Still Alive

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"Still Alive"
Song by Ellen McLain
from the album The Orange Box Soundtrack
Released21 December 2007 (2007-12-21)
Songwriter(s)Jonathan Coulton

"Still Alive" is a song featured in the closing credits of the 2007 video game Portal. It was composed and arranged by Jonathan Coulton and was performed by Ellen McLain, while portraying the Portal character GLaDOS. The song originated in a meeting between two Valve developers and Coulton about him writing a song for the company, which Coulton accepted as he was a fan of Valve's Half-Life series.

The song plays during the end credits in-song in the form of a computer console, and plays after GLaDOS is defeated by Chell, the game's protagonist and player character, with the lyrics revealing that GLaDOS is, in fact, "still alive" and not angry with anything. The song received significant praise for its humor and the quality of its performance. It has been featured in multiple venues, including at the 2009 Press Start -Symphony of Games-, a yearly Japanese concert event to showcase the musical works of video games. It was also featured as a free downloadable song for the Rock Band series, originally released on 1 April 2008. A rerecorded version, with Sara Quin on lead vocals, appears on Coulton's 2011 album Artificial Heart. The sequel to Portal, Portal 2, also ended with a song written by Coulton and sung by McLain called "Want You Gone". The two collaborated on a third song, "You Wouldn't Know", as part of the game Lego Dimensions, which featured various characters and locations from Portal.

The song was released on The Orange Box Soundtrack on 21 December 2007, along with an exclusive vocal mix not heard in Portal.[1]

History and recording[edit]

Jonathan Coulton, the composer of "Still Alive"

The song "Still Alive" was written by Jonathan Coulton and performed by Ellen McLain for the Portal video game. McLain also provides the voice for GLaDOS, an artificial intelligence for the fictional Aperture Science Enrichment Center and the game's antagonist.[2] "Still Alive" is sung from the perspective of GLaDOS and used as the song that runs over the game's credits. By the end of the game, Chell, the game's protagonist who has been misled and placed in life-threatening situations within the Aperture Science Enrichment Center, the setting of the game, by GLaDOS, will have finally encountered and defeated GLaDOS. However, the song and portions of post-credit scenes suggests that GLaDOS is still functional, and despite having been apparently destroyed by Chell, is "not even angry" at that prospect, having considered the monitoring of Chell's performance through the test chambers as a "huge success", regardless of the destruction caused by Chell and the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device being released into the outside world, for those that are "still alive". The Combine invasion of Earth from the Half-Life series was also hinted in the song by GLaDOS ("Go ahead and leave me, I think I'd prefer to stay inside. Maybe you'll find someone else to help you. Maybe Black Mesa. That was a joke. Ha Ha. Fat Chance."). The song itself is also present as a samba instrumental version through in-game radios at certain points within the game.[3]

Coulton got involved with Valve after two developers approached him following a concert in Seattle, Washington. They asked him if he would like to write music for the company, and because he was a fan of Half-Life, he immediately accepted. After discussing what they should do, he and the developers settled on working on Portal. By this point, a few months before the release of The Orange Box, Valve's writers had created a large amount of backstory for GLaDOS and other aspects of Portal, which Coulton was able to use to write the lyrics.[4] The overall process to complete the song took about six weeks.[4] Coulton stated that GLaDOS's passive-aggressive nature, which he shared, made it difficult to get her voice out of his head. When asked why more video games do not end in song, Coulton stated that while movies have been well used to convey story, "we're still learning how to do it in games". However, as the player has grown accustomed to GLaDOS by the end of the game, her singing is something that "feels almost natural".[5] The song's title suggests that GLaDOS is "still alive" after the events of Portal.[6] Kim Swift explained that they chose to play this song during the ending so that players would leave the game happy.[7]


McLain felt that Jonathan Coulton did a good job capturing GLaDOS with the song.[8] IGN editor Ryan Geddes called it the best game-ending song of all time.[9] In 2008, Coulton performed the song alongside Felicia Day at the Penny Arcade Expo, because he "knew it was one of those things that would just make people’s heads explode".[10] The song was given the "Best Original Vocal - Pop Song" award by the Game Audio Network Guild during their 2008 awards.[11] The song was also performed at the 2009 Press Start -Symphony of Games-, a yearly Japanese concert event to showcase the musical works of video games. "Still Alive" is the first Western song to be performed at the show, which included a Japanese translation by Kazushige Nojima, a writer of several Final Fantasy games, and arrangement for the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Masahiro Sakurai, director of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, demonstrated the game to the audience prior to the performance, given the minimal exposure of Portal in Japan.[12][13] Coulton experienced a surge in popularity after the release of Portal due to the song's release.[4] It was later performed live by original singer Ellen McLain for the first time at Anime Midwest in Chicago.[14] In the book The Art of Videogames, author Grant Tavinor stated that while he was in hysterics by the song, he got the sense of artistic completion upon hearing it.[15]'s Alice Liang called the ending to Portal "catchy, charming, surprising, and humorously bittersweet".[16] On the eve of Portal 2's release, Forbes editor David Ewart called the song "surprising, funny, catchy, and unforgettable", and considered its opening line "This was a triumph" as a "modern shibboleth".[17] Kyle Hilliard of Game Informer included the song in a list of other surprising musical numbers in video games.[18]

In other media[edit]

It was featured in The Orange Box Original Soundtrack released on Steam, containing both the original version and remix sung by Coulton himself.[19] The song is also present in Valve's zombie-themed Left 4 Dead 2, which can be selected to play on a jukebox in three different campaigns; another Jonathan Coulton song, "Re: Your Brains," is also present in the jukebox.[20] The song is a popular cover and remix for user-generated content, such as on YouTube.[21] In the Portal game mod "Portal Prelude", a remix of "Still Alive" can be heard on several radios throughout the game, however, they are not performed by GLaDOS.[22] The Valve-owned web site,, features a Christmas-themed remix of "Still Alive", showing a moving image of the Weighted Companion Cube with a Santa Claus hat and ended with a message reading "HAPPY [HOLIDAY NAME HERE]".[23] A special Microsoft Windows port of the Xbox Live Arcade title, Chime, includes "Still Alive" as an additional music stage for the game.[24]

In Rock Band[edit]

"Still Alive" was featured as a downloadable song in multiple games in the Rock Band series, including Rock Band, Rock Band 2, and Rock Band Unplugged.[25][26][27] It was included for free on the Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation 3 to thank players for supporting the series.[28][29] After complaints about Rock Band Unplugged's version not being free, this was rectified and anyone who paid for it had their money refunded.[30] After a content pack for Rock Band was hacked, a list of songs purported to be included was released which included "Still Alive".[31] Jonathan Coulton and three others performed this song on Rock Band, announcing its presence in the title as a downloadable song.[32] Coulton's version with Sara Quin, as appears on his album Artificial Heart, was later released through the Rock Band Network as well.


  1. ^ "Friday, December 21, 2007". Valve. 21 December 2007. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  2. ^ "Game Music Showdown: Mirror's Edge Vs. Portal". IGN. 22 October 2008. Archived from the original on 21 December 2009. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  3. ^ Boyer, Brandon (1 March 2010). "Not a lie: Valve updates Portal with secret radio broadcast images". Boing Boing. Retrieved 6 March 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Reeves, Ben (15 March 2010). "Portal's Minstrels: An Interview With The Men Behind The Music". Game Informer. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
  5. ^ "Portal: Thank you for the Music". Computer and Video Games. 28 December 2007. Retrieved 24 August 2009.
  6. ^ "Still Alive: Kim Swift And Erik Wolpaw Talk Portal". Gamasutra. 25 March 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  7. ^ "Best Of GDC: The Secrets Of Portal's Huge Success". Gamasutra. 27 February 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  8. ^ "GLaDOS Speaks". IGN. 31 October 2007. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  9. ^ "On the DLC: A Man Named Angus". IGN. 4 April 2008. Archived from the original on 14 December 2010. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  10. ^ "Interview: Interview: Jonathan Coulton On 'Still Alive', PAX Style". 2 September 2009. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  11. ^ "Game Audio Network Guild Announces Award Winners for 6th Annual G.A.N.G. Awards". IGN. 29 February 2008. Retrieved 27 March 2010.
  12. ^ Jeriaska (2 September 2009). "Interview: Jonathan Coulton On 'Still Alive', PAX Style". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2 September 2009.
  13. ^ Jeriaska (10 August 2009). "Sound Current: 2009 Press Start Symphony of Games Concert Report". Game Set Watch. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
  14. ^ Vic (20 July 2011). "Ellen McLain and John Patrick Lowrie at Anime Midwest". Lambda Generation. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
  15. ^ Tavinor, G. (2009). The Art of Videogames. Wiley. ISBN 9781444310184. Retrieved 8 October 2014.
  16. ^ "Our Favorite Gaming Moments from". Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  17. ^ Ewart, David (19 April 2011). "What Is Portal 2, And Why Should You Care?". Forbes. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  18. ^ Hilliard, Kyle (7 June 2013). "The Best Video Game Surprise Songs". Game Informer. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  19. ^ "The Orange Box Original Soundtrack released on Steam". Music 4 Games. 24 December 2007. Archived from the original on 3 March 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  20. ^ Plunkett, Luke (5 November 2009). "Left 4 Dead 2 Still Alive, Parties Like It's 2007". Kotaku. Retrieved 5 November 2009.
  21. ^ Carless, Simon (18 January 2008). "Aperture Science Rocks: The Top 12 'Still Alive' Cover Versions". Game, Set, Watch. Retrieved 6 March 2010.
  22. ^ "Portal:Prelude: Merry Christmas!". 25 December 2008. Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  23. ^ "ApertureScience". Retrieved 8 October 2014.
  24. ^ de Matos, Xav (26 August 2010). "Chime: Portal Edition Coming to Steam at the 'End of the Summer'". Shacknews. Retrieved 26 August 2010.
  25. ^ "PSN Update (04.17.08)". IGN. 17 April 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  26. ^ "Classics from Bowie, The Police, and Others Launch in Wii Rock Band Music Store". IGN. 26 May 2009. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  27. ^ "Rock Band Unplugged DLC Showdown (07.02.09)". IGN. 2 July 2009. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  28. ^ "Wii owners can finally grab "Still Alive" from Portal for free". 26 May 2009. Archived from the original on 2 February 2014. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  29. ^ "Portal Song 'Still Alive' Coming to Rock Band". IGN. 31 March 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  30. ^ "Rock Band Unplugged Refund". IGN. 16 July 2009. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  31. ^ "Rock Band content pack hacked, rumored upcoming songs inside". Ars Technica. 14 February 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2009.
  32. ^ "Jonathan Coulton performs "Still Alive" in Rock Band". Ars Technica. 25 February 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2009.

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