"I Am" Song

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
"I'm Mr. White Christmas, I'm Mr. Snow. I'm Mr. Icicle. I'm Mr. Ten below."

I am anger, under pressure
Locked in cages, a prisoner, the first to escape
I am wicked, I am Legion
Strength in numbers, a lie, the number is one
I, I, I

Everything that I see is for me

Bob Fosse said that most songs fall into two categories: the "I Want" Song and the "I Am" Song. The "I Am" Song is, simply put, a song which establishes a character's personality, role in the plot, and/or motivations right away. It can be more effective than setting up a character by dialogue, and it's almost always more fun.

Despite the name, the song doesn't have to be sung by the characters themselves. "The Villain Sucks" Song is an example of an "I Am" Song sung by other people about a villain they despise.

May also be an I Am What I Am, but not always.

Note: Contrast the "I Want" Song. Although the two are not mutually exclusive, the "I Am" Song should be primarily about who the character is, rather than what they want (there's a clue in the name). Try to avoid citing an "I Want" Song as an "I Am" Song.

Compare Villain Song, which are almost always of this type (when they aren't "I Want" Songs). See also Leitmotif for an instrumental version. Image Song is when it doesn't appear in the actual show, but rather in All There in the Manual extras. See "I Am Becoming" Song for when a character explains his or her new motivations or self.

Examples of "I Am" Song include:
  • Horse Feathers "Whatever it is, I'm against it!"
  • "Hooray for Captain Spaulding", from Animal Crackers, is a tongue-in-cheek version of "Whatever it is, I'm against it!" from Groucho.
  • Drood has "A Man Could Go Quite Mad" for Jasper and "The Wages of Sin" for Princess Puffer.
  • Next to Normal
    • "I'm Alive" takes this pretty literally, half the lyrics starting with "I am..."
    • "I Am The One".
  • Chicago
    • "All I Care About Is Love" . Of course, he's lying, but...
    • Mama also has her own song, "When You're Good to Mama", which is more accurate (metaphorically, anyway).
    • Amos has "Mr. Cellophane".
  • "The Jet Song" from West Side Story.
  • Batly from Eureekas Castle has one and sings about how much of a klutz he is
  • Beauty and the Beast
    • "Belle," which also serves as an "I Want" Song ("There must be more than this provincial life ..."), though the official I Want Song in the movie is the reprise to "Belle"
    • "Gaston." It's sung by Le Fou and Gaston predominately. It's almost a subversion of "The Villain Sucks" Song, as everyone in Belle's town loves Gaston except her and her father. The Broadway musical version also includes the aptly named "Me", sung by Gaston himself as he tries (unsuccessfully) to woo Belle.
  • "I Cain't Say No" from Oklahoma!!'
  • "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow" from O Brother, Where Art Thou? if you count it as a diegetic musical.
  • "I Am What I Am" from La Cage Aux Folles.
  • "I Yam What I Yam" from Popeye the movie.
  • "I'm New Here" from Twilight the Musical plays this quite blatantly.

Edward Cullen: I am a vampire!

  • Wicked:
    • "A Sentimental Man" is a subversion. The Wizard believes what he's saying, but it's only later that the audience finds that he has his own ideas about who qualifies as a "citizen of Oz" and that part of his motivation for helping Elphaba is to use her magic for his own ends.
    • "Defying Gravity" is more of an "I Am Becoming" song, since Elphaba's entire character for the second act stems from that song...both the good and the bad.
  • Speaking of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, "Great Big Stuff" is both an "I Am" Song and an "I Want" Song.
  • "Angry Inch" from Hedwig and The Angry Inch.
  • "Always True to You" from Kiss Me, Kate.
  • "Some People" from Gypsy, as well as "Rose's Turn" and "Little Lamb".
  • "Colored Spade", "Manchester England", "I Got Life" and probably more from Hair (theatre). That whole show was basically an "I Am" Song for the hippies.
  • Multiple characters in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee have something along these lines:"I'm Not That Smart" (Leaf), "I Speak Six Languages" (Marcy) and "Woe Is Me" (Schwartzy).
  • Cats is nothing but I Am Songs (or rather, You Are Songs in most cases).
  • "Miss Baltimore Crabs" from Hairspray.
  • "Sweet Transvestite" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
  • "All That's Known" from Spring Awakening.
  • "Jesus of Suburbia", "St. Jimmy" and "She's a Rebel" from Green Day's American Idiot.
  • "Bring Me My Bride", Miles Gloriosus' song from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.
    • Which is also an "I Want" Song, as the title suggests.
    • Also "Lovely" for Philia and... well, half the songs in the play.
  • "One Jump Ahead" from Disney's Aladdin.
    • The Genie has "Friend Like Me", where he establishes his powers and personality.
  • "C'est moi", from Camelot establishes Lancelot's puissance and hubris. (Notice the literal translation of the title).
    • "I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight" (sung by Arthur himself) establishes his fallibility.
  • "Oh, Yeah! Alala!" from Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch establishes Alala as an evil Kawaiiko Idol Singer (strangely enough for a shoujo series).
  • This isn't an exclusively Musical Theatre trope, many rappers have an introduction song, and some bands have theme songs, anthems, or otherwise similar I Am Songs.
    • "My Name Is...", anyone?
      • "I AM...WHATEVER YOU SAY I AM! IF I WASN'T, THEN WHY WOULD I SAY I AM?! IN THE PAPER, THE NEWS, EVERYDAY I AM! I DON'T KNOW, THAT'S JUST THE WAY I AM!
  • "Now", "Soon", and "Later" (for Fredrik, Anne, and Henrik respectively) from A Little Night Music. "The Glamorous Life" might count as Desiree's.
  • "Not For the Life of Me" for the title character of Thoroughly Modern Millie
  • "The Beauty Is" for Clara from The Light in the Piazza.
  • "Fortune Favors the Brave" for Radames in Aida.
    • And "My Strongest Suit" for Amneris.
  • "Clean the Kit" in The Beautiful Game for John.
  • "30/90" for Johnny in tick, tick... BOOM!
  • "Oh, What a Circus" is sung by Che, but completely describes Evita's role in the musical named for her.
  • "I Put My Hand in There" for the title character of Hello, Dolly!. Replaced in the film version by the Movie Bonus Song "Just Leave Everything To Me".
  • "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown".
  • Bill Sykes' "My Name" from Oliver.
  • "I Can Cook, Too" from On The Town.
  • "My Name Is Samuel Cooper" from Love Life.
  • "The Lady Is A Tramp" from Babes In Arms.
  • "I Jupiter, I Rex" from Out Of This World.
  • "The Hostess With The Mostes'" from Call Me Madam.
  • "Wand'rin' Star" from Paint Your Wagon.
  • "Independent (On My Own)" from Bells Are Ringing.
  • "I Enjoy Being A Girl" from Flower Drum Song.
  • "A Little Brains, A Little Talent" from Damn Yankees.
  • "I'm The Greatest Star" from Funny Girl.
  • "His Name is Lancelot" from Spamalot is more of an "Just Admit It, You Are" song.
    • There is also "Laker Girls Cheer" with Arthur declaring that he is Arthur, King of the Britons.
  • "Li'l Ark Angel" from Cats Don't Dance is mildly different: although it's more of a plot device, her cheerily singing about people and animals drowning establishes Darla's character immediately. She gets a Villain Song later, too.
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has interesting twists: The opening number "The Candy Man" is a typical celebration of a title character, but none of the other characters, to say nothing of the audience, has actually seen him in years. Willy Wonka, who turns out to be far more eccentric than expected, has his own I Am Song in "Pure Imagination", which better fits his personality, especially with its choreography.
  • Gilbert and Sullivan love these. To list just a few:
    • The Mikado
      • "A Wand'ring Minstrel I" (Nanki-Poo)
      • "Behold The Lord High Executioner" (Ko-Ko)
      • "Three Little Maids From School Are We" (Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing, Peep-Bo)
      • "A More Humane Mikado Never Did In Japan Exist"
    • The Pirates of Penzance
      • "'Tis Better Far to Live and Die" (or "I Am A Pirate King")
      • "I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General"
    • HMS Pinafore
      • "I'm Called Little Buttercup"
      • "I Am The Monarch of the Sea" (Sir Joseph)
      • "I Am The Captain of the Pinafore"
    • Princess Ida
      • "We Are Warriors Three" (Arac, Guron, and Scynthius)
      • "If You Give Me Your Attention" (Gama)
    • The Gondoliers
      • "We're Called Gondolieri" (Marco and Giuseppe)
      • "In Enterprise Of Martial Kind" (Duke of Plaza-Toro)
    • The Sorcerer
      • "My Name is John Wellington Wells"
      • "Love Feeds on Many Kinds of Food"
    • Patience
      • "If You Want a Receipt For That Popular Mystery" (Colonel)
  • Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog.
    • "A Man's Gotta Do" starts out as an "I Want" Song for Dr. Horrible but then Captain Hammer hijacks it and makes it his very own, very hammy I Am Song.
    • "Bad Horse Chorus" for the Animal Supervillain Bad Horse, actually a "He Is" song.
    • "Penny's Song", appropriately, for Penny.
  • Les Misérables has a boatload: for Fantine, it's "I Dreamed a Dream". For Eponine, we get "On My Own". For Thenardier, we get "Master of the House". "Stars" for Javert.
    • Though "Master of the House" is probably the most traditional I Am Song in the musical. "On My Own" falls more into the "I Want" Song category, considering the song isn't so much about Eponine as it is about her wanting Marius to return her affections while realizing that he never will.
    • And for Jean Valjean, it's the side-splittingly obvious name for an "I Am" Song: "Who Am I?"
    • "Stars" is also a bit of an "I Want" Song, but this is justified because the pursuit of Valjean in particular and justice in general is central to Javert's self-image. There's a reason he's the Trope Namer for Inspector Javert.
  • "I, Don Quixote" from Man of La Mancha qualifies for this as its first reprise - not to be confused with its second reprise, which is more of an I Am What I Am song. Aldonza also gets such a song with "It's All The Same".
  • The Phantom of the Opera has "Stranger Than You Dreamt It" after Christine removes the Phantom's mask.
  • "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'" from Porgy And Bess.
  • "How Can I Call This Home?" for Leo in Parade.
  • "The Barber and His Wife" from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, though the title character who sings this speaks of himself in those days in the past tense because as far as he's concerned, That Man Is Dead. It gets a Dark Reprise at the end of the play after Sweeney unknowingly kills his wife, learns of Mrs. Lovett's treachery in not telling him said wife was still alive, and then throws her in the oven.
    • Another example for Todd is, of course, "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd".
    • Meanwhile, Mrs. Lovett has "The Worst Pies in London", which tells you just about everything you need to know about that character in two minutes flat.
    • And Adolpho Pirelli gets his entrance which actually opens with the lines "I am Adolpho Pirelli, / Da king of da barbers..."
  • The Little Mermaid: "Poor Unfortunate Souls" for Ursula.
    • also, "Les Poissons".
  • Just about every character in Keating! has one:
    • Bob Hawke gets "My Right Hand Man" (sorta. It's more about Keating, but it applies to him too).
    • Keating himself gets "Do It in Style".
    • John Hewson has his part of "On The Floor".
    • Gareth Evans and Cheryl Kernot have "Heavens, Mister Evans".
    • Alexander Downer has "Freaky".
    • John Howard has "Power" (which doubles as his Villain Song).
  • The songs of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter.
  • "What You Feel" from "Once More With Feeling" is the this as well as being a Villain Song, since its an upbeat tune about how hes a demon who destroys whole towns through cheery music, for the episodes villain (who is identified in the credits as Sweet).
  • A number of Professional Wrestling entrance themes (at least the ones with lyrics) fit this pattern. Of particular note is TNA wrestler A.J. Styles' theme, which is actually titled "I Am"
  • Despite the name, "I Want More", from Lestat is actually Claudia's "I Am" Song. (Her "I Want" Song is "I'll Never Have That Chance").
  • "Advantages of Floating In the Middle of the Sea" is pretty much the I Am Song for all of Japan in Sondheim's Pacific Overtures.
  • "Back In NYC" from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway serves this purpose for the main character, Rael.
  • John Denver's "The Eagle and the Hawk": "I am the eagle,I live in high country...I am the hawk, and there's blood on my feathers..."
  • "The Real Me" from Quadrophenia.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera, being a rock opera and featuring an ensemble cast, has one for the majority of the characters.
    • Perhaps the two most classic examples are "Legal Assassin" and "Things You See In A Graveyard", which introduce Nathan and Rotti's characters, respectively, their motivations, their pasts, and much of the plot besides.
    • Also "Seventeen" and "Infected". The latter is incredibly whiny, but still an "I Am" Song.
  • The bitterly ironic "Rich and Happy" from Merrily We Roll Along: Frank has sold out his principles, abandoned his dreams and destroyed his most important friendship... but he's "rich and famous and therefore happy too". And if you believe that, there's a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.
  • In "Children of Eden", Yonah has a song about how she is not a "Stranger to the Rain", which establishes her as The Woobie because she is descended from Cain.
  • Chess has quite a few as well. Freddie's lyrics in Merano, Where I Want to Be for Anatoly and Someone Else's Story for either Florence or Svetlana. Plus Molokov and Svetlana's new songs in the Stockholm version.
    • Arguably, "Pity The Child" for Freddie as well.
  • The title character of Barnum gets two in "There's a Sucker Born Ev'ry Minute" and "The Prince of Humbug".
  • "Main Hoon Don" (which translates to "I Am Don") from the Bollywood film Don. This one is an interesting combination of Trick Twist and Villain Song. When you are first watching the film, you fully believe the singer to be Vijay. At the end you discover it was Don pretending to be Vijay prentending to be Don, and he was so confident in his having fooled everyone that he is just reveling in his evilness.
  • "I do the Karma Sutra with a Richard Rodgers score. It's a Business"
  • "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers" from the Disney Winnie the Pooh cartoons.
  • Not sure if this fits perfectly or no, but Richard from Looking for Group sings "Slaughter Your World" which brutally summarizes everything he is in the comic.
    • Also, the unfinished This is War. Pretty much sums up Cale and Richard in a wonderful duet.
  • "Why Should I Worry" from Oliver and Company is Dodger's.
    • And "Perfect Isn't Easy" is Georgette's. And boy does she ever want you to know it.
  • "My Name Is Mok" from Rock and Rule
  • "I Am Aldopho" from The Drowsy Chaperone.
  • "I Was The Most Beautiful Blossom" in Of Thee I Sing is more accurately described as an "I was" song, but it defines Diana to the extent that she sings its first bars on her subsequent entrances.

Wintergreen: You like that song, don't you?

    • Also: "We're the one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine Supreme Court judges..."
  • He is, indeed, the Oogie Boogie Man.
    • From the same movie, "Jack's Lament" is both this and a "I Want" Song.
  • "Different As Can Be" from A Very Potter Musical is a duet I Am Song for Quirrell and Voldemort
    • Hermione gets "Coolest Girl" in the sequel.
  • "How Lovely to be a Woman" from Bye Bye Birdie.
  • "Backwoods Barbie" is the I Am Song for 9 to 5: The Musical. Funny enough, following it being written for the musical itself, Dolly Parton decided to use it for the title track of her album Backwoods Barbie, so not only is it the I Am Song for the musical, but it is for Parton personally as well.
  • The first and only song in The Emperors New Groove (before the credits) is an I Am Song.
  • "Prophecy" from Judas Priest's concept album, Nostradamus, is the "I Am" Song for Nostradamus himself.
  • In Once Upon a Mattress, Princess Winnifred gets one in "Shy". Queen Aggravain's is "Sensitivity", and then "The Minstrel, The Jester, and I" for the Minstrel, Jester, and King.
  • Voltaire's song "When You're Evil" is a classic I Am Song for any villain
  • The Disney version of Robin Hood has "The Phoney King of England" which also serves as an example of "The Villain Sucks" Song about Prince John.
  • Probably the most famous opera example: "Largo al factotum della città" (aka "Figaro's introduction") from The Barber Of Seville.

"Figaro here, Figaro there, Figaro up, Figaro down, swifter and swifter, I'm like a thunderbolt: I'm the factotum of the city!"

Me, I'm a dreamer and I choose to be,
It's my dreams that will set the world free.
Me, I'm a dreamer, it's my destiny,
Look around, see the world that I see.

  • Prevalent in Pro Wrestling
  • The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus".
  • Oh wow, The Decemberists seem to like this trope, but as so many of their songs are almost writ as monologues, this is hardly surprising. "The Engine Driver", "Leslie Anne Levine", and "The Legionnaire's Lament" stand out as the best examples.
    • "The Mariner's Revenge Song" is basically one guy telling another guy who he is inside of a whale.
  • "We Are The World", by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, sung by USA for Africa.
  • "The Vegetarian" from Doctor Dolittle.
  • "The Life I Lead" from Mary Poppins.
  • "What Do You Do With a BA In English / It Sucks To Be Me" from Avenue Q serves as an "I Am" Song for more than half the cast: Princeton, Kate Monster, Brian, Christmas Eve, Rod, Nicky and Gary each get a verse. Additionally, "Special" is Lucy The Slut's "I Am" Song.
  • One episode of The Simpsons features a deliciously Bond-esque He Is Song for McBain as the ending theme to one of his movies, called "Blessed be the Guy that Bonds".

The rules that constrain other men / Mean nothing to Mc Bain.../ Mc Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiin!

I am a little more provocative then you might need
It is your shock and then your horror on which I feed
So can you tell me what exactly does freedom mean
If I'm not free to be as twisted as I want to be?
Don't wanna be another player losing in this game
I'm trying to impress upon you, we're not the same
My psychotic mentality is so unique
I'm one aggressive motherfucker, now wouldn't you say?

  • Strike Up the Band had "A Typical, Self-Made American" and "The Unofficial Spokesman" for Horace J. Fletcher (who, judging from his song, made himself much like Sir Joseph Porter did) and Colonel Holmes.
  • "I am The Great Mighty Poo / And I'm going to throw my shit at you..."
  • The Bible contains a rather strange example at the end of Deuteronomy- Moses' final lesson to Israel before his death is to teach them a national anthem: a song spelling out the future of Israel, complete with the fact that they will grow rebellious and turn away from God, and that this apostasy will spell disaster for their descendants, ultimately leading to their scatter and the destruction of all but a remnant. Also, Psalm 51.
  • Portal's "Still Alive" is a pretty simple one:

I'm doing science and I'm Still Alive
I feel fantastic and I'm Still Alive
When you're dying I'll be Still Alive
And when you're dead I will be Still Alive

  • In Vanities: The Musical, "An Organized Life" is this for Kathy, in addition to being an "I Want" Song, and in its Dark Reprise it becomes her BSOD Song and "I Am Becoming" Song. The first two productions also had "Hey There, Beautiful", which was later replaced by "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing". Also, the closing song "Letting Go" from the Pasadena Playhouse and ACT Theatre productions.
  • Disney's Alice in Wonderland Jr. adds two 'I Am' songs not in the movie:
    • "Ocean of Tears" for the Dodo Bird
    • "Whooooo Are Youuuuu?" for the three Alices
  • "A Little Girl from Little Rock" from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
  • The Monkees' theme song ("Hey Hey We're the Monkees!")
    • A self-deconstructed one appears in their movie, Head ("Hey, HEY we are The Monkees! You know we love to please! A manufactured image, with no philosophies...").
  • Metalocalypse gives us two for each of Dethklok's guitarists: "I'm No Man (I'm's A God)" for Skwisgaar Skiwgelf, and "I Am Toki" for Toki Wartooth.
  • Tenerence Love's "R&B break" from the song "Rap Song" from Homestar Runner for some reason composes entirely of his own name:

Well, My name is Tenerence Love
Plus my name is Tenerence Love
Divided by my name is Tenerence Love
Equals my name is Tenereeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnnnnnnnce Love!
emainder three!