My name is Emma Keller, and there’s a million things I haven’t done — recently, listening to the Tony award-winning musical sensation “Hamilton” was one of them.
“Do you live under a rock or something? It is so good! How have you never heard of Hamilton?”
I know, I know. I have heard it all. To be quite honest, I avoided “Hamilton” for so long because of its popularity. “Hamilton” tells the story of America in its earliest days and is named after Alexander Hamilton, its main character and one of the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson, British monarch King George III and Aaron Burr — who shot and killed Hamilton in a duel — are also all central figures. The musical is a mixture of rhythm and blues, history and theater that has drawn crowds by the millions.
The musical phenomenon has morphed into this mainstream obsession that has deterred me from buying into the hype — don’t even get me started on the sudden popularity of the social media platform TikTok. So, you see, it is not that I hated “Hamilton,” but that everyone loves it, and I did not want to be part of “everyone.”
I hope this is not sounding too edgy, but there is something about loving something — a band, a Netflix show, a musical — that nobody knows about. It becomes your special “thing,” a hidden treasure that only you have discovered and that no one has exploited.
However, when my roommate asked me if something’s popularity diminished its value and its greatness, I started to realize the error in my ways. What great content has my repulsion of extreme popularity kept me from? I could be missing out on something amazing. After all, there must be a reason that so many people love these mainstream things.
So I opened Spotify, pulled up the “Hamilton” soundtrack — nobody told me it was 2 ½ hours long — swallowed my fear of becoming basic and hit play. And let me tell you, it was an emotional rollercoaster.
Hamilton’s ambition and determination is amazing. He is “just like [his] country — young, scrappy and hungry.” But having so much to prove shows how much there is to lose — like your wife, your relationship with your son and, oh, your life.
In the musical, French general Marquis de Lafayette is a rap god and an immigrant who steps in to save the day, bringing ships and soldiers to aid the American cause. Seriously, my ears could barely keep up with him.
The love triangle between Hamilton and the Schuyler sisters, Angelica and Eliza, is heartbreaking. The whole fiasco comes to a climactic standstill in “Take a Break” — one comma in the address of a letter saying, “My Dearest, Angelica” really did change everything. And Eliza Schulyer gave me goosebumps in “Burn.”
What’s not to love about the riff-off Cabinet meetings with their jazzy beats and snarky bass lines accompanied by catchy and historically accurate lyrics? I listened to the whole soundtrack all the way through in one sitting, and I only have one question — what kind of name is Theodosia?
But in all seriousness, I really did enjoy listening to all 2 ½ hours of “Hamilton.” There was so much more to the musical sensation than the sometimes excessive hype surrounding it. It was more than history lessons and rap lyrics, more than period costumes and outstanding vocalists. “Hamilton” asks thought-provoking questions that stick with listeners long after they leave the theater or take off their headphones.
One such question that appears multiple times in the musical has really got me thinking — “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”
I did not initially expect much from listening to “Hamilton,” but I found myself following this train of thought and asking a similar question — if your heart breaks for nothing, what will you love?
Pausing and reflecting upon what we stand for — what our hearts break for — can be so important. Our hearts guide us — they prove that we are human and not made of tin. Our hearts motivate our minds, hands and feet — they show us what we stand for when they break and shatter. They determine “who lives, who dies, who tells [our stories].”
I really did not expect to take away lessons like these from a Broadway soundtrack. So, after all of this, I am obliged to say that swallowing my hipster-ish pride and repulsion of extreme popularity to listen to the “Hamilton” soundtrack for the first time was a great decision.
I have realized that not all things are mainstream because of their perpetuation of dominant narratives or because they are shallow in their relatability. Perhaps, some things like “Hamilton” can become mainstream without losing the quality that originally attracted a dedicated fanbase. Perhaps, they grow because of the deep, underlying things they reveal about ourselves and our beliefs. I still will not vouch for TikTok though.
Emma Keller is a Life Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.