SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “We the People,” streaming now on Netflix.
“We the People,” doesn’t just teach civics, it also mixes music and animation as storytelling devices to get its message across to adults and kids alike.
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Each of the 10 episodes of the series created by Chris Nee and also executive produced by Barack and Michelle Obama clock in at under five minutes but still manage to cover everything from the electoral system to taxes to Federal vs. State Power. Each also features an original song featuring new music from H.E.R., Janelle Monáe, Brandi Carlile, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Adam Lambert, Cordae, Bebe Rexha, KYLE and Andra Day. One even includes poet Amanda Gorman.
The songs are a call to action, allowing audiences to connect through the power of music, but also the message. Each episode has its own unique sound and music working in tandem with the artist as it tells the story.
Here, Variety ranks the musical moments that make up “We the People.”
10. Federal vs. State Power (Episode 6)
Song title: “Link Up”
Performed by: KYLE
Written by: Kyle Harvey and Tim van Berkestijn
Produced by: Benny Sings
Courtesy of Independently Popular/Atlantic Recording Corporation
Directed by: Tim Rauch
KYLE spells out the difference between the federal government, its power and the state power. A smooth beat explains federalism with unique characters set in a vivid world reminiscent of “Spongebob Squarepants” — and that’s not a bad thing.
“Link Up” is a slow jam wrapped up with a mean guitar riff. While it’s not as catchy as its counterparts, it serves its purpose.
9. The First Amendment (Episode 5)
Song title: “Speak Your Mind”
Performed by: Brandi Carlile
Written by: Brandi Carlile
Produced by: Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth and Tim Hanseroth
Courtesy of Elektra Records
Directed by: Mabel Ye
Brandi Carlile brings a flavor of Americana to the fifth episode titled “The First Amendment.”
A simple guitar and powerhouse vocal encourages the young to speak their mind, while the animation features a young guitarist who speaks their voice running from the menacing figures. “Knowledge is power,” Carlile stresses.
The message is one of unity. “Remember no one can silence the masses, no one can stop you from speaking your mind,” she sings as the catchy song fades.
8. Taxes (Episode 3)
Song title: “Taxes”
Performed by: Cordae
Written by: Cordae Dunston, David Charles Marshall Biral, and Denzel Michael-Akil Baptiste
Produced by: Take A Daytrip
Courtesy of Art at War/Atlantic Recording Corporation
Directed by: Victoria Vincent
Rapper Cordae breaks down the concept, simplifying why taxes need to be paid in under five minutes. Directed by Victoria Vincent, cats are used to illustrate the video and tell this history lesson. The message is that everyone needs to pay taxes, punching the chorus with the lyrics, “Little homey, you better pay your tax.”
7. The Courts (Episode 8)
Song title: “All Rise”
Performed by: Andra Day
Written by: Michelle Lewis, Kay Hanley, Daniel Petty, Andra Day, and Oak Felder
Produced by: Oak for GO! Music/The Orphanage
Courtesy of Buskin Entertainment/Warner Records
Directed by: Daron Nefcy
Oscar nominee Andra Day delivers a story about key court cases that mark American history. “West Coast Hotel Company v. Parrish” and “Island Trees School District v. Pico” are just two cases that appear with text explaining what made them landmark cases.
Day’s “All Rise” is as much an anthem as a soulful song, incorporating social justice with a catchy beat.
6. We the People (Episode 9)
Song title: “Stronger”
Performed by: Janelle Monáe
Written by: Janelle Monáe Robinson and Nathaniel Irvin, III Produced by: Nate “Rocket” Wonder
Courtesy of Wondaland Records/Bad Boy Records
Directed by: Everett Downing
Janelle Monaé delivers a strong song here about the fight for justice and unity in her message.
An advocate for voting rights who penned the song “Turntables” for the Stacey Abrams documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy, Monaé is once again gets to sing about those in “Stronger.” But unity, liberty and equality are all also covered in this reggae-infused number.
“Every time they think we get a little weak, the people get a little bit stronger,” Monaé sings.
It’s an empowering anthem and an inspiring one with a message of, “If you get kicked down, get back up, only stronger.”
5. Immigration (Episode 7)
Song title: “American Citizen”
Performed by: Bebe Rexha
Written by: Scott Krippayne and Michael “Smidi” Smith
Produced by: Michael “Smidi” Smith and Scott Krippayne
Courtesy of Warner Records
Directed by: Jorge R. Gutierrez
Bebe Rexha takes a pop beat to let everyone know from the second they are born, they are an “American Citizen.”
This episode is full of visual treats showing how the country is one built from a nation of immigrants, as animated versions of Sofia Vergara, Steven Chen, Anousheh Ansari and Padma Lakshmi are all featured to illustrate the point.
4. The Bill of Rights (Episode 2)
Song title: “These Are Your Rights”
Performed by: Adam Lambert
Written by: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Produced by: Jake Sinclair, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Directed by: Trisha Gum
“These Are Your Rights” is a boppy transition courtesy of Adam Lambert, who reminds audiences about the bill of rights and therefore each individual’s rights.
With Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez penning the lyrics, this is perhaps the earworm of all of the songs — a pop number that sticks in your head thanks to lyrics such as, “These are your rights, they keep you free.” Lambert drives home that America is a democracy and reminds the audience what being an American means.
3. Active Citizenship (Episode 1)
Song title: “Change”
Performed by: H.E.R.
Written by: H.E.R., Maxx Moore, David Harris, Ronald Colson, and Jeff Gitelman
Produced by: Jeff Gitelman for Gitty Music, Inc. & Flippa for Sauce Life for the Starr Island Group;
Courtesy of RCA Records
Directed by: Peter Ramsey
Grammy-award winning and Oscar-winning H.E.R. opens the series with “Change,” waxing poetically about rights and the power one person has to make a difference. “Can I make a difference if I don’t even know how?” she asks, wondering if her voice can be heard.
In a later line, she encourages the listener to vote because one person can indeed make a difference.
The song’s bass riff has a cool vibe to it in true H.E.R style and sits perfectly in the series, but also stands on its own separately from the show, as an addition to her ever-growing body of work.
2. The Three Branches of Government (Episode 4)
Song title: “Checks and Balances”
Performed by: Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Daveed Diggs, Brittany Howard, Robert Lopez and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Written by: Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Produced by: Mike Elizondo, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Directed by: Benjy Brooke
“The Three Branches of Government” is quite a treat because Lin Manuel-Miranda teams up with “Hamilton” co-star Daveed Diggs and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Brittany Howard and Robert Lopez to explain the checks and balances of the United States government.
It’s another catchy number with a light hip-hop beat. The animated sequence of the Supreme Court judges, specifically the diversity represented in the court, and the depiction of a Black female president in neon are highlights.
1. The Miracle of Morning (Episode 10)
Song title: “The Miracle of Morning”
Performed by: Amanda Gorman
Written by: Amanda Gorman
Score by: Meshell Ndegeocello
Directed by: Kendra Ryan
Amanda Gorman, who impacted a global audience when she delivered the poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s Inauguration, closes the series with a powerful poem titled “The Miracle of Morning.”
It is the lone spoken word piece, but as she reads her words, Meshell Ndegeocello’s gentle and pensive music underscores her words. The episode ends with an animated version of Gorman stepped out onto the podium in that unforgettable yellow coat from Inauguration morning, and Ndegeocello’s music plays before the credits roll.
Written amid the pandemic, she reminds audiences of loss and discovering solidarity. Her words once again reinforce the message of the series, reminding viewers of a united country and the promise of healing.
“Do not ignore the pain. Give it purpose. Use it,” she says.
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