Fox’s soapy hip-hop musical “Empire” is the year’s biggest TV phenomenon, and now it’s a bona fide No. 1 hit too.
The compilation of the show's original music — including appearances from guest stars Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson, Courtney Love and Estelle — opened atop the Billboard 200 after moving 130,000 units in sales and streams, according to Nielsen Music.
“Empire” marks the first time a TV soundtrack debuted on top of the charts since 2010, when Fox’s high school musical “Glee” had three of its compilations hit No. 1.
Even more impressive, the soundtrack managed to keep pop icon Madonna from the top. The Material Girl’s latest, “Rebel Heart,” opened at No. 2 with 121,000 units (she did come out on top in terms of traditional sales).
“Empire” is the top-rated new series in the highly coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic and is TV's fastest-growing new drama since Fox's medical hit "House" more than a decade ago. The show has enjoyed unprecedented audience growth over nine consecutive weeks.
But there was the question of whether or not the show could actually translate that success to its music.
With original music overseen by producer Timbaland (Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Justin Timberlake) and partner Jim Beanz, Fox employed a similar model as it had with “Glee.”
The network partnered with Columbia Records to release the music after each episode, and the label also signed breakout stars Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray to solo deals.
A number of tracks had already garnered buzz before the soundtrack was released. "You're So Beautiful" scored a powerful coming-out scene; Estelle's ballad "Conqueror" rocketed to No. 1 on iTunes' hip-hop/rap chart after it aired; and Smollett's searing anthem "Good Enough" is being played on dozens of radio stations. The show's catalog of songs also passed 1 million downloads, according to Columbia.
"Certainly, making original songs for every episode was going to be a unique challenge," Geoff Bywater, Fox's head of music, said in a recent Times feature. "But because we are doing original music, we are really allowed to use the music in all avenues of promotion — and that's what's really exciting about it."
“Empire’s” opening also makes it the first network show to have a soundtrack featuring original music land at No. 1 since “Miami Vice” back in 1985. And how is this for a strange coincidence: One of the album’s cuts, a take on Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing,” is taken from the band’s 1985 album, which also landed at No. 1 before being replaced by the “Miami Vice” soundtrack.
The two-hour season finale of "Empire" airs Wednesday and features guest appearances from Blige, Rita Ora, Charles Hamilton and Snoop Dogg, who will debut his new single "Peaches and Cream."
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