Monday, July 6, 2020

Is Hamilton worth its hype?

I watched Hamilton on Disney Plus this weekend, and I suppose I enjoyed it. Part of me wishes that I could enjoy rap more than I do, but I've always found its rhythm kind of jarring because it emphasizes words over music. I have a long history of this in my personal life, as for the most part, I get drawn to a song by its melody and sometimes it is years later that I actually hear the lyrics for what they are and think, "Oh! That's what that song is all about!" So, it's hardly unusual that in a play where every word uttered comes out in rap form, that someone like me might wish that it was just delivered as dialogue and not hip hop.

However, I can separate my own personal biases enough from a work of art such as Hamilton to declare that it is indeed worth watching even if you are (like me) not really drawn to rap. If anything, you can see the remarkable diversity of the cast and realize what a thing Lin Manuel Miranda has done by casting all these people of color to a uniquely American story. Additionally, the breathless pace of the thing moving from one scene to the next without ever taking a break from the hip hop style of delivery and the ever present musical chords in the background used to punctuate a song are kind of mind-blowing. I can't even imagine the kind of mind it would take to write all of these songs. And that seems natural too, because I'm not a genius (unlike Lin Manuel Miranda).

For me though, Hamilton is probably a one and only watch. Sure it's artsy and fun, but it's not really my "cup of tea." If there's any criticism I can make of the show, it's that there's a ton of content coming at you as an audience member, and it's pretty fast and furious. There are two things that happen in this scenario. The first is that you get a bit of an information overload from the Hip Hop delivery. The second is that there's little opportunity while rapping to show any emotion outside of 1) anger or 2) confidence. The emotions of anger and confidence can get you far, I suppose, and it seems like a natural thing for people to be experiencing these emotions a lot when designing a new country. However, for a theater watcher like me, I kind of like to see (and revel) in the other emotions in the human spectrum (sadness, love, jealousy). Those are kind of my bread and butter.

There was one section of the play that did have a large range of emotion: the death of Alexander Hamilton's son. In a song that delivers with a line "The Hamiltons are facing the unimaginable..." it plays out. But then again, it plays out because (for that song) they abandon the hip hop. And I enjoyed it a ton. So again, maybe I'm just not a fan of hip hop as a delivery vehicle for dialogue. As a side note, I want to mention that the death of Alexander Hamilton's son was really kind of shocking. For one, Hamilton dismissed rather readily and with some comedy the fact that his son was going to a duel. Additionally, he gave him some really horrid and terrible advice, telling him to aim high instead of shooting because the other party would do the same (out of honor). It was incredibly ridiculous. If I had a son, I certainly wouldn't have allowed them to duel no matter what I had to do. It ultimately really shows that Alexander Hamilton was a terrible parent (if that wasn't obvious with his affair, etc.).

All in all, I'm glad that I got to watch the show on Disney Plus streaming. But I'm not envious of people who have seen it live, nor do I even want to buy a ticket to it to see it live myself. So is it worth the hype? Yes, I suppose it is. But I'm answering that for other people and not myself. I know my views on rap aren't shared by a lot of people who love it. But I definitely respect it as an art, and I'm glad it's around for other people to enjoy.


  1. I don't really like regular musicals or hip hop so a hip hop musical is not really a draw for me.

  2. I'm not a fan of rap, either. It's too angry, usually. It's the same reason why I can't listen to Eminem, especially. His musicality is clever and his tunes are catchy, but he starts rapping, and it's just so very, very angry. I just can't.

  3. Hamilton's advice to his son was not inaccurate. Hamilton was involved in a lot of duels -- it was a thing he did -- so his advice came out of experience, not wishful thinking or lack of knowledge.
    There's actually a detailed account of the duel on wikipedia.

    I'm not a hip hop fan, either, but I fell in love with the musical upon my first hearing of it. It's a brilliant achievement.

    1. Andrew: I agree that it's a brilliant achievement. It just wasn't my thing, kinda like Nascar or the Super Bowl. I appreciate very much that a ton of people are engaged and love it for what it is. But for whatever reason, I'm not in love with it.