'You leave the cinema and listen to the music on your phone': How soundtracks took centre stage in 2018

'You leave the cinema and listen to the music on your phone': How soundtracks took centre stage in 2018

Surprising fact time: in 2017 eight official soundtracks (OST) albums made it into the Top 40 in the UK, this year that number actually dropped to seven.

However, with the chart-topping antics of The Greatest Showman, plus hits for Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born and the Mamma Mia! sequel, the curtain is not about to fall for the soundtrack genre – far from it as OST sales rose from 534,000 last year to 2,230,000 in 2018, according to the Official Charts Company.

OSTs take a bow.

“There is that model now where you can literally leave the cinema and immediately listen to the music on your phone,” Polydor co-president Tom March tells Music Week of how the growth in soundtrack listening among audiences has not only propelled his label's Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again album up the UK charts, but has also inspired ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus to bring immersive dining experience, the Mamma Mia Party, to the O2 in London in 2019.

The Swedes are not alone. Fellow '70s-stalwarts-turned-West-End-innovators Queen have enjoyed similar OST success this year as they too finally made the leap to the silver screen with biopic Bohemian Rhapsody in October. While the film was not a hit with the critics, audiences not only embraced the story of Freddie Mercury and co, but the music that went with it too.

“We are all hopeful and positive people,” says Virgin EMI president Ted Cockle, who oversaw the release. “And we've still been gobsmacked by quite the enormity of box office takings. They've surpassed everybody's expectations and Queen have achieved huge success historically, they're still an arena touring band throughout the world, so for them to be taken aback by the success is quite remarkable.”

With the OST enjoying 133,811 sales and counting the film's soudtrack has broken free to be a stand out performer.

The Greatest Show Man came from the right place. That’s one of the key reasons why it’s connected

Ben Cook, Atalantic UK

Accounting for this success, Cockle says he comes back to the fact the songs “are all really good versions of what they are”, while the band themselves have enjoyed some of their biggest successes – stage show We Will Rock You in particular – following a critical mauling. "Queen are aware that some of their biggest moments have come when the critics have been dismissive of them," he notes.

However, the prize for confounding critical opinion and the greatest OST chart success of 2018 clearly goes to The Greatest Showman. Despite luke warm reviews for the movie, its soundtrack has been ever present in the UK Top 5 in 2018, including 22 weeks at No.1, reaching sales of 1,442,299 and counting.

Clearly Hugh Jackman's labour of love, retelling the PT Barnum story, was worth the effort as he is now even pausing his acting career to tour the movie's songs with a live show in in 2019.

“Hugh Jackman has been fascinated by Barnum for years,” says Atlantic UK president Ben Cook, whose label enjoyed perhaps the suprise hit of 2018.

“My understanding is he finally got a budget to do it, albeit a very small budget by Hollywood standards. He had a brilliant director in Michael Gracey, and [Benj] Pasek and [Justin] Paul as the songwriters and there’s something in the way it came about that wasn’t designed to be a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s come from the right place. That’s one of the key reasons why it’s connected.”

If there's one thing Hollywood knows, it's sequels, and following the outstanding OST success in 2018, it seems like there will be far more than seven soundtrack albums in the Top 40 come the end of 2019.

A pop spin-off of The Greatest Showman has already been released, while with Beyoncé singing on a live version of The Lion King next year, Taylor Swift lined-up for a Cats movie and Rocketman putting Elton John's back catalogue on the launch-pad for movie success, the soundtrack show must surely go on.

For Music Week's full investigation into the 2018 soundtrack sensation see our Christmas double issue, available now, or click here. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

By Paul Stokes. Interviews: Natalie Jamieson

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