A closer look at the Steven Universe soundtrack with the series' creator and composers

Contributed by
Jun 1, 2017

For the first time ever, fans of Cartoon Network's Steven Universe will be able to get songs from the animated show in an official soundtrack set for release on June 2. Steven Universe Soundtrack: Volume 1 features 37 songs remastered by the series' composers Aivi Tran and Steven 'Surasshu' Velema, known as Aivi and Surasshu.

Tran told Syfy Wire at a press event in New York City in May that they found out about the soundtrack in December and it all happened really quickly.

"We basically remixed all the songs because they were all TV mixed so they all needed to be redone for the soundtrack," Surasshu added. "We really wanted to record a few extra guitar parts and stuff like that. It's completely remixed and remastered."

Sugar said she informed Tran and Surasshu about the soundtrack the second she knew it was a possibility. To choose the songs for it, they looked at everything they'd made and picked the really critical songs. The result is an album that includes all the classics, from the main theme to "Stronger Than You."

Music is an essential part of Steven Universe as its songs help tell the story of the show. It's one of the reasons they're so unforgettable and it's really exciting to finally have them all in one place.

With the release of the album almost here, I decided to take a closer look at each song on the track list and the episodes they're from. Here's what stands out to me about the 37 tracks, featuring more of my interview with Sugar, Tran and Surasshu about the soundtrack.

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"We Are the Crystal Gems (Main Title)"

The opening theme and its variations kick off each episode of Steven Universe. The short song features Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl and Steven singing about saving the world as the Crystal Gems while showing us Beach City and familiar characters we'll see in the show. It's upbeat and colorful and will get stuck in your head in the best way possible!

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"Let Me Drive My Van Into Your Heart"

Episode: "Laser Light Cannon" (Season 1)

As Garnet, Pearl and Amethyst try to stop a giant eye falling to the Earth, Steven visits his dad Greg to search for his mother's laser light cannon which may be the only thing that can stop the object from destroying them and Beach City. Looking through Greg's stuff, Steven finds the cannon. They tie it to Greg's van and drive it to the Crystal Gems. On the way, Steven starts playing his dad's old CD to distract them and this song comes on. The love song by a younger Greg lists what he was not, from that tall to that rich, but implores the listener to let him drive his van into their heart! Considering how Greg's van is connected to his character, I love that he included it in a love song he wrote in the past. It's quite fitting! As shown by Steven in the episode, the song is one you might be easily tempted to bounce along with.

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"Cookie Cat"

Episode: "Gem Glow" (Season 1)

"Cookie Cat" has remained probably one of the best-known songs from the series since its debut in the first season. It's one of the shorter, less serious ones but actually seems to have a deeper connection to the show when you listen closely to the lyrics. What Steven sings here is the commercial for the ice cream sandwich known as Cookie Cat. It tells the story of how the cat left his planet as a refugee of an interstellar war. It sounds a bit like the situation of the Crystal Gems, really. It's rather brilliant to have this jingle, which could have just been a silly product song, allude to Steven's own situation in such a way.

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"Giant Woman"

Episode: "Giant Woman" (Season 1)

Steven really wants to see Pearl and Amethyst create Opal after learning about their fusion. The two are too busy not getting along though, which results in Steven singing "Giant Woman." It clearly expresses how much he wants to see Opal and implores them to consider putting aside their differences to do so. It's one of my favorites of the shorter Steven Universe songs and even gets a short fun reprise once Pearl and Amethyst do form Opal at the end.

When asked about creating the music for the fusion dances between characters. such as the one shown in this episode, Tran explained that they use each of the characters’ respective instruments layered over each other.

“The first one we wrote was a song called ‘Amalgam’ which is Pearl and Amethyst fusing. Pearl is represented by piano and Amethyst by drums. In that song it’s piano over drums, but when they form together to make Opal the song is not just a simple layering of their sounds but about how they influence each other,” she told Syfy Wire.

Tran said they try to express that relationship in the music.

“For Opal specifically, we felt that Amethyst’s influence would push Pearl’s piano to be wilder so the way that we preform piano on the track is a lot more heavy and confident and there’s these runs that we do. A loose cannon Pearl almost,” she said. “Then Pearl would influence Amethyst to become a little more focused so Amethyst’s drumbeat is usually shuffled and kind of eclectic, but in Opal it’s driving. It’s almost like a rock beat, very straight. So we really think about how the gems influence each other.”

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"Strong in the Real Way"

Episode: "Coach Steven" (Season 1)

In order to destroy a communications hub, Garnet and Amethyst fuse into the strong Sugilite. Steven admires Sugilite's strength and decides to run a work out session to make them all tougher. This doesn't make Pearl happy, who believes there are many different ways to be strong and be essential to the team. The song displays both their points of view as they take turns singing. I love Pearl's part in particular as it explores how she wants to inspire strength in Steven.

Sugar told Syfy Wire that the composition Tran and Surasshu created for this song was incredible.

"It was just a ukulele song. It was very, very simple but it had to have all this energy to it and boom box element to it. [They] made that a reality," she said.

According to Tran, after getting Sugar's ukulele demo they "really wanted to give Pearl her musical princess treatment."

"When we chose the background instruments and flushed out the arrangement we wanted the arrangement to feel just as part of the music as the chords and the singing. So if you just hear the opening piano you know what song it is. We really wanted the music to feel like a huge part of the scene," she explained.

She said it was especially fun since it was a contrast musically of "Pearl's inner strength and her softness with Steven's being enamored with really masculine physical strength."

When approaching any of these songs, Surasshu said of the process that at first they try to bring out the idea of the song and most of the time it was clear what that idea was. Using "Strong in the Real Way" as an example, he said they knew when they heard the demo that they needed piano, drums, and so on.

"But now with the way the show's been going these songs have become so crazy and not of this Earth that we have to kind of come up with this whole palette that doesn’t exist and still try to connect emotionally at the same time because we want these songs to get the audience as well. We don’t want to make the songs so abstract," he said.

A great example of that is "What's the Use of Feeling (Blue)?" another song on the album and further down this list.

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"Steven and the Stevens"

Episode: "Steven and the Stevens" (Season 1)

As Steven goes back in time repeatedly thanks to picking up a legendary item on a mission, he eventually gathers enough versions of himself to create a band to perform at Beach-A-Palooza. The band plays this song which is basically about them all being Steven, unique and yet not! It's funny to see them all play together and it's a clever use of lyrics for a short tune especially since you know their joyous playing can't last forever. The world can't take quite so many Stevens!

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"Big Fat Zucchini"

Episode: "Steven and the Stevens" (Season 1)

It'll be interesting to see what the album version of this song is like! We only hear bits and pieces of it in the episode. Once the other Stevens rebel against the original Steven, they play this intense angst-filled song about Steven being mean and it follows in the background as all the Stevens travel throughout time. It's rare to see Steven, let alone four of them, arguing and being so harsh, making this a unique look at a dark place Steven can go.

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"Steven and the Crystal Gems"

Episode: "Steven and the Stevens" (Season 1)

Following from the rather dark look at Steven with the zucchini song and the character watching all the versions of himself die ultimately, Steven ends up playing at Beach-A-Palooza with Garnet, Pearl and Amethyst instead. It's a song that's like "Steven and the Stevens," only with changed lyrics to fit the Crystal Gems instead. It seems like just a fun song until it gets into the whole creating an alternate timeline thing and ends with the darkest lyric about learning to stay true to himself by watching himself die! It's one of the catchier songs that have a darker spin in the show.

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"Dear Old Dad"

Episode: "House Guest" (Season 1)

When Greg gets hurt, he stays with Steven and the Crystal Gems for a while. Father and son sing this song as they spend time together. The lyrics give us a better idea of what their relationship was like when Steven was younger. The two reminiscence about Greg singing to Steven and how they should each remember there's no one in the world like them. It's a sweet song the two sing together that does a good job of giving us some more information about the relationship between them.

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"Be Wherever You Are"

Episode: "Island Adventure" (Season 1)

Steven sees Lars and Sadie fighting and decides the three of them should getaway for a while using his new warp abilities. Unfortunately, Steven can't get them back so they get stuck on an island. Eventually Lars starts to relax and Steven sings "Be Wherever You Are" to remind them to just sit back and enjoy things for a bit. It's a beautiful melody and sentiment as he implores them to just appreciate the present and the moment they're in, instead of worrying about anything else.

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"On the Run"

Episode: “On the Run” (Season 1)

Inspired by a book series, Steven and Amethyst decide to leave home and head out for the open road. As they do they sing this track, which is quite a catchy road song but goes deeper than that. The lyrics reveal how the two are doing this for different reasons. Their contrasting views make it one of the more interesting songs. While Steven's just enjoying the trip at the moment, Amethyst is clearly going through something. She's running away from an element of her past that we don't know about yet, but is clearly making her feel like she doesn't fit in with the others.

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"Comet"

Episode: "Story for Steven" (Season 1)

Greg tells the story of how he met Rose, Steven's mother, and it starts with a young Greg performing "Comet" on stage as Mr. Universe. The rock song is a great example of his musical talent and its lyrics give us a peek into how Greg saw himself at that point in his career and why he was pursuing this line of work. It's an enlightening song offering us a glimpse of where he was in life when he met Rose, who was the only one at this performance.

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"Destiny"

Episode: "Story for Steven" (Season 1)

Greg writes this song after meeting Rose and sings it when he heads back to the Gems' home, deciding to give up his career on the road to try and be with her. "Destiny" is named quite appropriately of course, and talks about the incredible things he's seen since meeting Rose and what he's wondering now. It's very sweet to think of Greg coming up with this once he falls for her after their short meeting and in the end it succeeds in getting her attention.

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"Lapis Lazuli"

Episode: "The Message" (Season 1)

After hearing his dad start to sing about Lapis being mean, Steven responds with this short tune. In less than a minute, he sings a truthful piece about what Lapis went through and how she was really a friend. I love how this perfectly fits with Steven's personality, seeing the good in people, what they're really going through, and who they truly are. It's all captured so well in this touching little song.

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"Wailing Stone"

Episode: "The Message" (Season 1)

Greg tries to help the Gems with a Wailing Stone that has suddenly activated, but his first try doesn't go well. That leads to this sad song which follows the same tune as "Lapis Lazuli." In it Greg reveals how he's feeling not good enough and is upset that he failed in front of the Gems. He wishes they'd have faith in him. Even though he doesn't have magical abilities, he can still try to help. It's easy to see how this must be how Greg has felt at other times since meeting the Gems, who have only seen him as a human and perhaps not as capable as them.

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"Stronger Than You"

Episode: "Jail Break" (Season 1)

One of the most popular songs from the series and one of my personal favorites is "Stronger Than You." Garnet sings this song while fighting Jasper in "Jail Break." Jasper and the other Homeworld gems see something wrong with fusion, which is why Jasper kept Ruby and Sapphire apart. Garnet though knows they're wrong. She shows the strength that comes from them being together and loving each other, and expresses it in this song.

Tran said "Stronger Than You" was one of the most collaborative pieces they worked on between everyone and Sugar told Syfy Wire she received help from Estelle, who provides the voice of Garnet, for it.

"I wanted to ask her if it was okay that I wrote her a song and the pressure was off the charts to make it the best. Way before we did the episode I described to her the story and how these characters are coming back together and as soon as Garnet exists she already knows she's going to win, because it's a love song and a fight song and a victory song all at the same time, like what could this be," Sugar said. "She gave me a bunch of super inspiring references and talked about how she envisioned it feeling."

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"Full Disclosure"

Episode: "Full Disclosure" (Season 2)

After a rather dangerous fight and escape, Steven sees how upset the whole situation makes his dad. He starts to think that Connie might also get upset so he decides to avoid talking to her and sings this song about wanting to keep Connie safe now that it's hit home how unsafe things can get with the Crystal Gems. This song really gives us a look at what Steven is feeling at the moment, the anxiety and responsibility to keep his friend safe from it all. He's not his usual happy self as he wonders what to do to protect her, even considering not being in her life at all.

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"We Are the Crystal Gems (Full Theme Song)"

The extended theme showed up in the above short revealed at San Diego Comic-Con in 2015 and shows a younger Steven moving in with the Crystal Gems. Keeping the familiar elements of the opening song, this expands on it by also allowing each of the Gems to sing and give us more insight into their story and what they're fighting for. It's an awesome extension of an already classic theme.

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"The Jam Song"

Episode: "Sworn to the Sword" (Season 2)

This is sung by Steven and Connie at the beginning of "Sworn to the Sword." It's a really fun duet for the two friends, expressing their carefree relationship as they hang out enjoying a musical jam while eating some jam. They sound great together and it's an entertaining song for a sweet moment shared between the two!

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"Do It For Her"

Episode: "Sworn to the Sword" (Season 2)

There's a lot going on in this song with Pearl and Connie. Pearl is training Connie to use a sword and is clearly finding a connection between herself and the human so much so that things become a bit blurred. Pearl did everything for Rose and she tells Connie to remember she's doing this for Steven. The lyrics feature Pearl's training, which can be rather intense, and also reveal what Pearl did for Rose during the war and how keeping in mind doing it for Rose, like Connie should for Steven, means they know they can win. It all seems to freak Steven out a bit. The song is a great example of how this show uses music for character development and story growth.

You'll notice piano is prominent in this song. As mentioned above in "Giant Woman," that's Pearl's signature instrument. Tran said a huge part of their instrumental arrangement process is choosing the right instrument and they've "established that each character in the show has an instrument that represents them."

"That instrument comes up every time they're on screen. When we're arranging these songs whenever there's a certain character that's prominent, we try to bring their musical sounds into it. It's like this big musical lore," she said.

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"What Can I Do (For You)"

Episode: "We Need to Talk" (Season 2)

Greg and the Crystal Gems make quite a band in the episode "We Need to Talk" where Greg tells Steven about when he tried to fuse with Rose. It features Rose and Greg singing together while Garnet and Amethyst play backup. It’s actually a pretty intense love song when it comes down to it as the two sing and gaze at each other and the lyrics offer a look at what Rose thinks of Greg. That intensity is probably why when Pearl sees the two singing together she gets jealous and fuses with Rose in another intense performance full of feeling as they dance closely in front of Greg and the camera he's using to record their performance. It's an amazing look at the relationships between the three of them at that time.

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"Tower of Mistakes"

Episode: "Cry for Help" (Season 2)

This is another song that gives us a look at what Amethyst is feeling. Here Garnet tells Amethyst they shouldn’t fuse again anytime soon because they lost control last time so instead she fuses with Pearl. Seeing this, Amethyst sings about how maybe Pearl is indeed better for Garnet and she forgot how she felt so strong when they fused. She's trying to figure out how she can make it up to Garnet. It's a sad but nice introspective song for Amethyst.

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"Haven't You Noticed (I'm a Star)"

Episode: "Sadie's Song" (Season 2)

Steven discovers Sadie can sing when he walks in on her singing along with this song sung by Olivia Olson. It’s a fun, catchy pop song that blatantly talks about being famous and is easy to imagine fitting in this world. In the end, Steven sings it too!

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"Something Entirely New"

Episode: "The Answer" (Season 2)

This episode explains how Ruby and Sapphire met and fused into Garnet. After their first time fusing and then becoming stuck on Earth, they sing this duet about what the experience was like for the both of them. It's a brilliant song about the two of them exploring their feelings and what their actions mean for the future. The song is lovely and perfectly captures that this new relationship is going through as they try to figure things out.

If you've been wondering how all these songs come to be to begin with for Steven Universe, Sugar told Syfy Wire she always wants songs to be related to the story.

"I never want an extraneous song. It should always start in one place and bring a character to a new place and that arc for that character needs to be crucial to the episode that it's in. We'll usually plan an episode and say this character is feeling one way and then by the end of the song they’re feeling another and have a vague idea of what it should be and then I’ll set to work writing music and lyrics and sometimes also with Jeff Liu and Ben Levin and we'll put together a demo and sometimes when I'm really lucky [Tran and Surasshu] get called really early on …" Sugar said. “We start with the concept and then build on that and oftentimes we'll have a very broad demo that’s just ukulele and singing and the actors will sing over the ukulele and then it will all get flushed out to support it and when it reaches [Tran and Surasshu] that’s always really exciting to me because I’ll have this idea of how I think it should feel but then [they] make it a reality that is beyond my dreams for it always."

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"Peace and Love on the Planet Earth"

Episode: "It Could've Been Great" (Season 2)

Here Peridot is still trying to figure out exactly how she fits in on Earth with Steven and the Crystal Gems. Taking a break from work, Steven starts to sing this and he introduces Peridot to music. After some encouragement Peridot joins and it gives us a look at what she's feeling about her new life on Earth. The other Gems also join in and it's a great piece about Peridot working with the Gems as they all agree at least on wanting peace and love on Earth.

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"Don't Cost Nothing"

Episode: "Mr. Greg" (Season 3)

When his song "Comet" is remade into a burger jingle, Greg is suddenly rich! After Steven asks what he's going to do with his money, Greg sings this song about how many of the things he enjoys actually don't cost anything. From sunny days to singing songs, much of what Greg likes can't be bought. Steven eventually hops in with some ideas as they sing together though and this fun little song transitions into the next!

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"Empire City"

Episode: "Mr. Greg" (Season 3)

Following right from "Don't Cost Nothing," once Steven suggests they could use the money for a trip Greg decides on Empire City. More of a rock tune than the previous song, it highlights all the things they can do and enjoy during their trip. It's a fun memorable song for Steven and Greg.

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"Mr. Greg"

Episode: "Mr. Greg" (Season 3)

Arriving at a hotel in Empire City, the hotel staff starts singing this song about Greg spending his money and eventually Greg, Steven and even Pearl join in. Other than being a kind of fun, silly song, it also shows how Greg thinks about using the money he has now and ends abruptly when Pearl refuses to dance with Greg, giving just a peek at how things even after all these years aren't great between the two.

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"It's Over Isn't It"

This is one of my favorite songs in the entire show. Pearl sings about her relationship with Rose and how things changed when Greg showed up. It's sad and beautiful and reveals how while it should all be over now that Rose is gone, she still feels unsure about what to do and can't quite move on. She's still wondering who she is without Rose.

Sugar told Syfy Wire she wrote seven different versions of this song before she got to the final one.

"I have drafts and drafts of versions that I just threw away because they weren't it. If I try to write a song that's purely narrative, it will just never click for me. I have to figure out why I wanted to write it in the first place and it isn't until I get there that it comes out like for [this] one there are all these narrative things going on in the story that I wanted to address and in there [Pearl] talks about her history with the war, fusion and freedom, but it couldn't be about that. I had to figure out where it was coming from," she said. "You ever know someone who becomes so much a part of who you are that if you lose them you lose yourself? That feeling. I had to accept that's what I was writing about and really figure out what that sounds like."

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"Both of You"

Episode: "Mr. Greg" (Season 3)

To try and help make things better between Greg and Pearl, Steven encourages them to try talking in this thoughtful song. It's another very quintessential Steven song as he tries to make them see that they have a lot in common. They both love him and he loves them. The two do talk about what happened and ultimately come to an understanding. It's one of the songs on the album that will surely make you tear up before it's finished.

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"Don't Cost Nothing (Reprise)"

Episode: "Mr. Greg" (Season 3)

To cap off an episode with a lot of songs, there's this reprise. Greg realizes how much everything actually costs in Empire City, but Pearl hops in to remind them about all the things they can do for free and they start to sing together. It also includes a bit of "It's Over, Isn’t It?" sung by Steven, referring to what was going on between Pearl and Greg. It's a great ending to the episode and perfect combination of the tunes.

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"I Think I Need a Little (Change)"

Episode: "Greg the Babysitter" (Season 3)

Kicking off a story about his past, Greg sings this song about spending time with Rose who he thinks is amazing and he's content to just be with her. However eventually he needs to do more than just hang out with Rose so he can make money and buy the essentials, like food! The song is a really fun look at what Greg was doing once he decided to stay with Rose and no longer travel around performing. It might be awesome with the Gems, but he still needs to consider human things like making money and eating!

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"Here Comes a Thought"

Episode: "Mindful Education" (Season 3)

Garnet and Stevonnie sing this song together in "Mindful Education." Connie feels bad about something she did, which makes Stevonnie unfuse during training. In this song, Garnet tries to explain how they must understand their feelings and not run from what happened. The anxiety of things can be overwhelming, but Garnet advises taking a moment to think about things in the lyrics.

"When we were working on 'Here Comes a Thought,' I think it's one of those where it's just like 'Let's invent what this music is.' We had different things we were pulling from, but because we define so much how every character sounds, by expressing the characters we're expressing the music in a way that's not pulling from a type of music anymore," Sugar said. "We're just sort of making the characters breathe music, at least that's how I feel when I hear what [Tran and Surasshu] have done. It's like 'Oh this song now sounds like how I've written them feeling, but everyone sounds a certain way.' In 'Here Comes a Thought' there's an aspect of Ruby and Sapphire and Garnet that's inside of that song and it has to be because you're seeing them and what they're going through."

This is an extremely relatable song for anyone who has felt particularly anxious about anything in the past or present and is one of the songs that feels like it's helpfulness really reaches beyond the show to impact those watching who might be going through something similar.

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"Still Not Giving Up"

This was featured in the short "Steven Song Time" where Steven performs the song alongside the guitar tabs so people can learn to play along. It's a good song for a short that talks about the Gems' history, what Steven is going through, and dealing with it all, ultimately concluding optimistically that they're not giving up. It's great to see it included on the soundtrack here, making it known to those who love the show but might have missed the short.

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"I Could Never Be (Ready)"

Episode: "Three Gems and a Baby" (Season 4)

This episode flashes back to when Steven was a baby and Greg was taking care of him. It's a lovely song about the challenge of raising Steven and how Greg wasn't exactly ready. He couldn't have been ready for everything that came with a kid, something a lot of people probably feel and is shown so well through this sweet tune.

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"What's the Use of Feeling (Blue)?"

Episode: "That Will Be All" (Season 4)

This song is unlike anything we've heard before on the show. We still don't know all that much about the diamonds, but like many of the songs, hearing them sing tells us more about them. Here Yellow Diamond implores Blue Diamond to stop doing things to make her feel upset about the loss of Pink Diamond and that she also misses her, but it's not useful to keep focusing on being sad about it.

"We wanted to make something that doesn't sound like it comes from Earth, but humans still have to relate," Surasshu said. "It's still about loss and dealing with loss so it's still a very real subject."

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"Love Like You (End Credits)"

This beautiful piece can be found at the end of a number of episodes in various forms. Listening to the lyrics, you can see how it might fit with the series' story in different ways. Even just on its own though it's an incredibly touching piece of music. It completes a soundtrack that is surely just what fans of the show have been waiting for!

Steven Universe Soundtrack: Volume 1 is available for pre-order now and will be released digitally on June 2.