Just in case anyone held out hope that Elton John had a deep love for anthropomorphic CGI lions with expressionless faces, the beloved musician is here to set the record straight. While promoting his new book, Me: Elton John, he told British GQ he did not care for The Lion King remake — no, sir, not one bit.
But while the Jon Favreau-directed film was criticized by reviewers for its slavish devotion to the 1994 original — with some scenes a near shot-by-shot remake — the singer had a novel critique. He didn’t like the music.
“The new version of The Lion King was a huge disappointment to me, because I believe they messed the music up,” John told the magazine. “Music was so much a part of the original and the music in the current film didn’t have the same impact. The magic and joy were lost.”
As far as criticism goes, that is the exact opposite of low-hanging fruit. There were two components to The Lion King soundtrack: the first a virtual redo of many of the original film’s songs and then an accompanying record personally curated by one Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, who used Disney’s global platform to highlight African artists like Tiwa Savage, Busiswa, and Moonchild Sanelly.
The latter album’s Afrocentric sound earned a 77 on Metacritic, indicating that it was very well-liked, if maybe not universally beloved.
But what displeased Sir Elton? It’s difficult to say. John claimed the albums were a commercial disappointment, saying “the new soundtrack fell out of the charts so quickly, despite the massive box-office success.”
“The soundtrack hasn’t had nearly the same impact on the charts that it had 25 years ago,” he said, “when it was the best-selling album of the year.”
A light fact-check is in order: The 1994 Lion King soundtrack was, indeed, phenomenally successful and spawned a top-five hit on Billboard with “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” However, John is overstating its accomplishments a bit — the album came in fourth that year behind Ace of Base’s The Sign, Mariah Carey’s Music Box, and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggy Style (as he was then known).
Proving its longevity, though, the Lion King soundtrack still placed in 10th in 1995, making it by all accounts a runaway smash.
But while neither the straightforward remake nor Bey’s album matched the sales of the original, people simply don’t purchase albums the same way they did 25 years ago, and their merits can’t be held to the same standards. As Beyoncé proved with Lemonade — which defined the zeitgeist and changed music without much support from radio — she isn’t all that interested in measuring success by external metrics.
Meanwhile, the 2019 soundtrack debuted at no. 2 on the Billboard 200, not half bad for an insular homage to African art. (Its counterpart bowed at a modest 13th place.)
John may have, however, shown his hand a bit too much in the interview when he discussed one factor what may have fueled his animus to the new production: He lamented not being “invited to the party more” when it was conceived.
“The creative vision for the film and its music was different this time around, and I wasn’t really welcomed or treated with the same level of respect,” John said. “That makes me extremely sad. I’m so happy that the right spirit for the music lives on with the Lion King stage musical.”
The long-running stage musical, of course, features music by John and Tim Rice.
While John never mentions Queen Bey by name while critiquing the new Lion King soundtrack, he slipped in a reference to the singer in an excerpt where he laments that the American press “turns everyone into Michael Jackson or Beyoncé and they treat everyone like royalty.”
The musician also sprinkled on a bit extra shade by claiming that “the only real star at the moment is Lady Gaga,” adding that Ms. Germanotta “could have a career like Barbra Streisand if she wanted to.”
No matter one’s position on the Elton vs. Beyoncé debate, today is a perhaps unintentional reminder that nobody — and I mean nobody — picks celebrity feuds like the Pinball Wizard. Before burying the hatchet with Madonna, he referred to her as a “fairground stripper” and a “nightmare” and once told Lily Allen he could “snort her under the table.” Even when he’s wrong, he’s certainly not boring.
Beyoncé’s reps have yet to comment publicly on the interview, but I’m sure she’s using her powers to scrub it from the internet as we speak.