You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Music From ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Greatest Showman’ Spurs Movie Soundtrack Renaissance

Undeniable songs like "Pray for Me" and "This Is Me" are driving streams and sales.

If you were to plot the successes and declines of film soundtracks on a stock chart, one might think that there was a movie-music drought or depression for much of the aughts. Indeed, there kind of was. Since the late 1990s when “Space Jam” and “Titanic” moved millions of albums, 2006’s “High School Musical,” a hit for Disney which launched the career of Zac Efron, was the only soundtrack to make Nielsen’s top 15 soundtrack sellers of all-time. How fitting that the dry spell should end with the glacier that was 2013’s “Frozen.”

In short order during the twenty-tens, music from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Furious 7,” “Justice League,” the “Fifty Shades” franchise, and “La La Land” ascended the charts, not to mention cast recordings of such Broadway hits as “Hamilton,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” and “The Book of Mormon.” Further proof of a soundtrack renaissance: the unwavering reign of “Black Panther,” currently looking at three weeks at No. 1 with a major assist from new Kendrick Lamar songs “Pray for Me” (with the Weeknd) and “All the Stars” (with SZA); music from “The Greatest Showman” and “Coco,” buoyed by an Oscar nomination and win, respectively; and even “Fifty Shades Freed” has a bubbling hit in Liam Payne and Rita Ora’s “For You.”

“If you look at the last handful of years, there’s been an incredible resurgence,” says Kevin Weaver, west coast president for Atlantic Records, which released several of the above-mentioned soundtracks including “Showman” and “Hamilton.” “It feels like when the right music is aligned to the right media, especially with these new means of music distribution, primarily streaming, it’s created a whole new world for soundtracks that didn’t previously exist.”

Manny Smith, senior VP of A&R at Interscope Records, who, along with Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith from Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), supervised the “Black Panther” soundtrack, sees another connection to streaming and the resurgence of soundtracks. “You get a great variety of sounds and songs from different artists that, streaming-wise, attracts a broader audience,” he says. “There’s a song that’s good for every type of person. It’s so spread out. And the streaming world, it lets people pick and choose what they want to listen to.”

Smith remembers when, back in the ’90s, “soundtracks like ‘Above the Rim’ used to make a killing” by offering songs from the most popular artists of the day on one disc. It’s the same principal today with compilations like “Fifty Shades” and “Suicide Squad,” but “Black Panther” is not that. The music, curated by Lamar, in its exploration of sound and texture, its lyrical bravura and messaging aligned with the movie, has the makings of a cultural touchstone. “I think it’ll spark people to make more culturally relevant music and be more aware,” says Smith. “That’s always our goal — to push further.”

Certainly that’s been Lamar’s M.O. since bursting onto the hip-hop scene in 2011. So what makes “Black Panther” something other than a new Kendrick album? Director Ryan Coogler’s direction, for one, which resulted in a relatively quick turnaround. “The film led the way [and] Ryan and Kendrick were on the same page,” adds Smith. “Usually, when people struggle it’s because they don’t have a direction. Kendrick brought in each producer; he wanted a specific sound for each [piece of music]; he would say, ‘so-and-so would sound good on this.’ … Like how a composer would conduct an orchestra.”

“Greatest Showman” has also spawned a cultural phenomenon in its anthemic theme song, “This Is Me.” Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and sung by Keala Settle it was always earmarked as a potential breakout. “We knew the song was saying something really important in how it speaks to the themes of individualism,” says Atlantic’s Weaver. “And as current affairs played out in front of our eyes, the song connected with people in a very meaningful way.”

“This Is Me” has contributed to the “Greatest Showman” soundtrack hitting one billion streams, but as a radio single, it has yet to crack MediaBase’s top 50. Still, adds Weaver, the hope is that it will climb organically. “We’re out there in radio and being very cautious in how we work it,” he says. “We don’t feel that there’s any need to rush this song. It’s really taken on a life of its own and we’re letting it do its own thing.”

“Rewrite the Stars,” another track from the film that’s sung by Zendaya and Zac Efron, has also shown signs of gaining momentum, much like “All the Stars” from “Black Panther” has for Lamar and Sza. “Pray For Me” is the quantifiable smash in the bunch, though, as it hits No. 13 on U.S. radio airplay and No. 4 on MediaBase’s PowerPlaylist consumption chart. The “Black Panther” soundtrack has sold 508,378 album equivalent units since its Feb. 9 release. The Disney movie has grossed more than $500 million in the U.S.

Some songs, like Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” from “Furious 7,” have a “life outside of the four walls of the film,” says Weaver. Other times, for example on “Showman,” they are part of the DNA of the project. But ultimately, adds the label executive, it’s about creating a robust body of work and doing what’s best for the movie’s music. “To have this incredible through-line, with the theme and vibe and sensibility of the project, is a little like threading a needle from front to back.”

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Ric Ocasek'The Imitation Game' film premiere,

    The Cars' Ric Ocasek Remembered by Weezer, the Killers, Courtney Love, More

    Ric Ocasek’s death on Sept. 15 elicited reactions from all over the music industry. While Ocasek was best known as the frontman for the Cars, he was also a noted producer, A&R executive and author. Among the artists to pay tribute  on social media in the hours after news of Ocasek’s death broke were Weezer, [...]

  • Ric Ocasek Rock & Roll Hall

    Ric Ocasek, The Cars Frontman, Dies at 75

    Ric Ocasek, frontman of the popular late 1970s and 1980s band the Cars, was found dead in his New York home on Sunday. He was 75. The NYPD confirmed that Ocasek’s body was discovered after police received a call regarding an unconscious male at his townhouse. Emergency services pronounced him dead at the scene. No [...]

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    ABC Announces Behind-the-Scenes Special for Beyoncé's 'Lion King' LP

    ABC has announced a new behind-the-scenes look into the making of Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” LP, which is set to air September 16 on ABC at 10 p.m. EST. Titled “Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift,” the new hour-long special will allow viewers to “experience the process” behind the “Lion King” companion album, according [...]

  • Roseanne Cash, Ken Burns. Ken Burns,

    Ken Burns on 'Country Music' and Why Merle, Hank, Dwight, Loretta and Lil Nas X Matter

    The phrase “the Ken Burns effect” is specifically the name of a function on Apple computers that makes all your static old family photos move around on screen like something out of “The Civil War.” But there’s another Ken Burns effect worth talking about as his “Country Music” comes to TV screens: the impact one [...]

  • Hailee Steinfeld Sets New Single Tied

    Hailee Steinfeld Announces New Single Tied to Apple TV Plus' 'Dickinson'

    Actress, singer and producer Hailee Steinfeld is set to release a new single entitled “Afterlife” on Sept. 19, a track she created for her upcoming Apple TV Plus series,”Dickinson.” “This is a song I’m incredibly proud of, and I feel like after embodying this character, I have a more fearless approach to my writing,” Steinfeld [...]

  • Deadmau5 Captivates Opening Night Crowd by

    Concert Review: Deadmau5 Captivates Opening Night Crowd by Going Cube-ist

    “I’m not gonna lie: first shows [of a tour] usually suck,” deadpanned electronic music producer Joel Zimmerman, aka deadmau5, Thursday night, closing out the first night of his two-night stand in Dallas, the kickoff city of his North American “CubeV3” tour. “But this one actually was great.” The sold-out crowd at South Side Ballroom roared back [...]

  • John Mayer performs at Madison Square

    Concert Review: John Mayer Is a Wonderland at First of Two-Night Stand at the Forum

    “You’re allowed to ironically celebrate your past,” John Mayer told a sold-out crowd of nearly 18,000 on Friday night at the iconic Inglewood, Calif. venue The Forum. He was introducing what is arguably his breakout hit, the college dorm hookup anthem “Your Body is a Wonderland,” but the declaration could easily have applied to the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content