“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is of course sung by Bruno’s family, the Madrigal Family. But what if I told you that this type of song, where multiple melodies are sung simultaneously, is also called a Madrigal? And that there are many more meanings behind some of the musical and textual choices made for this song?
In 2021, Disney released a new movie, called Encanto. The storyline follows the Family Madrigal, who all have their own superpower, except for the main character, Mirabel. The black sheep of the family is called Bruno, who can see into the future. However, his visions do not only bring good news and the Madrigal family and the villagers start blaming him for their misfortunes. This is why Bruno gets estranged from his family and no one talks to him anymore – hence the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”.
Though the movie is very much a Disney movie with all its vibrant colours, sweet characters, and many songs, the musical theory behind “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is very advanced. It is written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also known for the Broadway musicals Hamilton and In the Heights and who has won a Pullitzer prize, three Grammy’s, and Emmy, three Tony Awards, and many more. This might already be an indication that he has delivered very good work with this song, too. And it is!
The Madrigal (Family)
“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is of course sung by Bruno’s family, the Madrigal family. But what if I told you that the type of song is also called a Madrigal! Madrigals were mostly popular during the Renaissance and they always are polyphonic (poly = many, phones = sounds), that is, they include multiple voices that all sing their own parts. At the end of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”, all the melodies are combined into an amazing madrigal of the Madrigal Family.
A madrigal is built up as follows: several melodies that fit within the same chord progression are layered on top of each other. In the case of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”, this progression is a syncopated bassline, that is, the notes are placed between the beats, which gives it a very funky and danceable feel and emphasises the end of each beat.
The (Madrigal) Family
The next step is to compose the melodies such that each one gets their own time to shine. Fans connect this style to the way every Madrigal family member has their own role within the village and the household. The family members’ melodies also reflect the role they all play in the household. Pepa’s power is that she can manipulate the weather with her emotions, so her melody goes up and down, as do her emotions. Felix, her husband, does not have a power and his melody mostly complements and echoes his wife’s. Dolores, whose gift is enhanced hearing, sings in a quick patter song style, as she suffers from intense information overload and must spit everything out as quickly as possible. (Also – spoiler alert – Dolores is the only one who can hear that Bruno has in fact not left the family, but has literally been living in between the walls of their house this whole time, which might also explain why she is going a little crazy…) During the song, Camilo, the shapeshifter, takes on caricatures of the evil Bruno he has always heard about, so his melody slides with sinister sounding half steps. Isabela is the perfect one and her melody is a preview of her melody in her song “What Else Can I Do”. She is the only one who received a positive prediction from Bruno:
He told me that the life of my dreams would be promised and someday be mine
He told me that my power would grow, like the grapes that thrive on the vine
Therefore, hers is the only melody in a major key. Still, her melody fits in with all the others’ in a minor key because it is a so-called “relative major”, a major key that coexists within a minor key. This also makes for a really good analogy for Isabela, who is the perfect relative who seems to get all the positive attention.
A fun note to make is that the name Madrigal was not just chosen because it is a nice word play to the style of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”. Lin-Manuel Miranda has once admitted in an interview that he sometimes chooses characters’ names because of their rhyming possibilities. For example, in Encanto’s song “The Family Madrigal”, “Madrigal” is rhymed with “magical” and “fantastical”, and in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical In the Heights, one of the characters is called “Rosario” because it rhymes with “barrio”. For similar reasons, outcast Bruno is called Bruno so the lyric can go “We Don’t Talk About Bruno, no, no, no.”
There is much more to say about the deeper meaning of several musical or textual choices of Lin-Manuel Miranda for “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”, but I could not possibly cover everything without completely spoiling the entire movie for you. However, be sure to watch Encanto and do some research yourself, as there is much more to this Disney song than you might think at first!