I’m preparing to do an ongoing series on the art of the Villain Song, of which this is going to be the first. Please note that I am not going to be adhering to any narrow definition of ‘Villain Songs’ popular on certain websites; my intent is to explore the whole spectrum of songs from musicals associated with villainy. Here, we’re going to explore a particular subtrope of the villain song that’s meant to make you suddenly feel actual sympathy and understanding for a character you’ve viewed as an unambiguous villain up to that point. The most famous example of that phenomenon is “Stars” from Les Miserables, and I’ll certainly get to that one at some point in this series, this one is still worth spotlighting, not only because it came long before “Stars”, but also because of the sheer, almost absurd degree to which it makes us feel sorry for a character who would seem to have no sympathetic qualities whatsoever. The character in question is a brutal, drunken, racist man who had previously sung the reactionary rant “Let Things Be Like They Always Were”, and at this point in the plot he has just murdered his wife because he caught her with another man. As his grown daughter confronts him while the police are taking him away, all he has to say for himself is “It might not’a looked like it you, but I loved her too”. And over the course of this musical scene full of halting, inarticulate words and quietly passionate music, our hearts actually bleed for this horribly unpleasant guy, to the point where we actually understand how losing his wife’s love to someone else could drive him to such a desperate act. This might be the first time this technique was used at all in a Broadway musical, and it perfectly illustrates the art of humanizing even a character who gives us no real rational reason for sympathy, simply by letting them see how the situation looks from his perspective.
Leave a Reply