We Need To Talk About Bruno
One of my favorite books as a kid was a novel called The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye. It was sort of a spin on Sleeping Beauty, only instead of a royal baby being cursed with an eventual long nap, The Ordinary Princess was about a princess who, unlike her older, blonde, more beautiful siblings, receives the “gift” of being “ordinary.” That means “mousy” brown hair, freckles, and a disinterest in silky princess dresses. She’s pretty much the family embarrassment, so eventually the princess moves out of her castle, gets a job as a maid in another castle, meets a prince who’s also pretending not to be a royalty, and they fall in love and get married, etc. (I swear I’m going somewhere with this, so stay with me.)
Obviously, The Ordinary Princess was meant to make not-blonde girls like me feel special, in sort of a white feminist / proto-girlboss way. (We’ve come a long way; these days, “representation” goes much deeper than a main character having brown hair, thank god.) And pop culture incubators like Disney are still telling versions of this story, most recently with the delightful computer-animated film Encanto, which takes place in Colombia and is about the Madrigal family, each of whom is blessed with a special “gift,” courtesy of a magic candle that keeps them safe from outside threats. One sibling has super strength, another can make flowers appear out of thin air, and a cousin can talk to animals. The film’s main character, Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), does not have a gift — the “ordinary princess,” if you will. She’s basically treated like a second-class citizen by her grandmother, the family matriarch, who is terrified of the magic candle losing its power and their sentient casita falling apart. Eventually, Mirabel discovers that the family is hiding a secret member: his name is Bruno. And, according to a song that has shot up to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” But we need to talk about Bruno, who is voiced by John Leguizamo. Because pop fans are obsessed with Bruno.
To give you a better idea of “Bruno”‘s impact, it’s currently #1 on Spotify’s US Top 50 chart, and it’s topping YouTube Music’s songs and music videos charts, too. “Bruno” is a big deal on TikTok, with (according to USA Today) more than 146,000 fan videos created using the song. It’s projected to hit #1 in the UK this week. The Encanto soundtrack even took over the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 last week, dethroning Adele’s 30 and becoming the first film or TV soundtrack to reach that peak in more than two years.
For anyone who hasn’t seen Encanto, you’re probably wondering who the heck Bruno is, other than Mirabel’s estranged uncle, and why don’t we talk about him? Well, it turns out that Bruno makes the rest of his family feel pretty shitty. This guy has a “gift” — seeing the future. Only he kept predicting sad, painful, problematic events (even harmless jokes somehow manifested themselves into reality), and the family just couldn’t stand having him around. So he moved out of the family’s casita and into a tower. Except that he technically still hangs out in the casita’s walls, near the kitchen. (Major Parasite vibes!) Anyway, there’s a whole song about him, written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote all of Encanto‘s original songs.
Bruno might not be popular among his family members, but wow do people love that song about him. Performed by Carolina Gaitán, Mauro Castillo, Adassa, Rhenzy Feliz, Diane Guerrero, and Stephanie Beatriz, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is kind of atypical as Disney songs tend to go. Unlike the soaring ballad “Let It Go” from Frozen, “Bruno” is a super-contemporary Latin pop song, utilizing traditional Colombian instruments and throwing in elements of hip-hop, funk, and tango. It’s also got more of a plot-driven delivery, featuring a handful of the Madrigal family members gossiping about who Bruno is and why they don’t want him around. It’s a Disney villain song, in the same vein as The Lion King’s “Be Prepared,” but this time the villain song is performed from the perspective of the film’s protagonists, who are actually projecting their insecurities and anxieties onto him. The audience, meanwhile, has to figure out who this Bruno guy is, really, because they already can tell how the family is fearful of Mirabel’s possible connection to him, in that she, too, is “different.”
Fans might be enamored with “Bruno” and Encanto for a few reasons, one being the obvious, that it’s just nice to see a Disney movie with positive representation (as Polygon wrote, “Americans tend to think of Colombia as a violent, drug-ridden failed state, half-slum and half-jungle, which also happens to be the source of their coffee and Sofía Vergara”), and especially since Moana and The Princess And The Frog didn’t hold up to scrutiny. Also, the soundtrack features Colombian pop chart-toppers like Maluma and Sebastián Yatra. And from a more universal perspective, Encanto is also a story about generational trauma, told in a way kids can understand.
“Bruno” isn’t the only Encanto song climbing the charts right now — “Surface Pressure,” performed by Jessica Darrow, is currently at #14, and for good reason. It’s sung from the perspective of Luisa Madrigal, Mirabel’s older sister with super-strength. Over a spry reggaeton beat that resolves into a more straightforward pop chorus, Luisa sings about the mental burden of being the “stronger” family member, anxiously asking, “Who am I if I can’t carry it all?” Mirabel thinks Luisa must be happy, because she has a “gift,” but Encanto lays out how Luisa is starting to collapse under the “crushing weight of expectations.” That’s some relatable content right there; no wonder “Surface Pressure” has more than 32 million streams on Spotify.
On the industry side, what really seems to have people talking is the organic nature of “Bruno”‘s success. Disney apparently was betting on another cut from the soundtrack, submitting “Dos Oruguitas” to the Oscars for a nomination, but not “Bruno”). “Dos Oruguitas,” performed by Yatra, is certainly no slouch, but it’s more of a traditional ballad than “Bruno,” which sounds like it was written specifically for a musical theater and/or Broadway-going audience.
However “Bruno” arrived at its current fandom, I’m sure Disney isn’t complaining. In fact, the entire Encanto soundtrack is now the first since Frozen II to top the chart, and it’s the sixth time overall an animated film’s soundtrack topped the charts at all. (Earlier soundtrack contenders have been The Lion King in 1994 with Elton John’s “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” going to #4, Pocahontas in 1995 with Vanessa Williams’ “Colors Of The Wind” peaking at #4, Jack Johnson’s non-Disney Curious George in 2006, and Frozen in 2014 as “Let It Go” was climbing to #5.)
Disney singles have also been batting around the Hot 100 for decades, though most of them haven’t charted as highly as “Bruno.” In 1993, Aladdin‘s “A Whole New World” performed by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle spent a week at #1; “Beauty And The Beast” by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson went to #9 in 1992, Michael Bolton’s “Go The Distance” from Hercules peaked at #24 in 1997, Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Tarzan went to #21 in 1999, and beyond that are songs from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (“Someday” by All-4-One), the Moana (“How Far I’ll Go” by Alessia Cara and written by Miranda), Zootopia (“Try Everything” by Shakira), and more. Disney, essentially since its 1990s golden era, and even before that with 1989’s The Little Mermaid’s soundtrack, has always had a place on the Billboard 200 and Hot 100.
But “Bruno” is a fascinating case study for a non-ballad hitting the big time on Spotify, Billboard, and everywhere else chart success is measured. It’s a bona fide cultural phenomenon now, right up there with “Let It Go.” So it’s pretty significant that a Disney song performed entirely by a POC cast is making history like this.
Likewise, “Bruno” being a “gossip” song makes it especially unique. Maybe its popularity reflects the fact that every family has a Bruno, whether that Bruno is you, or another family member who you don’t talk to because your parents or grandparents said not to. The only song I can think to compare it to in the Disney canon is “Bonjour” from Beauty And The Beast, where the whole town sings about being perplexed by a main character (Belle), who — gasp!! — loves to read and has a kooky dad. And even then, “Bonjour” is primarily sung by Belle, our hero, whereas “Bruno” occurs halfway through Encanto and we haven’t even met him yet. Bruno is the boogeyman under the bed. Goodness knows we all have one of those, too.
While the Madrigal family sing about Bruno, the audience hasn’t actually met him yet. He could be a villain, or he could be totally misunderstood. Turns out, Bruno is a well-intentioned but awkward guy who tends to speak unfavorable things into existence. But he loves his family — so much, in fact, that he literally lives in the walls of their house so they don’t have to see or speak to him. This makes “Bruno” a completely atypical kind of “villain” song, and a super-catchy one that may remind audiences of the Broadway shows they’re missing out on as a pandemic continues to rage.
In a broader sense, Bruno and Mirabel are the “ordinary princess(es)” of the Madrigals, which Encanto goes to great lengths to communicate has a valuable legacy around superpower-like “gifts.” In the age of Broadway’s Wicked and a whole slew of TV antiheroes, perhaps audiences are really enjoying this song about a complex animated character with an intriguing backstory. And finally, in a time when families across the country are split over basic facts and science, it’s comforting to see one reunite on the big screen.
Gunna’s DS4EVER debuts atop the Billboard 200 this week, his second #1 album following 2020’s Wunna. DS4EVER tallied 150,300 equivalent album units, 144,600 of them via streaming, to narrowly edge out the Weeknd’s Dawn FM. Gunna likely got the boost he needed by releasing an expanded version of the album with the Drake collab “P Power” on the final day of the tracking period — though the Weeknd also released a deluxe before the end of the week. Nonetheless, Dawn FM enters at #2 with 148,000 units, 131,300 of them via streaming, to become Abel Tesfaye’s eighth top-10 effort. The rest of the top 10: Encanto at #3, Adele at #4, Morgan Wallen at #5, the Weeknd’s greatest hits album at #6, Olivia Rodrigo at #7, Drake at #8, Doja Cat at #9, and Taylor Swift at #10.
Over on the Hot 100, Adele’s “Easy On Me” is tops again for a ninth nonconsecutive week, followed by the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” at #2 and Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves” at #3. The Encanto hit “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” climbs to a new #4 peak, followed by Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers” at #5. Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin” is up to a new high of #6, while Gunna, Future, and Young Thug’s “Pushin P” debuts at #7. It’s the third top-10 hit for Gunna, the fifth for Future, and the sixth for Young Thug. Doja Cat’s “Need To Know” is at #8. GAYLE’s “abcdefu” climbs into the top 10 for the first time, landing at #9. And Elton John and Dua Lipa’s “Cold Heart (Pnau Remix)” falls to #10.
Avril Lavigne – “Love It When You Hate Me” (Feat. blackbear)
May I just say how happy I am to have pop-punk Avril back? Not that I didn’t appreciate her brief foray into Christian pop… just kidding, I didn’t appreciate that very much at all. But pop-punk Avril — I never get tired of that. Adding blackbear as a guest here gives me Halsey and Machine Gun Kelly on “Forget Me Too” vibes.
Kane Brown – “Whiskey Sour”
I dig the crisp acoustic plucks on this breakup ballad by Kane Brown. The backing strings add a nice, somber touch, too.
Tai Verdes – “LAst dAy oN EaRTh”
“A-O-K” is wearing on my patience, courtesy of its TikTok long tail, so I’m glad to hear another Tai Verdes single, even if this one — in its stop-and-smell-the-roses philosophy — has about as much as a depth as a fortune cookie.
Bastille – “Shut Off The Lights”
This one is giving Walk The Moon-meets-Coldplay-meets-Harry Belafonte, and I don’t hate it, even if it makes me feel like I’m at Coachella in 2014 wearing something culturally insensitive.
Kiiara – “Closer”
Here we have a slinky, slightly drunk-sounding R&B-pop bop — definitely a contender for the Euphoria soundtrack.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Alesso and Katy Perry released a video for “When I’m Gone.” [YouTube]
- Tones And I teased a new album and a collaboration with Macklemore. [Triple J]
- The Weeknd released a Swedish House Mafia remix of “Sacrifice.” [YouTube]
- Adele released a video for “Oh My God.” [YouTube]
- Mariah Carey announced her first children’s book, The Christmas Princess. [Instagram]
- FINNEAS released a video for “The Kids Are All Dying.” [YouTube]
- Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox got engaged then drank each other’s blood. [USA Today]
- Nicki Minaj was dropped from a civil lawsuit filed by her husband’s rape accuser. [TMZ]
- Here’s Anderson .Paak performing with Elmo and Cookie Monster on Sesame Street. [YouTube]
- The Chainsmokers released a little comedy video to announce their return. [YouTube]
- Shawn Mendes released a video for “It’ll Be Okay.” [YouTube]
- Logic teased a new album, Vinyl Days. [Instagram]
- Twenty One Pilots covered Coldplay’s “Yellow” at iHeartRadio’s ALTer EGO fest. [YouTube]