The Return of the Musical
I guess I hadn’t really noticed it, but it seems like musicals are enjoying a moment.
While I was vaguely aware of the enthusiasm surrounding “A Star Is Born,” I hadn’t really connected the dots — or even realized that there were more than one dot to connect. But then I read an article in Billboard about John Janick, the CEO of Interscope Records. The record label, it seems, has certainly been able to cash in on the phenomenon.
In the past year, Interscope released two chart-topping soundtracks — first for “Black Panther,” and then the aforementioned “A Star is Born.” The former was Grammy-nominated for Album of the Year; the latter won a Grammy and an Oscar for “Shallow.” In 2016, the label released the soundtrack to “La La Land,” which peaked at number 2 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Big-budget musicals, while few, generally do pretty well at the box office and during awards season. In fact, two of last year’s biggest films were arguably musicals — “A Star is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Queen biopic. However, the past two decades or so have seen relatively few releases; “Chicago,” “Hairspray,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Dreamgirls,” and “Moulin Rouge” are a few that come to mind.
And then there are the musicals’ ever-popular cousin — the biopic. “Ray” and “Walk the Line” come to mind; both were critical darlings and box office hits.
But it’s hard to tell whether the success of “A Star is Born” will breathe new life into the genre. Typically, when we see this kind of success, Hollywood responds by giving us lots and lots more — think superheroes. Or remakes.
I was fascinated to learn of one upcoming film, expected to be released nationwide next month. “Teen Spirit,” which debuted last September at the Toronto International Film Festival, stars Elle Fanning as a shy, European teenager who enters an international singing competition.
What’s unusual about “Teen Spirit,” however, is the role Interscope played in making it. The label isn’t just sitting back and releasing a soundtrack; label execs were involved in several major decisions during the film’s production.
“Usually, the film company is running all the marketing and we’re doing whatever we can to help on the music side,” Janick told Billboard. “[With ‘Teen Spirit,’] We got involved in everything.” Label execs helped scout talent in London, where the film was shot, and discussed artists for the lead role of aspiring pop star Violet Valenski.
The film’s director, Max Minghella, went into the project knowing that he wanted to use music from Carly Rae Jepsen, Ellie Goulding and Robyn, Janick said. All three “just happened to be signed to us,” he told the magazine. “We didn’t push anything.”
Additionally, the label helped pull together the lone original song on the film’s soundtrack — a song called “Wildflowers,” performed by Fanning, written by Jepsen and produced by Jack Antonoff of the band fun.
I don’t know if the musical genre is poised to make a comeback. But if it is— and the timing coincides with Interscope’s latest foray into the world of filmmaking, which everyone involved seems to be pleased with — “Teen Spirit” may be the first film of its kind in recent memory, but far from the last.
— Originally Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, 03/21/19