TikTok giveth and TikTok taketh away. In the summer of 2020, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s earnest, lip-biting visage wound up littered across the algorithmic platform in a memeification clowning him for becoming the face of a certain genre of cringey selfie, although for reasons more arbitrary than empirical. (Miranda responded with a freestyle on Twitter: “Bit my lip / Aww shit! / TikTok hates when I do that.”)
But the Tick, Tick … Boom! director has thundered back from such ignominy with a song that has gone viral on that same platform and topped the pop charts. The soundtrack for Disney’s animated magical-realist romp Encanto, for which Miranda wrote and composed eight original songs, has reigned at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart for three consecutive weeks. And the soundtrack’s lead single, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” (performed by cast members Carolina Gaitán, Mauro Castillo, Diane Guererro, Rhenzy Feliz, Stephanie Beatriz, and the Reggaeton star Adassa), has become an inescapable earworm, pushing from No. 50 to No. 2 to finally capture the top ranking on the Hot 100 this week. It arrives as only the second song from a Disney movie ever to ascend to No. 1 (Regina Belle and Peabo Bryson’s Aladdin single “A Whole New World” also ruled the chart in 1993).
Walt Disney Animation Studios may be putting forward another of Miranda’s Encanto compositions, the gentle guitar ballad “Dos Oruguitas,” for Best Original Song Academy Awards consideration. (A second song from the soundtrack, “Surface Pressure,” recently landed at No. 10 on the chart, making Encanto the first Disney movie to have multiple top-ten hits). But general consensus holds that “Bruno” is a total bop. With its shifting melodies and exquisite synthesis of Latin American pop and Broadway show tunes, it defies most chart trends not only by dint of the song’s kids-flick provenance, but also thanks to the relatively large number of performers singing it. Embarking from Encanto’s central conflict — an enchanted family in rural Colombia suddenly loses its collective mojo due to mysterious forces — “Bruno” catalogs individual characters’ anger, apprehensions, and resentments surrounding an estranged, future-predicting uncle (voiced by John Leguizamo), whom they blame for various misfortunes.
Miranda, of course, also scored several of the songs for Disney’s animated 2016 musical-adventure Moana, whose soundtrack reached No. 2 on the Billboard album chart. And during a recent conversation with Vulture, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway playwright recalled how missing the chance to write tuneage for that film’s once-sprawling vocal cast directly influenced how he approached structuring “Bruno.”
“I pitched it as a way to really hold all the characters in the movie,” Miranda says of the song. “Characters fall away during the development process. If you are not important to the main character, you get the hook. Moana straight up had eight brothers when I was hired. And [the movie’s producers and studio development executives] were like, ‘Brothers aren’t important. She’s got to save the world. Bye, brothers!’”
So when it came time to introduce the Bruno character, a shadowy presence crucial to the plot whom the audience first meets in absentia, Miranda lobbied co-directors Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith to cut in as many characters as possible. “We really thought the magic of our story was that it’s a huge family and that allows for a lot of layers and a lot of misunderstandings,” he says. “So I pitched this song as a way to check in with the family members who weren’t going to get a solo.”
Particularly the lovelorn Dolores (voiced by Adassa), who is possessed of magically enhanced hearing capabilities. As framed by “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” the schism between Dolores and her flower-conjuring “señorita perfecta” cousin Isabela parallels the step-sister dichotomy in Les Miserables. “I got to write Dolores’s first words. And the way I wrote Dolores then informed how the writers used her throughout the rest of the film,” he explains. “So it was really exciting to discover that, Oh, Dolores actually has the most nuanced view on Bruno because she hears everything. I also invented her unrequited-love arc, incidentally, because I wanted a counter line with Isabela’s. ‘He told me life was going to be perfect.’ And I just thought, Oh, I can make them Eponine and Cosette for a second in here.”
“The other really kind of funny thing that I love about [the song] — that we don’t really talk about — is everything [Bruno] predicts is super predictable,” Miranda continues. “There’s no malice in any single prediction. And I wanted that to be clear on your second and third viewing. Like, Oh, goldfish die. Oh, of course it was going to rain on her wedding day; she controls the weather and she’s stressed out. Yeah, you grow a gut because we’re getting older and your metabolism goes. There’s actually no malice in any of these predictions. They’re all super-lame predictions. But they’re being described as if he’s the worst.”
Since Encanto’s Thanksgiving-weekend release, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” has climbed its way up the charts — and the song’s virality has been propelled by an explosion of fanmade content on the same social-media platform that teased the playwright in 2020. “It’s been amazing to watch TikToks of kids learning the dances,” says Miranda. “That is just not something I ever anticipated. My second-grader came home from school yesterday. And he looks at me and goes, ‘Daddy, everyone’s singing it.’ He didn’t even have to tell me what he was talking about. He was just like, ‘It’s really popular.’”
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