5. Ingrid Michaelson

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 5 is Ingrid Michaelson.


I have watched exactly one of the more than 240 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy (the season three finale). While I knew next to nothing about the characters or the plot, that climactic scene of that dramatic episode featured a never-before-heard song, “Keep Breathing” by a then-unknown artist, Ingrid Michaelson. That episode aired on May 17, 2007. Although that was only 8 years ago, the world was clearly a much different place because I remember scouring the Internet unsuccessfully trying to find the song to download it.

Before I eventually found a low-quality recording of the song from the show, I stumbled on to Ingrid’s 2006 album Girls and Boys on MySpace and instantly knew she was more than a one hit wonder, at least to my ears. The Grey’s Anatomy spot was her first major breakthrough, but when “The Way I Am” was used in an Old Navy ad, Ingrid’s career really began to take off. Despite lacking a major music label, Michaelson was making the transition to mainstream success. “The Way I Am” is simple and short, but it’s so sweet and singable that it climbed as high as #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

A multi-talented singer/songwriter, Ingrid plays piano, guitar, and ukulele, but it is her voice that stands out as her most potent instrument. She has a beautiful voice and a tremendous way with melody that allows her to take simple song constructions and make them sound epic.

I have seen Ingrid perform live twice, in Pittsburgh on Nov. 11, 2007, and in Cleveland on October 30, 2009. In addition to showcasing her musical ability, the live shows allow Ingrid’s charming personality to shine through. Her banter between songs with the audience resonates with a warmth and humanity reflective of someone who clearly does not feel she is above her fans. Both shows had a very communal feel, as if those who were in attendance were in on a shared secret. I’m sure the size of her shows has grown since then, but the heart of her shows remains unchanged. Ingrid remains connected with her fans via social media, and she maintains that girl-next-door sweetness even though she is now a well-established performer.

Of the 23 tracks that made the cut for my 30 at 30 compilation, six came from the aforementioned Girls and Boys, her 2006 album that remains my personal favorite. Besides “The Way I Am”, there are several other standout tracks that showcase Ingrid’s versatility. Opening track “Die Alone” allows Ingrid to belt it out over distorted electric guitar whereas “Corner of Your Heart” is a haunting, sad piano song. “The Hat” has a tremendous upbeat chorus that implores the listener to sing along and “Starting Now” opens with a cool guitar riff that leads into a cool train-beat on the cymbal. But Ingrid is arguably at her best for the slower paced “Breakable”, a thoughtful, philosophizing tune about the fragility of human beings and relationships.

True fans of Ingrid know that her first release was actually 2005’s Slow the Rain. The hard-to-find, self-released album landed four tracks on my compilation, including “Let Go”, “Around You”, “Empty Bottle” All of these songs put her voice at the forefront, but “Morning Lullabies” stands out as a personal favorite of mine. The song is itself a sweet lullaby perfect for winding down and settling into a good night’s sleep:

Let me lie in the curve
Of your body tonight
And i will hear you
Tumble into sleep
I will watch you heal
I will watch you heal with me

I will sing you morning lullabies
You are beautiful, and peaceful this way
I know you have to close your eyes on everyone
Let me help you, ill sing you to sleep
With morning lullabies

In 2008, Ingrid released Be OK, which (finally!) included a studio quality recording of “Keep Breathing.” The title track is a great pick-me-up anthem. “You and I” allows Ingrid to show off her ukulele, but it’s the a the stomp-clap final rendition of the chorus that truly makes this song shine as a singalong favorite. However, my favorite song from Be OK is undoubtably “Giving Up.” The song has a misleading title. In truth, the song is not about quitting at all but rather it is about the virtue of sacrificing (giving up) for love. It takes a very honest approach to commitment and recognizing that there will be difficulties, but it ends with “I am giving up for you.”  The preposition makes all the difference in that line. It’s never giving up on you, but rather for you. And I really believe that philosophy of putting someone else’s needs first is paramount to a successful marriage, so it’s no surprise that “Giving Up” is one of the songs that holds a special place in my relationship history with Jessie.

2009’s Everybody also landed four tracks on my compilation. “Everybody” and “Maybe” are similarly uplifting tunes. The pretty piano and elegant strings arrangement on “Sort Of” works perfectly with Ingrid’s delicate vocals. Finally, “The Chain” again puts Ingrid’s vocal abilities center stage as she sings in a round.

2011’s Human Again landed two tracks on the compilation. “How We Love” is very stripped down featuring just an acoustic guitar and Ingrid’s voice at its most innocent sounding. Meanwhile “End of the World” showcases more vocal flexibility, shifting from a quiet opening to a powerful ending that is matched by the swelling music.

Two non-album tracks also made the cut. Both songs are piano-based, but they are otherwise very different. “Little Romance” is a playful tune from Sex and the City Volume 2. “Spare Change”, on the other hand, is a brooding, melancholy ballad that was originally only available as part of Augusten Burroughs’ 2008 memoir A Wolf at the Table. 

In 2014, Ingrid released her latest album Lights Out. Previously, she had written almost everything entirely on her own, but on Lights Out, she loosened her control a bit and co-wrote several songs, including the biggest hit from the album, “Girls Chase Boys.” It is definitely the most pop-radio friendly Ingrid has ever sounded. Nonetheless, her voice still cuts through the added production.

Ingrid Michaelson is a self-made success story. She is proof that talented musicians who work hard will eventually be recognized for their talent. I’m happy to say that I was an early adopter of Ingrid’s music, but I’m even happier that more and more people are now enjoying her amazing voice than ever before.

MM 30 at 30: Ingrid Michaelson tracklist (finalized August 6, 2014)
1. Die Alone
2. Empty Bottle
3. Maybe
4. Let Go
5. Starting Now
6. Breakable
7. Sort Of
8. Spare Change
9. Around You
10. Corner of Your Heart
11. Keep Breathing
12. The Chain
13. Giving Up
14. How We Love
15. Everybody
16. The Hat
17. Be OK
18. Girls Chase Boys
19. Little Romance
20. You and I
21. End of the World
22. The Way I Am
23. Morning Lullabies

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