Happy Independence Day, my fellow Americans! Happy Wednesday to everyone else. Even if you aren’t from the U.S., why not use today as an excuse to enjoy an excessive amount of fattening foods and dangerous explosives? Ain’t nothing more American than that.
Joking aside, it seems like there are quite a few people in the United States who aren’t feeling the national pride this year. That’s understandable, plenty of aspects of the current state of our nation are certainly objectionable. However, on the anniversary of America’s birth it seems more appropriate to look back at how the nation was formed instead of dwelling on our modern issues. Thanks to the musical Hamilton, it’s easier than ever to remember exactly why we should be proud of this country.
If you somehow haven’t heard of it, Hamilton is a hip-hop styled musical detailing the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. The first song begins with Hamilton’s birth in the Caribbean, and ends with his death after his infamous duel with Aaron Burr. The music is enthralling and catchy as all hell, but what makes the play truly incredible is how real it makes America’s history feel. You could read a thousand history books on the American Revolution and not feel a thing, but listen to Hamilton once and I guarantee you will be hooked on the story. And that’s the key word: Hamilton is a story, and it uses its storytelling structure to remind us how incredible our nation’s inception really was.
First and foremost, the play is dripping with character. Elementary school teachers make the founding fathers seem like stuffy old men upset that their tea was too expensive. Hamilton is a shocking reminder that these people we have placed on so high a pedestal were just that: people. They had hopes and dreams, doubt and flaws. They were human. Realizing this makes the whole affair infinitely more relatable. For example, in the play Aaron Burr is no longer just the man that shot Alexander Hamilton. He is Hamilton’s rival, his opposite, and his friend. Despite the constant tension between the two it is always clear that they respect each other’s accomplishments. After major events in Hamilton’s life, Burr’s perspective is always included in songs like “Wait for It” and “The Room Where It Happens” in order to develop his character and foreshadow his thought process in the moments leading up to their duel. The duel itself is framed from Burr’s perspective in “The World Was Wide Enough”, walking you through his panicked decision that ended in Hamilton’s death. “I had just one thought before the slaughter: this man will not make an orphan of my daughter” would be the most moving line in the song, if not for the crushing “He aims his pistol at the sky, WAIT!” Burr’s instant devastation and regret at the deed always sends shivers down my spine, and I forget that these people are meant to be “historical figures.” They were just men, trying to do what they felt was right..
On top of the incredible character writing, the use of a modern style of music makes it effortless to get invested in the story of the revolution. The play would theoretically make much more sense with a classic, orchestral musical style, but the genius of the play is in how appealing it is to the current generation. Hip-hop is infamously reviled by the curmudgeonly old men that make up the stereotype for historians, so its use in a historical context gives younger people a greater sense of ownership over the story. In addition to this, of course, the music is excellent. Bombastic tracks like “Right Hand Man” and “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” express the breathless tension and weight that the battles held, and make the eventual victory over the British Forces immensely satisfying. Confident, playful songs like “My Shot” and “A Winter’s Ball” ease that tension and make the characters feel friendly and approachable, contributing to that amazing character development I mentioned before. The music of Hamilton isn’t just phenomenal, it’s specifically engineered to remind the youth how great their nation is.
If you aren’t feeling the Fourth this year, try giving Hamilton a listen. It won’t, and indeed shouldn’t, make you forget about the importance of modern politics, but it may ease your mind and restore a little of your faith in your country. Hopefully then you can enjoy the food and fireworks, and be proud to live in the home of the brave.