This is not an election post!
November 5, 2016 12:37 PM   Subscribe

This American Life hooked up musical theater composing teams with journalists to penetrate the inner thoughts of three public figures during this chaotic time: "A Better Way" (Paul Ryan) sung by Neil Patrick Harris, composed by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen); "Party Guy" (Reince Priebus) sung by John Ellison Conlee, composed by Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson); "Seriously" (Barak Obama) sung by Leslie Odom, Jr, composed by Sara Bareilles (Waitress).

This page has a background article and free download links.
posted by hippybear (22 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I had "Seriously" on repeat all the way on my 1.5 mile walk to vote at the polls this morning and back. It is the most beautiful, relevant song of the three. Truly. I'm incredibly curious to know what BHO thought of it when he heard it.
posted by jeanmari at 12:50 PM on November 5, 2016 [10 favorites]


Yea, "Seriously" is giving me chills.
posted by hopeless romantique at 12:54 PM on November 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


God, "Seriously" is fire. Odom's performance is so good it makes me want to travel back in time and hear Nina Simone's.
posted by selfnoise at 1:10 PM on November 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


["Barack"]
posted by eustatic at 1:33 PM on November 5, 2016


I heard the first two on the TAM podcast and they were fine: skillful satirical songs, something you'd expect in a skit by the "Capitol Steps" or something like that.

Seriously, however, is absolutely devastating.
posted by How the runs scored at 1:42 PM on November 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


It seems a shame to waste so much musical talent and a national media platform on criticism so toothless and so late that you wouldn't know it was satire if it weren't prominently labeled as such.
posted by eotvos at 2:04 PM on November 5, 2016


I don't see any label anywhere that says these songs are satire.
posted by hippybear at 2:12 PM on November 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


Fanfare post for the episode with Seriously. I'm not always sold on the musical acts on TAL but these were brilliant!
posted by ellieBOA at 2:17 PM on November 5, 2016


I really wish someone other than Sara Bareilles wrote "Seriously". She's so anodyne, and having a basic White woman write a song from the perspective of a Black man seems wrong--especially when there are so many talented Black songwriters out there. That Leslie Odom Jr sells it is a testament to his talents. He could sing the phonebook and make it sound stirring.
posted by pxe2000 at 2:20 PM on November 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, these aren't meant to be satirical or critical. They're sincere. (And that's a Good Thing.)
posted by Shmuel510 at 2:50 PM on November 5, 2016


I like this one the best so far: "Can't You Tell" by Aimee Mann.
posted by GrammarMoses at 3:08 PM on November 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


I really wish someone other than Sara Bareilles wrote "Seriously". She's so anodyne, and having a basic White woman write a song from the perspective of a Black man seems wrong--especially when there are so many talented Black songwriters out there. That Leslie Odom Jr sells it is a testament to his talents.

From my perspective, I agree that asking a black songwriter would have made more sense, but given the didn't, I think the comment on Bareilles being "anodyne and basic" is putting feelings about the writer ahead of the song, which is, in my view, not really warranted in this case 'cause that song is a killer, even beyond Odom's singing.

Sure, just one opinion and yours is every bit as good as mine, no argument there, but from that bass line through the different inflections of seriously the song uses including a "mic drop" ending that has "Obama" walking away shaking his head at how the nation isn't taking this shit more seriously is pretty strong stuff. The lines on United divided States, and red, white and blue, is black in there too, the you ask if I'm angry/I'm at a loss for words moments, matched against that music drop off around the "Is this the best we can do Seriously?" is strong stuff in this show style songwriting, and the line "No man's ignorance will ever be his virtue" is a as strong a single line critique of Trump and his support as you could ask for and stands in sharp contrast to the Commander in Chief sketched out as the voice of the song pondering these ideas. I don't know for sure what Obama is thinking about all this, but the interview he gave Maher and some of his speeches seem to link up pretty strongly with the perspective here, and the craft of the song strikes me as top quality. And, yes, Odom completely owns it and that is no small element in its favor either.

The other songs? meh. But I hope Seriously finds continued life after this election, maybe in some future show about this fucked up year.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:10 PM on November 5, 2016 [19 favorites]


Yeah, what other Gus said. That song made me want to vote Obama in for another four years.
posted by gusandrews at 4:15 PM on November 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oop, sorry, one final thing. What I really dig about the "voice" of that song is that Obama comes off as conscientious and dedicated to the nation, but torn by what has happened during his presidency based on who he is more than what he's been trying to do, the song has him walking off in something like a frustrated bewilderment at what we've become while making it clear that he was a better man than we deserved, so it is both in his head in some way, but also looking at this moment from a distance with its implicit accusations about us left hanging in the air beyond his inner monologue.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:22 PM on November 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Seriously gave me chills.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:51 PM on November 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Putting aside my feelings towards Bareilles...if "Seriously" had been written by Suzy Q. Songwriter, it would still have several factors working against it:

- The melody is pedestrian and flat, and would work better in a bank commercial than as an interior monologue for someone like President Obama.

- The lyrics use and dispose of several techniques and tropes when one (maybe two) used consistently throughout the song would do. Without the context of Bareilles' other work, I would get the impression that Songwriter lacked either the knowledge of what she was doing or the confidence in her abilities to stick with one idea through to a powerful conclusion.

The mic drop is a great moment, and Odom is a great performer and can elide the song's flaws. However, the limp melody and the cliched, too-clever-by-half lyrics make that mic drop feel unearned.

Putting this into the context of Bareilles' career, she's written maybe four melodies that she's recycled over each of her albums. Sure, she's a singer/songwriter, and maybe I should focus on her words instead of her music-writing skills, but the words she puts to these overused melodies sound petulant instead of poetic.
posted by pxe2000 at 3:29 AM on November 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I disagree with criticizing the choice of using a white songwriter. It's a far better message that the songwriter and singer are white and black rather than both white or both black.
posted by BentFranklin at 7:27 AM on November 6, 2016


Speaking as a White woman myself...affluent White women are the most protected class in America. A White woman is not going to understand what a Black man has experienced because of her privilege and protection.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:32 AM on November 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


A White woman is not going to understand what a Black man has experienced because of her privilege and protection.

While the background article mentions arranged research phone calls going on between reporters and composers for the Paul Ryan and the Reince Priebus songs, there isn't much mention at all about the research provided or done for the Barack Obama song. Now I have questions.
posted by hippybear at 8:50 AM on November 6, 2016


Sarah Bareilles is such a stunning songwriter; I saw her live once while she tried out new material on us, and I've been a diehard fan ever since. And with Leslie Odom Jr. on vocals here, ohhh my god. I cried when I first heard "Seriously" on TAL.
posted by nicebookrack at 6:11 PM on November 6, 2016


Yes. The lyrics are precise and full of impact. Plus the musical styling of Odom is perfection. I'm enjoying video of the musicians too.

Looking forward to 8 years from now when a black man writes an equally fantastic song about what Hillary must be thinking.
posted by mightshould at 3:14 AM on November 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is it my imagination or does that opening bass line sound a lot like a vamp on the opening of Come Together? I mean that would be such an excellent sonic tie in to the Obama legacy I might just be imagining the connection.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:31 AM on November 7, 2016


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