At what point does mere fandom or admiration spill over into all-consuming obsession? The answer can probably be found somewhere in Shirley Wu’s staggeringly thorough “interactive visualization” of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s historical hip-hop musical Hamilton. Wu’s unique project, both impressive and a little frightening, is housed at Polygraph, a showcase for “visually driven essays.” It’s important to remember that most Hamilton fans first experienced the show not as a stage production but as a soundtrack recording. Wu analyzed that recording one line at a time, making careful note of who sang which lines and to whom those particular lines were addressed. Her raw data is available here. (Even Wu admits this is obsessive behavior.) But she didn’t stop there. The next step was to use that data to explore themes and relationships within the play. This necessitated the creation of what Wu calls a “visual tool.”
Basically, every character in the show has been assigned his or her own unique color. See all that teal in the chart above? That’s Alexander Hamilton. The mauve represents Angelica Schuyler, the sister-in-law with whom Hamilton has a flirtatious relationship. The songs have been run through a filter that only highlights the appearances of those specific characters. (This can be reset, if desired.) Everyone else is grayed out. By following Wu’s chart, one can see that “Take A Break” represents the one point at which Alexander and Angelica sing together.
But that’s just the beginning of what Wu has done with the data she has harvested from Hamilton. Some of the graphs here consist of clusters of dots, grouped both by song title and theme (ambition, personality, legacy, death). Wu has also carefully recorded any phrases that recur during Hamilton. Ultimately, this project has helped her achieve a greater understanding of the ideas and relationships contained within the musical. It does all seem slightly reminiscent of the bulletin boards made by conspiracy theorists, however.