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Musical Exposition

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Bret and Jemaine teach Sherlock how to do musical exposition.

"Do you want some exposition?
Some information through a song?"
Honest Trailers's alternative lyrics to "Do You Want To Build A Snowman" from Frozen
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Sometimes Exposition comes in subtle forms, like Flavour Text or Inner Monologue. Sometimes it's more a little direct, using an Opening Scroll or lengthy Info Dump. And sometimes, Exposition comes with a full orchestra and choreography.

Musical Exposition is the use of a song to provide information important to the plot. It may take the form of a Crowd Song, or it may be sung by a single character. If the story has a Narrator, expect him or her to be involved in this musical number. Typically, this occurs near the beginning of a work, though it may also happen after a Time Skip or at the start of each act. Musical Exposition is particularly common in The Musical and in Animated Films.

Supertrope to "I Want" Song and Villain Song, in which The Protagonist and The Villain, respectively, sing about their desires and motives. Also a supertrope to "The Villain Sucks" Song, a song that provides characterization for the villain that is sung by someone other than the villain, as well as "I Am" Song, a song that establishes a character's motivations and personality. Supertrope to Expository Theme Tune.

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Examples

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     Comic Books 

    Film 
  • While the first song from Aladdin, "Arabian Nights", just sets the mood rather than giving exposition, the second song "One Jump Ahead" introduces Aladdin as the main character and establishes that he's a thief who just steals to survive.
  • The first musical number in Anastasia, "A Rumor in St. Petersburg", picks up after the prologue and a Time Skip. It introduces two of the main characters, Dmitri and Vlad, and establishes their plan and motives.
  • "Belle" from Beauty and the Beast follows the opening narration that introduced the Beast. It establishes how the female lead is a bookworm and doesn't fit in the little town she lives in.
  • While The Emperor's New Groove is not a musical film, it has one song in the beginning, "Kuzco", that sets up the main character as a vain, selfish, and laid-back ruler.
  • "The Gospel Truth" from Hercules tells how Zeus defeated the titans and became the King of Olympus. Its Dark Reprise introduces Hades as the Big Bad. Both are sung by a literal Greek Chorus.
  • Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame opens with "The Bells of Notre Dame" which sets up the story and introduces both The Hero and The Villain.
  • Disney's Pocahontas begins with a pair of songs: "The Virginia Company" gives some background on the colonists' motivations, while "Steady As the Beating Drum" shows the lifestyle of the Native Americans.
  • "Oo-De-Lally" from Robin Hood introduces Robin Hood and Little John as a pair of Loveable Rogues, and how they have to keep running from the Sheriff's men.
  • In Shrek, Duloc's Stepford Suburbia nature is revealed by a bunch of singing animatonics.
  • The title song of The Sword in the Stone tells of how England fell into turmoil following the death of the king and the appearance of the sword in the stone. A narrator then provides a bit more exposition about the sword as we segue into the beginning of the story.
  • Tom and Jerry: The Movie first song Friends to the end has a Wide-Eyed Idealist cocker named Puggsy teaching Tom and Jerry how to be friends. Almost every song of the movie (e.g. "Money is such a beautiful word") turns out to be a blatant excuse to turn the movie into a poorly-executed musical. The latter song has the two main villains, Aunt Figg and Mr.Lickboot, singing of their Fatal Flaw: Greed. Lampshaded by The Nostalgia Critic.

    Live Action Television 
  • Flight of the Conchords (specifically the TV show) is sprinkled with musical exposition throughout simply because of their talky style of music.
  • The generally weird Doctor Who story "The Gunfighters" has a non-diegetic vocal soundtrack song, "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon", that recaps and exposits at intervals throughout.
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    Theatre 
  • Gilbert and Sullivan often used musical exposition, such as explaining the local backstory through a number by Dame Hannah in Ruddigore.
  • The song "Six Months Out of Every Year" is used by the baseball fans' and their wives to set up the story of Damn Yankees, as well as give us some information about the fictional Washington Senators. The baseball fans tell viewers about the team that can't catch a break, while the wives sing of their loneliness while their husbands pour all their affection into caring about baseball.
  • Evita is Sung Through, so all its exposition is this by necessity.
    • "Oh What a Circus" gives a cynical overview of Eva Peron's influence on Argentina, as well as establishing the emotional impact her death has on many people. It then segues into the flashback that makes up the bulk of the film.
    • The first part of "On This Night of a Thousand Stars" introduces us to a young Eva Duarte and her first lover.
    • "The Lady's Got Potential" provides an overview of the military coup in June 1943, shows us Eva's social climbing, and introduces Col. Peron.
  • Hamilton begins with the Crowd Song "Alexander Hamilton," where the rest of the principal cast members sing about Hamilton's early life before moving to New York. It also introduces Aaron Burr as Narrator, Deuteragonist, and Hamilton's on-off frenemy.
  • Into the Woods begins with "Prologue: Into the Woods", which introduces all of the main characters and most of the supporting cast, sets up the plot by establishing each character's motivation for entering the woods, and provides the backstory of the Witch's curse on the Baker's family.
  • In Jesus Christ Superstar, one of the first songs is "Heaven on Their Minds", during which Judas sings of his concerns about Jesus's growing popularity and the problems stemming from it, including the belief of some Jews that Jesus means to overthrow the Roman government and the government's growing unease.
  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat:
    • "Jacob and Sons" provides information on the setting introduces Jacob and his twelve sons.
    • "Joseph's Coat", following directly after "Jacob and Sons", introduces the conflict between Joseph and his brothers—-the brothers' jealousy of Joseph due to Parental Favouritism.
  • Les Misérables begins with "Prologue: Work Song", which introduces both the protagonist and antagonist and establishes their personalities and relation to each other. It also gives insight into Valjean's past and the reason for his imprisonment.
  • In Once Upon a Mattress, the opening number "Many Moons Ago" gives a quick-and-dirty summary of the story of the Princess and the Pea.
  • Wicked opens with "No One Mourns the Wicked", which shows the circumstances of Elphaba's conception and birth.

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs: In "King Yakko" Yakko explains in song to the people of Anvilania why he has been crowned.
    Yakko: I bet you all are wondering / Who is this young unknown? / And why am I inheriting / The Anvilanian throne? ... The bottom of the family tree / Starts with Yakko; that is me. / I'm the cousin to the sister / Of son's niece's brother / Of the uncle's daughter's father / Of the nephew's sister's mother / And my grandpa's only cousin / Was the King's daughter's sibling, / But they're all gone
    Crowd: So that is why
    Yakko: I am now your king!
  • During the Christmas Episode of Back to the Future, Doc takes his family and Marty to Dickensian England to beat the heat wave that's currently roasting Hill Valley. While there, they encounter a group of Christmas carolers, who have a tendency to respond to any question asked with an improvised verse to the tune of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Eventually, Marty tells them to stop it, and they do give the next explanation in speech, but it doesn't last.
  • The Hercules episode "Hercules and the Prometheus Affair" has a Prometheus Academy teacher telling Hercules the story of their namesake...by song.
  • "Mountain Town" from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: Introduces us to the setting and the characters' personalities that will drive the plot.

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