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Welcome to the freak show
Brace yourself. I’ve never seen Stranger Things. I’ve never seen a whole lot of stuff, but Stranger Things is one of those rare cultural zeitgeist kinda things that everyone seems to really love. Sure, everyone was talking about Game Of Thrones, but half of the takes were about how trash it was. Everyone saw Avengers: Endgame, but there was still a lot of hate out there for it. I’ve never really heard anyone say anything negative about Stranger Things, though. I’ll watch it one of these days, I promise! But until then, I’ll gladly just cherish this rare thing where everyone I know all seems to be really into it and just bask in it. Which brings me to the new Ingrid Michaelson record, Stranger Songs.
As far as I can tell, this album isn’t officially affiliated with Stranger Things at all and is just heavily inspired by it. So, like I constantly do, Ingrid was just inspired by a piece of media and wrote a whole lot about how it made her feel, and thus, Stranger Songs was written. There’s something pure and beautiful about one of my biggest influences, just gushing about a TV show for 40 minutes through her music. (Ingrid’s been my favorite lyricist since high school and it’s only a matter of time before one of her early albums ends up in this column). It’s really cool to see someone whose work I so often project my feelings onto or to not feel so alone with, showcase the exact same thing for herself, even if I don’t get any of the references.
The show seems to really hit some universal themes of love and rejection, themes that have always been prevalent in Ingrid’s work. It’s clear enough from the material itself, but right before the record came out, I saw her live for a “sneak peak” show and there was a lot of banter and explanation of why the show resonated with her so intensely. (As an aside, if you’ve never seen Ingrid, you really have to. She’s as hilarious as she is talented.) These universal themes shine through in songs like “Hate You.”
2 am, 3 am, then 4, I’ll never sleep, not like I did before
You’re the living nightmare that I always dream about
I can’t seem to live without you
I don’t hate you, I don’t hate you, I just hate how much I don’t hate you
God I want to, want to hate you, I just hate how much I don’t hate you
I don’t hate that you called our love bullshit when you were drunk that night
I don’t hate how much I love you, I don’t hate that I cry
And I don’t know why, oh why, oh why
Or in “Best Friend,” a song that captures the romantic tensions that become the focus of most coming of age stories, certainly mine.
Wide awake, I lay beside you
It’s in the middle of the night and I really want to
Wake you up, tell you my secret, that you’re the one I want
But I don’t want to mess this up, I don’t want to say too much
It always gets too real, when I tell them how I really feel
Here I go again, Falling in love with my best friend
Try to hold it in, but you’re making it hard, hard to pretend
And we don’t just fall in love with characters because they show our best traits. Like in “Jealous,” you can see Ingrid latching on to characters that fall into the same traps we all do. Universal flaws that we can never seem to get right.
Hurts bad seeing you out, knowing that you’re happy now
You’re laughing like the way we used to do
I feel it rising in me, I feel the tide pulling deep
I never knew I could be so mad at the one that I love, no
I do bad things when I’m jealous
I do bad things, I can’t help it, I can’t help it
It’s what you’re doing to me, ruining me, turning me upside down
Yeah, I do bad things when I’m jealous
And I’m jealous a lot
But more than anything, I think a good piece of pop culture can do a lot to break the norms and cause a paradigm shift in how we view societal status quos. Action and adventure stories have historically been a real boys’ club, and from all the recommendations I’ve gotten lately (I promise, I’ll watch it, I promise!), it seems like Stranger Things is opening up the genre and letting young girls be part of the adventure too, and that rules. Even if I haven’t seen it, or don’t need that as much as someone else might, I’m so damn glad it exists and will gladly pull up a chair and listen to someone tell me why it means the world to them.
I’m done spinning ‘round and ‘round, planted my feet in the ground
I’m not afraid of the dark, I’m not afraid to get hurt
Head above the clouds, Mama, come look at me now
I’m not afraid of the world, I’m gonna fight like a girl
Running around with my long hair, tear in my dress and I don’t care
If you’re looking for something beautiful
I’m pretty sure that I’m all good, Walking away from you like I should
Washing it all away, I’m not just pretty
No, I’m pretty damn good.
Rosy cheeks and lips, she talks but nobody listens
That’s just the way of the world, I gotta fight like a girl