Whether you’ve come here from the old blog or are visiting for the first time, welcome to The Discerning Lyricist, a blog focusing on the craft of making songs and musicals!
Articles and essays will be posted semi-regularly, as usual; some will be in the traditional notes-on-writing format, alternating with essays from a brand new series, the Movie Musical Project.
Every two weeks or so I will post a long-form essay covering a specific movie musical with an eye to how movie musicals are filmed and what lessons they can teach us (good and bad) about how to do it right in the future. The first movie musical covered will be Evita (1996), directed by Alan Parker, which I think sums up my evil intentions quite admirably.
Thank you for reading, and may all your lines scan perfectly!
A little over a year ago, I wrote an article called “Rap In Musicals, And How We‘ve Been Getting It Wrong.“ In it, I made two major arguments: one, that rap was as well-suited to musicals as pen to page, and two, that most uses of rap in the musical theatre thus far had largely failed to realize the extraordinary synergistic potential of these two forms. I then went on to list techniques in the musical theatre that rap would complement perfectly.
I could reiterate all of my points here, but I no longer have to. I can now just point to Hamilton and say, “yeah, basically that.“ Nonetheless, let‘s briefly run through these ideas and examine them in the context of Broadway‘s latest runaway smash.
I don‘t usually post my Cinemibus videos on this blog anymore, but this one is musical-related, so there.
1. Can‘t Feel My Face by The Weeknd
The drug metaphor this works through
Is not fundamentally new.
But while it never thrills,
Between this and The Hills,
It‘s by far the better of the two.
I’m going to do a bit of dramaturgy on a work you might never have given more than half a thought to: Shrek, The Musical.
There are plenty of complaints you might feel tempted to make about the show, many of them no doubt valid, but there is one element that I love, and confidently call an unqualified improvement on the original movie: the characterization of Princess Fiona.
I typically consume my pop songs online these days, and it‘s from online consumption that I derive material sufficient for my roughly monthly pop song limericks. Of late, I‘ve made more of an effort to listen to pop music on the radio when I can, which gives me a very odd impression of what‘s popular at any given moment. Maybe it‘s just the stations I listen to, but the week after “Want To Want Me“ by Jason DeRulo seemed to me to be in its heaviest rotation, it dropped out of the top ten. I hear “Talking Body“ by Tove Lo all the time, but if it was ever in the top ten for long enough to get well and truly limericked by me, I must have missed it.
I say this to preface an account of my initial reaction to this song when I first heard it on the radio a few weeks ago: “Oh. Wouldn‘t it be nice if this became a hit?“
And now, there it is just behind Taylor Swift in a comfortable #3 slot. This pleases me.
1. See You Again by Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth
While I no longer find this one fun,
I‘m glad that it‘s had a good run.
It‘s sweet and it‘s mild,
And behind “Young & Wild,“
It‘s the best thing Wiz has ever done.
In the musical theatre, we love our instructive parables, from the casting of Gene Kelly in Pal Joey to the struggle over finding just the right opening number for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. One of the most popular, however, revolves around a specific number from A Chorus Line.
Sondheim once wrote, “Many lyrics suffer from being much too packed,“ making the point that excessively dense lyrics fundamentally interfere with clarity and thus kneecap one of the main functions (I might even go so far as to argue the main function) of those lyrics – to convey events and ideas clearly and elegantly. And the moment I read that, the example that sprang most readily into my head was the musical adaptation of Matilda.