First things first, I’m terrible at loving music. In fact, I’m a music lover’s worst nightmare. I never had that one particular band, group or singer that I loved growing up and even now I can name only a few. I didn’t have that one music love that I could sing all the lyrics to and could support them enough to want to see them live. I never bought an album, had musically inspired posters or gushed over an artist. I bopped along to songs I liked and sung Disney songs louder than I should. Empire is a show whose very foundations are rooted in music and it’s industry and yet I still had a ball watching and listening to it.
Empire doesn’t excel in any particular genre, the drama has predictable soap opera plot lines, the characters are big and exaggerated, and the musical elements have that R&B groove that stands it apart from Glee. Where it succeeds is being a hybrid of all of these tropes, borrowing and blending the lines of what makes a television show and in doing so creates an entertaining series that was enjoyable to watch.
The series centres around Empire Entertainment, a music label owned and managed by hip-hop artist and music mogul Lucious Lyon as played by Terrence Howard. Surrounding him are his pride of Lyons: Andre as played by Trai Byers, Jamal as played by Jussie Smollett and Hakeem as played by Bryshere Y. Gray, and after being diagnosed with ALS, Lucious decides that only one of his sons can take his place as head of the Empire. From that moment on rivalries are drawn, punches are thrown and betrayal is rife in the air as all three sons set to ensure that they are the one to be crowned King.
Enter Cookie Lyon. Taraji P Henson in my personal opinion steals the show with her vibrancy, no-nonsense attitude and a humor to match. My love of this character however, stems from the fact that she can take Lucious down a peg or two or three. Having been imprisoned for seventeen years for a crime that her husband committed, Cookie is out and looking to regain her place of power back in the now wealthy Lyon family. She is just as passionate, if not more about music and is flocked to for advice from everyone. If you don’t watch this series for anything else, then watch it for Cookie.
Diversity is blooming in this series, we have a racially diverse cast which has been sorely needed in a predominantly white saturated market, several gay characters and their story lines are explored and the impact it has in this particular community and industry, and even the severity and struggle of mental illness is carefully treated within the first season. The show exposes misogyny, homophobia and the true extent of the fabrication that is undertaken for the world’s benefit; a peek into the reality of the brutal music industry. I won’t step into the realm of spoilers but ignorance and injustice is always in some form punished which I watched with sweet gratification.
Fun Fact: Famous artist and voice of Garnet from Steven Universe, Estelle guest stars to duet alongside Jamal Lyon.
The music is addictive, compelling and any song sung by Jamal has a moral purpose that I can imagine hitting relatable chords with audiences. I am definitely looking to putting some money into purchasing the soundtrack. Writers Lee Daniels and Danny Strong excelled in bringing that refreshing vibe to this niche in the market. Empire, is unique and stands alone in the current programming and a combination of all of my previous points is exactly why it has become so popular. I seriously recommend this show if you love music, love characters that stand outside of the boxes that most are trapped in, and love to watch something different.
You can watch Empire on FOX in the US and thanks to the UK illegally streaming this show in large numbers you can also watch it on E4. Well done you!
Do you have a favourite song from the show? Do you think this show deserves it’s popularity? What should I be watching? Any recommendations I would love in the comments! Thanks! You can also follow me on twitter @bingebox for regular updates.