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The Greatest Show (Prologue) – Analysis

This is the greatest show! This is also part one of many lyric analyses for the movie, The Greatest Showman. I remember being floored 5 seconds into this song. The editing and pacing. It’s such a good Hook pulling triply duty.

Lyric Analysis


Video: Just as the title sequence goes from black-and-white and suddenly into colour, so does the audience go from their mundane lives and into the story world… just like how Dorothy enters Oz — imagine audiences, seeing colour in film for the first time…

Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for (whoa)

V: addressing the audience as in a circus show

Been searching in the dark, your sweat soaking through the floor (whoa)

The Oddities have been seeking a way out whilst in suppression (dark)

Fever dreams make you sweat in real life

And buried in your bones there’s an ache that you can’t ignore

The dream is unrealised, suppressed but still already stirring action and prompting you

Taking your breath, stealing your mind

The dream demands your attention

And all that was real is left behind

In this context, if reality means prejudice then fantasy is welcomed.

Don’t fight it, it’s coming for ya, running at ya

It’s only this moment, don’t care what comes after

Your fever dream, can’t you see it getting closer

Whilst a fever is usually negative, a fever dream is a kind of dream that is so powerful and real that it leaks into the “real world”

Just surrender ‘cause you feel the feeling taking over

It’s fire, it’s freedom, it’s flooding open

Three alliterations, all having to do with an unstoppable energy

It’s a preacher in the pulpit and your blind devotion

“Don’t care what comes after” and “blind devotion”, see “Tightrope (theme)”

There’s something breaking at the brick of every wall it’s holding

all that you know, so tell me do you wanna go?

All we know, what reality tells us, is that class holds you back. But that’s changing now.

Where it’s covered in all the coloured lights

A circus is colourful, but “lights” here also meaning people covered in realised dreams

Where the runaways are running the night

  1. It’s a common phrase, to “run away with the circus”
  2. Runaways who were despised, are now the ones in charge

Impossible comes true, it’s taking over you

Oh, this is the greatest show

We light it up, we won’t come down

And the sun can’t stop us now

How do we rewrite the stars? The sun is a star.

Watching it come true, it’s taking over you

  1. Fake dreams becoming true reality
  2. It’s not just “for show”; there is actual substance

Oh, this is the greatest show

The greatest magic trick is the one that is for real

It’s everything you ever want

It’s everything you ever need

And it’s here right in front of you

  1. Greatness and ambition (what we want) is merely a choice away
  2. But so is family and home (what we need)

This is where you want to be

Barnum, like the audience, wants greatness. But what we really want is home.

V: young!Barnum snaps out of his daydream, just like the video’s ending transition

Common Motifs

“It’s finally time.”

This is the moment you’ve waited for

Been searching in the dark…

Buried in your bones…

…it’s coming for ya, running at ya

It’s only this moment…

…can’t you see it getting closer

There’s something breaking…all that you know

“Desire manifests…”

…your sweat soaking through the floor

…there’s an ache that you can’t ignore

Taking your breath, stealing your mind

Your fever dream…

…‘cause you feel the feeling taking over

It’s fire, it’s freedom, it’s flooding open

…it’s taking over you!

“…so say yes.”

…you can’t ignore

Don’t fight it…

Just surrender…


Tell me do you want to go?

…we won’t come down

“Now dreams are coming true.”

And all that was real is left behind

Your fever dream…

There’s something breaking…all that you know

Where it’s covered in all the coloured lights

Impossible comes true

We light it up…

Watching it come true

In-Universe Imagery


  • A preacher (ringmaster) in the pulpit (ring)
  • A ringmaster inviting people to run away to his circus

Backup singers:

  • Barnum’s circus folk are calling the audience to partake in the same freedom that Barnum offers that they themselves are currently experiencing


  • People who are still in the dark (suppression)
  • The real movie audience, in a fourth wall manner

The “show”

  • The circus family that Barnum is building to become a safe home, a place where they are celebrated instead of shunned for their quirks… and Barnum’s actual family
  • The movie itself in a fourth-wall manner, offering to show you a colorful world if you surrender to the show

The Medium

  • The ensemble really reinforces the “circus family” theme: no one is excluded from joining the chorus
  • The busy colourful action-packed visuals combined with the loud and fast-paced drums really feels like some enticing, surreal dream that you’d wake up sweating from.
  • Might be a stretch: but a major third replaces a minor sixth chord in the second half of the chorus, on “Impossible/Watching it come true”.
    • Minor sixths are commonly used in “typical, safe and formulaic” 4-chord pop songs, which this song seems to be so far, until we hit that major third instead.
    • It could be implied, then, that when you break out of the mould of “secure and conventional” into “crazy and risky”, then impossible dreams can come true.

What’s the name about?

What other shows are there?

Why is one show greater than the rest?

And, what does “show” imply?


A few months ago, close friend #2 planned an outing to a travelling circus, @swissdreamcircus, and it was actually my first ever circus experience, all the better with friends. I didn’t know what to expect but it was a night soooo well spent. The circus… the atmosphere was ecstatic: the majestic circus tent, the waft of caramel and cotton candy… the dizzying spotlights and superhuman acts… but that’s a story for another post.

But the greatest application I want to highlight was a clown act (He’s an 8th generation clown! Wow!). The clown had earlier pulled up a father into the circus ring (the circular stage, as the seats went around in a circle) to assist in an act involving balloons, a blindfold and a terrifying whip. Take a guess.

But we were thoroughly entertained. But more so the father. When he went back to his seat from the limelight back into darkness yet so close, and as much as he was made into the target of laughter — he started to give standing ovations after each act, and became more bold to laugh out loud, joining his daughter in childish fun. Curiously, I wondered what it felt like. Blindly following the promise of the spectacular. Having your pulse scale up when every eye is on you.

Wonder no more, because later, the clown had asked me to keep my hand up, like Superman. “I need two volunteers!” he said, turning to me, “Oh, wonderful! Thanks for volunteering yourself! Step into the ring!”

The crowd gasped in surprise, then erupted into cheering. My friends’ eyes opened wide as they opened their camera apps. The spotlight zoomed to me. My heart pounded. Alrighty.

I awkwardly shifted out of the seating area. There was this 1-foot-high lip at the edge of the ring that separated dark from light, performers from audience. I had to jump in. I did. And then everything made sense.

The circus was an experience that you cannot understand secondhand. It really deepened my appreciation for The Greatest Showman, and further reinforced its themes. Even if you’re indifferent towards the movie, I still advocate for taking your family out to a circus. Especially in Asian countries, it’s such a good reference point for expression that they don’t teach in schools. December holidays are coming up, yeah? I am the ringmaster giving the call; are you ready to step into the ring?

Q: What “show” are you hesitating to join? Hesitating to share?