For three weeks beginning in mid-October, the soundtrack for Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s hit movie A Star Is Born sat the very top of Billboard’s Top 200 Albums, the most prominent ranking of music popularity in the US. It’s a rare feat for a soundtrack. Only four other soundtracks made the top 10 in 2018, and the 22 others made the top 200.
There was a time when things were different: The 1990s.
From 1997 to 1999, the average year saw over thirteen soundtracks hit the top 10, according to a Quartz analysis. If you are over the age of 30, you may remember the top-10 reaching soundtracks like Men In Black, Evita, Space Jam, Titanic, The Wedding Singer, Godzilla and City of Angels. (1992’s The Bodyguard, the bestselling soundtrack of all time, is from a bit earlier.)
The new millennium has been a hard on the soundtrack. In 1999, the share of all Billboard Top 200 albums that were soundtracks peaked at 12.8%. By 2015, it fell below 3%. It appeared the popular soundtrack was on its way out. (The data used for this analysis also includes TV show soundtracks like those for Allie McBeal and 13 Reasons Why.)
Recently, the soundtrack has shown signs of life; it’s not just A Star Is Born. In 2018, the soundtracks to the The Greatest Showmen, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, and Black Panther have all hit number one. The share of all soundtracks in the Top 200 is back up to 4.4%.
What might account for this mini renaissance? Amy Wang of Rolling Stone thinks it’s all about streaming. “[It] makes listening to soundtracks easier, cheaper and more relevant,” she explained to Quartz. “You don’t have to buy it; you can hear it on your commute over and over while the film’s still in theaters and everyone’s still raving about it.”