'Fifty Shades of Grey': How the Soundtrack Is Being Deployed to Sell the Steamy Movie

'Fifty Shades of Grey'

Videos by Ellie Goulding and The Weeknd are acting as prerelease trailers to lure viewers into theaters on Valentine's Day weekend.

The two singles from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack are like a throwback to the format's 1990s heyday, when songs and videos acted as prerelease trailers to lure viewers into theaters.

Ellie Goulding's "Love Me Like You Do" has moved from No. 45 to No. 36 to No. 20 on the Feb. 7 Billboard Hot 100 and debuted at No. 31 on the Jan. 31 Mainstream Top 40 chart with a 336 percent increase in plays, according to Nielsen Music. A video for the song had 1 million YouTube views within 16 hours of its release on Jan. 21.

The end-credits song, The Weeknd's "Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)" climbed to No. 27 from No. 70 on the Hot 100. Its video, helmed by Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson, clocked more than 3 million views in its first 24 hours online. Unusually, Republic, which is releasing the soundtrack, is marketing The Weeknd's track, while Interscope is handling promotion for its artist Goulding.

"We don't get to do this often in 21st-century soundtracks," says Mike Knobloch, president of film music at Universal Pictures, which will release Fifty Shades of Grey on Feb. 13, three days after the soundtrack arrives. "Between now and the opening of the film, we'll use those two songs. Once it opens, we'll see what proves to be a focus track, what people discover on their own."

Based on the steamy novel by EL James, Taylor-Johnson and Universal Pictures' team wanted to honor the music mentioned in the book without being beholden to it. Two of the film's 26 songs come straight from the novel — Frank Sinatra's "Witchcraft" and The Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden" — but the prominent tracks were created by having such songwriters as Sia watch the film in postproduction. Vaults' "One Last Night" is the only track used on an early cut to be included in the finished film.

"There was a lot of back-and-forth to tailor [music] to the scenes," says Republic GM Tom Mackay. An early music meeting that included Universal marketing executives led to Knobloch and his team reaching out to Beyonce for a twofer: a sultry rerecording of her "Crazy in Love" and a remix of "Haunted," both of which appeared in the film and in advertising.

From the start, it was clear the soundtrack, which Republic signed up for in December 2013, would not be a showcase for Republic acts. Says Mackay, "You're not going to have a soundtrack this expansive and a movie with this many cues and do it in a [vacuum]."

This article first appeared in the Feb. 7 issue of Billboard.

 

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