How pop got its snap and crackle back

A singing ac­tor, a rap­ping co­me­dian and a cer­tain French chameleon left Neil McCormick all shook up

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Mu­sic’s big­gest stars of the year were not cut­tingedge elec­tropop won­derkids, swag­ger­ing rap­pers with gra­tu­itously mis­spelt names or even veteran su­per­bands stag­ing their umpteenth come­back. They were singing ac­tors and act­ing singers. In terms of sheer sales, few record­ing artists came close to Hugh Jack­man in The Great­est Show­man and Lady Gaga (mak­ing her screen de­but) and Bradley Cooper (mak­ing his pop chart de­but) in A Star Is Born.

Panned by crit­ics, the sound­track to The Great­est Show­man (a film which stormed mul­ti­plexes on Box­ing Day last year) was the big­gest al­bum of 2018 by a con­sid­er­able dis­tance. It spent the whole year in the Bri­tish charts – in­clud­ing more than 20 weeks at num­ber one – and sold more than 4.5mil­lion copies world­wide. It even spawned a spin-off com­pi­la­tion fea­tur­ing pop stars from P!nk to Jess Glynne keen to cash in on some of that movie magic. Mean­while Lady Gaga’s first sound­track topped the pop charts in 15 coun­tries, with global smash Shal­low giv­ing her the big­gest hit of her en­tire ca­reer, a coun­try duet with a hand­some lead­ing man who had never sung on record be­fore.

The resur­gence of sound­tracks seems to serve some deep-seated need for mu­sic that tells sto­ries. For years now, we have been told that the al­bum is a dy­ing form. We are deep into a new era of stream and shuf­fle, where lis­ten­ing habits are dic­tated by the delivery tech­nol­ogy of smart­phones and PCs.

In­stead of im­mers­ing our­selves in a favoured artist’s back­list, we let al­go­rithms act as our per­sonal DJs, serv­ing up playlists cu­rated by math­e­mat­i­cal data: if you liked that, you might like this. Sure, pop­u­lar artists still trum­pet the re­lease of new al­bums, but is any­one re­ally lis­ten­ing?

In Amer­ica, the big­gest al­bum by a solo artist this year was Scor­pion by the Cana­dian rap­per Drake. But when Rolling Stone mag­a­zine an­a­lysed its stream­ing data, it tran­spired that over 60 per cent of plays fo­cused on just three of its 25 tracks. The same pat­tern was re­peated across other big re­leases. Lis­ten­ers are ef­fec­tively skip­ping over en­tire al­bums to play sin­gles on re­peat.

Cin­e­mas and the­atres may be among the last en­ter­tain­ment spa­ces where au­di­ences lay down their smart­phones and ac­tu­ally pay close at­ten­tion. In a mu­si­cal, songs carry us on a jour­ney. And big-screen mu­si­cals are flour­ish­ing.

Mamma Mia! Here We

Go Again (the Ab­ba­sound­tracked se­quel to

Mamma Mia!) spent five weeks at num­ber one.

Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, star­ring Rami Malek as

Fred­die Mer­cury, was an­other critic-proof hit, quickly be­com­ing the high­est-gross­ing mu­si­cal biopic of all time and send­ing Queen’s Great­est Hits back into the al­bum charts. In re­cent years, the film La La Land and stage mu­si­cal Hamil­ton have in­spired a sim­i­lar level of ob­ses­sive de­vo­tion.

I don’t know what all this means for the fu­ture of the al­bum but it is ev­i­dence that lis­ten­ers still crave

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