Ingrid Michaelson Reveals The Inspiration of Each 'Stranger Songs' Track
By Nicole Mastrogiannis
July 15, 2019
Since its 2016 season one debut, Netflix's Stranger Things has become an instant hit. Whether you like anything 80s pop culture, sci-fi, romance (and bromances), thrilling storylines, or cliff hangers, there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. As a result, the series has built up a large legion of fans, one of these fans being singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson — and she was so impacted by the show, which just aired its third season, that she wrote an entire album inspired by it and its beloved characters, appropriately titled Stranger Songs.
Michaelson exclusively told iHeartRadio of her new album, "I've written a lot of records just from my point of view, and I'm working on a musical adaptation of The Notebook, and so I've been writing songs from people's points of view, and it just kind of bled over into the pop world for me. I was like, 'I really enjoy doing that. I'm really enjoying writing from somebody else's standpoint.' So that concept that I was already kind of in my veins, I was doing it, mixed with my love for the show and wanting to put something new out... it just kind of felt like a fun experiment. I didn't know if it was gonna really work out because I didn't wanna alienate people who didn't know the show. I wanted the songs to be broad enough so that people could relate to them if they had no idea what the show was about. But I also wanted to really get in there for the super fans. So, I think it was just a mixture of wanting to put something new out, wanting to do it in a different way, and really enjoying writing from another person's point of view, and merging my own point of view with this character's point of view."
Having now watched the latest season of Stranger Things, here is what Ingrid is hoping for in Season 4: "Let's just say that I hope... I really wanna see one of the characters again, who might not be seen again. I'll just say it that way. My theory is that all is not lost. I'm trying to be super-vague. But yeah, I want somebody to still be alive."
Ingrid also took us through Stranger Songs, track by track, and explained how each song relates to the show. Read on below.
Track 1: "Freak Show"
"There's actually a literal line in the first episode where the bully is talking to Lucas and Dustin and Mike and he's like, 'Welcome, step right up to the freak show!' And, it hit me every time I saw it, because I watched both seasons multiple times. And yes, I watched the third one (just once). But there's something about feeling left out and feeling different, especially when you're younger and you're in school and you just want to fit in and somebody calling you out for being different, and I wanted to celebrate that difference, and say it's okay to be different and it's better to be different."
Track 2: "Young and in Love"
"We just wanted to write a song about literally being young and in love and in the summer time, and what it feels like to just be driving with the windows down. And I knew that the third season was coming out on July 4th, so there's a line in it that says, 'It's like the 4th of July in your eyes.' I just knew I wanted to have that line in a song somewhere, because I had the inside info. So that's one of like the little Easter eggs in that one. But that's more of a broad, encompassing feeling. And a lot of Season 3 is really romantic compared to the other two. Not to spoil anything, but there are a lot more relationships. So, I feel like it's a really nice companion to Season 3."
Track 3: "Hey Kid"
"'Hey Kid' is basically Hopper singing to Eleven and Sara, his daughter who he lost. It's just the concept of trying to hold on to your child and trying to take care of your child, and ultimately, you have to let go of them. But there are tons of little lines in there like, 'Breathe out and in.' And that's in the flashback when he's losing his daughter, he's like, 'Breathe out, breathe in.' He says it to Joyce when they're looking for Will in the upside down. This all sounds so creepy when I'm saying it out loud. I'm so obsessed with this show. So, there are very specific lines that I took from the show and things from the show in that song, but you wouldn't know it if you didn't know the show. And you really dig in, you can find all of the fun little tidbits."
Track 4: "Hate You"
"'Hate You' is from Steve's point of view, because Nancy... there's an episode where she breaks up with him in the bathroom and she's kind of drunk. She's not in the bathroom, she's at a party, and she's like, 'We're bulls***. This is bulls***." She says bulls*** like 10 times. So, in the bridge of that song, it's like, 'I don't hate when you called our love bulls***.' And so it's basically like, why is he sticking around if she's so cruel to him and she's with this other person (spoiler alert). Because he loves her still, and he loves the kids that he's met through her, and so he's just a good guy and he's sticking around. But the idea of, like, I wish I could hate you, but I can't hate you because I love you so much."
Track 5: "Jealous"
"'Jealous' is based on a scene where Eleven is watching Mike and Max through the gymnasium door when she's not allowed to, like, be known yet. She's still in hiding. And she knocks her off the skateboard because she's jealous, and then she just feels so bad immediately, and it's brilliantly acted by Millie. Because she just gets so sad that she feels like he's forgetting her. And also in Season 3, you see a friendship between the two girls. So I think that's not El's style, you know? I think she feels really conflicted about that choice. So, I walked into the writing room and I said, 'I want to write a song about this scene where Eleven knocks Max off her skateboard, and I have the lyric 'I do bad things when I'm jealous,' and we wrote it in, like, 45 minutes."
Track 6: "Missing You"
"'Missing You' is the love triangle between Nancy and Jonathan and Steve, and it's the concept of being with one person, but wanting to be with another person — and not to give anything away. Love triangles are everywhere, people can relate to that, but there, again, are very specific references in the song if you know to look for them."
Track 7: "Best Friend"
"'There's a fan theory that Barb was in love with Nancy, and I also thought [about] that and I wanted to give... I feel like Barb's storyline wasn't long enough and I wanted more. I think many of us wanted more from her storyline, so I wanted to write something from her point of view as a love letter to Nancy. So that's what 'Best Friend' is."
Track 8: "Mother"
"'Mother' is an amalgamation of a lot of things. I lost my own mom, so it's very much my song, for me, as a lot of these are. My own experiences are funneling through these characters and through these lenses, so I still can relate to them. This one just very specifically. And it's also tied into Will and Joyce trying to find each other in Season 1, and Eleven trying to find her mother in Season 2, and just the idea of home and mother, and mother and child."
Track 9: "Christmas Lights"
"'Christmas Lights' was the first song I wrote for the whole record. It was actually a poem first, and that's how I started to write the record. I thought, 'If I'm writing poetry about this show, maybe I should write a song about it.' And I was like, 'Maybe I should do an EP. Maybe I should do a record.' And famously, she talks to her son through the Christmas lights, but if you just read the lyrics, it seems metaphorical. You know, 'I can't find you, but I'll talk to you through the Christmas lights.' It's like, 'Aw, you miss your family at the holiday season.' And I was like, 'No, it's literally Joyce in the closet talking to Will.' So, that kind of launched the whole record, actually."
Track 10: "Pretty"
"'Pretty' is about the concept of what makes a girl or a woman pretty. Beautiful. And there's a scene where the boys dress Eleven up like a girl, and they put her in a blond wig and a pink dress, and Mike says, 'She looks pretty... Good. Pretty good.' He's embarrassed to say she looks pretty. And she looks in the mirror and she says, 'Pretty. Good.' And then by the end of the episode, the wig is gone and she has the jacket on and she's covered in dirt, and it's like, she's totally herself. But I thought it was interesting, the sort of blond hair, pink dress trope of, like, that makes a girl pretty, and I wanted to just sort of examine that. I wrote that with two amazing writers in LA, Alex Hope and Sarah Aarons, two women, and Alex produced it, too. It's actually my first song that I wrote that's all female-driven in every way. So, it seemed apropos to write a powerful anthemic song about what really, truly bakes somebody beautiful; it's their power, it's their strength."
Track 11: "Take Me Home"
"I was adamant about having eleven songs on this record, just to complete my total geekdom. 'Take Me Home' is the reason why I wrote the whole record. It's the feeling of nostalgia and of a simpler time. My parents just being young again and wanting to go back to that time, and shows like 'Stranger Things' allow you to live in another world for however long you watch the show for. Just that desire to revisit those memories and that point in your past. That's why I wrote the whole record, basically. That song encompasses that sentiment."
Photos: Adrianna Casiano