As the #MeToo movement and latest wave of feminism reshapes Hollywood, the music business has been slow to follow. Predators like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have been taken down, important conversations about conduct and equality are taking place, and as Nicole Kidman noted and proved while accepting every award for her role in Big Little Lies, women over 40 can now have a much more vibrant career after 40 in film and television now more than ever. But save for a small few music executives getting the boot for disgusting behavior, the music business has been suspiciously unaffected.
The rule has always been that female artists get yanked off the radio at 40 and forced into the legacy category, while these limits are much more lenient and optional for the men. No matter how great you sound, how flawless you look, how on top of your game you are, women have been forced to transition out of the mainstream genre at that arbitrary age. And it’s a shame, because at the time in life where they have the most to say and life lessons to share, and often times even look their best ever, women are silenced and pushed aside for the younger “next” version of themselves.
But as I discussed last week, streaming has shaken up the music business and democratized how songs become hits. The audience is in the driver’s seat, and the old school gatekeepers and rule enforcers have substantially reduced power. If an unknown young artist like Lil Pump can have a massive smash hit song overnight with “Gucci Gang” thanks to the power of streaming, then that means anyone can have a hit if they strike the right note.
An interesting thing happened last week when the lead single off the soundtrack to Deadpool 2 was released and the artist turned out to be none other than Celine Dion.
The first Deadpool film was of course a massive hit. The Marvel flick was released in 2016 starring Ryan Reynolds and dominated the box office, grossing over $783 million worldwide and scoring an 83% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The hotly anticipated sequel is set to be one of the summer’s first big blockbusters, which is why few expected the film to be led by a Celine Dion power ballad. Dion is of course a massive pop legend and no stranger to hit movie soundtracks, scoring one of the biggest hit songs ever with “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic.
But Celine Dion’s last proper hit was in 2002 with “A New Day Has Come,” though 2003’s “I Drove All Night” and 2007’s “Taking Chances” did achieve moderate success. Dion is a fascinating example in this conversation because in many ways her material and presentation have always been more mature than her actual age. When the diva turned 50 earlier this year, the internet got silly with memes about how she “has been 50 for 20 years and will remain 50 for 20 more.” She has carved out a unique career path, and was only 34 when she signed up to headline a residency in Las Vegas in 2002 during an era when Vegas was reserved for the no-longer-relevant. Those kinds of career moves mixed with her adult contemporary ballad material suggested that Dion was never interested in competing for pop chart relevancy and smartly went her own route.
Perhaps it’s this lack of thirstiness and masterful power ballad expertise that made Celine the perfect fit for the Deadpool 2 soundtrack lead single. The video for the song, “Ashes,” premiered on May 3, 2018 and featured Dion delivering an epic performance accompanied by Deadpool himself performing an interpretive dance in high heels. The video is fun, silly, and outstanding and quickly went viral, trending top 10 on YouTube, netting 2 million views in one day, and 15 million views in under a week.
Were it just a funny spoof sketch with a pop icon to promote a big movie, this would be nothing out of the ordinary. But here’s the thing, the song is actually excellent.
It’s vintage Dion and would’ve been a number one hit had it been released in 1999, but it also doesn’t sound dated. Her vocals sound strong as ever, and the arrangement is so cinematic, the words so beautifully written, that that song masterfully strikes a very real emotional nerve. Goosebumps!
Interestingly, the attention the video generated propelled the song to the Top 15 of the iTunes and Spotify charts. The audience responded, and because they now have more power than ever, Celine Dion is about to have her biggest Billboard Hot 100 chart hit in at least 15 years.
“Ashes” has revealed a brilliant new way to launch a song for a female artist who has been around for a minute but still has so much more to offer. It’s an exciting success story that shows that hit songs can come from anywhere. Of course, having the momentum of a massive Marvel movie certainly helps. But the rules have changed, and hopefully more doors and paths like this continue to open for those ladies still very much ready to slay.
By Rory Arnold, Contributing Writer