Last year, songwriting duo Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear did not expect their “Bridgerton”-inspired TikTok musical to make it off the For You Page, but now they have won a Grammy Award for the project. Needless to say, the world is watching.
Going by the stage name Barlow & Bear, the team has already performed snippets of the songs for various in-person and televised events, including a series of live shows in the UK, but audiences still want more. So, after a brief hiatus to celebrate their Grammy win, the pair will take to the stage again to perform for the first time ever “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” album in full at the end of July. To celebrate the occasion, let’s take a look at how Barlow & Bear generated an audience large enough to fill the Kennedy Center.
Like the rest of the world, Barlow, an independent musical artist in her own right, quickly fell in love with the Netflix Original series “Bridgerton” after its December release on the streaming platform in 2020. Inspired by author Julia Quinn’s books, the show follows the wealthy Bridgerton siblings as they navigate the 1813 social season. With marriage on their minds, the young people of the town are determined to make a respectable match at any cost necessary. But this period piece is not like your grandmother’s favorite historical fiction series.
With “Grey’s Anatomy” executive producer Shonda Rhimes behind the wheel, it is no surprise that audiences quickly became obsessed with “Bridgerton.” Pulling in over 625 million viewing hours in its first 28 days, the sexy scandal between young diamond Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and the dashing Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) quickly made this regency period piece the most streamed English-language series on Netflix. Even fan-favorites like “Stranger Things 3” couldn’t top the show.
With only eight episodes at roughly 60 minutes each, Barlow too found herself desperate for more of the regency romance long after the first season credits started to roll. So, inspired by her own musical history, she asked herself — and the rest of the world — a simple question: What if “Bridgerton” was a musical?
What started out as a late-night post on social media quickly grew into something more as hundreds, then thousands, then millions of views began rolling in on Barlow’s TikTok videos. It seemed the rest of the world was just as eager for more “Bridgerton” content, including genius composer and childhood piano protégé Emily Bear. Both talented women in their own rights, Barlow and Bear combined their enormous musical gifts to create a “Bridgerton” concept album — and, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they did it all from their own bedrooms.
Officially beginning in February 2021, the team set to work writing their made-at-home musical, crafting catchy melodies and lovable lyrics for the major characters and plot points of the Netflix series. Clips from songs like “Burn For You” quickly went viral, flooding everyone’s For You pages. Encouraged by their growing audience, Barlow & Bear wrote and recorded the 15 original songs that would make up “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” album in just six weeks.
Aside from the massive achievement of producing an original album in just over a year during a global pandemic, “Bridgerton the Musical” has also changed the way musicals become mainstream. As recent viral sounds from “Heathers: The Musical” and “SIX” have demonstrated, Broadway is trending on TikTok — even if viewers don’t realize it. The struggle then becomes making viewers aware of this theatrical inspiration, something Barlow & Bear have mastered.
Different from any other modern musical, “Bridgerton the Musical” was born and raised on social media. From brainstorming sessions to studio breaks, fan interaction was a constant during all stages of development. Though some teams might fear this level of scrutiny, Barlow & Bear embraced it, going as far as to broadcast much of their creative process to fans everywhere via Instagram and TikTok livestreams.
Not only did their transparency incorporate fans in the creative process, but such viewer involvement established a vibrant connection between audience and creators early on. Especially in the first few weeks of the #BridgertonMusical trend on TikTok, viewers were essential to the musical’s development. Posts with ideas for potential choreography and costumes for Barlow & Bear’s songs saturated the hashtag, not to mention the thousands of covers and duets by musically gifted fans that sparked inspiration for potential casting and staging decisions. Though Barlow & Bear spearheaded the project, the writers were equal contributors to the birth of “Bridgerton the Musical” as every other creator posting #BridgertonMusical content.
When Barlow & Bear started to write “Bridgerton the Musical,” they didn’t expect it to go very far. Even creating a concept album was far from their mind in the first few months of writing.
Talking about their first viral song, “Oceans Away,” Barlow said in an interview with NPR, “I was actually experiencing writer’s block for like three or four months before I wrote that song. I was like, if people like this idea, maybe it’ll be a TikTok series … But honestly, it was just a songwriting challenge to put myself in someone else’s shoes, even if that was a make-believe character.” Clearly, the challenge worked, if the instantly trending #BridgertonMusical hashtag is any indication. Barlow escaped her writing slump, and the internet fell in love with her song. For both writer and listener alike, “Bridgerton the Musical” was a spark of creative hope — and nothing more.
But then the unthinkable happened. Against all odds and despite all expectations, “Bridgerton the Musical” was nominated for Grammy.
The world couldn’t believe it. Barlow & Bear couldn’t believe it. A video gone viral on TikTok shows the songwriting team crying at British high tea after learning of their nomination. At the end of the video, Barlow asks Bear, “Why were we the last one?” referring to how “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” was the last album announced for a Grammy nomination in the musical theater category. But as the phrase goes, last certainly does not mean least.
Four months later, “Bridgerton the Musical” won a Grammy. At just 23 and 20 years old, Barlow and Bear not only produced the best musical theater album in 2022, but they beat out some of the biggest names on Broadway, including Andrew Lloyd Webber and Steven Sater, who were also nominated. That night, Barlow & Bear became the youngest recipients ever to win a Grammy for the best musical theater album.
The Kennedy Center and Beyond
Immediately following their win, “Bridgerton the Musical” content flooded TikTok FYPs once again. In the days and weeks following the award ceremony, creators across the platform celebrated the success of TikTok’s very own musical with a resurgence of #BridgertonMusical content. Such large-scale attention has died down some since April, but true fans are still reeling from the victory. They are eager for more Barlow & Bear content.
Midway through June, the songwriting duo gave the people what they wanted. On June 15, Barlow & Bear announced via Instagram that they would be performing “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” album live in concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Alongside the National Symphony Orchestra and some special guests who have yet to be announced, fans will hear the album performed start-to-finish for the first time ever. The concert is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, July 26, and tickets are available now.
But what next? Even with the excitement of a live performance, fans are desperate to hear the next immersive Barlow & Bear project. Though the songwriting duo has stated in many interviews they will continue to write together, what exactly is next up their sleeve is still a mystery. While some may speculate about another #BridgertonMusical for the Netflix show’s second season, and brief passion projects on the creators’ TikTok pages even suggest another pop culture-inspired homemade musical, nobody really knows what Barlow & Bear have planned. But no matter what it is, audiences will be ready to answer every “what-if” question the songwriting duo decides to ask next.