During the COVID-19 global pandemic, a lot of us took up making sourdough bread or learning to knit or completing jigsaw puzzles. For Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear, they turned to TikTok to wonder what it might sound like if the hit Netflix bodice-ripping period drama Bridgerton was a musical. So they did just that, using the Shonda Rimes vehicle as inspiration for their TikTok songs.
Racking up millions of views on their respective TikTok accounts, they seemed to have found their niche. Now, Netflix and Rimes disagree. Here’s everything we know about the Bridgerton TikTok musical, its success, its controversy, and where it stands today.
Lots of celebs use social media to advance their brand, but what if you’re just a struggling musician with a dream? Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear, who are only 23 and 20, were songwriting partners who binged Bridgerton just like the rest of us in 2020, except they wanted to take it a step further. So they turned the characters and plot into little ditties and posted them on TikTok, racking up millions of views on their respective accounts.
Eventually, they released a 15-track album called “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” with song titles like “Lady Whistledown” and “Penelope Featherington.”
It’s natural to expect the Hamiltons and the Rents of the musical theatre world to win Grammys in the Best Musical Theatre Album category, but when Barlow and Bear’s unofficial Bridgerton musical album won, they actually beat out composing rockstar Andrew Lloyd Webber.
“A year ago when I asked the internet, ‘What if Bridgerton was a musical?’ I could not have imagined we would be holding a Grammy in our hands,” Barlow said at the 2022 ceremony. “We want to thank everyone on the internet who has watched us create this album from the ground up, we share this with you.”
The duo then adapted their album and songs for the stage, performing a live stage show at the Kennedy Centre. Barlow sang with Darren Criss while Bear tickled the ivories.
Tickets for the charity show were in high demand, selling out the venue at a price point of up to $149 USD. Once again, although an in-person show, video footage of their performance went viral on social media.
Bridgerton may be famous for its spoons, but Netflix threw a wrench in Barlow and Bear’s plans in July by filing a lawsuit against them for IP theft, which reads, “Defendants Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear and their companies (“Barlow & Bear”) have taken valuable intellectual property from the Netflix original series Bridgerton to build an international brand for themselves.”
The suit continues, “Bridgerton reflects the creative work and hard-earned success of hundreds of artists and Netflix employees. Netflix owns the exclusive right to create Bridgerton songs, musicals, or any other derivative works based on Bridgerton. Barlow & Bear cannot take that right—made valuable by others’ hard work—for themselves, without permission.”
In a statement to Variety, Netflix said, “Netflix supports fan-generated content, but Barlow & Bear have taken this many steps further, seeking to create multiple revenue streams for themselves without formal permission to utilize the ‘Bridgerton’ IP.”
“We’ve tried hard to work with Barlow & Bear, and they have refused to cooperate. The creators, cast, writers and crew have poured their hearts and souls into ‘Bridgerton’ and we’re taking action to protect their rights.”
The Netflix suit also responds to upcoming projects from Barlow & Bear including more tour dates and planned merch.
The streamer's claim specifically calls out the Kennedy Center show and the planned tour for using the Bridgerton name in a way that implies it was used "with permission." They also do not approve of the creation of merch (which has not been announced publicly as of this writing).
Shonda Rhimes, creator and producer of Bridgerton, is miffed, saying in a statement,“There is so much joy in seeing audiences fall in love with ‘Bridgerton’ and watching the creative ways they express their fandom.”
She continues, “What started as a fun celebration by Barlow & Bear on social media has turned into the blatant taking of intellectual property solely for Barlow & Bear’s financial benefit. This property was created by Julia Quinn and brought to life on screen through the hard work of countless individuals. Just as Barlow & Bear would not allow others to appropriate their IP for profit, Netflix cannot stand by and allow Barlow & Bear to do the same with ‘Bridgerton.'”
While Barlow and Bear have released no official statements on the lawsuit, they don’t seem to be reigning in or canceling their big plans. The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical Album Live in Concert is going abroad, and they still as of this writing have a show planned for Sept. 20 at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall.
We can’t wait to see what Lady Whistledown is going to write about this scandal!