The album -- whose producers also include songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul as well as Alex Lacamoire -- is not without recognition at music's biggest night per se. It did receive nods in two categories: Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media and Best Song Written for Visual Media, with competitors ranging from the soundtracks of Deadpool 2 to Call Me by Your Name.
However, the commercial, critical, and cultural success of The Greatest Showman'ssoundtrack provided strongly compelling reasons for NARAS voters to have considered the album in more than two niche categories. (Apologies to CMBYN's Sufjan Stevens.)
In terms of sales, The Greatest Showman's soundtrack is a global phenomenon. It has sold over 5 million copies worldwide since its December 2017 release. In the United States, it was the best-selling (physical) album last year and the only album to break over 1 million sales (1.3 million, to be exact, reports BuzzAngle Music's list). The Showman album ranked just behind those released by Drake, Post Malone, and XXXTentacion after digital sales were factored in.
Additionally, the soundtrack was the top-selling album (digital sales included) in the United Kingdom, where one would have to go back to the Beatles' 1967 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to find an album with a greater consecutive run in the number 1 spot on the music charts.
Regarding accolades, the Showman soundtrack is also a standout -- on the film awards circuit, at least. The song "This Is Me" -- a hit single on the radio waves -- won Best Original Song at the Golden Globes. It was nominated in the same category at the 2018 Oscars, where it lost to Coco's tearjerker "Remember Me." Yet the performance led by singer Keala Settle still received a standing ovation at the ceremony.
Critically, reviewers have also applauded the album's combination of old-fashioned musical bravura and pop sensibility. (Its songwriters -- Pasek and Paul -- previously won acclaim for the music in La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen,and producer Wells has worked with chart-topping divas like Katy Perry and Adele.)
The soundtrack's wild success was unexpected for Wells and the rest of the Showman team, but it's not altogether surprising. The lyrics are family-friendly, inspirational, and told from an underdog perspective -- the film centers on outcasts, misfits, and so-called freaks who find community in the circus. Thus a wide-ranging audience, from grandmothers in Tokyo to gay men in West Hollywood, has found something to love about the music and its uplifting message.
Given these credentials, it is, as Wells said, "a head-scratch" that the Recording Academy did not nominate The Greatest Showman's soundtrack in its general categories of Record of the Year, Song of the Year, or Album of the Year.
Why the snubs? The Recording Academy did not return a request for comment. However, Wells believes it has to do with the album's "cool" factor -- or lack thereof.
"I can't speak for NARAS or the voting members; however, I do know that few people in the industry think Showman is something cool," admitted Wells, who says the project is the first musical he has worked on. He added, "To me, what's considered 'cool' is often a narrow lane, and the hipster movement is the most conservative with a specific look, language, area code, and sound. I'm more excited to hoist the highest freak flag possible and help tell musical stories that resonate beyond whatever may be in fashion at the time."
The "enormous behind-the-scenes political wrangling in the final nomination process" may also be a factor, Wells proposed. In summation of this process, Grammy nominations are chosen by NARAS members in good standing, which is roughly 12,000 of the Academy's 21,000 members. The voters select from a list submitted by media companies and NARAS members -- a list that has been reviewed by around 150 experts in the music industry. Afterward, there is a final voting process to determine the winner of each category. As in any other industry, money spent into the publicity machine by producers and studios influences these outcomes along the way.
The lack of attention in American media for The Greatest Showman may also be a factor. "The U.S. press has somewhat ignored the incendiary success of Pasek and Paul's powerful songs becoming not just a hit record but a social phenomenon, connecting with so many different people and different movements," Wells observed.
Yet the competition must also be considered as well as the genre each song and album represents in a general category. In Album of the Year, for example, a range of nominees are on display: Cardi B.'s Invasion of Privacy, Drake's Scorpion, Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer, Kacey Musgraves's Golden Hour, Brandi Carlile's By the Way, I Forgive You, H.E.R.'s H.E.R., Post Malone's Beerbongs and Bentleys -- and the Black Panther soundtrack.
This last nominee may not have made as much money in album sales as The Greatest Showman -- it placed number 9 in BuzzAngle Music's list of top-selling soundtracks. But the Black Panther film was a global phenomenon in its own right and a groundbreaking win for black representation in blockbusters. NARAS voters may have wanted to avoid nominating two movie soundtracks for Album of the Year.
Similarly, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's "Shallow" from A Star Is Born is nominated for Record of the Year and Best Song. "Shallow" is another track from a buzzy musical. A Star Is Bornranked second on the U.S. soundtrack charts in 2018 after The Greatest Showman, selling over 500,000 albums. Although to add perspective, the Gaga starrer was released in the fourth quarter of 2018, and its current Oscars campaign is undoubtedly giving it a publicity push at the Grammys as well.
Regardless, Wells admitted that The Greatest Showman's soundtrack not being nominated in the general categories at the Grammy Awards -- in a year when it has two nods and massive sales -- is "a diamond-encrusted problem." He believes the "true reward is having an audience, whether it's 10 or 10 million people, discover something they find inspiring."
Pasek, in an earlier interview with The Advocate, agreed with this sentiment. "The biggest sign of success is when [music] resonates with people and that they see themselves in the song," said Pasek, who pointed to the renewed popularity of the genre as another reason for celebration.
"Musicals have become part of mainstream popular culture again, which is really exciting," he said. It's a trend worth listening to when Recording Academy members consider nominations for major categories at the Grammy Awards in the future.