When it was first released on Broadway in 2015, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical was pretty much the biggest thing in popular culture. No one was immune to its charms, including big-name actors/personalities/singers/comedians, and a whole range of famous people. It was like a new version of the Ice Bucket Challenge, celebrities posting photos of themselves on social media going to see it. And now, almost four years later, famous individuals are still trying to get themselves involved with the play.
This is where Hamildrops come in. In late 2016, Lin-Manuel Miranda released The Hamilton Mixtape, a compilation album of covers of songs from the musical, as well as remixes and new songs inspired by the play. A lot of very famous singers, rappers, and bands were featured on this album, including The Roots, Alicia Keys, Sia, Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, and even Jimmy Fallon (though trust me, don’t listen to his cover of ‘You’ll Be Back’. He ruins it.) Following this album came a collection of released songs in similar styles to the songs on the mixtape, including a medley of the original musical by Weird Al Yankovic, a duet between Miranda and Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt, and a cover of ‘Dear Theodosia’ by the American indie singer Sara Bareilles. And then, in late December 2018, a remix of the song ‘One Last Time’ was released on YouTube. This song featured original singer Christopher Jackson, gospel singer BeBe Winans, and 44th President of the United States Barack Obama, reading an extract from George Washington’s farewell address. Wow.
Hamilton: An American Musical was pretty much the biggest thing in popular culture
This is not the first time Obama has been involved with the production. Back in 2009, Miranda performed at the White House at their evening of Poetry, Music, and Spoken Word, a song that would later become the musical’s opening number, ‘Alexander Hamilton’. And again in 2015, the cast of Hamilton was invited to the White House, performing extracts from the musical. But this is the first time Obama has explicitly put his name on a new piece of work related to the musical. Despite all the celebrities that have contributed to the play before, Obama’s is without a doubt the biggest name of them all. And what’s particularly interesting about his presence in the song is the overt political message that comes to life, not just because of his status as an ex-president, but also because of the content of the song, and the ongoing political calamities that are currently taking place under the current administration.
The extract that Obama reads in the song is taken directly from George Washington’s farewell address, co-written by Alexander Hamilton and published in 1796. The extract used in the musical focuses on two important ideas, legacy and passivity. These are prominent throughout the musical but bringing these themes to light here in connection with Obama seems to be a reminder to view his presidency in an honest and critical light. This isn’t a bad thing. Even the most charitable Obama supporter would most likely agree that his terms were not without controversy and calamity. But today, considering who we now have in the White House, it’s easy to idolise the last American president who, in comparison, looks like an almost perfect person to have as a commander-in-chief. I feel like this song does take that stance. Especially when the current president is so unapologetic in his atrocious actions, it’s nice to hear the potential for taking responsibility.
Bringing these themes to light here in connection with Obama seems to be a reminder to view his presidency in an honest and critical light
Predominantly, however, to hear Obama speak the same words as George Washington does inherently feel like a positive and powerful act. Hamilton: An American Musical has always been about acknowledging flaws and mistakes, but still striving to move forward and trying to learn and do better. This is an ideal that is especially important today. Within this song, Barack Obama is presented just as George Washington was in the original musical: flawed, yet still pushing forward. This is a nice sentiment to remind people of, and hearing Obama’s signature form of rhetoric being applied to the well-written phrases is just a really pleasant experience. It’s evident to see why Miranda would have wanted to save this for the very last Hamildrop.
Hamilton: An American Musical has always been about acknowledging flaws and mistakes, but still striving to move forward
Hamilton has always been a contemporarily political play. This was evident from the first moment Miranda noted how the original Hamilton seemed, in many ways, to embody hip-hop culture. The success of the play was certified immediately by the casting and became as loud as a play can possibly get the second it got on Broadway. By incorporating someone who held the highest political position in the United States, they are merely coming full circle and bringing the politics of the play back into common conversation. And creating a pretty awesome song in the process.
But enough of all that, why can’t I get a Janelle Monae remix of ‘Satisfied’ already?!