In Ingrid Michaelson’s newest album Lights Out, she continues a theme that has been present in her music since she first began. Michaelson writes music that is geared towards the margins- the people who feel different in some way. She writes about the experience of being different in many places, and attempts to include all of those who might not have a voice in other types of music. She argues that there is a way for acceptance to be felt universally, and that loving others is the best way to embrace differences.
One of her earliest examples is the song “The Way I Am”. In the song, she sings about the joy of being accepted by the person the narrator loves, in spite of faults and differences. She writes:
If you were falling, then I would catch you.
You need a light, I'd find a match.
Cause I love the way you say good morning.
And you take me the way I am.
She writes about the joy of acceptance, which is elaborated on further in the music video. In the video, Michaelson is in love with a circus clown, and she sees herself as a freak for not being a clown like the others, but her love pulls through and the clown accepts her, even though she does not look like his peers. Even if she does not fit in with the others, he takes her as is, and shows that the way we are is not something that separates us from others, but can help us to experience love.
A more recent example of speaking to the margins is her song “Girls Chase Boys”. In her music video for the song, the backup dancers defy gender norms by dressing femininely, despite being both men and women. Even the lyrics support her blending of gender and sexuality when she sings, “Chase girls, chase boys, chase boys, chase girls,” which leaves the interpretation of who is chasing who up for questioning. In an interview with the Washington Post about her new album, Michaelson said, “There’s some experimental stuff and hopefully people will follow me down that road. It’s definitely diverse. I’m just really excited to perform these songs live. It’ll be fun to see how people react.”
In her song “Everybody”, she offers a solution to the problem of loneliness and marginalization. She writes,
We have fallen down again tonight
In this world it's hard to get it right
Trying to make your heart fit like a glove
What it needs is love, love, love
She says that if we learn to love each other, the world might not be such a hard place to live in. Everybody could worry less about fitting in and be loved for who they are. Instead of fighting for acceptance, with love all are welcome.
Her music addresses those who feel different from others and gives them a place to find acceptance. It gives some degree of hope to the lonely and empowers listeners to accept themselves for the way they are while also challenging others to love those who are different. No matter who you are, all are welcome in Ingrid Michaelson’s music.
- Avery Johnson
The female singer/songwriter tradition is alive and well. Ingrid Michaelson’s music may be well known from Old Navy commercials and Grey’s Anatomy, but she isn’t just a set of hands on the piano and a voice. Ingrid rejects the tedium that can sometimes crop up in the genre. Through musically diverse songs (with elements such as strings to electronics) and her strong lyrics and vocal ability tying the music together, she adds her own flair to the tried-and-true singer/songwriter territory of romantic relationships.
Ingrid Michaelson seems to know all too well the painful side of relationships. A wave of destructive energy flows through Human Again, her latest album, as many of the songs are about coming to grips with the effects of a broken relationship. She’s quite eloquent on the subject, and it makes for lyrical explorations, often illustrated through metaphor. “Ghost” is about the lack of volition and feeling left after being hurt in a relationship (I’m a ghost/Haunting these halls/...And I’m lost), whereas “In The Sea,” is about being thankful for the ability to feel at all, even if it is pain.
However, Ingrid is able to transform that energy as well. Human Again also explores the positive ways destructive energy can work on us as well. Songs such as “Fire” and “Palm of Your Hand,” deal with destructive energy for deconstruction, a means of clearing the way for creation. Human Again’s lead track “Fire” illustrates the fine line well:
Heart attack up your sleeve
You can make me believe
I would grow from the ground
After you burn me down
I'm walking in a fire with you
You burn me up, you burn me up
And I love it
Is she being hurt by the fire, or being ignited with creativity and growth? There are grounds for both interpretations. Not many musicians acknowledge this creative side of destruction, something that makes Ingrid’s music unique and refreshing. This renewal and re-creation is a vital part of Human Again as well, giving the album space for restoration and hope as well. Perhaps “Keep Warm” gets at the hope present on her album best with the lyrical chorus:
And it’s cold outside
And I’m just fine
You are mine
To keep warm
Even with the pain, it looks like Ingrid is doing just fine.
- Jacqueline Ristola