Ingrid Michaelson’s ‘Stranger Things’-Inspired Album Is Here, And It’s Perfect
It's not just for Stranger Things fans—and believe me, I would know
Friday means new music, and last week, singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson released her eighth studio album, Stranger Songs—an entire record of music inspired by the hit Netflix series, Stranger Things, which is due to return this Thursday, July 4.
Now, I don’t watch Stranger Things (although I did go as Steve Harrington for Halloween last year—long story), but if there’s anything that can convince me to sit down and binge the whole series, it would be this album. Ingrid has said that this record is “pretty close to [her] heart,” so I’m also pretty pumped to be listening to her finished work.
The best thing about this album is that even non-Stranger Things fans can listen to it and find the perfect song, whatever the occasion is—whether they’re going through heartbreak, missing their ex, or just needing a female empowerment song to hype them up. Let’s go track-by-track, shall we?
Speaking to Billboard, Ingrid explained that this track was inspired by a line from the first episode, when the school bully calls Dustin, Mike, and Lucas “freaks.”
“I wanted to turn the idea of ‘freakshow’ around into something positive – being different is a positive thing and not conforming to what everyone thinks is an ideal is positive. It’s what makes you, you,” she said. “It’s from the point of view of Mike, welcoming Eleven into their world, saying, ‘It’s okay if you feel alone, we can be alone together.’”
This song is a great opener, and one that sets the whole mood of the album. "Welcome to the freak show," Ingrid sings. Welcome indeed. We are promised a fun ride, and with Ingrid behind the microphone, it's sure to deliver.
Best line: When you wake up and you're all alone / And the bed's too big for one / Well, you're not the only weird one
Young and in Love
For this song, Ingrid said that she and her co-writers “wanted to write something that gave listeners the feeling of being young and in love, whether they are young, or not – or in love, or not,” referring to that vibe as a “summer feeling.”
I can easily hear this song accompanying a montage—whether on television, film, or even someone’s personal home video—of fun summer moments, from fireworks to blasting music as loudly as possible. It can go beyond summer, too: thanks to Ingrid, I’m all set for December—I found the perfect song I’m using for my family’s holiday video!
Best line: Play the music loud so we can sing along / And teach me all the words to your favorite songs
“This is from the point of view of Hopper, talking to Eleven,” Ingrid said. “He lost his daughter when she was quite young and of course hasn’t gotten over it. He sees Eleven as another child he has to be responsible for. But he’s dealing with a superhero who can’t be controlled, which is a little of what most parents go through – they want to control their children but at some point, they have to let them go.”
I love how this song sounds. I feel like this is the most vintage-sounding of the bunch, and yet still perfectly mixed with contemporary elements. There’s a guitar riff near the bridge that really sounds like something you’d hear from your parents’ favorite songs, and it takes me back to being in my dad’s old Honda Civic while he blasts eighties tunes.
Best line: And I need you more than you need me / You got magic in your bones / You are poetry / You are poetry to me
I’m of the belief that "Hate You" is this album’s quintessential "Ingrid song." Its production is simple and straight to the point: Just a piano and Ingrid’s signature breathy voice, accompanied by some backing vocals in the chorus. I could have easily mistaken this for something off of her It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense album!
But Ingrid says of this track: “This song is from Steve’s point of view. Nancy’s pretty nasty to him when she breaks up with him and yet he still sticks around. He’s a good guy and still wants to support her and help her and those around her. It’s easy to leave. Hard to stay. It makes us love Steve.”
Best line: You're the living nightmare that I always dream about
“'Jealous' is from the point of view of Eleven, when she sees Max on the skateboard with Mike,” Ingrid says. “She gets jealous and knocks Max off her skateboard with her powers. You can tell she feels bad instantly and is also sad at the idea of losing Mike. It’s the concept of, ‘I know I do bad things; I know I shouldn’t do this, but I do it anyway’—which is a very human feeling.”
Full disclosure: This was the first song I heard from this album, and when I saw it on my release radar, I had no idea it was for a Stranger Things-inspired project! I just thought it sounded fun and catchy, and it still is! This is another song I wouldn’t mind hearing from one of Ingrid’s previous albums—this time, Lights Out.
Best line: Landmines all over this town / I'm living in a haunted house / ’Cause everything's reminding me of you
‘Missing You’ is the album’s lead single, and is inspired by the love triangle between Nancy, Jonathan, and Steve. Ingrid calls the show her “forever inspo” on an Instagram post shared on May 16. “It’s the concept of being with one person, but knowing you should be with somebody else,” she said. “I think a lot of people have felt that, in one way or another.”
Best line: I don’t wanna be dramatic / But your, but your lips are like a drug and I'm an addict
I lost my mind at this song. In ‘Best Friend,’ Ingrid acknowledges the fan theory of Barb being in love with Nancy. “I wanted to touch on that with the idea of falling in love with your best friend,” she said. “I think a lot of fans love Barb and wanted more from her story. So, I gave her more.” Falling in love with your best friend is the stuff of dreams—and also excruciating agony, but anyway—and Ingrid definitely captures that feeling in this song.
Best line: I don't wanna mess this up / I don't wanna say too much / It always gets too real when I tell them how I really feel
“‘Mother’ is an amalgamation of Eleven’s search for her mother, Will trying to find his mother from the Upside Down and myself, having lost my mother. It is quite special to me,” Ingrid said, and that much is evident: This song is soft and affecting. It begins quietly, then gains power in the second verse, then almost explodes at the bridge—almost, because it’s a quiet and muted kind of explosion—until it ends just as softly as begin. With every ‘mother’ said, you can really hear the emotion in Ingrid’s voice. It reminds me of "I Remember Her," a song from It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense, which is also inspired by Ingrid’s mom.
Hi mama. I had to take a moment from this crazy day to say Happy Birthday. I’m still making music. I know you’d be proud. I know you are proud. Some days I just want to crawl onto your lap like in this photo. And just let the world and all it’s scariness melt away. But I can’t. So I write. And I sing. And I read. And I learn. The fact that my song that is out today, on your birthday, is called Missing You is no coincidence. I miss you. So much sometimes my eyes drown themselves and my throat locks up. But we have to keep moving and living and creating and helping and learning and growing. Happy Birthday mommy. Thank you for teaching me. And loving me so.
Best line: Someone said the sky is falling, tell me, is it true? / Everything's alright when I'm with you
“‘Christmas Lights,’ Ingrid said, “is about Winona Ryder’s character communicating with her son Will in the Upside Down through the Christmas lights.” This song also has a personal connection to Ingrid: “Upon listening to it, it chokes me up because it makes me think about Christmastime and my mom and dad.”
“I remember all the wonderful times we had at that time of year,” she added. “So it becomes a sort of metaphorical, talking to them through the Christmas lights.”
This song is perhaps the song that sounds the most like the show. To me, it’s the track that completely encapsulates the vibe of Stranger Things—from the production to the lyrics—and yet it’s still a universal enough experience that even if one listens to it without context, it’s still pretty resonant.
Best line: So it's Christmastime again / Apart, but yet together / You know I'll always look for you / From now until forever
In an Instagram post Ingrid shared a week ago, she revealed the inspiration for this song—the scene where Eleven was in a pink dress and a blonde wig. “It made me think about what defines ‘pretty’ in a girl or woman.”
“Eleven’s power is the prettiest thing about her,” Ingrid added.
Okay, real talk: We can totally hear this song in a playlist that also includes "Armor" by Ingrid’s BFF, Sara Bareilles, right? Ingrid really drives the theme of female empowerment home by making this song’s vertical video a montage of various women feeling the song.
Best line: I'm not just pretty / No, I’m pretty damn good
Take Me Home
The record’s final track, "Take Me Home," is from Ingrid’s point of view, she revealed. The song states her reasoning for writing the whole album—an “intense streak of nostalgia that manifests itself in wanting to relive many moments in her life.” She shared how important the show is for her, what it’s helped her accomplish: “escape and go back in time, just for a moment.”
She wrote from the point of view of the show’s characters, but as she did so, she also was able to write about herself too. “We all feel the same things as humans, in varying degrees of intensity,” she said.
And that’s why this album appeals even to people who don’t watch the show—people like me. Ingrid’s musicality and vulnerability really show in this record, and even though, at a glance, it looks like it’s her least personal album, a closer look would show that it’s actually the one that is nearest and dearest to her heart.
Best line: Can I go back and see / The lost come back to life
Lead photos from @ingridmusic and IMdB