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Examining the Popularity of Music Biopics

February 26, 2023 | Sanjana Chadive
Artists of the past are reigning immortal with the rise of musical biopics. 

Over the last ten years, the United States has witnessed a spike in the number of biographical films—specifically those about musicians. In addition to being successful at the box office, these movies have also garnered much acclaim during the awards season. Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis (2022) collected eight Academy Award nominations this year. Bohemian Rhapsody won four out of the five Oscar awards it was nominated for. With the forthcoming pictures about Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson currently in production, it’s clear music biopics aren’t going away anytime soon. The production and popularity of these movies can be attributed to their deep exploration of the dynamic intersection between film and music and an effort to appeal to viewers of all ages. However, there are several problematic aspects of music biopics that are often overlooked. 

People love watching biographical films about artists because of their inclusion of beloved songs. Usually, these movies include revamped renditions of past classics that audiences are itching to listen to. While one can argue that these remade songs don’t hold a candle to their original counterparts, biopic album sales say otherwise. After Elvis took the world by storm, its soundtrack debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Soundtrack chart. Straight Outta Compton: Music from the Motion Picture also reached the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop albums. 

Moreover, music biopics attract viewers of all ages. For instance, half of Bohemian Rhapsody’s audience was made up of 18-34 year olds—most of whom weren’t even born when Freddy Mercury and Queen were at their prime. The movie’s popularity with younger audiences is a testament to the timelessness of Queen’s music and star power of Rami Malek. Casting so-called “heartthrobs,” such as Austin Butler as Elvis Presley, will also intrigue Millennials and members of Gen-Z. Elvis had a very similar audience demographic, as most of the audience was made up of women over the age of 50. Since Presley and Mercury passed away in 1977 and 1991, some of these viewers surely must’ve listened to them when they were still alive. 

While these movies are glamorous and exciting, there are glaring flaws once the surface level is scratched. Often, there are historical inaccuracies that either glorify a musician’s actions or mask a key aspect of their past. This year, Elvis received scrutiny for not calling attention to the titular subject’s relationship with a minor. Four years before, Bohemian Rhapsody was criticized for not exploring Mercury’s queerness enough. Although music biopics have proven to be very popular over the last several years, they must tackle the nuances in their subjects’ lives if they want to persist in appeal and acclaim.
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