HALFWAY through a year filled with new work from some of the most popular artists alive, the best-selling album is the soundtrack to a movie musical with Hugh Jackman that never led the box office.
The Greatest Showman has sold almost 4 million copies for Atlantic Records, outpacing works from Kanye West, Taylor Swift, and Justin Timberlake. Music from the film based on the life of circus promoter P.T. Barnum has outsold the next most popular album of the year, Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys, by about 2-to-1.
Top-selling original soundtracks are a rarity these days, even if record labels are devoting more attention and energy to the once-neglected genre. The Greatest Showman, with songs by Zendaya and Zac Efron, has become the best-selling soundtrack since Frozen in 2014, according to Warner Music, which owns Atlantic.
Music from films routinely sold well through the 1980s. The Bodyguard and Flashdance rank among the best-sellers of all time. Saturday Night Fever was the top album of any genre for a few years until it was dethroned by Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
But no soundtrack ranks among the top 20 albums of the 21st century. Label executives admit they got lazy and began filling movies with popular songs from past eras rather recording original music. When they did create new material, as with Black Panther or musicals like Frozen, the albums sold.
Released in December by 21st Century Fox Inc., The Greatest Showman has demonstrated longevity in cinemas and music stores. The film, which never led the box office, ranked among the top weekly films in North America for almost three months. It grossed $434 million in worldwide ticket sales.
No single on the soundtrack has topped the charts in a major music market, but the album itself spent 23 weeks in the top five. It’s been especially popular in the UK, enjoying 21 weeks atop the charts and surpassing Adele’s 21 for the longest such run in at least three decades.
The album has caught on in ways never expected. It went platinum in at least 10 countries, including South Korea, his home country of Australia, and Singapore. Grade schoolers are using songs like “A Million Dreams” in talent competitions. And the 20-something counselors at the Lair of the Golden Bear camp in Pinecrest, California, have been using the music in their weekly revue. — Bloomberg