Black Panther Hits High Notes in Soundtrack Strategy

Black Panther, the newest superhero film in the Marvel Universe, is projected to be one of the top grossing films of all time.  The plot follows T’Challa who returns home to an isolated but technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to rule as King after the death of his father. But when a powerful old enemy reappears and puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk, T’Challa must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes, secure the safety of his people as well as their way of life. 

There are many factors that could contribute to the film’s success.  When examining Marvel’s marketing and promotional strategies, the accompanying soundtrack plays a key role.  The album delivers music from and inspired by the movie and features a mostly Pan-African cast of artists. In its second week, the soundtrack continues to hold its No. 1 spot on the Billboard album chart.

Here’s how the Black Panther soundtrack is genius cross-media marketing strategy:

  1. The lyrics from the songs include teasers from the film. Therefore, when the album dropped one week before the movie premiere, it generated an immense amount of excitement for the movie.  However, when listening to the album it doesn’t feel like you are targeted as with some promotional tools. While the album and movie complement each other, the Black Panther soundtrack and songs can stand alone.
  2. The album is a collection of songs curated by Grammy award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar and Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, the CEO of Lamar’s label, Top Dawg Entertainment. Lamar is one of the most streamed artists ever and has been the face of brands like Beats headphones, Reebok and Nike. According to the Washington Post, he is more than qualified to corral hype around a film built on a $200 million budget with hip-hop already in its DNA.  This strategic move greatly expanded the number of channels and outlets that covered the film’s debut. It also appeals to the young adult demographic by partnering with the coolest, most socially minded rapper in the game.
  3. Lamar recruited big name artists to feature on the album including the Weeknd, Future, 2 Chainz, Travis Scott, SZA, Vince Staples and ScHoolboy Q.  Up-and-coming pop sensation Khalid and rising R&B star Jorja Smith were also featured on the album as well as other significant Pan-African voices who brought the movie’s concepts to life. By including diverse artists and genres, the soundtrack captured a broader audience than those simply interested in the film. 
  4. Only a few of the 14 tracks on “Black Panther: The Album” appear in the film. Many of the songs stand on their own. “All the Stars,” “King’s Dead” and “Pray for Me” are singles that were promoted heavily in the weeks before the album dropped. According to an article by CNN, these three singles have been streamed more than 132 million times.
  5. Both the film and the soundtrack do a brilliant job of blending social and political subtext into their storylines. Underneath the artistry, there’s a purpose. An artist known as one of the most socially significant artists of this generation, Lamar has created an opportunity for music producers to register impact in the film industry. Nylon Magazine believes Lamar and Marvel have invented a new role in cinema, “that of a musical curator or producer, rather than a composer.”

While the Black Panther soundtrack is a runaway success, it is not the only movie soundtrack topping charts. For only the second time in the last 10 years, three movie soundtracks — Black Panther, Fifty Shades Freed and The Greatest Showman — have found themselves in the top five on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart.  It is evident that movie soundtracks are trending. So what does this mean for the future of the film and music industries?

I think there will be some new opportunities for artists and producers to grow and become a key part of marketing and PR strategies for blockbuster films. However, after the unbelievable success of Black Panther, I predict Lamar is a tough act to follow.

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