Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and sung by Jessica Darrow, “Surface Pressure” is arguably one of the most popular songs from the latest Disney film “Encanto.” Earning its spot on Billboard’s Top Ten, this song is undoubtedly a bop.
However, with rhythmical combinations of rap beats, pop sounds, and empowering lyrics, the music does more than make you want to listen on repeat.
Interpreted by Luisa Madrigal, who has the magical power of undying strength, “Surface Pressure” tells the narrative of the experiences of many first-gen Latinas. Though we often see Luisa use her power physically by exuding strength in picking up donkeys or relocating entire buildings, this song shows us the emotional strength (and exhaustion) of doing so.
In the song, we hear Luisa touch on two recurring themes: the enormous familial expectations that fall on her for being the strongest daughter and her constant desire for a break and to be able to escape all of these expectations. She repeatedly expresses this pressure as something that “breaks a camel’s back” or “will never stop.”
In a recent interview, Lin Manuel-Miranda described “Surface Pressure” as “my love letter/apology to older siblings everywhere.” In most of the film, we see Luisa working and helping others, but in these short three and half minutes, she is vulnerable and shows the audience how much bearing the burden of her family has genuinely impacted her. She sings that “I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service,” which hits home for many older siblings who constantly battle the cyclical thoughts of having to help the family with having to make room for themselves.
At the beginning of the song, Luisa describes how she’s feeling as “not nervous” or “tough as the crust of the earth.” Luisa peels back throughout the piece and eventually poses a crucial question, singing, “if I could shake the crushing weight of expectations, would that free some room for joy?” She lets the audience in, and Luisa’s true feelings of absolute exhaustion are clear.
“Surface Pressure” is a song that resonates very loudly for first-gen Latine folks, particularly older daughters, who also serve as caretakers for younger siblings, interpreters for their family members, and have more responsibilities that could be crushing. The expectations of this role often lead to exhaustion, albeit not as physical as it was for Luisa in Encanto.