Chvrches frontwoman Lauren Mayberry was taking a break from making her band’s upcoming fourth album when she began a self-isolated quarantine at her home in Los Angeles the weekend of March 13 — the same weekend that Season 3 of the teen drama “Elite” debuted on Netflix to an especially binge-hungry audience.
Though Mayberry was aware that the new season of the soapy, Spanish-language series features multiple, narrative-driven uses of Chvrches’ song “Forever,” a two-year-old album cut from the band’s latest release “Love Is Dead” (featuring production from Adele/ Sia /Beck producer Greg Kurstin), she had relatively low expectations, given that the song was never worked as a single.
“We’ve had things on film soundtracks or in certain TV shows or video games where you think, ‘That’s gonna create a lot of traction,’ and it doesn’t necessarily,” says Mayberry, whose bandmates Martin Doherty and Iain Cook were quarantined elsewhere in L.A. and the band’s home country of Scotland, respectively. “We watched the show and we all thought, ‘Well, we’re probably all too old to get this.’ And that’s fine.”
Chvrches had been off the road since December and not promoting any new singles, so Mayberry was surprised to see a sudden uptick in mentions and comments on the band’s social accounts as viewers across the globe started binging “Elite” during many territories’ first full week of COVID-19 quarantine (the series has been one of the Netflix’s top 10 most-watched for the past 2 weeks.)
In the first week following the show’s Season 3 premiere, single-week streams for “Forever” soared past 1 million, including a 900% month-over-month increase at Spotify and 500% at Apple Music. Shazam tags soared to nearly 250,000 – a 1,000% bump from the previous month. The song also cracked Spotify Viral charts in lots of territories where Chvrches had historically rarely-if-ever toured, including Mexico, Spain, France, Peru, Chili and Panama. In the U.S., the song garnered editorial placement on influential playlists like Spotify’s Indie Pop (1 million followers) and Apple Music’s As Seen On TV.
Perhaps it was the context: after “Forever” scored the scene that led to a main character’s murder in Season 1 of “Elite,” the song was featured in several episodes throughout Season 3 as a narrative thread ultimately tied to the murderer’s reveal. Though the Season 1 sync didn’t make much of a wave upon its debut in October 2018, this time fans took notice.
“We were just sitting in our houses, doing nothing. And then we got an email from our manager where he was like, ‘What the f—?’ and sent us streaming statistics,” says Mayberry. “And then I noticed it’s been played on a lot of radio stations in Mexico and Latin America. So yeah, it was not something we ever expected.”
And in the week ending March 29, “Forever”’s listening activity continued to surge. The song was streamed more than 2 million times globally (twice from the week prior), including 171,000 single-day streams at Spotify on Friday March 27, and an additional 72,000 tags on Shazam. Major-market radio stations, including KROQ in Los Angeles, KITS in San Francisco and SiriusXM’s Alt Nation, began spinning the song. And a fan-made “art track” video on YouTube, posted upon the song’s original release in May 2018, now has over 1.1 million views, with a comments section full of “Elite” superfans.
Much in the same way that Ashe’s “Moral Of The Story” became a chart hit in over 20 territories last month following its lip-sync from a main character in Netflix’s “To All The Boys 2,” or the Gina Rodriguez scene in last year’s “Someone Great” that catapulted Lizzo and her song “Truth Hurts” to megastardom, the “Netflix bump” has quickly become the holy grail that music supervisors and record label marketing departments crave to achieve through some magic combination of character-driven storytelling and the perfect song.
“The thing with songs in most Netflix shows is you see an initial spike and it lasts for two to three days then it naturally tapers off. But for this, we’re going into Week 4 now and it’s moving toward top 15 in worldwide consumption and continuing to expand,” says Nick Petropoulos, head of promotion at Chvrches’ label Glassnote Records. “This is not just fans finding the song from the show, sharing it and saving it to their libraries, but it’s also playlist editors adding the song on its own merit. Our hope and goal now through this weird time is that this could be a song that has a much longer life now.”
Dylan Lewis, Glassnote’s head of sales, adds that the label has been tweaking the song’s SEO on services like YouTube and Spotify to make Chvrches and “Forever” searchable with the term “Elite.” The strategy also seems to have added to the recent boost in streams. “It’s as if we’re on a train and trying to change the track a little bit so the cars go in a different direction but the same destination,” Lewis says.
As the song gains traction at more formats and platforms, demand for Chvrches has suddenly reached all-time highs in markets like Mexico and Latin America – places the band has only played on the festival circuit but never as a headliner. “We’ve been trying to put together tours for those territories for a long time, but it’s just been very difficult logistically and financially to get it to work. So it’s really been amazing to me that music can just bounce over those geographical boundaries if there’s something to help it with a push.”
Still, with production on the next Chvrches album on hold and its planned summer tour dates currently in limbo, Mayberry is quick to acknowledge the weird timing of scoring a sudden viral hit. “Yesterday I put normal clothes on for the first time to do some radio one-liners and video IDs and things like that. I guess we’re just trying to find a balance between reaching out to people and not ignoring such a positive thing, but also not being a gauche ghoul that’s trying to sell stuff when the world doesn’t want you to be selling stuff.”
But ultimately, the song’s success “shows you can plan stuff and focus group stuff within an inch of its life, but if people don’t want it they don’t want it,” she says. “And I feel it’s very on-brand for Chvrches in a way, because we weren’t trying to sell anything and we’ve never had a big, banger song. There’s never a sure thing in the music industry, but yeah I kind of like that this kind of came out of nowhere because people are so passionate about the show.”
Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by Anzie Blue, a wellness company and café based in Nashville. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ahampp.