Taking Songs Too Seriously: Rewrite the Stars from The Greatest Showman

You may have noticed already that I love the musical The Greatest Showman. Everything about it is perfect. (Obviously that is not true, there are many things to critique in it, it's about the creation of the circus freak show, for goodness' sake.)

For now, however, I would like to unpack the beautiful wishful-love song Rewrite the Stars, because I think it's the perfect example of privilege vs. lived oppression and isn't that fun to dig right into?

PHILIP: You know I want you / It's not a secret I try to hide / I know you want me / So don't keep saying our hands are tied / You claim it's not in the cards / And fate is pulling you miles away / And out of reach from me"

Okay, so far it's all romantic pleading. You could make it sinister if you really wanted, but let's just leave this part be.

PHILIP: But you're here in my heart / So who can stop me if I decide / That you're my destiny?

Ummmmm... I think she can stop you. Or at least, you should really give her the power to stop you, otherwise this is getting all kinds of bad, fast.

It's the kind of mumbo jumbo we see in a lot of romantic songs where the premise is "because I feel all these things they must be shared and actionable and why should I get what I want?" Well, there are lots of reasons why we don't get things we want, and that sucks, but it's life.

PHILIP: What if we rewrite the stars? / Say you were made to be mine / Nothing could keep us apart / You'd be the one I was meant to find / It's up to you, and it's up to me / No one can say what we get to be / So why don't we rewrite the stars? / Maybe the world could be ours / Tonight

This is the crux of his argument: that they have control over their lives and destinies and aren't subject to the fates or any external forces. Well, dear Philip, who in this world is legitimately going to feel that way? YOU! The dude who has never had an external force hold him back from anything, ever!

ANNE: You think it's easy / You think I don't want to run to you / But there are mountains / And there are doors that we can't walk through / I know you're wondering why / Because we're able to be / Just you and me / Within these walls / But when we go outside / You're gonna wake up and see that it was hopeless after all

It's tempting to say she's being too negative here, but this woman is speaking from EXPERIENCE.

ANNE: No one can rewrite the stars / How can you say you'll be mine? / Everything keeps us apart / And I'm not the one you were meant to find 

Not only does she have experience telling her that fate is what it is and she has to work within the system she was born into, but she isn't some prize or soulmate out to save and complete him!

ANNE: It's not up to you, it's not up to me / When everyone tells us what we can be / How can we rewrite the stars? / Say that the world can be ours / Tonight

ANNE and PHILIP: All I want is to fly with you / All I want is to fall with you / So just give me all of you

Guys! They BOTH love each other! It's so beautiful!

ANNE: It feels impossible / PHILIP: It's not impossible
ANNE: Is it impossible? / PHILIP: Say that it's possible
ANNE and PHILIP: How do we rewrite the stars? / Say you were made to be mine? / Nothing can keep us apart / Cause you are the one I was meant to find / It's up to you, and it's up to me / No one can say what we get to be / And why don't we rewrite the stars? / Changing the world to be ours

UGH! The most HEARTBREAKING back and forth where her deepest self sees how impossible it is, but she wants so badly for it not to be. She lets herself spend a second imagining a future where his optimism and experiences actually apply to her and it is all she ever wanted.

ANNE: You know I want you / It's not a secret I try to hide / But I can't have you / We're bound to break and / My hands are tied

Pure sadness. She has indulged in his vision, she wants it so bad, but she knows (so deeply, she knows) what the world is really like for her. It is terrible. Everyone is sad, especially her because she was forced to be the one to say no.

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