A month after "Encanto" debuted in theatres, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the movie's Colombia-inflected songs, took a long vacation. By the time he returned, something almost as extraordinary as the enchanted home of the movie had transpired.
"Encanto" became the first movie soundtrack since 2019 to reach No 1 on the Billboard charts earlier this month. The film's most popular song, "We Don't Talk About Bruno", became the highest-charting song from a Disney animated film in more than 26 years, ranking higher than even "Let It Go".
The music of "Encanto" was suddenly everywhere. Everyone was talking about Bruno.
"By the time I got back, 'We Don't Talk About Bruno' had kind of taken over the world along with the rest of the 'Encanto' soundtrack,'" Miranda says, laughing. "It helps you have the perspective of the opening weekend is not the life of the movie, it's just the very roughest draft. Two months out, people are talking about Bruno, and his whole family."
It's not unusual for songs by Miranda, the composer of "Hamilton" and "In the Heights", to capture the zeitgeist. But what the soundtrack to "Encanto" is doing, long after it arrived in theatres on November 24, is almost unheard of — particularly during a pandemic that has muted the ability of movies to make a lasting impression.
"Encanto," a warm celebration of family centered on the Madrigals, a Colombian clan with magical powers, has been the most successful animated film at the box office during the pandemic, taking $223 million in ticket sales worldwide. But the soundtrack explosion — prompted by its Christmas debut on Disney+ — has propelled a rare kind of pop-culture sensation.
"Encanto" didn't displace just anybody from the top spot. It overtook Adele. Six songs from the film have charted on the Billboard 100, including "Surface Pressure", "The Family Madrigal", "What Else Can I Do?", "Waiting on a Miracle" and "Dos Oruguitas". All also rank among the most streamed songs on Spotify. There, "We Don't Talk About Bruno" has been streamed more than 100 million times. On YouTube, you can not talk about Bruno in Hungarian and Bahasa Malaysia.
Miranda took in the phenomenon of the "Encanto" soundtrack for the first time in an interview, speaking by phone on his way to a night of theatre. ("Very on brand for me," he said from the back of a car.) He's mostly been experiencing "Encanto" mania through a text thread with directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush, co-director Charise Castro Smith and Tom MacDougall, head of music at Disney. They share things like clips of choreography or TikTok videos of people singing along. (The #Encanto hashtag has been viewed more than 11.5 billion times on TikTok.)
"I just got a text 10 minutes ago of someone tweeting 'If you don't speak Spanish and you put on the closed captioning for 'Dos Oruguitas,' you're really going to cry," says Miranda, chuckling.
To Miranda, what's most rewarding is how people are connecting to the songs and its characters as expressions of their own family roles and dynamics. For example: "Surface Pressure", sung by Jessica Darrow, taps into the weight of responsibility felt by an older sibling. Miranda wrote it with his older sister, Luz Miranda-Crespo, in mind. In one of the most popular "Encanto" TikToks, a young woman named Maribel Martinez says she not only looks like the muscular sister Luisa, but that "Surface Pressure" "tells my story."
"The thing we were chasing was: Can we get the complexity of family, a multi-generational Latin family, into a Disney film?" says Miranda. "That's what people seem to be responding to: 'I'm bopping my head to this but it's kind of deep and there's layers to it.'"
But Miranda never saw the massive popularity of "We Don't Talk About Bruno" coming. The song now ranks historically with anthems like "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from "The Lion King" and "A Whole New World" from "Aladdin". But "Bruno" is a song you can dance to. It's a quirkier tune lifted by its infectious groove and a medley of voices that splinter and meld in a gossipy song about family secrets.
"I was saying to a friend: I think this is my 'Send in the Clowns,'" says Miranda. "'Send in the Clowns' was Stephen Sondheim's only chart-topper. Who would have guessed out of the millions of songs he wrote that it would be 'Send in the Clowns'? It feels random in one sense.
"But on the other hand, we've all been locked up for two years," he continued. "The notion of a bunch of voices happening within one home feels very resonant, with hindsight. There's kind of a part for everyone to play in singing along with the song. If you're not bopping to this melody, another melody is coming along in two seconds because almost every character gets a little feature in it."
"We Don't Talk About Bruno" came to Miranda quickly. In an early demo track, Miranda sang all 10 parts in a feat of choral schizophrenia. He hasn't released the demo, but that hasn't stopped one impersonator from trying out his best imitation.
"That's always the process with me. There's lots of terrible demos. Often those are sung at 3 or 4am, so they don't sound great," says Miranda, laughing. "I think TikTok has had a field day with the demos I've released because I'm warbling and my voice is cracking."
"Movies take a long time," he adds. "There was a lot of just singing these songs around your house for years, and trying to make them better and better."
As much as "Bruno" has broken out, it won't be competing at the Oscars. ("No, no, no," as the song goes.) The Oscar-submission from "Encanto" is the moving, allegorical ballad "Dos Oruguitas" (which translates as "Two Caterpillars"), sung by Colombian singer-songwriter Sebastián Yatra. Miranda composed it striving for the simplicity and metaphor of an old folk song. "Dos Oruguitas" has already been shortlisted for the Academy Awards; if it were to be nominated and ultimately win, it would give Miranda his first Oscar — and since he's already won Tonys, Grammys and Emmys — EGOT status.
"It's not a thing you consciously chase," he says. "I'm thrilled to be even within spitting distance of it."
The phenomenon of "Encanto" has capped a whirlwind two years for Miranda that has included documentaries tracing his origins, the release of a filmed "Hamilton," the long-awaited and much-debated big-screen spectacular "In the Heights" and his feature filmmaking debut in the Jonathan Larson musical "Tick, Tick ... BOOM."
"I have a weirdly empty desk for the first time in maybe 13 years," Miranda says. "I was working on everything, and it all came out last year."
Lin-Manuel Miranda breaks down the songs of 'Encanto'
Lin-Manuel Miranda went song by song through some of the hits of "Encanto" in a recent interview, from the breakout smash "We Don't Talk About Bruno" to his self-described "'90s Rock en Español throwback" "What Else Can I Do?"
"We Don't Talk About Bruno"
What I was trying to do — it's much more commonplace in musical theatre than it is in musical films. You have those great moments where everyone gets a little showpiece and then you smash them altogether. I think of "One Day More" from "Les Miserables" or "Non-Stop" in "Hamilton". It's always such a delightful moment when you get to crash all the themes into each other.
I wanted it to feel like an old folk song that had always existed, complete with a nature metaphor that hopefully tells us a little something about ourselves. It's one of the only songs where a character is not singing it. You're not seeing a character sing it, and I think it's all the more powerful because of it.
I took my sister (who inspired the song) and her kids, my nephews, to the New York premiere. I sat next to her and I sort of watched her during the whole movie. She's an easy crier. It's really fun to make your older sister cry for a good reason. This is my favourite thing about the movie. I turned to my nephews and was like, "You know, I thought of your mom as Luisa, the older sister who has a lot of responsibilities." Without missing a beat they were like, "No way. She's Abuela. She runs our lives." That's really one of the best outcomes of a family film. It gives you a vocabulary to talk about things in a different way. I remember seeing "Inside Out" with my kids and suddenly we could talk about joy and when anger was at the controls or when sadness was at the controls. It became an easy way to talk about these complex things. It's been exciting to see that "Surface Pressure" has allowed people to really talk about sibling burdens.
"What Else Can I Do?"
"What Else Can I Do?" was one of my favorite songs to write. The whole time, you're trying to show off the diversity of Latin American music and Colombia music, specifically. A lot of my favorite rock songs in the '90s were Spanish rock songs. I was thinking of Shakira and Robby Rosa. It's weirdly a '90s throwback for me, kind of the way that "Lost in the Woods" is like a great Peter Sitara throwback for ("Frozen 2" composer Jonathan) Groff. That was my '90s Rock en Español throwback, it just happens to be in English.
"All of You"
"All of You" was me talking a big game throughout the production process and then having to back it up. We were all so excited by the notion of telling a story with a lot of characters within a family and holding all the complexity of that. Then I said, "At the end, if we've established enough themes with the different characters, I can kind of smash them together at the ending in interesting and surprising ways." They were like, 'Alright, Lin. Here you go." Then I actually had to do it, which is a much taller order. You hear a bit of Luisa's song, a bit of Isabela's song, you hear a bit of "We Don't Talk About Bruno." It contains all the songs in it while still propelling the story forward. The original draft of that was like seven minutes long. They were like: 'We're just out of time. You have to cut this."