It’s been a ridiculously successful couple of years for Lin-Manuel Miranda. In 2019 his musical Hamilton was released onto DisneyPlus, while his earlier musical In The Heights was released as a movie in 2020. He also directed a theatrical adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick… Boom!, and provided songs for the children’s animated films Vivo and Encanto. It’s the chart success of Encanto, released in late 2021, that’s been most surprising. At the time of writing, the Encanto soundtrack is atop the Billboard 100, ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ is at #2 on the singles chart, while ‘Surface Pressure’ is also in the top ten.
Musicals aren’t usually my preferred listening, but I live with three dedicated Lin-Manuel Miranda fans. His songs, which fuse Broadway wordplay with hip-hop rhythms, rapping, and Latin textures, are catchy and fun.
This isn’t just my own list – each member of my family made their list of ten favourite Lin-Manuel Miranda songs, which I collated into a family top ten. My two daughters took their responsibility very seriously, my ten-year-old exclaiming “how does he have so many good songs?” several times while ordering her list. It’s noticeable that the songs from the kids’ movies enjoyed more consensus – while the list is evenly split between songs for kids and adults, songs from Encanto and Vivo dominate the upper reaches of the list.
10 Best Lin-Manuel Miranda Song
#10 In The Heights
from In The Heights
The opening track of In The Heights serves as an overview, setting the scene, parading a succession of characters, and introducing musical themes that will return throughout the show. Lin-Manuel Miranda isn’t the star of the movie, but he’s the first supporting character to appear on screen in his role as an ice-seller. Most arresting is Vanessa’s first appearance – she opens by repeating the word “no” 29 times before hinting at ‘Champagne’, a key song later in proceedings.
Me and my cousin runnin’
Just another dime-a-dozen mom-and-pop stop-and-shop
#9 Wait For It
Many of Alexander Hamilton’s relationships are explored in the musical – familial love, his respect for George Washington, and his sparring with Thomas Jefferson. The key relationship, though, is his rivalry with fellow politician Aaron Burr- the pragmatism of Burr is often framed against the idealism of Hamilton. ‘Wait for It’ allows Burr a chance to express himself – making him more than a one-dimensional villain. The song was featured on Netflix’s series Song Exploder, alongside songs by R.E.M. and Nine Inch Nails.
Death doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
And we keep living anyway
#8 Home All Summer
from In The Heights
‘Home All Summer’ was a new song for the movie adaptation of In The Heights, playing over the closing credits. Marc Anthony joins actors Anthony Ramos (Usnavi) & Leslie Grace (Nina) on vocals. If I were to guess which Lin-Manuel Miranda song would climb the pop charts, I would have picked this bright and breezy hit, aided by Marc Anthony’s star power rather than…..
#7 We Don’t Talk About Bruno
‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ is the first original Disney song to top the UK singles charts – it’s also reached #1 on US Spotify. ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ is an unlikely hit song because it’s so specifically tied to a movie; other animated crossover hits like Elton John’s ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight?’ express more universal sentiments. Miranda pointed out in an interview that the song is about when “we’re not supposed to talk about that but it’s all we talk about”.
Bruno says, “It looks like rain”
In doing so, he floods my brain
The romantic centrepiece of Hamilton is ‘Helpless’, a modernised take on an early 1960s doo-wop song. Romances happened fast in those days – ‘Helpless’ packs the Hamiltons’ first meeting, courtship, proposal, and wedding into a four-minute song. The piano riff that underpins the piece is simple but effective.
We were at a revel with some rebels on a hot night
#5 I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)
I was surprised that Moana was only represented by one song in this list – I assumed that ‘How Far I’ll Go’ would be a lock. ‘I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)’ is the movie’s key song, delivered at the movie’s emotional climax. It eschews a conventional verse/chorus structure for a slow buildup and a big payoff. Miranda co-wrote ‘I Am Moana’ with composer Mark Mancina and Tokelauan singer-songwriter Opetaia Foa’i.
I am the daughter of the village chief
We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call me
#4 Yorktown (the World Turned Upside Down)
As likeable as Miranda’s earnest portrayal of Hamilton is, Daveed Diggs dominates every scene he’s in. A critically acclaimed recording artist in his own right as clipping, he’s charismatic as Lafayette in the first act and Jefferson in the second. Late in the first act, ‘Yorktown’ is the climactic point of the movie – the first act reflects Hamilton’s rapid rise to success, while the second gets bogged down in politics, scandals, and duels. The music’s exciting, with tough electric guitar and rousing fiddles.
In command where you belong
How you say, no sweat
Finally on the field, we’ve had quite a run
Immigrants, we get the job done
#3 Surface Pressure
Encanto has an unusual structure for a movie with no antagonist and an entire extended family of main characters. Miranda’s songs help to differentiate the myriad of characters – ‘Surface Pressure’ is the feature song for Luisa, a character blessed with super-strength. It’s nuanced, mingling bravado with insecurity – cue the puns about being crushed by the weight of expectations. ‘Surface Pressure’ joined ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ in the US top ten.
Under the surface
I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three-ring circus
Under the surface
Was Hercules ever like “Yo, I don’t wanna fight Cerberus”?
#2 Keep the Beat
As well as writing the songs, the multi-talented Miranda plays a singing kinkajou (a Latin American tree racoon) in the 2021 animated film Vivo. This scene, where Vivo and Gabi float through the Florida Everglades, was originally planned as dialogue, but Miranda expanded it into a song.
All I can do when the road bends
Is lean into the curve
And all I can do when the tank’s run dry
Is see what’s in reserve
#1 My Own Drum
I didn’t vote for this song – it delivers its message of empowerment and individuality about as subtly as a freight train. It’s easy to see why its relentless optimism and energy have connected. Gabi is played by actress Ynairaly Simo; she’s barely a teenager but her exuberance is impressive. A remix features Missy Elliott.
I had a violin, but I wrecked the rental
I play the tambourine and I’m never gentle
Should ‘Bruno’ have taken the top spot? What’s your favourite Hamilton song?