Lucious Lyon, the emperor from Empire, would be proud: As of Wednesday, the day of its season one finale, the soundtrack for the first series of Fox's hit show is the No. 1 album in the country. Not only that, it's bested Madonna's new record Rebel Heart for the spot, according to Billboard.
Its surging popularity came as a surprise to many less-fictional industry experts, but not to fans of the show. The music is all original, executive produced by Timbaland and written and recorded by and large by his second-in-command, Jim Beanz, who also acts as the rapper Titan on the show. The music's stand-alone success is more of a miracle, even, than Timbaland's recent and equally theatrical attempt to resurrect Michael Jackson. Empire, too, is blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
This isn't the first of the show's remarkable achievements. It has already broken on-demand streaming records by becoming the first show with more than a million views on Comcast XFinity TV a week after its debut. At the time of its finale, the show has grown its audience every single episode — a feat not achieved since at least 1991, according to USA Today.
The misadventures of the titular music empire are compelling enough drama, but for many, the biggest draw has been the music. Though the quality is hit or miss — sometimes parodying the worst traits of hip-hop and R&B, while other times succumbing to them — its high points are undeniable. Jussie Smollett, a musician in his own right and former cast member of The Mighty Ducks, plays R&B singer Jamal Lyon. Pitchfork reviewed the first season soundtrack, writing of Smollett, "you're not cocking your head to the side to imagine a star; you're hearing the real thing."
Yet the strangest thing about the soundtrack's success is that, in 2015, it isn't at all unprecedented. As all non-Taylor Swift-produced albums fade into oblivion, soundtracks are distinguishing themselves as reliable sellers. As Brittney McKenna pointed out on Mic, Frozen dominated 2014 long after its release, earning 3.53 million units in sales and even picking up a few Grammys more than a year after its release. The soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy didn't even feature original music and it was the fifth best-selling album of 2014. Earlier in 2015, Fifty Shades of Grey debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, making it the largest soundtrack debut since This Is It, which, for those playing along at home, was a film about Michael Jackson.
Nonetheless, it's a sad day for Madonna when an album attributed to fictional artists can best her on the charts. But in the frame of Empire's success, this was only to be expected. Empire's name is starting to seem more like prophecy than fiction.