Over the past couple of weeks, inspired by the release of Steven Universe: The Movie, I have been rewatching the Steven Universe series from start to finish. A Cartoon Network-developed series about a boy with magical protection and healing powers and his space alien lady friends, Steven Universe features an endearing and widespread cast of supporting characters.
One of my favorite characters in the show is Sadie, a young woman who we first meet in the show working a dead-end retail job in a donut shop, still living at home with her mother. For the first several years that Steven Universe aired, Sadie was a pleasant but fairly one-note character. She worked her job, put a lot of pride into doing things right, and got annoyed at her co-worker Lars for not pitching in enough. She was very pleasant and supportive of our main cast of characters, but she rarely got to explore life beyond her retail job setting.
As introduced fairly early in the series, Sadie loves to sing. She's not a particularly confident public singer — she's actively put off singing for a while when characters try to force her to sing a song for an audience in a way that isn't right for her — but it's clear she has a strong voice and a desire to do something more creative than her repetitive day job. While this is more of a trivia fact than a core character trait early on, that all changes when Sadie finds something she has a passion to sing about.
You see, Sadie isn't passionate about singing bubblegum pop songs in a nice pretty dress; she's a depressed millennial goth whose passion is singing about how terrible capitalism is.
In the episode "Sadie Killer," Sadie is wrestling with a couple of concurrent issues. She's been invited to sing in a band, but she isn't feeling the vibe of their music. She's also having a terrible time at her job. In a fit of passion she quits her job because it's making her miserable, and thus a persona is born. She dons her best leather jacket and face makeup, pulls a creepy zombie face, and gears up to sing about why capitalism sucks.
While Sadie's age is never directly confirmed on-screen, she's presumed to be around 18 based on her youth and job status. As a teenager, I was pretty into my emo and goth aesthetics, but Sadie is basically what I wanted to be at that age: a goth frontwoman who is aware of how much societal power structures suck and brave enough to loudly and eloquently criticize them. I wish I had that level of style and skill now, let alone in my awkward late teens.
There are tracks like "The Working Dead," in which Sadie uses horror tropes to highlight the pointless monotony of repetitive busywork and the feeling of going through life on autopilot when you have no focus outside of showing up and being present somewhere every day. It may be a slightly simplistic view backed by the safety net of a parental home to live in, but it's a sentiment that's relatable for sure.
Contrast that with "Ghost Song," and you've got a track that's an angsty teen ballad about feeling overlooked in a homogenous world, again using those horror themes to emphasize the song's themes of wanting to be a creative unique person rather than doing what you're told and being who you're told to be. It's tonally wobbly in that way teenage bands so often are — more about the emotions on display than the pure polish of the delivery.
Then most recently, in Steven Universe: The Movie, we see Sadie and her band perform "Disobedient," another track about the experience of retail work and the fact that it so often comes bundled with the prerequisite that service workers need to put on an unnaturally happy and polite attitude, doing as customers ask and never telling them when they're being a nuisance. The track is beautifully delivered with overly polite spoken word dialogue used to great effect. As a woman who has worked retail jobs in the past, the presentation of the "hello sir, how are you today" line with a raised vocal pitch sent chills down my sides.
Steven Universe's Sadie has basically worked out, as a young adult no less, that doing a job you hate for the rest of your days rather than chasing your passions sucks, capitalism causes people to waste away the little lives they have being miserable, and that you should probably just become that cool goth frontwoman in a punk band you've always dreamed of becoming. Don't throw your life away for someone skimming money off your labor; break out of that box.
Yeah, I really just want to be Sadie. She seems to have things figured out.