of examples:

1. When the Gems are captured by Peridot and Jasper (The Return), Garnet (the fusion gem) is disassembled into her primary gems, Ruby and Sapphire. In the episode Jail Break, Ruby and Sapphire reunite to form Garnet and battle Jasper as the rest of the Gems fight to take control of the ship. The song, “Stronger Than You” moves the story along and also tells you everything you need to know about Sapphire’s and Ruby’s relationship to the world and to each other. As Garnet says, “She is their conversation.”

2. The relationship between Pearl and Greg, Steven’s father, has always been strained since Rose (Steven’s mother) first met Greg.  In the mostly musical episode Mr. Greg, Steven inadvertently forces Pearl and Greg to come to grips with their relationship with each other. Both come to recognize that they each were in competition for Rose’s affection and now all they have left of Rose is Steven. Below Pearl sings “It’s Over, Isn’t It?” and the pain in her voice tells you how much she worshiped and really loved Rose and resents Greg.

Steven brings both Pearl and Greg together in this same episode and they patch their relationship in the song, “Both of You.”

3. In the episode We Need to Talk, we get to see the musical side of the Gems under Greg’s musical influence. We see Rose who enjoys Greg a little more than she’s enjoyed other humans in the past and see the jealousy Pearl exhibits from Rose paying attention to Greg. The song “What Can I Do for You?” tells us so much more about Rose than we ever knew before and how the Gems acted around her.

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The way Steven Universe uses music makes its storytelling toolkit complete. It allows the characters to express themselves and move the plot forward and we, the viewer, are rewarded each time this occurs.  Steven Universe can be seen on Cartoon Network and the album will be available June 2, 2017.

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