Today sees the premiere of what Disney+ certainly hopes will be its next pop-culture explosion: Beyoncé's Black Is King, a visual companion piece to the music she contributed and curated for Disney's remake of The Lion King last summer (Beyoncé voiced Nala in the film which grossed over $1.6 billion worldwide). Written, directed, and executive produced by Beyoncé herself, Disney has described Black Is King as a "celebratory memoir for the world on the Black experience," featuring many contributors to the original The Lion King: The Gift album, including Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, 070 Shake, Tierra Whack, Jay-Z, Blue Ivy Carter and Jessie Reyez, as well as African artists Wizkid, Shatta Wale, Burna Boy, Mr Eazi, Tiwa Savage, Tekno, Yemi Alade, Busiswa and Salatie.
Beyoncé has set the bar high when it comes to visual albums, having twice captivated the zeigeist with the releases of her self-titled Beyoncé album in 2013 and Lemonade in 2016, so expectations are high for Black Is King at Disney+. (Not for nothing, the album's release today sees Beyoncé completing the trifecta of present-day media behemoths, having premiered the Lemonade visual album on HBO and then the Homecoming concert special of her 2018 Coachella set on Netflix in 2019.)
As major as a new visual album is for Beyoncé's fans, the professional partnership is even bigger for Disney+, which is looking to deliver yet another programming event just weeks after its highly touted premiere of Hamilton. Disney shelled out a reported $75 million to acquire the rights to the film and originally planned to release it in theaters in December of 2021. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, and plans were changed to premiere the film on Disney+ ahead of the July 4th weekend, a release that captivated viewers nationwide and was a rather huge feather in the cap of the standalone streaming service that debuted in November 2019.
The partnerships with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Beyoncé represent a continuing push by Disney to dominate all corners of entertainment. That may sound disconcerting If entertainment monopolies bum you out, but the strategy itself has been tight as a drum and deeply impressive, something that's become ever more apparent as other streaming platforms like WarnerMedia's HBO Max and NBCUniversal's Peacock have launched far less auspiciously. Disney, of course, is playing with a seriously loaded deck. Having acquired Marvel and Lucasfilm, and thus arming themselves with two of the most lucrative entertainment brands in existence, Disney's acquisition of 20th Century Fox allowed them to launch Disney+ as the most wide-ranging entertainment monolith available. Even the most cynical of entertainment enthusiasts have to admit that with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, and the formidable Disney and Pixar animation vaults, Disney+ is kind of a must-purchase, especially for anyone with kids.
The Beyoncé deal comes amid rumors that she and Disney are about to partner on a lucrative multi-project partnership that would, among other things, attach her to Black Panther 2 in some manner. Yet another way the octopus-like Disney brand lets one tentacle wash the other. No matter what becomes of that idea, it's become increasingly clear that when it comes to the great streaming-platform war of 2020, Disney is the one that keeps adding the biggest guns to its arsenal.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.