Editor’s Note: Each week, I intend to write about one of the songs that is making news on the charts today. In order to do this, I shall be calling upon the following Top-40 Charts: Billboard.com, Spotify.com, KEXP.org and Toronto’s own, CHUM-FM. From each of those charts, I will pick a certain chart position number and look at the song from each list that occupies that space. From there, I will determine one song to write about.
Today’s Chart Position Number: #40
Today’s Chosen Song: We Don’t Talk About Bruno from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film, Encanto (Billboard).
The other #40 chart songs that were under consideration:
- Sweet Dream by Alessia Cara (CHUM-FM)
- One Right Now by Post Malone ft. The Weeknd (Spotify).
- Ramona Park Broke My Heart by Vince Staples (KEXP)
The song We Don’t Talk About Bruno is from the Academy Award-winning animated movie, Encanto. It was written by one of the most influential songwriters of this generation, Lin Manuel Miranda. Miranda, as you may remember, was the man responsible for the huge Broadway hit, Hamilton. He has also enjoyed great success writing the music for other animated movies such as Moana. His ability to write catchy melodies is unparalleled at the moment, causing We Don’t Talk About Bruno to be celebrated and reviled in equal measure as this song quickly became the ubiquitous hit of this past year in music. We Don’t Talk About Bruno was seemingly everywhere, in the same manner that Let It Go from Frozen was a few years ago. It is a song whose energy and creativity are unquestioned. So, let’s take a closer look at how this song came to be, why it was such an integral part of the storytelling of Encanto, and why it wasn’t even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song. But first, in order to fully understand the brilliance of We Don’t Talk About Bruno, we must first take a look at the movie itself.
Encanto is an animated movie that was made by Disney. It won the award for Best Animated Feature Film at this past year’s Academy Awards. That win wasn’t by fluke. Encanto is actually a very good movie on many levels, as you shall soon see. As with almost any endeavour that earns critical praise, one of Encanto’s biggest strengths was in the attention to detail observed by those who made this movie. The most important thing to know is that Encanto is set in the country of Colombia. In keeping with South American literary traditions, Encanto was written using a literary style known as Magical Realism. This style of storytelling was the trademark of famous South American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez (who wrote many books, the most famous being One Hundred Years of Solitude). A simple explanation of Magical Realism is that it is storytelling that is rooted in realistic settings and characters but that also has magical elements interwoven throughout the plot. In Encanto, the main story arc revolves around a multi-generational family known as the Madrigals. The back story involves a dangerous escape from soldiers during Colombia’s Thousand Days War. In this chapter of the Madrigal family history, the father is killed protecting his wife and children from the advancing soldiers, but the rest of the family escapes because of the magic of a candle. As it turns out, as long as this candle continues to burn, the Madrigal family functions under its magical protection. Included in this magical protection is the granting of one gift bestowed upon each subsequent child when they reach the age of five. As is often the case in stories such as this, these gifts become blessings, as well as curses. The family end up building a spacious home and dedicate themselves to serving the needs of those who live near them in the village (or Encanto). All is well until the day one of the grandchildren fails to receive her gift. This girl, named Mirabel, refuses to believe that her lack of a gift is merely something she has to live with. Determined to have her questions answered, Mirabel dons the role of an investigative reporter. Through her questions, we get to learn of the stress each member of the family labours under. We also get a sense of how grief can be transferred intergenerationally, and why that makes some family problems so difficult to ever fully resolve. Finally, Mirabel doggedly investigates what the big mystery is with her Uncle Bruno, and why he is so completely shunned by every member of the family. Her detective work uncovers a family shame that almost causes the magical protection of the candle to be eradicated. But, as to be expected with a Disney movie, MIrabel’s great sense of determination is also the source of redemption for her, for Bruno, and for the entire Madrigal Family.
Encanto was the first Disney movie to feature an all Latin cast. The costumes worn by the characters were all in keeping with those worn by Colombians in the time following the Thousand Days War. The vegetation shown throughout the movie was accurate for the region and even included yellow butterflies (which was a tip of the hat to the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez). In the movie, the village seems like it is part of its own special, protected realm. It occupies a geographic space that separates it from any other town or city. This gives the encanto more of a communal feel. However, this is just one more example of how the makers of Encanto paid attention to detail, because in the Andes region of Colombia, there are many such villages that each exist in their own separate area, and as such, they often develop their own unique customs, dialects and so on. But, most of all, what the producers of Encanto got right was the role of music in Colombian culture. Far too often in the past, white filmmakers have imposed their own cultural biases on Indigenous cultures when making films about them. But, in the case of Encanto, the filmmakers actually visited Colombian villages; they employed Colombian experts on food, fashion, horticulture, family dynamics and so on. For the role of music in Colombian culture, they turned to Lin Manuel Miranda.
MIranda is the modern day master of ensemble storytelling. Because singing is a valid form of storytelling, Lin Manuel Miranda was able to create songs, all throughout the movie, that involved the points of view of multiple characters at the same time. In the case of We Don’t Talk About Bruno, Miranda allows almost a dozen different people (from family members to villagers) to offer their commentary as to why Bruno is scary and needs to be forgotten. The reason why they feel this way is that Bruno’s gift bestowed upon him by the magical candle was the gift of predicting the future. This is a gift that is all well and good when those predictions were positive…such as someone will find love or inherit a vast fortune. But, when those predictions began to mirror real life and included topics such as betrayal, loneliness, heartbreak, and even death…well, people began to fear Bruno and avoid him. Eventually, the energy required to avoid their fears became too much to maintain, and as a result, Bruno was banished as a means of easing the emotional toll others were feeling. That Bruno never meant any harm is what lay at the very crux of Encanto’s plot. The cruelty of the family’s treatment of one of their own is what causes the magical protection of the candle to wane. This threatens the very existence of the family and of the encanto they support. Superficially, we watch such a movie and understand that a resolution must come with empathy and understanding. However, in the real world in which we all live, Encanto has been lauded by advocates for mental wellbeing for showing the reality of how many in society react to those they view as being frightening or different. Those same experts also praise the producers of the movie for showing how compassion and patience can work miracles for many people who feel excluded and judged unfairly. In the end, the movie’s storyline wraps up with the idea of compassionate family love being the cure for what ails us all.
The song We Don’t Talk About Bruno went on to become a #1 hit in many countries around the world. It was an obvious choice to be submitted for consideration for the Best Song award at the Academy Awards. However, when the producers of Encanto reviewed all songs from the soundtrack, they felt that there was another song that packed more of an emotional punch. That song was entitled Dos Oruguitas. It did not win. But, in a twist of fate, We Don’t Talk About Bruno did get to be performed on stage during the award ceremonies. Award or no award, We Don’t Talk About Bruno is the song that people will always associate with the movie, Encanto, first. It is a song that describes cruelty in a way that makes your toes tap and your heart sing. But in the end, it is a song that provides the key to helping Mirabel solve the mystery of why her family’s magic appears to be ending, and from there, what steps she needs to take in order to help make things right for all involved.
So, without further delay, here is one of the world’s most popular and recognizable songs of this past year…We Don’t Talk About Bruno by Lin Manuel Miranda, from the Academy Award-winning animated movie Encanto. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song We Don’t Talk About Bruno can be found here.
The link to the video for the trailer to the movie Encanto can be found here.
The link to the official website for Billboard.com can be found here.
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