Bridgerton inspires rise in demand for classical pop song covers

Netflix drama’s use of string versions of Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish hits has tripled streaming figures for Vitamin String Quartet

The success of Netflix’s Bridgerton has produced some unexpected trends, such as huge increases in people searching online for Regency fashion items including corsets. But the latest is a dramatic rise in the number of people streaming classical cover versions of contemporary pop songs.

Vitamin String Quartet, the group that provide most of the classical versions of Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish and Maroon 5 songs in the modernised costume drama, have had a 350% increase in the number of people streaming their work since the show was released in December.

The show’s music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas, said that from pre-production it was clear that classical covers would feature because the combination fit with the show’s aesthetic of a period piece that was at the same time modern.

“We always looked at period source through a modern lens, so I actually started gathering many orchestral covers in pre-production,” said Patsavas, who also used classic covers in Gossip Girl. “I’m not surprised that they connected but 350% is a massive number, I would not have predicted that.”

Patsavas said the initial question the showrunner, Chris Van Dusen, and the executive producer, Shonda Rhimes, asked was: “How would Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande and Maroon 5 make sense in this context?”

Their answer was classical covers devoid of lyrics, which would mean an audience “groks” or intuitively recognises a piece and can draw another layer of meaning from the choices when they recall the lyrics. “It was the twist of hearing those covers that the audience might not recognise right away. It might take a beat,” said Patsavas.

“They want to hit the nail on the head, but be a little subtle about it,” said Vitamin String Quartet’s director of A&R, James Curtiss. “So instead of having the lyrics front and centre, you have this melody that evokes the lyrics and you get that message subliminally rather than just in your face.”

The ensemble formed in the late 90s and specialise in classical covers, and Curtiss and brand manager Leo Flynn said they focused on “very female-driven” songs that fit the brief given to them.

The final selection of songs included Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next, Maroon 5’s Girls Like You, Shawn Mendes’s In My Blood, Celeste’s Strange, Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams – performed by composer collaboration Duomo – and Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy. Vitamin String Quartet said Bad Guy was the most challenging cover to get right because of Eilish’s idiosyncratic production and singing style.

Curtiss said the group were in “ecstatic shock” at the way the songs have taken off online. “I don’t think even they thought this thing was going to be this massive; this seems to be a very transcendent and of-the-moment thing that I don’t think any of us expected,” he said.

The ensemble said this type of music, which has featured in Gossip Girl, Modern Family and Westworld, is usually used in one of two ways. The first is a wedding or romantic moment, such as the cover of Foo Fighters’ Everlong used during Chandler and Monica’s wedding in Friends.

“You’ve got this very sort of classical, elegant, traditional wedding, but you want this contemporary repertoire,” said Curtiss.

The second is what he called an “interesting anachronistic juxtaposition” where the music evokes a period setting while making a statement – such as the use of their cover of Radiohead’s Motion Picture Soundtrack in a key scene of Westworld.

Bridgerton fits into the latter category, according to the ensemble, who said their approach of making classical contemporary mirrored the show’s modernisation of costume drama conventions, such as using colour-conscious casting. “We were taking what’s classic and making it fresh and similarly taking what’s fresh and making it classic. I think the show is doing the same thing,” said Flynn.

“Speaking to that idea of universality across peoples, across genres, across periods of time, and watch the work together really click – there’s a magic to it and it takes off.”


Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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