Like ‘Unofficial Bridgerton Musical’ it beat Broadway at the Grammys
When the songwriter-composer duo behind “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” took the stage on Sunday to accept their Grammy for best musical theater album, the list of people they wanted to thank didn’t start with a record label or producer, but with their social media followers.
“We want to thank everyone on the Internet who saw us create this album from scratch,” said Abigail Barlow, who sings for over a dozen different characters on the album. “We share this with you.”
Last year, Barlow had seen the first season of Netflix’s irreverent costume drama on the Regency of England’s elite wedding market, alongside millions of others looking for escapist entertainment during the pandemic. An aspiring 22-year-old pop singer with a notable following on TikTok, she released a song she wrote with a simple but, she thought, promising premise: “What if ‘Bridgerton’ is a musical?”
When the spark of an idea began to develop, she sought help from a collaborator, Emily Bear, a 19-year-old composer and musician who had been introduced to the world as a 6-year-old piano prodigy but hoped to prove herself as something more than just a previous show for daytime talk shows.
The pair began building what would ultimately be a 15-song album that includes a love duet between the show’s lead couple, a comic solo for the show’s maverick tomboy, and an opening number they wrote with an ensemble of Lavishly dressed Broadway that fluttered across the stage in their heads.
Bear produced and orchestrated the album herself, using her computer and electronic keyboard to create the sound of a full symphony orchestra.
More coverage from the 2022 Grammy Awards
On Sunday, with nearly six years of musical-theater writing experience between the two, the Gen Z songwriter duo beat out a slate of powerful Grammy nominees that included Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella”; Conor McPherson’s “Girl From the North Country,” built around Bob Dylan’s songs; and a Stephen Schwartz musical.
“It’s hard to fully understand, as if we made it from our bedrooms,” Barlow said in an interview Monday.
“In my head, there was no way that was going to happen,” added Bear. “We just wanted to release the album for the people who went through the whole process.”
And there were a amount of those people, who weigh in from every corner of the theater-loving Internet. Barlow and Bear would stream their songwriting sessions from Los Angeles, inviting fans to give their weight. Followers shared ideas for staging and choreography, poster designs, viral videos of them singing half a duet, and even a tone for being the show’s intimacy coordinator.
TikTok’s videos have won approval from Julia Quinn, the author of the “Bridgerton” books that inspired the TV series; the cast members of the show; and Netflix, which gave Barlow and Bear’s lawyers the green light to turn their songs into an album, the duo said.
The original videos remain on TikTok, and the independently produced album is on Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming services, but the musical has yet to be staged. (This is far from the norm for the musical theater album category, which has typically gone to big-name Broadway musicals like “Hamilton,” “Jersey Boys,” and “The Lion King.”)
Speaking on a video call from their hotel rooms in Las Vegas, where the Grammys took place, Barlow, now 23, and Bear, 20, discussed the unexpected success of their album, their practice of collaborating closely. creative with fans and where their careers are headed (starting with a Broadway-related musical they can’t discuss yet). Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Abigail, what was it about “Bridgerton” that made you want to turn it into a musical?
BARBASSO The opening scene is so theatrical. I could see every part of the stage light up in my brain. And then I kept writing lines of dialogue that sounded like song titles. The phrase “via dell’oceano” was the first that made me run to the piano.
Where were you before this came into your lives?
BARBASSO We were both very depressed. It’s hard to break into the music industry and I was ready to give up. I was applying for a job as a receptionist for a record label and I was crying with my parents because they helped me support me in Los Angeles and they said, “You have to get a real job. We can’t help you anymore.” It was a real decision. hard to try to chase him just one more time.
BEAR We were like “Did we pick the wrong career?” I feel like we are releasing great music but nobody listened to us, nobody took us seriously.
Then all of a sudden, you’re creating a musical that’s getting loads of public engagement and videos that are getting millions of likes on TikTok. This is a form of approval, but how does it feel to receive this form of institutional approval from the Grammys?
BEAR Powerful leaders follow what people want. Of course it’s cool when someone who blew you away for the exact same music you were writing two years ago now wants to buy it. But it is more than that. We want to make way for all the other incredible composers, and not just women, who love their craft.
Some artists may annoy your strategy of inviting fan feedback as you create the work, leaving it open to significant audience influence in the middle of the creative process.
BARBASSO I’ve been live streaming singing and writing songs for audiences since I was a teenager. It’s like a muscle; the more you do it, the better you succeed. Emily has a classical background and is incredibly educated in her craft. I’m not, so it was just my process of getting the audience’s point of view on what they thought and how I could improve.
BEAR If you think about it, it was like we were working instantly. We were getting live feedback in real time for people who would come to the show or purchase the album.
Do you think you will keep doing things now that you have this institutional approval?
BARBASSO We would love to, but we have some exciting plans after “Bridgerton” gave us a foot in the door and we still have to keep quiet.
BEAR Which is totally contrary to our MO, and it’s a little frustrating because, as we write this music, we want to share it with everyone. What’s better PR for a project that gets people involved early? When it comes out, they know the music, they feel involved, they were there when it happened.
And did you do “Bridgerton” without a record label?
BARBASSO At first, when it started to explode, we had a few conversations with the labels, but none of them felt right. We knew we wanted to capitalize on the moment and we knew the faster we released it, the better.
BEAR We would have got an orchestra and a cast, and that would have taken a lot of time and a lot of money. And why sign a contract with a label and not own all of our masters and publishing? We were like, huh, let’s get it out ourselves. And I remember the night the album came out and we just saw it hit the charts. We had fans constantly bothering us to release the album, so we knew we were going to have listeners, but I wasn’t expecting that much.
How likely is the musical to be staged?
BEAR It’s a little out of our range because we don’t own the IP. We think it would fit the stage perfectly. We see it so clearly. Netflix, you know where to find us.