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Let’s play a game: Take an Uber to your nearest dive bar, pop some quarters in the jukebox, and blindly flip through the selections for 15 seconds. Congratulations: you just picked the subject for Hollywood’s next multimillion-dollar music biopic.
The biopic boom is in full swing, as studio executives have realized there’s a ridiculous amount of money to be made from translating extravagant tales of rock star debauchery to the big screen. Released at the tail end of 2018, Bohemian Rhapsody went on to gross more than $900 million worldwide and win four Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Rami Malek’s depiction of Queen’s larger-than-life frontman, Freddie Mercury. Last year’s Rocketman, which starred Taron Egerton as Elton John, performed more modestly but still respectably, grossing $195 million globally on a $40 million budget. And Hollywood is just getting started, with biopics for Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, and many more reportedly in the works.
But it’s not just about drawing fans to movie theaters or streaming platforms.
These impressive box office receipts often translate to more robust ticket sales for their respective artists. Queen + Adam Lambert are touring Europe, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia through July, and they can continue to pack arenas around the world to their hearts’ content. Likewise, Elton John has arena and stadium dates lined up through the end of the year on his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour”, which commenced in 2018. But perhaps no artist has benefited from this trend as greatly as Mötley Crüe, whose 2019 Netflix biopic, The Dirt, introduced a whole new generation to “The World’s Most Notorious Rock Band.”
Adapted from the band’s scandalous 2001 memoir of the same name, The Dirt is a shockingly crude, wickedly funny portrait of one of the most depraved rock bands in history, who paved the way for a decade of spandex-clad pretty boys and survived by the skin of their teeth. Despite being largely panned by critics, The Dirt maintains a stellar 95% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and the band’s streams and social media engagement skyrocketed following its release. The film was ostensibly intended as a swan song for Mötley Crüe, who retired in 2015 after completing a massive farewell tour and signing a Cessation of Touring agreement. But it’s hard to deny such a rapturous audience reception. In November, Mötley Crüe announced their return by literally detonating their Cessation of Touring agreement, and this summer, they’ll embark on The Stadium Tour alongside Def Leppard, Poison, and Joan Jett — the biggest rock event in a year flooded with high-profile reunions.
At first glance, the sheer scale of Mötley Crüe’s comeback is surprising. The band had been officially off the road for less than four years at the time of their announcement, and they visited virtually every North American amphitheater and arena within spitting distance on their 18-month “Final Tour.” Since their previous reunion in 2005, the band had settled comfortably into “legacy act” territory, dutifully hitting the shed circuit every summer and hosting two years of their own traveling road show, “Crüe Fest.” They culled setlists largely from their first five albums, from 1981’s Too Fast for Love through 1989’s Dr. Feelgood, occasionally sprinkling in one or two nuggets from their 2008 comeback album, Saints of Los Angeles. The Crüe had a sizable enough catalog of hits to reliably draw crowds of 10,000 to 15,000, but they lacked a stellar new album or noteworthy hook to entice fans on the level of, say, Guns N’ Roses’ “Not in This Lifetime Tour.” They enjoyed a logical uptick in attendance on “The Final Tour,” and everybody assumed Mötley Crüe would go out on a high note with their legacy intact.
Enter The Dirt. The salacious new flick appealed to lifelong fans of the band, but it also captivated viewers who had never seen them live and perhaps had never even listened to their music. In the month following The Dirt’s release, Mötley saw a 600% streaming boost on Spotify, 1,100% on Apple Music, and a 1,300% increase in iTunes downloads. They saw their followers increase by 900% on Facebook and 600% on Twitter while their Wikipedia searches jumped a staggering 3,000%. Perhaps most importantly, the band’s primary age demographic shifted from 45-59 to 18-45, according to longtime manager Allen Kovac. Rapper Machine Gun Kelly, who portrayed Crüe drummer Tommy Lee in The Dirt, said it best in his narration for the band’s comeback video: “In the years since [their final tour], Mötley Crüe became more popular than ever and gained an entirely new legion of fans, who, along with die-hard Crüeheads, demanded the band tear up that stupid contract and come out of retirement. They knew that if they were ever to stand onstage together again, that contract would have to be destroyed. Well, destruction has never been an issue for Mötley Crüe.”
It’s easy to see why The Dirt would compel new fans to clamor for a Mötley Crüe reunion. Despite its narrative shortcomings and tendency to gloss over the most damning parts of the band’s history, the film faithfully recreates Mötley’s spectacular live shows, replete with endless pyrotechnics and Lee’s signature drum kit roller coaster. A Mötley Crüe concert is a multisensory, unapologetically sleazy affair that cannot be easily replicated. (Props to Travis Scott for coming close.) The Dirt painted Mötley Crüe as dangerous enough to entice young concertgoers, but good-natured enough to avoid alienating them.
If early tour numbers serve as any indication, many more bands will follow in Mötley’s footsteps, greenlighting biopics and embarking on massive accompanying tours. “The Stadium Tour” sold more than 700,000 tickets and grossed over $90 million in its first weekend, selling out numerous dates and breaking the record for fastest sellout at Milwaukee’s Miller Park. Nearly 40 years after their inception, Mötley Crüe will be playing some of the biggest shows of their career, and they have The Dirt largely to thank for it. Just as old fans watched the film to see if it could live up to the real thing, a wave of new fans will now watch the real thing to see if it can live up to the film.
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