When curated and composed properly, a movie’s soundtrack can enrich a viewing experience like no other aural or visual technique. Music can deepen our empathy with a character, support the narrative, heighten pivotal sequences, and illuminate the film’s subtleties — we can become aware of the feelings and themes unaddressed in the dialogue. Obviously, a soundtrack plays a critical role in musicals, which rely on the movie’s musical numbers to further immerse us in the onscreen world.
A musical’s soundtrack has the potential to dominate both the film and music industry. When a popular musical movie pairs its box office triumph with an equally thunderous soundtrack album, the film’s cultural power can significantly amplify. (The dollars begin to stack up, too). The Bee Gees-fronted soundtrack for quintessential disco musical Saturday Night Fever and Prince’s illustrious soundtrack for Purple Rain demonstrate how soundtracks can become beloved albums in their own right — both soundtracks sold over 10 million copies and remain entrenched in our cultural lexicon.
Soundtracks continue to exert their powerful presence on audiences. Recently, the albums for Frozen, Black Panther, and La La Land topped the Billboard charts. In terms of copies sold and commercial success, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born soundtrack, released through Interscope Records, has the potential to surpass the album sales of all three of those films. The A Star is Born soundtrack was released on October 5th, and Variety reports that while official figures won’t be announced till October 13th, the album is projected to debut at number one with more than 200,000 copies sold in its first week. The soundtrack is expected to outsell other notable October 5th releases, including Top 40 veterans Twenty One Pilots’ Trench and Eric Church’s Desperate Man.
These statistics do not incorporate performances on streaming services, though the A Star Is Born soundtrack has proved itself untouchable on these digital platforms — the movie’s best song, the sublime “Shallow,” already has nearly 20 million plays on Spotify.
The soundtrack’s success justifies the unconventional marketing strategy to withhold most of the songs until the film’s official wide release on October 5th. Usually, soundtrack album release dates precede their respective films’ opening weekend by many weeks to boost excitement for the film. However, Interscope Vice Chairman Steve Berman and Cooper and Gaga undercut this convention and opted to keep the songs a secret. The reason? The fear of spoilers, duh.
According to Berman, Cooper, and Gaga, the A Star Is Born soundtrack album entails plot spoilers, as the lyrics reflect vital moments in the film. Moreover, the soundtrack also comprises snippets of dialogue between Cooper and Gaga’s characters to render the narrative brushstrokes the film. In one Entertainment Weekly interview, Cooper remarks, “The music is a character in the movie. There’s not one lyric that’s in any space that doesn’t reflect what the character…hopes to be, or regrets doing, or is in that moment.”
Cooper’s words seem like a self-aggrandizing promotion of his own acute script, but they do evoke the reasoning behind the off-kilter marking decision. The soundtrack critically informs the themes of the film; the songs — which themselves range from schmaltzy to square to incredible — heighten the romance and the theatricality of the sweeping musical. Berman notes:
“All the music is part of the story of the film. And so it was very important to give people a chance to take that in and then have the soundtrack hit…That was a big discussion. And it really boiled down to the confidence in the film, confidence in the music, and let’s follow this vision all the way through.”
Berman didn’t wholly stand by the “hold-everything-back strategy,” as Interscope released “Shallow” a week before the film. Nonetheless, if the soundtrack’s forthcoming occupation of number one on the Billboard chart is any indicator, the unorthodox marketing decision yields some promising results and promotes audience indulgence in the complete consumption of the film, whether via ticket or album sales, all at once.
Four iterations of A Star Is Born have been released, though the 2018 incarnation is not the first to have a soundtrack climb the Billboard rankings. The 1976 version, starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, ranks among the best-selling soundtracks of all time, and the kitsch classic “Evergreen” ended the 1977 year-end Billboard singles chart at number four.
Based on the colossal success of its predecessors and its current path to Billboard domination, A Star Is Born has the potential to extend its influence and impact across different mediums. Like the beloved musical soundtracks of Purple Rain, Saturday Night Fever, and the 1976 A Star Is Born remake, the soundtrack of the latest A Star Is Born will cement itself as a valuable souvenir, cultural artifact, and memory, of the soaring and occasionally stunning film.
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