Hamilton Explained: The Schuyler Sisters

True to our promise, we’re becoming a Hamilton blog. Okay, maybe not full time, but you didn’t really think we’d stop at one post, did you? We’ve both been playing the cast recording nonstop, and new references and allusions rise up in the songs every time we listen. I’m sure we’ll keep discovering more, but we’re ready to start unpacking some of the many-layered references in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics.

First up – our introduction to the O.G. Kardashians, the Destiny’s Child-Made-Entirely-Of-Beyonces, the It Girls Of The Eighteenth Century… the Schuyler Sisters. Lyrics are in italics, the lines that I’m elaborating on are in bold, and our comments are next to bullet points.

The Schuyler Sisters

[BURR]
There’s nothing rich folks love more
Than going downtown and slumming it with the poor
They pull up in their carriages and gawk at the students in the common
Just to watch ‘em talk

  • In 1773, Alexander Hamilton began studying at King’s College – now Columbia University – in New York. King’s College was “overwhelmingly loyalist” at the time. [source]
  • The Liberty Pole in the Common (City Hall Park) was a popular site for debates between the Loyalists and Patriots. [source]
  • As a student, Hamilton wrote treatises, delivered speeches, and was known to frequent the Liberty Pole in the common. [source, source]
  • From genius.com: similar in flow and topic to Melle Mell’s verses in Grandmaster Flash classic The Message. [source, source]

Take Philip Schuyler, the man is loaded

  • The Schuylers were a prominent Dutch American family, and Philip’s wife was Catherine Van Rensselaer of the absurdly-wealthy-and-influential Van Rensselaers. Colonial power couple, right there. [source]
  • And his house was pretty legit:schuyler

Uh oh, but little does he know that
His daughters, Peggy, Angelica, Eliza
Sneak into the city just to watch all the guys at

  • The Schuyler sisters, raised in the pretty good mansion pictured above, stayed with their aunt and uncle for a time in Morristown, NJ. At the time, Philip was serving in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. [source] They met officers in Morrisown, a revolutionary hotspot. [source]

[COMPANY]
Work, work
[ANGELICA]
Angelica!
[COMPANY]
Work, work
[ELIZA]
Eliza!
[PEGGY]
And Peggy!
[COMPANY]
Work, work
The Schuyler sisters

  • The repeated “work, work” in the chorus is a bit reminiscent of Do You Love Me by The Contours – possible coincidence. [source]

[ANGELICA]
Angelica!
[PEGGY]
Peggy!
[ELIZA]
Eliza!

[COMPANY]
Work!

  • A Rap Genius user suggests that this might be a tribute to the roll call in Hairspray’s The Nicest Kids In Town. [source]

[PEGGY]
Daddy said to be home by sundown
[ANGELICA]
Daddy doesn’t need to know
[PEGGY]
Daddy said not to go downtown
[ANGELICA]
Like I said, you’re free to go

  • I haven’t tracked down evidence of the Schuyler sisters gallivanting through New York – although TBH if it was a stealth sneak-out like Angelica’s describing, I guess I wouldn’t find that anyway. But since New York City was occupied by the British during the war, Philip Schuyler probably wouldn’t have wanted his daughters there. [source]
  • But—look around, look around
    The revolution’s happening in New York
    [ELIZA & PEGGY]
    New York
  • The repeated New York, New York sounds a bit reminiscent of the Alicia Keys chorus in Empire State Of Mind.

[COMPANY]
Angelica
[SISTERS & COMPANY]
Work!

[PEGGY]
It’s bad enough Daddy wants to go to war

  • Gen. Philip Schuyler was chosen as a major-general by the Continental Congress in 1775, and went on to aid the colonists in their instrumental victory at the Battle of Saratoga.[source]

[ELIZA]
People shouting in the square

  • During the Revolutionary War era news and treatises were often read in public (town criers, anyone?) and public debates were common, as mentioned in the first verse. Imagine a live-action internet comments section.

[PEGGY]
It’s bad enough there’ll be violence on our shore
[ANGELICA]
New ideas in the air

[ANGELICA & MALE ENSEMBLE]
Look around, look around—

[ELIZA]
Angelica, remind me what we’re looking for

[ALL MEN]
She’s looking for me!

[ANGELICA (COMPANY)]
Eliza, I’m looking for a mind at work (work, work)
I’m looking for a mind at work (work, work)
I’m looking for a mind at work (work, work)
Woa-oah
[SISTERS]
Woa-oah
[SISTERS & COMPANY]
Work!

  • A twitter user pointed out that “looking for a mind at work” seems to be a West Wing reference:

This was also mentioned on genius.com. [Which I always thought was called Rap Genius??]

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda has confirmed West Wing as an influence in writing Hamilton. [source]

[BURR]
Ooh, there’s nothing like summer in the city
Someone in a rush next to someone looking pretty

  • Potential allusion: The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In The City – Hot town, summer in the city / Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty

Excuse me, miss, I know it’s not funny

  • Potential allusion: Jay-Z’s Excuse Me Miss. Not convinced because the flow sounds nothing like that one, but this verse definitely sounds like … something? Right? Anyone?

But your perfume smells like your daddy’s got money
Why you slummin’ in the city in your fancy heels?
You searchin’ for an urchin who can give you ideals?

[ANGELICA]
Burr, you disgust me

[BURR]
Ahh, so you’ve discussed me
I’m a trust fund, baby, you can trust me

  • A play on “trust fund baby” – a rich kid with family money.

[ANGELICA]
I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine

  • Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was a 1776 pamphlet that you probably read or learned about in American history. It was extraordinarily popular and was influential in drumming up popular support for the Patriots’ cause. [source]

So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane

  • One Burr biographer described Angelica as “witty, intelligent, and rambunctious,” which is a nicer way of saying it anyway? [source]

You want a revolution? I want a revelation
So listen to my declaration:

[ALL SISTERS]
“We hold these truths to be self-evident

That all men are created equal”

  • Declaration of Independence,  1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal […].”
  • Its words were echoed 70 years later at the Seneca Falls Convention, in the Declaration of Sentiments (We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal). Which will be relevant in like two seconds.

[ANGELICA (COMPANY)]
And when I meet Thomas Jefferson (unh!)
I’mma compel him to include women in the sequel

  • So, there’s that: the words of the Declaration were an important part of Americans’ continued fight for independence. Maybe not an intentional reference, but still interesting.
  • As for the Thomas Jefferson part: Angelica Schuyler Church carried on extensive correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. From his letters to her, it looks like she at least tried to talk politics, to little avail. Jefferson wrote: “You see by the papers, and I suppose by your letters also, how much your native state has been agitated by the question on the new Constitution. But that need not agitate you. The tender breasts of ladies were not formed for political convulsion.” [source] Can’t win ’em all.
  • Aaron Burr, however, would have agreed with Angelica: he was really into Mary Wollstonecraft. [source]. But he was still kind of a dick, though.

[WOMEN]
Work!

[ELIZA]
Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now

  • This could be a reference to the ‘look around, look around, look around’ part of June Is Bustin’ Out All Over from Carousel, which I forgot was like 10 minutes long. [source] Probably not, because Carousel just doesn’t feel like an influence here. Plus “look around” is like …. kind of a common expression.
  • Okay, now we’re heading into repeat lyrics, so it’s a good time to mention that I grabbed the lyrics from genius.com, where folks collaborate on explaining and breaking down lyrics. No doubt more will be added there over time, so you may want to look back in a while. [source]
  • Official lyrics are here.
  • And finally, we can both vouch that dropping $20 on the iTunes album was two Hamiltons well-spent.

[ELIZA, PEGGY]
Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now
[ALL SISTERS]
History is happening in Manhattan and we
Just happen to be in the greatest city in the world

[SISTERS & COMPANY]
In the greatest city in the world!

[ANGELICA (ELIZA, PEGGY) ((MEN))]
Cause I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine
(look around, look around)((hey, hey, hey, hey))
So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane
(the revolution’s happening in)((hey, hey, hey, hey))
[ANGELICA (ELIZA, PEGGY) ((WOMEN))]
(New York) You want a revolution? ((look around, look around))
I want a revelation (In New York, woah)
So listen to my declaration ((the revolution’s happening))

[ALL SISTERS (WOMEN) ((MEN))]
We hold these truths to be self evident
(look around, look around) (hey, hey)
That all men are created equal
(at how lucky we are to be alive right now) (hey, hey)

[ALL SISTERS & COMPANY]
Look around, look around
At how lucky we are to be alive right now
History is happening in Manhattan
And we just happen to be
[WOMEN (MEN)]
In the greatest city in the world (in the greatest city)
[COMPANY]
In the greatest city in the world!

[COMPANY]
Work, work
[ANGELICA]
Angelica!
[COMPANY]
Work, work
[ELIZA]
Eliza!
[PEGGY]
And Peggy!
[COMPANY]
Work, work
[ALL SISTERS]
The Schuyler sisters
[COMPANY]
Work, work

[ALL SISTERS (COMPANY)]
We’re looking for a mind at work (work, work)
Hey (work, work)
[ANGELICA (COMPANY)]
Woah-ah! (work, work)
[ELIZA & PEGGY (COMPANY)]
Hey (work, work)
In the greatest city

[ALL SISTERS]
In the greatest city
In the world!

[COMPANY]
In the greatest city in the world!

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MissUnderstood: A Tale of Ignorance and Song Lyrics

Do you ever think about the first songs you knew all the lyrics to as a kid? One of my earliest memories is singing along to Real McCoy’s Another Night while in the backseat of the car, jamming along to the radio. The song itself was pretty easy to memorize as a nine year old, since it was basically the same verse and chorus over and over again.

Another night, another dream, but always you / It’s like a vision of love that seems to be true
Another night another dream, but always you / In the night I dream of love so true

But then there are songs I sang along to without knowing the meaning until later. Like way later. Like maybe in the past few years (months, days, etc.)

I came across this Spice Girls revelation on Tumblr the other day:

Screenshot 2015-08-31 11.25.38

REMEMBER HOW I LEGIT DIDN’T REALIZE THIS UNTIL NOW????

Honestly. I thought when she said “put it on”, it was a British way of saying like, “put your sexy times mindset on because we’re gonna GET IT ON, GET IT ON”.  My logic makes sense, okay? But this is obviously not the only song that has been misunderstood and changed lives of adults all around there world. Here are some other tunes that I didn’t realize meant something else until I was much, much older. Did y’all have your own tracks you didn’t realize were somewhat offensive until recently?

Too Close by Next

Baby when we’re grinding / I get so excited
Ooh, how I like it / I try but I can’t fight it
Oh, you’re dancing real close / Cuz it’s real, real slow
You’re making it hard for me

Apparently I memorized all the words to this when I was 11, but didn’t understand any of it. Like, every single world in this is sexual. Looking back on it, I can’t believe I didn’t realize this whole thing was about fornication. How could I possibly miss all of it? Actually, I know why – because I was a naive 11 year old who just really enjoyed ’90s R&B music. I’m not a monster.

Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind

Doing crystal meth, will lift you up until you break
It won’t stop, I won’t come down / I keep stock with the tick-tock rhythm, I bump for the drop
And then I bumped up, I took the hit that I was given /Then I bumped again, then I bumped again I said… How do I get back there, to the place where I fell asleep inside you

In all fairness, Stephen Jenkins said these lyrics so fast and garbled that it was kind of hard to tell what he was saying. On top of that, add the fact that it’s a fun, bouncy pop song – about getting high on speed. He said of the song, “It’s about a time in my life when it seemed like all of my friends just sort of tapped out on speed… The music that I wrote for it is not intended to be bright and shiny for bright and shiny’s sake. It’s intended to be what the seductiveness of speed is like, represented in music.” Whoa.

Brick by Ben Folds Five

They call her name at 7:30 / I pace around the parking lot
Then I walk down to buy her flowers / And sell some gifts that I got
Can’t you see / It’s not me you’re dying for
Now she’s feeling more alone / Than she ever has before

I always thought this song was a downer, but I didn’t realize just how MUCH of a downer it was until my friends told me in college. Yes, college. Ben Folds said he wrote this song about his high school girlfriend who decided to get an abortion, and he doesn’t really like talking about it that much since it’s obviously a sad subject. The meaning is much more obvious in the music video, but this was pre-TRL so I didn’t watch music videos on the regs.

You’re Makin’ Me High by Toni Braxton

Let’s make a deal you roll, I lick / And we can go flying into ecstasy
Oh Darlin’ you and me / Light my fire
Blow my flame / Take me, take me, take me away

Toni Braxton also has a penchant for sounding like she’s gargling while singing, but I really didn’t know that in addition to this song being about getting it on, it was also a song dedicated to weed. She said during a Behind the Music special that the was introduced to pot for the first time a week before she wrote the song, and was influenced (under the influence, amirite) to add the lyric “you roll, I lick…”

Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler

Once upon a time there was light in my life / But now there’s only love in the dark
Nothing I can say / A total eclipse of the heart

Songwriter Jim Steinman, who also worked a lot with Meat Loaf (which could explain the absurdity of this), originally titled this track Vampires in Love. He said, “Its original title was ‘Vampires in Love’ because I was working on a musical of Nosferatu, the other great vampire story. If anyone listens to the lyrics, they’re really like vampire lines. It’s all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love’s place in dark.” He later used the song in his musical called Dance of the Vampires (someone has a fetish), but if you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of it, it’s because it was a total flop that lost $12 million in 2002.

 

Closing Time by Semisonic

Closing time / One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer
Closing time / You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here
Closing time / Time for you to go out to the places you will be from
Closing time / Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

Although this song was written by Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson after he wanted to write a new tune to end their concerts with, as well as the hope to be played at bars at the end of the night, he also realized it was about something else completely different – childbirth. Dan and his wife were expecting their first child when he was writing the song, when he realized it was also about childbirth and the circle of life. He said, “I had birth on the brain, I was struck by what a funny pun it was to be bounced from the womb.”

Tutti Frutti by Little Richard

My personal connection to this song is that I danced to this in tap class as a kid, complete with poodle skirt costumes to go with the 1950s theme. However, imagine my surprise when Little Richard originally wrote this song as an ode to something completely unrelated to kids’ dance class. Anal Sex. This was his first draft of the song:

A wop bop a loo mop, a good goddamn / Tutti Frutti, good booty,
If it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it, make it easy.

If you don’t know anything about Little Richard’s past, you should really look it up, but basically, around this time in his life, he was sleeping with the fellas, hence the inspiration for the song. The producer of the track recognized the sexual nature of the song and made Little Richard change it to “Tutti Frutti, aw rooty”. Childhood ruined.

 

A Psychological Analysis Of Miley Cyrus’ Lyrics

[A note from the future: this was written when the media/internet/world at large was hand-wringing over one of Miley’s scandals – not sure which – and finding ‘signs’ and ‘clues’ in everything she did to explain why they thought she was going off the deep end. Our opinion was that she was being young and living her life, albeit in a bit more loose-and-wacky way than we did at her age. The post below was sort of a parody of the over-the-top analysis that was all over the news that month.]

As a person who minored in psychology, and majored in teen pop culture, I am, I think, marginally qualified to analyze Miley Cyrus not qualified to do anything. Now, some of you may suggest that I look to Miley’s life decisions, like her engagement and major bleach-and-chop, to figure out what’s going on in Ms. Destiny Hope’s head. But I’d rather take the words straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and look to Cyrus’s song lyrics.

See You Again:

“I’ve got a heart that will never be tamed” – Miley has a cardiac condition and does not believe that treatment is available. If she is speaking metaphorically, then she does not abide by convention and thinks that trying to do so would be futile. “Never tamed” may refer to an impulse control disorder or, at the least, attentional difficulties. Like, she may have adult ADD/ADHD. Sidebar, I tried to take an adult ADD test online, then quit paying attention midway through.

“I feel like I must have known you in another life” – Miley  belongs to a faith system that espouses reincarnation. Participation in religious activities can be a protective factor for teens, so good on you, Miles! However, schizoid disorders often manifest in the early twenties, but are not unheard of in teens. Cyrus might just be delusional.

“The last time I freaked out/ I just kept looking down/ I stuttered when you asked me what I’m thinking about” – Miley appears to be suffering from a nervous break. She may have an anxiety disorder, although her inability to make eye contact could also indicate interpersonal difficulties. Contrary to popular opinion, stuttering is not classed as a nervous disorder or necessarily associated with psychological trauma. However, the behavior may manifest more frequently in times of stress.

“Felt like I couldn’t breathe/ You asked what’s wrong with me/ My best friend Leslie said “Oh she’s just being Miley”” – Miley appears to be suffering from what is commonly called a “panic attack,” meeting at least a few of the diagnostic criteria from the DSM-IV. It is encouraging that she identifies Leslie as her “best friend,” as teens with positive social support usually have better outcomes than those without. The explanation that “she’s just being Miley” may indicate that Leslie accepts Miley’s quirks — however, she may also be trying to belittle Miley by using “relational aggression.” That is, she’s manipulating interpersonal relationships to hurt Miley’s self-esteem or social standing. See, e.g., Mean Girls.

“I got this crazy feeling deep inside/ When you called and asked to see me tomorrow night/ I’m not a mind reader but I’m reading the signs” — Miley believes that she has supernatural abilities. These delusions of grandeur may point to a narcissistic personality disorder. The fact that Miley can identify a “crazy feeling deep inside” might show that she is self aware.  In psychological terms, this may also be evidence that deep inside, she is crazy.

The take-away: Miley appears to be suffering from a panic attack, and may also have trouble controlling impulses. She may or may not be Buddhist. It’s possible that Miley has a social anxiety disorder. Leslie might be a bitch. Does anyone know if they’re still best friends?

7 Things:

“I probably shouldn’t say this/  But at times I get so scared/  When I think about the previous/ Relationship we shared”: Miley is a self-aware young lady who is expressing her fears, but there is a recurring theme of anxiety appearing. I hope the “previous relationships” isn’t that past life shit again.

“It was awesome but we lost it/  It’s not possible for me not to care”: Emotional detachment has a number of causes, from psychological trauma to borderline personality disorder. I’m going to go with BPD on this one, though. Pretty commonly diagnosed (some say over-diagnosed) in young women.

“It’s awkward and silent/ As I wait for you to say/ What I need to hear now/ Your sincere apology” Cyrus really feels awkward a lot, doesn’t she? Not to worry – again, feelings of social discomfort and low self-esteem are very typical in her social cohort! Maybe she feels awkward because she has a speech disorder, because “say” and “apology” don’t usually rhyme, but somehow she makes that happen.

The take-away: Miley is very good at expressing negative feelings, which is actually a good thing – repressing negative affect can have terrible consequences. She is really exhibiting some rebellious behavior here, though – the entire song is plagiarized from Kat’s poem at the end of 10 Things I Hate About You. Badass, Miles. Badass.

Party In The USA:

“I hopped off the plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan/ Welcome to the land of fame, excess, whoa am I gotta fit in?” Miley is insecure about finding a social group — again, very, very common concern of middle- and upper-class female teens. She is cold, but not like, jacket-cold.

“My tummy’s turnin’ and I’m feelin’ kinda homesick /Too much pressure and I’m nervous/ That’s when the taxi man turned on the radio/ And the Jay-Z song was on” Cyrus is experiencing a psychosomatic reaction to stress. Although “homesickness” is completely normal, this may also be a sign that Miley is too young to be without a familial support system. Fortunately, she finds a positive outlet in music. Unfortunately, she seems to place a great value on monetary success: while she refers to a popular rapper by name, the man driving her around is relegated to status as “taxi man,” defined by his profession.

“So I put my hands up, they’re playin’ my song/ The butterflies fly away I’m noddin’ my head like “Yeah!” /Movin’ my hips like “Yeah!”/ Got my hands up, they’re playin’ my song / And now I’m gonna be okay / Yeah! It’s a party in the USA! / Yeah! It’s a party in the USA!” Dancing, a form of exercise, provides an endorphin release. Miley responds in the affirmative. There is a party, and that party is in the United States. So is Miley.

Get to the club in my taxi cab/ Everybody’s lookin’ at me now /Like “Who’s that chick that’s rockin’ kicks She’s gotta be from out of town”/ So hard with my girls not around me / It’s definitely not a Nashville party  / ‘Cause all I see are stilettos / I guess I never got the memo: The feeling of everyone looking at her could be early manifestation of schizophrenia or narcissistic personality disorder, as discussed above. However, it is much more likely that Miley is feeling self-conscious. Totally fine. It is “so hard when [her] girls aren’t around” because the peer group is an important social support for young adults. Plus, girlfriend wore the wrong shoes and maybe someone could have told her.

Feel like hoppin’ on a flight, on a flight / Back to my hometown tonight, town tonight  / Something stops me every time, every time / The DJ plays my song and I feel alright: Cyrus has not adjusted to her new home, and is ambivalent about staying, but has developed a positive coping mechanism (attending parties in the USA), so will stay.  In studies of resilience in adolescents, the ability to control impulses is pivotal, as are communication skills – presumably, our girl is meeting some friends at these parties, helping her to adjust. Her stutter may have returned a little there.

Hoedown Throwdown:

“We get to four, five, six / And you’re feelin’ busted /  But it’s not time to quit Practice makes you perfect/ Pop it, lock it, polka dot it /  Country fivin’, hip hop hip / Put your arms in the sky, move side to side /  Jump to the left, stick it, glide” : Miley believes that you should persevere until you’ve achieved success. Atta girl! Because a positive outlook really does increase the likelihood of positive outcomes! The rest of this, I don’t really understand.

The Climb:

I can almost see it That dream I am dreaming But there’s a voice inside my head saying “You’ll never reach it”: Low self-esteem. Again. Plus, an actual voice in her head? That is what the psychologists call “not great.”

There’s always gonna be another mountain I’m always gonna wanna make it move Always gonna be a uphill battle Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose: Although this initially sounds like pessimism, Miley is simply realistic. This is better than a grandiose expectation of success.

Keep the faith, keep your faith, whoa: Miley believes in something. Possibly Buddha.

Overall analysis:

Miley talks a LOT about being unsure or having low self-esteem. This is normal, but sometimes it’s like, come on, Miley! Don’t Taylor Swift us and talk about how you’re just some poor ol’ girl who wears sneakers. You’ve been rich and famous since you were like 13, and your dad is rich and famous, too! Because of Achy Breaky Heart, though. Yeah, go ahead with your low confidence, I guess.

For real, does anyone have receipts on the whole Miley-Leslie thing?