From a catchy jingle about a specific breakfast food to a touching ode to friendship, there is something very special about the songs on “Adventure Time.” On top of reinforcing the show’s charm, these songs have often helped add heft to the narrative by exploring characters’ feelings and unpacking tidbits of lore.
But that wasn’t part of series creator Pendleton Ward’s original plan.
“The show isn’t a musical but it has these musical sequences and moments,” showrunner Adam Muto told The Times in July. But “I think initially Pen wasn’t sure how much music he wanted to have on the show.”
According to Muto, after an early episode featuring a duet between Ward and Olivia Olson’s character, Marceline, the creator and then-showrunner of the Cartoon Network series started pushing away from that direction. But ultimately Ward’s crew kept pulling him back because they liked the songs.
“I think he wanted [the show] to go in a more straight adventure way. But we kept talking him into it,” explained Muto. “Then by the time [writer and storyboard artist] Rebecca [Sugar] came on, it kind of gave us a new tool to push even more emotions.”
Marceline's tune doubting her father’s love because he ate her fries ushered in a whole new era for the show musically and Sugar went on to write a number of “Adventure Time’s” signature songs.
“I never studied songwriting necessarily so every single one was like reinventing the wheel,” said Sugar. “Now I’ve just had so much trial and error that I sort of have a system, but I really didn’t then.”
And Sugar still remembers pitching that first episode.
“I had to pitch the song and I was very nervous,” said Sugar. “I was going to have to sing in front of everyone.”
“I remember I was up on the roof and Ian [Jones-Quartey], my partner, he was up there and I was just too quiet. You could be two feet away from me and not hear me,” explained Sugar. “So I just practiced and tried again and again, a little louder and a little louder, until I was just audible, basically. And then I went downstairs and pitched it.”
Even after leaving “Adventure Time,” Sugar has at times been called on to provide musical assists. For the show’s finale, which airs Sept. 3, she wrote a song called “Time Adventure,” about how a good thing never actually goes away because it forever exists in the time that it happened.
Like many of Sugar’s songs, “Time Adventure” packs a heavy emotional punch. Her performance at the show’s San Diego Comic-Con panel in July left even members of the “Adventure Time” team misty-eyed.
Here are just a few of the other songs that pulled major heartstrings during “Adventure Time’s” 10-season run.
“I’m Just Your Problem” by Rebecca Sugar
Sung by Marceline in the Season 3 episode “What Was Missing,” “I’m Just Your Problem” was the first glimpse of the complicated feelings between the Vampire Queen and Princess Bubblegum that has been continually teased throughout the series.
“It's like I'm not even a person, am I?” sang Marceline. “I'm just your problem.”
Marcy’s hurt from whatever their past relationship was was palpable. So was her irritation that she accidentally mentioned her desire to reconcile with PB.
“Remember You” by Rebecca Sugar
The Season 4 episode “I Remember You,” revealed more about Ice King’s tragic past and former friendship with Marceline during a duet between the two.
The pages that Ice King believed were just genius song lyrics turned out to be notes that he wrote when he was Simon Petrikov. Addressed to a younger Marceline, Simon’s letter explained that the magic he was using to protect them was causing him to lose his mind.
“Please forgive me for whatever I do, when I don't remember you,” the two sang.
“Get Over You” by Andy Ristaino
Teenage heartbreak is rough. In the Season 5 episode "Love Games,” Finn’s lingering feelings for his ex-girlfriend Flame Princess are expressed in song while he was supposed to be pretending to be in love with Slime Princess.
“See your face all over Ooo. Sticks to me like a coat of glue,” sang Finn. “I can’t get over you.”
“Young Lemonhope” by Tom Herpich
The song Princess Bubblegum wrote for Lemonhope was haunting. After saving his people from the evil Lemongrab, the young reluctant hero was finally able to experience true freedom in the Season 5 episode “Lemonhope Part 2.”
1,000 years later, an elderly Lemonhope traveled across desolate lands, finally ready to return home to rest.
“Safe Lemonhope, no more will you roam,” sang PB. “Once you were lost and now you're back home.”
“Everything Stays” by Rebecca Sugar
Marceline’s mom (voiced by Sugar) made her first appearance in the Season 7 episode “Everything Stays” comforting a young Marceline with a song. A grown-up Marceline revisited the tune a few episodes later.
“Everything stays right where you left it,” she sang. “Everything stays but it still changes.”
The song is about the inevitability of change even when things are left alone. Even things that seem stagnant are changing in little ways.