Tim Maytom’s Person of the Year is a venerable institution around these parts, dating all the way back to 2010. Every year since, Tim has come to me, and the following dialogue has ensued: “Alex, can’t I make you my Person of the Year this year? Please?” “No, Tim, that would look too self-congratulatory.” “But you’re my hero, Alex.” “I know, but…”
And then Tim has to go and find a different name to add to our own personal Hall of Fame. In previous years, we’ve inaugurated Donald Glover, Amy Poehler, Pete Holmes, Matt Fraction & Kelly Sue DeConnick and most recently Taylor Swift. Most of the time, Tim isn’t wrong. Will this be the year he finally slips up?
The criteria for bestowing the Tim Maytom Person of the Year Award upon an individual is a complex and inscrutable algorithm that is hard to predict. Sometimes it serves as recognition of potential and the personal impact the individual has had on me, while on other occasions it is awarded to someone who has already hit the crest of their career and garnered huge praise from the world at large. However, 2015 is the first time it’s gone to someone in the same year they’ve already been presented with a MacArthur Fellowship (aka a Genius Grant).
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the actor, rapper, lyricist and composer behind In The Heights and Hamilton, was announced as a MacArthur fellow in late September, but by that point he had already had quite the banner year. Hamilton, his project that combined rap and R&B with the life story of one of America’s founding fathers, debuted off-Broadway in January to rave reviews and sell-out performances. By July, it began the move to the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway, where over 700 people lined up for lottery tickets on the first night.
By the end of the year, celebrities including the Obamas, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Steven Spielberg and Oprah had all paid a visit to see the show, and the success had led not only to his MacArthur grant, but also to a gig composing music for a scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakensand contributing both music and lyrics to the soundtrack of new Disney film Moana.
Hamilton is a revelation. The musical reframes the story of one of the key figures in the American Revolution as a hip-hop narrative, as Alexander Hamilton rises up from his birthplace in the West Indies to become Washington’s right-hand man and eventual Secretary of the Treasury, all on the strength of his writing. As a US history buff, a hip-hop aficionado and a fan of musicals, it is most assuredly My Jam.
Hamilton tells a story both triumphal and tragic, one that manages to make history feel vital and contemporary almost effortlessly. What’s more, Miranda makes this slice of history all that more accessible by placing it in the hands not of more white men, but of men and women of colour, both stylistically and literally (the only white member of the main cast plays King George III, a symbol of the status quo set against the revolutionary forces of the young United States).
That might all of that sound very worthy, the most important thing to remember about Hamilton is how fantastic the songs are. From big, key moments that employ that whole cast like “My Shot” and “Non-Stop” to devastating solo moments like Phillipa Soo’s heart-breaking rendition of “Burn”, the entire show is filled with top class song-writing and exemplary wordplay.
Miranda, who began writing the musical in 2009 based on a 400-plus page biography of Hamilton he was reading on his honeymoon, not only wrote the music, lyrics and book for the show, but also stars as Alexander Hamilton. It’s not an exercise in ego, though – Miranda is a fantastic rapper and singer, conveying Hamilton’s ambition, naivety, romanticism and arrogance through his performance.
He also leaves some of the best numbers for his co-stars, such as the fantastic one-two punch of “Helpless” and “Satisfied”, sung by Phillipa Soo and Renée Elise Goldsberry respectively, and “Wait For It” and “The Room Where It Happens”, performed by Leslie Odom Jnr as Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s rival and eventual killer.
The success of Hamiltonhas been astonishing. Broadway performances are sold out well into 2016, and the original Broadway cast recording debuted at #12 on the Billboard album chart, the highest entrance for a cast recording since 1963. The show’s popularity has led to crowds of several hundred people queuing for the cheap ticket lottery each day, and Miranda and other members of the cast entertain these hopeful attendees daily with so-called #Ham4Ham performances which remix the show in acapella fashion.
Its success also means the charismatic Miranda has become a regular on US chat shows, where he has demonstrated both his charm and wit, and his considerable skills as a freestyle rapper. Looking at Miranda’s work ethic and the amount he has achieved in his 35 years, it’s not hard to see why he saw a kindred spirit in Hamilton, who, as the musical reminds us, wrote “like he needed it to survive”.
Even before the powerhouse success of Hamilton, Miranda had won Tony and Grammy awards and been nominated for a Pulitzer for In The Heights, his musical blending hip-hop and Latin music with more traditional Broadway songwriting to tell the story of a largely Dominican-American neighbourhood in New York. He also won an Emmy Award for co-writing Neil Patrick Harris’ opening number from the 67th Tony Awards, has written music for Sesame Street and the Bring It On musical, and guest starred on The Sopranos, House and Modern Family.
For those of you keeping track, that means Miranda is three-quarters of his way to an EGOT, with only an Academy Award missing. And given both his involvement in a Disney film and the number of directors who have been sighted at Hamilton performances, the smart money says he’ll snag one before too long.
Hamilton has been the soundtrack to the latter half of my year, and captured my imagination in a way few other pieces of pop culture have in 2015. But more than that, Miranda is my person of the year for the sheer exuberance and joy he always seems to project. He is someone who has worked incredibly hard to reach the level of success he has, but still retains an almost overflowing level of passion and good humour, as well as a genuine sense of humility and generosity that come from having seen so many of his dreams recognised. I hope he continues to see the same level of triumph that he has this year, and I cannot wait to see what his next projects are.
As well as being a prolific tweeter and accomplished RPG-smith in his own right, Tim Maytom is the good-looking half of the Maytom & Spencer creative partnership.
A relationship built from the foundations of Tim’s Person of the Year posts, the two now work together 9-5 at Mobile Marketing Magazine, run a Wicked +Divine blog on Tumblr, and play (and write about) a mean game of Netrunner.
Together, they are the blogosphere’s answer to Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Which is which remains to be seen.