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It's about time the youngsters got to meet the King!

BTW: Saw the movie. Thought it was big fun. A little frantic but Austin nails the character. If you want to see the real Elvis in concert check out the link below. Austin's amazing in the role, but the real Elvis was better.

Can Elvis Survive Gen Z?

Baz Luhrmann’s new biopic stars Austin Butler, a charismatic heartthrob who channels Elvis Presley and could even eclipse him

Austin Butler, seen here playing Elvis Presley.

By John Jurgensen and Corinne Dorsey, WSJ

June 25, 2022 8:30 am ET

Not so much over the singer who died 45 years ago, but the actor who’s embodying him in the new film “Elvis”: Austin Butler.

“Oh my gosh, of course I’m gonna see it because it’s someone I love playing him. It’s a classic,” says 19-year-old Kaylee Hughes, who has been posting crush content dedicated to Mr. Butler on TikTok. Until Mr. Butler’s association with him, Elvis was mostly just a name she’d read.

The first rock star on the national stage to drive the youth wild and make the olds angry, Elvis has always been a generational Rorschach test. In each decade since his 1950s ascent, he has been lionized, romanticized, satirized and derided. Forgotten is the final stage, and always looming.

“Look, he’s either a god for an older generation or he’s a joke to a younger generation, a Halloween costume,” says “Elvis” director Baz Luhrmann. But to much of the TikTok generation, he adds, Elvis is a shrug and a blank stare.

Mr. Butler, 30, is a heartthrob on TikTok.


Enter Mr. Butler. The actor performs much of the singing in the biopic released in theaters this weekend, and channels the wild energy of Elvis’s music when it was brand new. In one scene, his raw, wiggly rendition of “Baby Let’s Play House” triggers a rolling erotic awakening in the crowd.

“My grandmother is like a massive Elvis fan. She went to a concert and was in the front row and, like, gave him water during his show” said Jenny Tuell, 23, about her 78-year-old grandmother. “Austin kind of connected the two generations.” The popular TikTok user recently posted a before-and-after comparison of images from Mr. Butler’s boyish early career and his current (“#HOT”) status in “Elvis.”

Box office returns will determine the commercial fate of the film. But Elvis’s standing with young people may ultimately be decided on social media.

On platforms where vintage stuff co-exists with new content, it’s easier than ever for old acts to leap the generation gap. TikTok has repeatedly transformed one generation’s throwback faves into another’s fresh discoveries. It has happened for Kate Bush (thanks to the meme explosion after her song appeared in “Stranger Things”), Nirvana (“The Batman”) and Fleetwood Mac (dude riding a skateboard).

It’s unclear whose celebrity status might benefit more from all this: Elvis or Austin. The 30-year-old actor grew up doing kid and teen roles on television. He made many fans a decade ago in “The Carrie Diaries,” a “Sex and the City” prequel on the CW, playing the bad-boy high-school love interest of the lead character.

He appeared on Broadway in a 2018 production “The Iceman Cometh” starring Denzel Washington, who recommended the young actor to Mr. Buhrmann for “Elvis.” In Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood,” Mr. Butler starred as a member of Charles Manson’s gang.

Fans have been forecasting broader fame for Mr. Butler. Celebrity buzz sites are agog over his relationship with 20-year-old Kaia Gerber. Lainey Gossip called him a “unicorn” in waiting for Gen Z, comparing his hearthrob quotient (“prettier than he is handsome, a little bit androgynous, soft, in an appealingly boyish way”) to that of Robert Pattinson, River Phoenix and, yes, Elvis Presley before him.

Stakeholders in Elvis’s legacy are hoping Mr. Butler’s Gen Z appeal will reinvigorate interest in the musician.


As the real Elvis recedes into history, marketing him to young people is a continuing challenge. Elvis ranked 229th in total music streams this year so far, putting him below the Beatles (45), Queen (78) and Elton John (133), all featured in recent films, according to music data provider Luminate. Authentic Brands Group, the company that controls the singer’s licensing and merchandising rights, has aimed for the demo with products such as Elvis NFTs, and an animated series heading to Netflix, “Agent King,” an irreverent comedy imagining Elvis as a spy.

ABG is counting on “Elvis” and Mr. Butler to make the case for young, sexy Elvis, “the model for the modern pop star, who was making the audience faint when they watched him dance,” says Marc Rosen, president of entertainment at ABG. The company is working with Warner Bros. to promote the movie, its star-heavy soundtrack, and various merchandise.

Part of the strategy: recruiting influencers like Emily Uribe to help build hype online. Warner Bros. sent the 22-year-old with close to 1 million TikTok followers to the Cannes film festival, where she attended the film’s world premiere—and confirmed that Mr. Butler is a match for its main character.

“He is the best part of the movie,” Ms. Uribe says. “He’s just so yummy.”

Not all the social-media buzz is positive. Some users have made tutorials on controversial aspects of Elvis as a historical figure, such as his courtship of the future Priscilla Presley that began when she was 14 and he was 24. Others have called out the fact that Elvis profited from songs created by Black artists (an issue “Elvis” tries to address). Meanwhile, some users are just hung up on how Mr. Butler still lapses into the Elvis drawl in interviews and red carpet appearances.

“Elvis” also stars Tom Hanks, who plays Elvis’s all-controlling manager Colonel Tom Parker and narrates the saga. The film rockets through the singer’s discovery and early stardom. Mr. Luhrmann’s camera shots rarely linger longer than a typical Instagram story. The director says the hurtling pace was necessary to cover all the operatic stages of Elvis’s life in one film. But the 59-year-old filmmaker, who reframed Shakespeare for Gen X in 1996 with “Romeo + Juliet,” says he also considered how his cinematic style would translate to viewers who ingest brief, kinetic bursts of content through their phones.

It’s possible that “Elvis” could get a delayed reaction from young audiences. When it eventually hits Warner Bros.’s affiliated streaming service HBO Max, then viewers will be able to dissect scenes and create memes at will. Recall how the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” didn’t blow up on TikTok until after “Encanto” appeared on Disney+, a month after the animated movie first opened in theaters.

Still, Mr. Luhrmann says he is fixated on getting people to see “Elvis” on the big screen, both for a collective cinematic experience, and to help the movie stack up financially. He notes that the only things ticket buyers have turned out for in droves this year are superheroes, dinosaurs and Tom Cruise.

“This is not a franchise film. There is no sequel to ‘Elvis.’ So what’s in my crosshairs right now is to try and get enough audience out on the opening weekend,” Mr. Luhrmann says. “We can only see if there’s enough magnetic pull towards it for a younger audience to see it in a theater.”

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