Still from the 2019 movie Cats featuring Taylor Swift as Bombalurina.

“All I Gotta Do Is Act Naturally”

There has long been an association between music and the movies. Think only of the fact that the first movie with synchronized audio dialogue was The Jazz Singer (1927).

Over the years, popular musicians have found movies as being a medium that helped propel their career. Let’s face it: Elvis didn’t make dozens of movies because he thought he’d give Marlon Brando some competition.

Does anyone think that A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965) were made for reasons other than to get the Beatles more visibility that could be calculated into record sales?

Also in the 1960s there was a series of thematically related movies with an interchangeable cast below the leads that had music as a basis: the Beach movies with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, including How To Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). Again, Frankie and Annette were there mainly because they were singing teen idols, not because of their acting chops. (Avalon was to appear in another notable music-driven movie of the 1970s: he was Teen Angel in Grease (1978). Annette had made her start as a singer and actor on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” which also gave rise to the careers of Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, the first of whom has also gone on to make several movies, including a role in The Social Network (2010), as Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, which has had immeasurable implications on the music industry since it was launched in 1999.)

As for musician/actors: Sometimes it is a matter of talent. Sometimes it is simply a matter of packaging.

Taylor Swift is a talented musician for whom the term “superstar” can be appropriately used. Her career has been one that has endured and her fan base has done nothing but expand.

One could make the argument that given the extensive number of music videos she has appeared in—some 60—and that she’s not just sitting on a stool strumming her guitar and singing, but actually playing roles, Swift has cumulatively made at least two movies (assume three minutes each, so that would be 180 minutes, or about the length of two 90-minute movies).

But she has played big roles. For example in David O. Russell’s film, Amsterdam (2022), Swift plays the daughter of a senator who was presumably murdered. Her character’s asking a lawyer to look into it is essentially what sets the plot in its Rube Goldbergian motion. However, her character gets pushed in front of a car by a hitman, so the role comes to a somewhat early close. (And it is worth noting that Amsterdam came to something of an early close, as well, losing as much as an estimated $100 million.)

Swift, in the context of her being a recording artist, was recently named the “Global Recording Artist of the Year” for 2022 by IFPI, a global music trade body.

Now this isn’t an award predicated on one’s talent but simply on the amount of money generated in all formats—streaming, digital and physical.

The numbers for Swift’s album “Midnights,” which was released in late October, racked up some impressive numbers:

  • Album sales of 1.8 million
  • Song sales of 680,000
  • On-demand audio streams of 1.791 billion
  • On-demand video streams of 63.1 million
  • Total album equivalent consumption of 3.294 million

The number of on-demand video streams—think of these as filmic vignettes—seems  somewhat impressive until other IFPI numbers are consulted, at which point that 63.1 million is more or less like her Amsterdam character being thrown in front of a car.

Harry Styles, another musician who also has an adjacent career in film (his role in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017) is anything but that of a pop idol), had 73.6 million on-demand video streams in 2022. Olivia Rodrigo, 82.3 million, Future 175.9 million, Morgan Wallen 220.3 million, The Weeknd 229.1 million, and Bad Bunny 383.8 million.

But the most startling number of on-demand video streams is actually for a soundtrack album, “Encanto,” which came in at 415.9 million.

The Encanto movie was released on November 3, 2021 at the El Capitan Theater, then went into nationwide release on November 24. The folks at Disney, undoubtedly knowing all too well that physical attendance at theaters wasn’t what it had been as COVID was still a concern, and presumably wanting to juice the number of subscribers to Disney+, released it on that service on December 24.

Soon everyone was humming Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.”

And presumably streaming it, given the IFPI’s numbers.

(While on the subject of Miranda, it is worth noting that he has said that the original idea for “Hamilton” was as a hip-hop concept album, not a stage play.)

The remarkable success of the “Encanto” soundtrack in the IFPI rankings leads us back to the film career of Taylor Swift.

Another of her roles was as Bombalurina in the 2019 movie Cats, the film version of an Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical which was based on a book of verse by T.S. Eliot. You’d think with material like that it would be impossible not to do well, but the movie simply tanked (although is thought to have lost less than Amsterdam).

Were Swift to be interested in boosting her IFPI numbers (yes, we’ve already established that she finished at the top in 2022, but one can’t be complacent in the entertainment industry), perhaps she ought to see if Lin-Manuel has some new material he’s working on.

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