Contrary to the age-old catchphrase, “Elvis has left the building,” the late rock ‘n’ roll king has recently entered the ears of new listeners around the world thanks to the latest biopic film Elvis. Directed by Baz Luhrman, the film received an exclusive theatrical release on June 24, 2022, grossing a worldwide total of $126.3 million in just two weeks. Critics and viewers alike have been raving about the film, not only for its impressive acting and cinematography, but also for something even more transformative: the music.
There’s no denying the significant impact that film plays on music, as the two have always run hand in hand, but this raises a question: Do certain types of film have a greater impact than others? Looking specifically at the latest Elvis biopic, which is a biographical depiction of the once-living rock ‘n’ roll icon, it’s no surprise that the film would cause a particular increase in engagement for Elvis’s catalog. But how significant is that increase? Is it sustainable growth? Is the impact different if the artist is still alive and making music? Using Chartmetric, we set out to answer these questions and better understand the link between music and film.
If there’s one thing that Elvis got right, it’s the musical numbers. And what better to go along with Austin Butler’s stellar Presley depictions than a full-length soundtrack of Elvis hits and must-knows? Released alongside the film, ELVIS (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) contains originals from the king himself, as well as an impressive array of covers from Doja Cat, Stevie Knicks, Eminem, and countless more. Thanks to the newly acclaimed movie and record, Presley’s estate value has doubled from around $500 million to almost $1 billion. In terms of engagement, Presley gained 1.9 million monthly listeners on Spotify, 43 million YouTube channel views, and even 63.2 thousand Instagram followers since the film’s release.
While Presley’s posthumous social stats are quite impressive, the numbers behind the music prove to be even more interesting. Let’s take a look back at that all-star cast of covers we mentioned. When it comes to the Elvis soundtrack, the songs that have earned the most engagement are Ceelo and Eminem’s “The King and I” (nearly 6 million Spotify streams) and Doja Cat’s “Vegas” (more than 85 million Spotify streams), both of which sample Presley’s beats or lyrics. The remastered Elvis originals, on the other hand, all average between 300-500k streams with “It’s Only Love” (1.2 million Spotify streams) and “Any Day Now” (1.7 million Spotify streams) being the exceptions.
Seeing these numbers, it certainly seems that pairing current and active artists with old catalog can make for a very successful soundtrack combination. On the other hand, could it potentially push watchers to interact only with big hits rather than the catalog as a whole; especially because biopics tend to rely on the top charters to drive revenue and attention? Let's look at the Queen biopic for example: while the movie certainly provided a large array of the band’s catalog, the major headlining track for the film, “Bohemian Rhapsody” arguably became the largest focus. Regardless, much of Queen’s catalog still experiences similar trends in listening growth; both for songs featured in Bohemian Rhapsody and songs not. “Under Pressure” and “Another One Bites the Dust” saw a 1.5-1.65 percent increase in streams in the last 30 days. Lesser-known tracks such as “Jealousy,” “You’re My Best Friend,” and “The Show Must Go On," meanwhile, saw an increase in streams of around 1.36-1.5 percent in the last 30 days. So while the movie may have focused on big hits, other Queen catalog is still riding high from the long-tail success of this film.
Only time can tell if Elvis will experience the same sustainable growth that Queen has post-biopic. Still, regardless of its success the movie has gone on to perform its main duty: standing as a testament to the work and legacy of a tragically lost performer. But while many biopics tend to feature stars that are no longer living, can the effect on music be different if the artist is still alive?
For instance, 2019’s Rocketman portrayed the life and career of the icon we know as Elton John. Two weeks following the release, Elton’s Spotify monthly listeners jumped by 1.9 million. While this may seem like a lot, it is minimal compared to other spikes we’ve seen following collaborations with Lady Gaga (3.5 million) and anthology albums like Jewel Box (3.6 million). When comparing Elton’s Rocketman success to the likes of posthumous biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody or Elvis, the film came in second with an increase of 1.8 million Spotify monthly listeners. Queen came in first (+8.1 million listeners) and Elvis in third (+1.5 monthly listeners). So while there doesn't seem to be a major difference if the featured star is dead or alive, the success created by biopic films may never truly amount to an actual release or performance from the real-life artist today.
When it comes to biographical movies, the power of the soundtrack is everything. In the case of ELVIS (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) and Bohemian Rhapsody, both records made sure to feature catalog sung directly by the stars themselves. On the other hand, films such as Aretha Franklin's Respect or Judy Garland's Judy, only featured covers sung by the star who portrayed them in the movie. Perhaps as a consequence of that fact, Garland gained only 121K Spotify monthly listeners and Franklin 143K, both one month after release.
Though the two films were certainly successful in portraying the lives of these inspiring women, the two fall short in driving catalog engagement the way Elvis and Bohemian Rhapsody did. With that being said, perhaps the secret recipe to a killer biopic soundtrack is exactly the way Elvis made it: old hits sung by the singer, with a sprinkle of covers from new rising stars to attract new listeners.
At the end of the day, the link between film and music is stronger than ever. Thanks to the ever-increasing popularity surrounding biopics, it's only a matter of time before we see the next resurgence of success for a timeless star. Will it be Amy Winehouse? Michael Jackson? Possibly even Weird Al Yankovich? Whoever it is, there's no question that fans of all ages will pack the theatres full of excitement and open hearts.