12/4/16: Lin-Manuel Miranda – Dear Theodosia and Reprise

Listen Along! Dear Theodosia & Dear Theodosia (Reprise)

The Hamilton Mixtape arrived on Thursday night, and the familiar tunes have not left my mind since. Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and star of Hamilton: The Musical, teamed up with The Roots and dozens of today’s best artists to give each song a unique spin. Some songs, like K’NAAN’s “Immigrants,” amended the original lyrics to send powerful political messages. Others, like Andra Day’s “Burn” infused extra emotion into already passionate songs.

The album takes its listeners on a journey about love, satisfaction, temptation, and the question of who will tell your story when you die. Impressively, Lin-Manuel Miranda is able to take a story about the birth of the United States, and make it relevant to 2016. Seven songs through, he sneaks in a sweetly sung song about parenthood. Slotted between Sia’s wild rendition of “Satisfied,” and an intriguing demo labeled, “Valley Forge,” the song could at first be dismissed as just sweet. Lin-Manuel Miranda ensures that does not happen, though. Instead, the song, “Dear Theodosia,” reprises at the end of the album. The songs complement each other to enhance the theme of leaving a legacy, which is present throughout the mixtape.

In the original soundtrack, “Dear Theodosia” is sung by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. They both are singing to their newborns, and promising to be better fathers than their fathers were to them. They also both hope the new nation they helped create will allow their children to have better lives. The song humanizes and connects the audience to Aaron Burr, who will later kill the protagonist, Alexander Hamilton. Though the two men disagreed often, they both were passionate about establishing a nation where their children could thrive.

“Dear Theodosia” was already a beautiful song, but the mixtape added even more meaning by placing Regina Spektor and Ben Folds’ version near the beginning, and saving Chance the Rapper and Francis and the Lights’ version for the end. Regina Spektor and Ben Folds have been around for a while. Folds released his first album with Ben Folds Five in 1995, while Spektor debuted with 11:11 in 2001. They both have written their fair share of heartwarming music (e.g. “Gracie,” “The Luckiest,” and “Zak and Sara” for Ben Folds. “Fidelity,” “The Calculation,” and “Don’t Leave Me” for Regina Spektor).  Plus, they’re both parents.

I grew up listening to the music of Folds and Spektor, who I often thought of as the pseudo-father and mother of indie pop. When Spektor sings, “You will come of age with our young nation,” I am reminded of how I came of age with her and Folds’ music. “Us” plays at the beginning of my favorite movie in high school, 500 Days of Summer. Ben Folds headlined my first concert. What We Saw from the Cheap Seats was the soundtrack to my commute to and from my summer job at KFC. When Spektor and Folds sing about parenthood, I am taken back to my childhood.

Until recently, I don’t think I truly understood what I, and my siblings meant to my parents. As the song states, “Pride is not the word I’m looking for. There is so much more inside me now.” It’s a feeling that cannot be explained, or possibly I cannot explain it until I have children of my own. But it can be recognized. That meaning, whatever the word is to describe it, is present in Regina Spektor’s voice. I can almost hear my mom when she sings, “When you smile, you knock me out. I fall apart,” and I have heard the sentiment, “Someday, you’ll blow us all away” from my parents since I can remember.

At 23, Chance the Rapper has blown away music fans, young and old. Chance is 27 years younger than Ben Folds, and represents a new generation in music. “Dear Theodosia” seems like it’s written for Chance, who is smiling down at his daughter on his latest album cover. While Spektor and Folds’ version comforts me like a parent’s lullaby, Chance’s version instills a sense of responsibility in me. As a child, there is a responsibility to do my best, and honor the investment my parents made in me. As an adult, there is a responsibility to work toward a better world for the next generation. Chance is eager and unashamed to tackle both of those responsibilities wholeheartedly.

The transition from Regina Spektor and Ben Folds to Chance the Rapper is representative of the transition into adulthood for those of us in our 20s. The shift from the natural beauty of Regina Spektor’s voice to the electronic charm of Francis and the Lights’ production is also representative of a shift in musical styles through the years. Through both versions, however, there is a constant: earnestness. When Hamilton: The Musical appeared on Broadway, Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post praised the production, stating:

“If the success of “Hamilton” signals anything, it is that irony is dead. We have exhausted its creative potential. Making things with quotation marks around them is exhausting. Standing at one remove is over. Put your air-quotes away. You won’t need them anymore.”

Chance, Regina, Ben, and Francis only further the evidence for Petri’s analysis. A hip-hop musical about a founding father is the height of pop culture. A loving father who isn’t afraid to share his beliefs is an international rap sensation. Cool is no longer cool. Calling someone “extra” is no longer an insult.

Growing up, I was embarrassed when my mom was the first one on the dance floor. I would cringe when my dad walked down the street singing. I was careful and afraid, like Aaron Burr. I believed the words repeated so often throughout Hamilton: “Talk less. Smile more.” And I was wrong. If people were sheepish and ashamed, Alexander Hamilton would not have written the Federalist Papers, Chance the Rapper would not have written Coloring Book, and Lin-Manuel Miranda would never have written Hamilton. The sincerity and earnestness in both versions of “Dear Theodosia” prove even more so that it is cool to express emotion. It is cool to be yourself.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Regina Spektor, Chance the Rapper, Ben Folds, and Francis and the Lights created two meaningful, sincere pieces of music with “Dear Theodosia” and its reprise. For that, they are my Sunday’s Best.

Honorable Mentions:

Childish Gambino (The Night Me and Your Mama Met): For trying something new, even if the rest of the album didn’t quite work for me.

Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness (Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me): For reminding Twenty One Pilots what poetry in a pop punk song should sound like.

Zella Day (Hunnie Pie): For contrasting her single from earlier this month, “Man on the Moon” with a painfully beautiful B side.

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