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Song Exploder Review 2020 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
Stars: Hrishikesh Hirway, Ty Dolla $ign, Bill Berry
We’ve been fascinated at how songwriters create their sonic paintings seemingly out of whole cloth. But, while there are times when lyrics and melodies come springing out of a writer’s brain almost fully-formed, the process is always more piecemeal than that. Song Exploder, a new docuseries based on a popular podcast, takes that put-together song and blows it to bits so the songwriter, arrangers and others can discuss how the sausage was made.
Opening Shot: Lin-Manuel Miranda looks out the window of Morris-Jumel Mansion in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. He wrote portions of Hamilton in this mansion where many of the founding fathers lived and worked.
The Gist: Song Exploder is a TV version of the popular podcast of the same name. Host Hrishikesh Hirway, who also created the podcast, talks with songwriters about their favorite songs, and breaks them down line-by-line, playing demos of early versions, discussing how songwriters came to certain lyrics or riffs, and finding out just how everything came together.
Hirway talks to Alicia Keys, Michael Stipe and Ty Dolla Sign in the first episode, but the episode we were most interested was with Miranda, as he breaks down “Wait For It,” the song he considers the best one he wrote for Hamilton. The song is told from the perspective of Aaron Burr, who has lived his life waiting for his time to take advantage of circumstances, while Alexander Hamilton is constantly striving for something more. It was a challenge to Miranda to figure out how to translate that perspective of a lion lying in wait, as music director Alex Lacamoire classified Burr, to music.
During the episode, where we hear not only from Lacamoire but director Thomas Kail, Miranda tells the story of how the song’s chorus came out whole while he was on the subway going to a birthday party, and he had to breathlessly sing it into his iPhone as he walked to the party from the subway. Lacamoire also talks about how he arranged the song, and how Miranda is the type of songwriter who doesn’t nitpick his arranger’s work.
There are some personal revelations, like Miranda talking about how before Hamilton hit it huge, he felt more like Alexander Hamilton, always striving and achieving with nothing to lose. But now, he feels more like Aaron Burr, afraid to lose what he’s already achieved and what he has.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? This is a more granular iteration of the old VH1 Storytellers series, where singer-songwriters discuss the geneses of their most popular or favorite songs. Here, we’re breaking down one song, often repeating certain refrains or riffs as the composer or arranger talks about why he or she made the decisions they did.
Our Take: Just like the podcast that spawned it, your enjoyment of a particular episode of Song Exploder depends on how much you like the song being exploded. It’s the reason why we picked the one on “Wait For It,” despite it not being the first one listed (they can be watched in any order). We love the song, and were curious about how LMM created it. We were rewarded for our choice, though, because Hirway and director Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) effectively break down the song without making the episode boring or pedantic.
In the “Wait For It” episode, the interviews are accompanied by illustrations that spit out lyrics that the casual listener may have missed but are very illuminating as far as where the mind of Miranda was at the time he wrote it. He doesn’t delve into the history of the show in any detail; he rightly assumes that if you’re watching, you’re already familiar with the backstory. So, with his probing questions and ability to highlight pieces of the song that pique the interest of Miranda and Lacamoire generates fantastic behind-the-scenes stories that even the most ardent fans have never heard before.
We’re excited to see all the episodes, but the one with Stipe and R.E.M., discussing “Losing My Religion,” will likely be the next one on our list. We’ve been fans of that song for close to 30 years (holy shit!) and still have no idea what half of it means. If anyone can get to the bottom of it with Stipe, Hirway can.
Parting Shot: After we see Miranda walking among the 1880s-era row homes across from the Morris-Jumel mansion, “Wait For It” is played in its entirety, with the lyric animations providing the visuals.
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