Disney’s Encanto and its unexpected UK Singles Chart success

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Three songs from Encanto have popped up in this week’s UK Official Singles Chart – with stats and waffle, here are some of Disney’s other chart hit crossovers.

January is usually an odd time for the music charts, but did anyone see Encanto coming? Disney’s 60th animated feature (by their count) has picked up a respectable £6.6 million in UK cinemas since it came out in November, but it will have had a big boost in viewership from being made available ‘free’ to Disney+ subscribers on Christmas Eve.

Jumping up 62 places from #66, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is currently at #4 in the Official Charts Company’s weekly Singles Chart, with “Surface Pressure” and “The Family Madrigal” charting behind, at #14 and #30 respectively. Indeed, “Bruno” is currently holding firm in fourth place ahead of this week’s chart announcement too, while Gayle, Adele, and Lauren Spencer-Smith’s singles jockey for the top 3 spots.

And yet there’s not usually a big correlation between original soundtrack (OST) tracks from Disney films and the UK single chart. Sure, there’s no shortage of chart stars who began their careers at the House of Mouse, whether it’s Miley Cyrus or, more recently, Olivia Rodrigo, but Disney’s business is probably more about albums than singles, especially as the music industry isn’t aiming for younger kids as it once did.

In the heyday of chart shows like Top Of The Pops or CD:UK, there was more of a promotional platform for all kinds of songs to reach younger audiences. Without those outlets, the weekly OCC rankings have a prevalence of break-up songs, explicit lyrics, and that one ginger man who won’t lose the acoustic guitar no matter where we hide it.

Just as 12A has become the norm in movies, there are fewer kid-friendly singles in any given chart. That said, precedent wouldn’t lead us to expect songs from Disney films to do this well in the Official Singles Chart either.

Over in America, the Encanto soundtrack had a similar bump in the Billboard Album Chart, soaring 65 places to #1 in the week after the film arrived on Disney+, but the UK is quite a different market. And looking back over the stats and development of our Official Singles Chart since the 1990s, Disney has had a spotty but substantial streak of crossover chart hits.

Cover to cover

Given how the Official Singles Chart used to be based on sales alone, it’s not surprising that there weren’t a load of Disney OST chart hits until relatively recently. Through the 1990s, Elton John had two chart hits outside the Top 10 with “Circle Of Life” (#11) and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” (#14) from 1994’s The Lion King, whereas Phil Collins’ Oscar-winning Tarzan track “You’ll Be In My Heart” only got to #17 in 1999.

More impressively, “Under The Sea” from The Little Mermaid cracked the Top 100 based solely on import sales, as the song wasn’t released as a single in the UK. It peaked at #90, but that’s not bad going at a time when Disney wasn’t making many big moves in the international singles charts.

The studio’s animated Renaissance era did start to change that though, with pop covers of songs featuring over the end credits of the film. Soul star Peabo Bryson teamed up with then-up-and-coming Eurovision winner Celine Dion for a duet on the title track from Beauty And The Beast to #9 in the UK. Bryson later sang “A Whole New World” with Regina Belle on the end credits of Aladdin, which reached #12 in 1994.

Between these covers and the aforementioned hits from The Lion King and Tarzan, this continued fairly reliably for a while. There was also a trend of enlisting different international acts to cover songs from Disney films and releasing them as singles in their respective territories. For example, British group Eternal reached the UK Top 10 in 1996 with their take on “Someday”, a song that was cut from The Hunchback Of Notre Dame but played over its end credits instead.

The following year, Boyzone took another deleted song, this time from Hercules, all the way to number 2 in the chart. “Shooting Star” was replaced in the film by “Go The Distance” but it still had the obligatory music video with clips of the film. The song was released as a double A-side with the Irish boy band’s cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You”, while other markets were treated to Michael Bolton’s “Go The Distance” and Belinda Carlisle’s “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” (an all-timer of a Disney bop, that one.)

Funnily enough, the track that eventually got to #1 wasn’t a cover of a Disney song at all. 2002’s Lilo & Stitch drew its soundtrack from the hits of Elvis Presley, and the version of “Suspicious Minds” that topped the chart in September came a few months after Junkie XL’s remix of “A Little Less Conversation” put the King back atop the UK Singles Chart.

What’s more, Pop Idol runner-up Gareth Gates already had two #1s under his belt, and this one – another double A-side, this time with Will Young’s cover of “The Long And Winding Road” – hit a lot of demographics beside Lilo & Stitch’s target audience. Nevertheless, this is still the peak UK chart performance by a single from a Disney song to date.

Uncharted territory


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The rise of online music purchases changed things in the mid-2000s, enabling music fans to buy individual tracks without them having to be released as singles. From June 2006, legal download sales figures were also counted in the Official Singles Chart. A few months later, the Disney Channel phenomenon High School Musical came along and the lead single “Breaking Free” broke… through, reaching #9 in the charts in October.

Compared to the 1990s heyday of movie tie-in singles, Disney’s UK chart record has been a bit patchier. Streaming also changed the music industry in a big way, but the OCC took a little longer to account for this, which may be why the next most obvious big hit never even cracked the Top 10.

Arriving in cinemas in late 2013, Frozen was the most widely acclaimed mainline Disney animated feature in yonks, and the showstopping, Oscar-winning “Let It Go” made waves in the charts throughout the following year. And this time, the OST version by Idina Menzel (no, not Adele Dazeem) outstripped the end-credits cover by Demi Lovato.

Probably most often played on CD on repeat on the school run rather than streamed, the song was everywhere for a while there. However, the soundtrack album never made a dent in the Official Album Chart, despite topping the separate Soundtrack Albums chart. Although it was one of the biggest-selling songs of 2014 and spent a whopping 45 weeks in the Top 40, “Let It Go” peaked at #11 in the UK Singles Chart, a position it held for three weeks between April and May 2014 based on sales and downloads alone.

The very next month, another big change was introduced – audio streaming was also counted when compiling the official chart from June. One listen was not equal to one purchase in the OCC’s calculations, which could be why this new rule hasn’t always translated into Disney songs moving up the charts.

From Guardians Of The Galaxy to last year’s Cruella, Disney’s recent live-action movie soundtracks have trended towards compilation albums, whether mining their own catalogue or licensing other artists’ tracks, but then the rise of the Awesome Mix is a feature for another time.

Meanwhile, other movie tie-in songs have topped the chart again in the last few years, like “See You Again” from Fast & Furious 7, “Love Me Like You Do” from Fifty Shades Of Grey, and “Shallow” from A Star Is Born. And who could forget The Greatest Showman’s domination of the Album Chart throughout most of 2018 – a film Disney didn’t make but has since acquired in the merger with 20th Century Fox.

On the whole, Disney hasn’t enjoyed the same success with redoing songs from its 1990s animated films as it has at the worldwide box office. End-credits covers of “Beauty And The Beast”, “A Whole New World”, and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” all placed low in the Top 100. On the OST front, Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go” and “You’re Welcome” both landed outside the Top 40 in 2016, and Frozen II’s would-be banger “Into The Unknown” rose through the chart to #19 in 2019 but fell off swiftly thereafter.

All of this brings us to Encanto, which broke into the Singles Chart somewhere between the annual sausage-roll cover ritual, a less festive traditional roast of Boris Johnson, and the usual turnover of catalogue festive tracks.

The other relevant OCC rule change in recent years is a limit of three tracks per lead artist or album in each weekly chart, (this was imposed after song from Ed Sheeran’s 2017 album “Divide” staked out 9 of the Top 10 single spots in a single week – bet that was a fun chart show) so heck, it could be that there would be more than three Encanto tracks in the unfiltered list.

Where movie streaming will undoubtedly have put the songs over with a larger audience, Encanto still breaks something of a dry run for Disney songs in the Official Charts’ streaming era. Never primarily concerned with singles where album sales are probably more lucrative, the Mouse probably isn’t too bothered about this. From a chart history perspective, the possibility of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” holding its spot – or even rising to the summit of the Singles Chart in weeks to come – makes Encanto’s soundtrack an interesting outlier.

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