Last night the opening number of Hamilton, “Alexander Hamilton”, was performed live from their home stage at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. If you know Hamilton, you squealed along at seeing it in ‘real life’, instead of just 15-second sound-ups in the 60 Minutes specials, and then checked to see if any new blocks of tickets had been released. They haven’t, you sobbed, then smiled through tears.
Or, if up to now you’d sort of rolled your eyes at the idea of Hamilton and wondered what the hype was about, now you begin to get it, right? Right, Lainey? That guy who plays Alexander Hamilton? The one you started to have an inexplicable crush on even though you never went for ponytails before? That’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. He conceptualized and wrote the whole thing (he’s also written In The Heights and that This American Life musical and lots more). His Twitter is an overactive non-linear giddy imagination come to life. Go ahead, buy the superlative cast album, and enjoy.
But don’t be mistaken. Including Hamilton wasn’t just the Grammys being savvy about a pop culture phenomenon, or the album’s imminent win for best Musical Theatre album, presented by Stephen Colbert(!). It wasn’t just pandering to the old folks in the audience, either. Cutting directly from the Hamilton anthem to Kendrick Lamar’s incendiary, heart-in-your-mouth performance was no accident. It was a direct statement: these two performances are way, way more similar than you think (@nprmonkeysee called them “the 20 minutes of [Grammys] relevance before Seth MacFarlane”).
It’s way too easy to ignore certain genres, certain performers, and say ‘oh, that’s not for me’, or ‘I don’t like rap’, or the many far worse things already elucidated on Twitter—and therefore absolve yourself of actually listening to the message behind the music. You know this happens all the time.
But if you’re paying attention at all to what’s happening in Hamilton, where people of colour are pointedly and effortlessly playing the white founding fathers of America, and then watching Kendrick Lamar face controversy head-on with his blistering performance immediately thereafter, you have to be able to see that they’re saying the same thing from different places, and that even ‘gentle’, non-controversial genres are spouting the same message. That it’s going to be harder and harder to ignore.
I have so many favourite lines from Hamilton, but the one that resonates most for me is “I’d rather be divisive than indecisive”. To me that sums up the Kendrick Lamar performance just as much as it does Hamilton.