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How Interscope Helped Make Pop Star Drama ‘Teen Spirit’ Happen

When Interscope Records CEO John Janick says his label has had "great success with building out powerful music in music-driven films," he's not just cheerleading.

When Interscope Records CEO John Janick says his label has had “great success with building out powerful music in music-driven films,” he’s not just cheerleading. In the past year, the company released the soundtracks to A Star Is Born (which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and won a Grammy and an Academy Award for “Shallow”) and Black Panther (another No. 1 release, and an album of the year Grammy nominee), and before that, in 2016, La La Land (which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200). Now, as part of a new effort with Interscope executive vp film/TV marketing and licensing Tony Seyler to develop and market movies rooted in music industry-centric storylines, Janick is executive-producing Teen Spirit (Interscope Films is a co-producer). “We don’t just want to make obvious music biopics,” says Seyler. “This film has story at the heart, but [director] Max [Minghella] also makes music a crucial character.” Adds Janick: “It’s about figuring out how you line up all the pieces in a more organic way.”


Label Takes The Lead

“Usually, the film company is running all the marketing and we’re doing whatever we can to help on the music side,” says Janick. But on Teen Spirit, he worked closely with Interscope vice chairman Steve Berman, head of A&R Sam Riback and Seyler to make the label a strategic partner on the marketing, creative and financial fronts. “We got involved in everything,” says Janick, from helping scout talent in London, where the film was shot, to suggesting artists for the lead role of aspiring pop star Violet Valenski, although Elle Fanning was ultimately cast. Upon seeing a video of Fanning singing, “I was like, ‘Wow, she’s amazing,’” recalls Janick. “She could do it all.”

Crafting A Character

The film appealed to Janick and Seyler in large part because of its central character. “If she was an artist out there now that people felt like they identified with, it would be a big story,” says Janick, noting that an artifice-free artist like Violet could grow a huge fan base using social media. Seyler, who has two teenage daughters, liked that the story has a “main character [who] might be ordinary, but ends up reaching something extraordinary. While we all need megastars that may be from another planet, I also hold great value for the artists that have qualities you can see in yourself.” Both suggested edits to the script along the way, although Janick says he left alone one pivotal scene, in which Violet is offered a record deal in a spontaneous hotel-room meeting before the Teen Spirit competition final. “It is probably more stereotypical,” says Janick. “Situations like that definitely happen, but that’s not how we operate.”


Soundtrack Strategy

Before Minghella even met with Interscope, he was a fan of Carly Rae Jepsen and knew he wanted Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” and Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” in the film. All three artists “just happened to be signed to us,” says Janick. “We didn’t push anything.” Interscope did help secure the one original song on the soundtrack: “Wildflowers,” an electro-pop number Fanning sings and that Jepsen wrote with her frequent collaborator Tavish Crowe and producer Jack Antonoff. Back in 2010, Janick had signed Antonoff to Fueled by Ramen (as part of the band fun.), and when he pitched Antonoff on contributing music to the film, “he loved it.” For its part, Interscope’s team liked the contrast between the movie’s gritty look and the glossy pop tunes Minghella picked. Had Teen Spirit been shot as “a pure pop-singing contest and super bright and what you would expect,” says Janick, “it wouldn’t be interesting.”

This article originally appeared in the March 9 issue of Billboard.