The Beatles-obsessed drama believes musical stardom is a meritocracy. The reality is much different.
The film Yesterday has an intriguing premise: What if the Beatles never existed? Unsuccessful, moderately talented singer-songwriter Jack Malik wakes up one day and is the only one who remembers the Beatles’ songs. Suddenly he can pose as the creator of the greatest music ever written. As a result, he quickly becomes a world-renowned superstar.
The movie itself is a cheerfully silly rom-com; screenwriter Richard Curtis and director Danny Boyle don’t have much interest in exploring the music industry or the ins and outs of the creative process. Nonetheless, Yesterday raises bigger questions about how artistic quality affects artistic careers, ones that may last with us after the credits roll.
Jack is successful because the Beatles’ songs, removed from their original context, still maintain the universal, instant appeal that has canonized them in our non-fictional world, offscreen. Label execs, other musicians, and huge numbers of fans are all won over by “Jack’s” music; when his skeptical parents don’t immediately recognize that “Let It Be” is great, Yesterday chalks it up to their being philistines. Even decades after the Soviet Union disintegrated, “Back in the USSR” still rocks people’s world.