This week’s episode of ‘Last Week Tonight’ featured a performance by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man behind the Pulitzer prize winning musical Hamilton, who happens to be the son of two Puerto Rican parents; Miranda teamed up with the political comedian and social commentator John Oliver to champion and publicise the case for Puerto Rican debt relief.
Earlier this week, John Oliver on his political comedy show ‘Last Week Tonight’, covered its main story on Puerto Rico. The background: it is technically a part of the United States, but is not one of territories rather than one of its states. Though based on Oliver’s exposé, the US’s relationship with its territories is absolutely nothing like our well-regulated, legal, jurisdictional control over the ACT or NT, much like the differences in our countries’ gun control laws. The important thing to note though, is that the many exemptions from US laws that are granted to Puerto Rico, which happen not to benefit the island in the slightest, have left them in a sincere economic crisis of about US$70 billion. Now, the economic disasters we as a planet have experienced since 2008, which was brought by negligent banking practices in the US, have left Congress extremely wary of granting Puerto Rico any form of debt relief. This is in part because of the political backlash associated with the concept of ‘bailing out’ the island, which as a territory cannot declare bankruptcy and will therefore simply have no money to run its island.
In any case, Oliver’s commentary was, as ever, insightful and hilarious. You can watch it here, and I strongly recommend you do as soon as you have a spare twenty minutes. Oliver’s decision to collaborate with Miranda, who has been attempting to champion Puerto Rico’s need to alleviate this absolute economic crisis, has been met with little success in Congress thus far. Further, this collaboration might end up being a stroke of marketing genius for the cause.
Oliver queues in the musical interlude by pointing out that the voice for Puerto Rico might be better served from someone other than him, and the camera jumps to a stage on which Miranda and his pianist are illuminated by a single spotlight each. The piano forms a four-bar introduction, and is basically a steady but distinctly Latin bass line, one that very much mimics the patterns of a tango. As the song progresses, a melody line is added in, and the piano soars beautifully to accompany the passion Miranda displays through his rap.
And what a rap it is. The lyrics, which Miranda released the day after his performance on tumblr (find it here) are absolutely brilliant, and play off the content that has educated the audience throughout Oliver’s segment. This is rap the way it should be, a critical social commentary, a plea for change. It is beautiful and heart-stirring and, based off the comments on the video on the ‘Last Week Tonight’ facebook page, has convinced many people to start a letter-writing campaign to their local congressmen to support a bill that might prevent Puerto Rico from being consigned to misery and debt for who knows how long.
This song may well be the anthem for Puerto Rico’s saviours. It is short and sharp, around a minute long, clever, and delightful to listen to. We can only hope that Congress and the White House will help to “stop the bleeding, stop the suffering” of these island peoples, and perhaps embrace and delight in the positive effects of music on a tangible aspect of modern life.