When the lyricist-composer duo behind “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” took the stage on Sunday to receive their Grammy for Best Music Theater Album, the list of people they wanted to thank started not with a record label or producer, but with their social media followers. .
“We want to thank everyone on the internet who saw how we made this album from scratch,” said Abigail Barlow, who sings for more than a dozen different characters on the album. “We share this with you.”
Last year, Barlow had seen the first season of Netflix’s feisty period drama about Regency England’s elite marriage market, along with millions of others seeking escapist entertainment during the pandemic. A 22-year-old aspiring pop singer with a sizable TikTok following, she posted a song she wrote with a simple but, she thought, promising premise: “What if ‘Bridgerton’ was a musical?”
When the spark of an idea began to grow, 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 more than just a former daytime talk show spectacle.
The pair set out to build what would eventually amount to a 15-song album featuring an amorous duet between the show’s leading couple, a comedic solo for the show’s maverick tomboy, and an opening track they wrote with an exuberant dressed Broadway ensemble fluttering across the stage. in their heads.
Bear produced and orchestrated the album herself, using her computer and an electronic keyboard to create the sound of a full symphony orchestra.
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On Sunday, with roughly six years of musical theater writing experience between the two, the Gen Z songwriting duo beat out a list of powerhouse Grammy nominees, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella”; ‘Girl From the North Country’ by Conor McPherson, built around songs by Bob Dylan; and a Stephen Schwartz musical.
“It’s hard to fully understand — like, we did this from our bedrooms,” Barlow said in an interview Monday.
“In my head, there was no way this would happen,” Bear added. “We just wanted to release the album for the people who followed the whole process.”
And there were a lot of those people, from every corner of the theater-loving internet. Barlow and Bear would livestream their songwriting sessions from Los Angeles and invite fans to join in the thinking. Followers shared ideas for staging and choreography, Playbill designs, viral videos of them singing a half duet, and even a pitch to be the show’s intimacy coordinator.
The TikTok videos were endorsed by Julia Quinn, the author of the “Bridgerton” books that inspired the TV series; the show’s cast members; 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 actually be staged. (This is far from the norm for the musical theater album category, which has typically gone to major Broadway musicals such as “Hamilton,” “Jersey Boys,” and “The Lion King.”)
During a video call from their hotel rooms in Las Vegas, where the Grammys were held, Barlow, now 23, and Bear, 20, discussed the unexpected success of their album, their habit of collaborating creatively with fans and where their careers are headed ( starting with a Broadway-bound 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?
BARLOW The opening scene is so theatrical. I could just 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 “ocean away” was the first to make me run to my piano.
Where were you all before this came into your life?
BARLOW We were both very depressed. It’s hard to break into the music industry and I was ready to give up. I applied for a job as a receptionist at a record label and I cried to my parents for helping me in Los Angeles and they said, “You must have a real job. We can’t help you anymore.” It was a very hard decision to go after it one more time.
BEAR We were like, “Did we pick the wrong career?” I feel like we were putting out great music, but nobody listened to us, nobody took us seriously.
Then you suddenly make a musical that gets a lot of public engagement and videos that get millions of likes on TikTok. That’s a form of endorsement, but how does it feel to get this form of institutional endorsement from the Grammys?
BEAR The powerful rulers follow what the people want. Of course it feels good when someone who pushed you off for the exact same music you were writing two years ago wants to buy it now. But it’s more than that. We want to make way for all the other incredible female – and not just female – composers who love their craft.
Some artists may be annoyed by 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.
BARLOW I’ve been live streaming since I was a teenager singing and songwriting in front of an audience. It’s like a muscle; the more you do it, the better you get at it. Emily has classical training and is incredibly well trained in her craft. I’m not, so it was just kind of my process to get an audience’s perspective on what they were thinking and how I could improve.
BEAR If you think about it, it was like we were workshopping right away. We got live feedback in real time for people coming to the show or buying the album.
Do you think you will continue that way now that you have this institutional approval?
BARLOW We’d love to but we have some exciting projects after “Bridgerton” got us a foot in the door and we’ve yet to keep it quiet.
BEAR That’s totally against our approach, and it’s a little frustrating because, as we write this music, we want to share it with everyone. What better PR for a project than getting people on board early? By the time it comes out, they know the music, they feel involved, they were there when it happened.
And you did “Bridgerton” without a record label?
BARLOW In the beginning, when it first started blowing up, we had a few conversations with labels, but none of that felt right. We knew we wanted to take advantage of the moment, and we knew the sooner we got it out the better.
BEAR We would have had an orchestra and a cast, and that would have cost a lot of time and a lot of money. And why sign a label deal and not own all of our masters and publishers? We were like, uh, let’s put it out ourselves. And I remember the night the album came out and we just saw it climb up the charts. We had fans constantly pestering us to release the album, so we knew we’d have listeners, but I wasn’t expecting that much.
How likely is it that the musical will be performed?
BEAR It’s a bit out of our court because we don’t own the IP. We have a feeling it would fit the stage perfectly. We see it so clearly. Netflix, you know where to find us.