With the theatrical release of the Broadway hit, “Dear Evan Hansen,” out this month, Young Entertainment Magazine is taking a look back at the top young adult Broadway songs of all time. Narrowing down a list of thousands of tunes released over the past century is nearly an impossible task and very subjective. Even picking just one song from musicals filled with numerous great songs is bound to open up debate. For that reason, we are focusing on Broadway musicals and/or songs that have permeated into pop culture which feature stories of young adults. These songs are in no particular order:
“Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen (2015)
Lyrics excerpt: “On the outside, always looking in / Will I ever be more than I’ve always been? / ‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass / Waving through a window / I try to speak, but nobody can hear / So I wait around for an answer to appear / While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass / Waving through a window / Can anybody see, is anybody waving? / When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around / Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?”
In “Window,” Evan is in a dark mental space, explaining that when he attempted suicide no one even knew about it. This makes Evan even more depressed, causing him to believe he is worthless. Therefore, “it’s like he never made a sound.” A very sad and personal song. Sometimes introspection brings no answers and only brings more doubts. Creating a support system of people who care about you is important in overcoming suicidal thoughts.
“Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from The Sound of Music (1959)
Lyrics excerpt: “I am sixteen going on seventeen / Innocent as a rose / Bachelor dandies, drinkers of brandies / What do I know of those / Totally unprepared am I / To face a world of men / Timid and shy and scared am I / Of things beyond my ken”
While certainly not a progressive song by today’s standards, “Sixteen” is about young love. When you’re young, you may feel like you’re waiting for your real life to start. That being said, the song also suggests a girl’s life begins when a man makes her his wife. Many of today’s women have strived for much more and don’t need to rely on a man. Taking that into account, this is a fun, lighthearted tale about first love.
“I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story (1957)
Lyrics excerpt: “See the pretty girl in that mirror there (What mirror, where?) / Who can that attractive girl be? (Which, what, where, whom?) / Such a pretty face / Such a pretty dress / Such a pretty smile / Such a pretty me! / I feel stunning / And entrancing / Feel like running and dancing for joy / For I’m loved / By a pretty wonderful boy”
The character of Maria appears in the bridal shop she works at, singing that she feels “oh so pretty” because she is “loved by a pretty wonderful boy.” On the surface, this is just a song about feeling beautiful. Perhaps it is that simple, much like “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” There’s likely more to it though. Maria, a young Puerto Rican female is probably also singing about her love of being Latina, and how being proud of her cultural background makes her feel beautiful as well. It’s also worth mentioning, you don’t need to have fancy clothes (like at the bridal shop where the song takes place) to feel pretty. Beauty comes from inside of you just as much as outside. And while it’s great to feel loved by others, loving yourself for who you are can mean so much more.
“Dancing Through Life” from Wicked (2003)
Dances are social and cultural gatherings that most young adults experience in high school. Homecoming and the Prom are often portrayed as crucial events in movies and television on the way to adulthood. “Dancing Through Life” displays how these social interactions can play out both before and during one of these types of dances. Also, be sure to check out “A Night We’ll Never Forget” from Carrie and “Tonight Belongs to You” from The Prom, which are also songs about getting ready for a dance.
“On My Own” from Les Misérables (1985)
Lyrics excerpt: “I love him / But every day I’m learning / All my life / I’ve only been pretending / Without me / His world will go on turning / A world that’s full of happiness / That I have never known”
“On My Own” from Les Misérables is a song about wanting to be with someone who doesn’t love you back. Most of us experience this type of heartbreak in our lives at some point. In the song, there is a woman in love with a man who has left. Every night, she walks by herself pretending he is walking next to her. She has a dependency on him for her own happiness, but the feeling is not mutual. He was her everything, but he has gone and she is on her own.
“I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods (1986)
Lyrics excerpt: “And I know things now / Many valuable things / That I hadn’t known before / Do not put your faith / In a cape and a hood / They will not protect you / The way that they should / And take extra care with strangers / Even flowers have their dangers / And though scary is exciting / Nice is different than good”
As we start to grow up, we begin to see how much we never really knew or understood when we were younger. With time, we gain knowledge and experiences of our own. This song talks about learning about yourself and gaining awareness of the world. It speaks about being careful not to trust people who will let you down and ultimately learning from your mistakes so you won’t repeat them. The song is also about learning about your body as you begin to mature. Another related song that also focuses on the body is “The Word of Your Body” from Spring Awakening.
“Seventeen” from Heathers: The Musical (2010)
Lyrics excerpt: “We’re “damaged” / Really “damaged” / But that does not make us “wise” / We’re not “special”, we’re not “different” / We don’t choose who lives or dies / Let’s be normal, see bad movies / Sneak a beer and watch TV / We’ll bake brownies or go bowling / Don’t you want a life with me? / Can’t we be seventeen? / That’s all I want to do / If you could let me in / I could be good with you”
A song about making mistakes (and in the case of this story, very big ones) and wanting to go back to a place of innocence. As humans, we all can feel lost at times, and going backward often feels “safer” than forging ahead and dealing with the consequences of our actions. As a teenager, it’s quite easy to feel like an outcast if you’re not in with the popular crowd. Perhaps ironically, the majority of kids don’t necessarily feel all that special or important, and wishing to “fit in” or be “normal” is perhaps the most common or “popular” feeling of all.
“Without Love” from Hairspray (2002)
Lyrics excerpt: “Living in the ghetto / Black is everywhere you go / Who’d have thought I’d love a girl / With skin as white as winter’s snow/ In my ivory tower / Life was just a hostess snack / But now I’ve tasted chocolate / And I’m never going back”
Another well-written love song, this time sung by a quartet of teenagers who are singing about how they’ve broken down societal barriers in order to love. The couples swear their lifelong allegiance to each other because none of them ever want to be “without love.”
“Electricity” from Billy Elliot (2000)
Lyrics excerpt: “I can’t really explain it / I haven’t got the words / It’s a feeling that you can’t control / I suppose it’s like forgetting, losing who you are / And at the same time something makes you whole / It’s like there’s a music playing in your ear / And I’m listening, and I’m listening and then I disappear”
“Electricity” is about following your passion, such as dancing in this case. Being passionate about what you do in life can make you feel more fulfilled. Doing the things you love is like a freedom in itself.
Songs About Popularity:
“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” from Grease (1971)
Lyrics excerpt: (Classmate singing) “I don’t drink (no) or swear (oh) / I don’t rat my hair (eww) / I get ill from one cigarette (ah-ah-eww) / Keep your filthy paws off my silky drawers”
In addition to: “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee (Reprise)” from Grease (1971)
Lyrics excerpt: (Sandra Dee singing about herself) “I don’t drink (no!) / Or swear (no!) / I don’t wrap my hair (no!) / I get ill from one cigarette (cough cough cough) / Keep your filthy paws / Off my silky drawers!”
“Popular” from Wicked (2003)
Lyrics excerpt: “When I see depressing creatures / With unprepossessing features / I remind them on their own behalf to think of / Celebrated heads of state / Or ‘specially great communicators / Did they have brains or knowledge? / Don’t make me laugh! / They were popular! / Please, it’s all about popular! / It’s not about aptitude / It’s the way you’re viewed / So it’s very shrewd to be / Very, very popular like me!”
In Grease, Sandra Dee gets made fun of for not being popular enough and as cool as the rest of the group of teenagers. She wants to fit in though and asks for help. Later, she sings about what’s been said about her and uses those insulting words as a sense of empowerment. The difference in Wicked is that Elphaba doesn’t ask for help about being popular but receives Galinda’s advice anyway. Galinda thinks the only important thing in life is being popular. As young adults, it’s easy to think that if you’re not popular then you must somehow be doing something wrong. While most people would probably prefer to be liked rather than disliked, being popular can be fleeting and usually doesn’t make someone happy for long. While there’s nothing wrong with looking for acceptance from others sometimes, people will often come and go in life. Therefore, it is much more fulfilling to bring joy to yourself and let go of insecurities worrying about what others think of you.
Songs exploring the Mother/Daughter relationship: Parents are often portrayed as the antagonist for many of the leads in Broadway shows. Here are some prime examples of Mothers being tough on their daughters:
“And Eve Was Weak” from Carrie (1988)
Lyrics excerpt: “God has seen your sinning / Just beginning / Pray for your salvation / From Damnation / Pray or He will burn you”
“Momma Who Bore Me” from Spring Awakening (2006)
Lyrics excerpt: “Some pray that one day / Christ will come a-callin’ / They light a candle / And hope that it glows/ And some just lie there / Crying for him to come and find them / But when he comes they don’t know how to go”
“Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” from Hairspray (2002)
Lyrics excerpt: “Ma, I gotta tell you that without a doubt / I get my best dancing lessons from you / You’re the one who taught me how to “twist and shout” / Because you shout non-stop / And you’re so twisted too!”
“Alyssa Green” from The Prom (2016)
Lyrics excerpt: “You know what my mother is like / She’s a complete and total control freak / The hair has to be perfect / The As have to be straight / You have to join the debate club / On that there’s no debate”
“And Eve Was Weak” focuses on a Mother who tries to put intense and unnecessary guilt onto her daughter through religion. “Momma Who Bore Me” is another song with religious undertones, this time with a daughter wishing her Mother taught her how to better handle her life. “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” is about daughters who no longer want to be treated like children, and whose Mothers don’t care to listen to what their daughters want. “Alyssa Green” focuses on a daughter singing about a strict her Mom is, and how she holds her to an unreachable standard.
Songs That Hold A Special Place:
“One Perfect Moment” from Bring It On: The Musical (2011)
Lyrics excerpt: “I know that if I can just stick the landing / Then I’ll know that somehow my life will be fine / And I’ll go through the rest of my life understanding / What it feels like to shine / The future’s full of mysteries / So please let this be mine / My one perfect moment in time”
Too often as young adults, we put unneeded and unhelpful pressure on ourselves which then makes us psyche ourselves out and do worse. Sometimes it feels like if we make a mistake or aren’t “perfect” we are going to have a worse life because of it. We tell ourselves we won’t get into the best college or get whatever acknowledgment we crave. News flash: no one is perfect. If we don’t pass our test with a high score or aren’t the star player on the team, that doesn’t mean we’ve failed. While most people want to be great or do something great in their life, there are many ways to do so. We can have many amazing moments and are not just limited to one.
“Dead Mom” from Beetlejuice (2019)
Lyrics excerpt: “Hey mom, dead mom / I need a little help here / I’m probably talking to myself here / But dead mom, I gotta ask / Are you really in the ground? / ‘Cause I feel you all around me / Are you here, dead mom?”
A song about a daughter wishing to communicate with her deceased Mom and looking for a sign from her. When someone we loved is no longer with us, it is not unsurprising we still look for guidance from them. They were an important person in our lives and we don’t want that connection to be gone. However, as long as their memory is alive in us, they are never truly forgotten. Also, be sure to check out “Freeze Your Brain” from Heathers, a song about trying to shut off difficult thoughts and emotions so you don’t have to deal with them.
“Michael in the Bathroom” from Be More Chill (2015)
Lyrics excerpt: “Clang, clang, clang, clang / I feel the pressure blowing up / Bang, bang, bang, bang / My big mistake was showing up / Splash, splash, splash, splash / I throw some water in my face / And I am in a better place / I go to open up the door / But I can’t hear knocking anymore / And I can’t help but yearn / For a different time / And then I look in the mirror / And the present is clear / And there’s no denying / I’m just… at a party”
Being anxious and awkward is an often unspoken part of being human. It’s those moments where we don’t know what to say or what to do, or can’t control the situation we’re in, wishing we could. It can be the uncomfortable silences or perhaps the regrets of our actions or words at times. Far too often in life, it’s easy to feel judged by others, even when they may not be judging us at all. In fact, they may be feeling the same way in reverse. Turns out, most people are actually much more preoccupied judging themselves than others, and often times far too harshly. “Michael” looks to be going through one of those moments.
“Unruly Heart” from The Prom (2016)
Lyrics excerpt: “So, fears, all in the past / Fading so fast / I won’t stay hidden anymore / I’m who I am / And I think that’s worth fighting for / And nobody out there ever gets to define / The life I’m meant to lead / With this unruly heart of mine”
Similar to: “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen (2015)
Lyrics excerpt: “There’s a place where we don’t have to feel unknown (Oh my god, everybody needs to see this) / And every time that you call out / You’re a little less alone (I can’t stop watching this video, seventeen years old) / If you only say the word (Take five minutes, this will make your day) / From across the silence, your voice is heard”
For too many young adults, they often don’t realize how amazing they truly are and end up focusing on things they later realize are not important in the big picture. These are songs about overcoming your fears and no longer staying in the background. Being true to yourself is always worth fighting for. Sometimes one of the things that can help someone out of their depression is just knowing we’re not alone, even when it is by connecting with someone over the Internet. More people than you may realize have gone through their own difficult struggles and can probably empathize with your situation. Even during very difficult times, things can and will get better.
“Something to Hold Onto” from Between The Lines – The song is sung from the perspective of someone who’s brokenhearted and looking to “hold onto” a relationship that’s in process of ending. Based on a 2012 book, the Broadway show has yet to come out. Jason Gotay from “Gossip Girl” was originally cast to play the lead role.
“Dear Evan Hansen” premieres in theaters on September 24th, 2021.