With the musical phenomenon The Greatest Showman serving up massive numbers for Atlantic Records since its release last December, the label’s West Coast president Kevin Weaver and his team knew they needed to capitalize on the rabid fanbase the film had garnered. And after Atlantic saw mega success from 2016’s The Hamilton Mixtape, Weaver thought The Greatest Showman warranted a similar treatment from some of music’s biggest stars.
Beginning the hunt for the perfect recording artists to re-create the musical’s fantastical numbers in January, Weaver quickly realized their desire for a Greatest Showman covers album was just as desired by the artists they wanted for it. And thus, The Greatest Showman: Reimagined was born.
In celebration of the Reimagined release on Nov. 16, Weaver — along with Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying, Jess Glynne, Years & Years’ Olly Alexander and James Arthur — gave Billboard an inside look at how the latest soundtrack spectacle came together.
Panic! at the Disco – “The Greatest Show”
Two years prior to The Greatest Showman’s release, Weaver had Panic! frontman Brendon Urie meet with the film’s director Michael Gracey, as he felt the group’s theatrical artistic style aligned with the film’s energy. The track was actually finished before The Greatest Showman: Reimagined was conceptualized, but either way, Weaver knew the Panic! version would be released. “It was a magical piece of music when we heard it for the first time — I thought it was a smash,” he says. “I ran around the building playing it for everybody, and we really didn’t need to do much work on it after that.”
P!nk – “A Million Dreams” / Willow Sage Hart – “A Million Dreams (Reprise)”
Weaver knew he had to have P!nk involved after the singer took to social media to gush over the film, and she already knew “A Million Dreams” was the song she wanted to record. P!nk also knew she wanted her daughter to sing the reprise, which Weaver thought captured the essence of The Greatest Showman. “This movie has affected families in such a profound way that having [‘A Million Dreams’] represented by way of a mother-daughter collaboration was a really special contribution and part of the process. It really became this special mother-daughter moment.”
Years & Years and Jess Glynne – “Come Alive”
This track was practically a no-brainer for Weaver and Co., as he says he could hear Jess Glynne vocalizations on the song from the moment he heard it: “It just felt like a really natural fit.” In the same vein, Glynne knew right away that Years & Years was the perfect match for the duet. While Glynne says she approached “Come Alive” as an entirely new song and “gave it a new energy,” Years & Years’ Olly Alexander admits he was a bit nervous taking on the complex rhythms in the song’s melody. “In the studio I just tried to feel like I was a super powerful elegant tightrope performer or something,” he recalls, adding that the song’s “wake up, start living” sentiment helped inspire his vocals — as well as his sense of humor. “I love the title of the song ‘Come Alive’ as it also works on a sexual innuendo level and I’m immature like that.”
MAX and Ty Dolla $ign – The Other Side
While the combination of artists may not appear to be the most organic, Weaver felt they each worked perfectly for the verbal back-and-forth of the song. “Ty is a singer as much as a rapper,” Weaver suggests, “and we felt like having a young voice like MAX on the album was important — somebody young, interesting and different.” And though the “Lights Down Low” crooner and “Paranoid” singer weren’t able to record their version of the bustling track together, the vocals each delivered resulted in one of Weaver’s favorite Reimagined tracks. “It’s so unique and unexpected,” he says.
Kelly Clarkson – “Never Enough”
Clarkson’s involvement with The Hamilton Mixtape was obvious proof that her dynamic voice is perfect for a track from a musical, but Weaver recruited her because “Never Enough” needed someone with a voice as big as hers (and her immense love for the movie helped too). She not only took on the challenge, but recorded three different versions to make sure The Greatest Showman: Reimagined got the best Kelly Clarkson could give. “The first round was more classic, then we tried to do a more rocked-up version to see if we could beat it, and we ended up with a vocal that was somewhere in between,” Clarkson recalls. “I tried to walk the line of keeping it classic and being a bit adventurous with however I was feeling while recording it, so that the end product would be the reimagined version. It’s a beast of a song!”
Keala Settle, Kesha and Missy Elliott – “This Is Me (The Reimagined Remix)”
Weaver wanted to find a way to “freshen up” Kesha’s already reimagined version of the film’s most mesmerizing number, and a rap verse came to mind — along with Missy Elliott. “We wanted another strong, powerful female voice on that record,” he says. “The kind of stuff that Missy does is typically fucking awesome, and she murdered it. She totally bodied her parts on the record.” The rapper’s additions were so mesmerizing that it resulted in a debate of how to present Missy, Kesha and Keala Settle’s without losing any magic, and that’s when Justin Paul (who co-wrote all of the film’s songs alongside Benj Pasek) had the idea for a mashup of all three. After Phil Lawrence put an 808s and hip-hop production on the track, they got Kesha’s stamp of approval — “she immediately said she loved it and wanted it to happen,” Weaver recalls — they knew they had something really special.
James Arthur and Anne-Marie – “Rewrite The Stars”
As the biggest streaming song of the entire soundtrack, Weaver knew they needed artists that were as urgent and relevant as fans made the original track. And with a majority of those numbers coming from the UK, he wanted to support that market by recruiting two of England’s most popular rising stars. Arthur jumped on the offer partially because he loved The Greatest Showman’s music, but more so because Anne-Marie was his duet partner. “It’s great that we had the opportunity to finally work together,” he asserts. The end result was exactly what Weaver was looking for, and he expects the new version of “Rewrite the Stars” to be received just as well as the original — if not better: “That song will be a single for us, without question.”
Sara Bareilles – “Tightrope”
Prior to the Oct. 25 release of the empowering single “Armor,” Bareilles hadn’t released a song in three years. But Weaver landed the “Love Song” singer for the Reimagined soundtrack because of Pasek and Paul, who have a strong relationship with her. And he’s thankful they managed to get her on board: “It’s a beautiful, new rendition of ‘Tightrope’ — the production is different and special, and she did an incredible job vocally on it.”
Zac Brown Band – “From Now On”
Weaver and his team felt the original album’s closer always had a country sensibility, which led them to Zac Brown Band in part due to their folky vibe. “We felt that the kind of artist he is really lended itself well to the direction we thought we wanted to go on the new version.” The group clearly felt the same, as “From Now On” is part of Zac Brown Band’s sets on tour.
Pentatonix – “The Greatest Show” (Bonus Track)
Before the Panic! version of “The Greatest Show” was confirmed for Reimagined, Weaver thought of Pentatonix for the soundtrack because he felt it was important to have a cappella represented on the album, and in a way that’s true to how they create music. But even before they were recruited, Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying ran into Pasek and Paul at this year’s Grammys and made sure the duo knew his group was eager to be involved. As the most passionate Greatest Showman fan in Pentatonix, Hoying felt a bit of pressure when recording their version of “The Greatest Show.” “It’s a very full-out song, so making it huge with just five voices was something we were a little bit concerned about,” he recalls. They collaborated with the choir from the original track to help with that, but gave still gave the song a Pentatonix feel thanks in part to Kevin Olusola’s beatboxing — which Hoying admits pleasantly surprised him (“it enhances the song in a lot of ways,” he says). And when it came to recording his parts, Hoying’s super-fandom really paid off: “I know it so well, the session only lasted like 30 minutes. I didn’t even need to pull up the lyrics — I was like, ‘I got this.’”