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I.B. BAD: A TALE OF TWO CITIES

THE BRITISH KEEP COMING: How is it that so many of the current decade’s biggest breakthroughs—starting with Adele, One Direction, Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, have come out of the United Kingdom, whose population is one fifth of that of the United States? This is hardly a new phenomenon, of course—Britain has been turning out far more than its share of world-class bands and artists for more than a half century, from The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Elton John and Pink Floyd through Coldplay and Amy Winehouse to the current crop of U.K.-spawned superstars. What shared magical properties has enabled British stars to continue to impact pop culture to such a profound degree?

Like its enormous font of global superstars, the contribution of the U.K. biz to the British economy is also disproportionately huge. According to industry group U.K. Music’s new report, Measuring Music 2015, the Brit biz totted up 4.1 billion in GVA (Gross Value Added) in 2014, growing 5% over the prior year; the industry’s exports, 2.1 billion, were more than half of that total. What’s more, the recorded-music sector jumped by 17% year-over-year. Last year, of course, was a year without new music from Adele, who is already dominating the marketplace even before her album’s release.

UMG has dominated the U.K. market since Lucian Grainge (the honoree at last week’s City of Hope Spirit of Life gala, which broke fundraising records) was running the show, and the momentum has continued unabated under David Joseph’s capable leadership. Both Warner and Sony have been in rebuilding mode, and both are gaining marketshare under Max Lousada and Jason Iley, respectively, though UMG remains well in front with 35% to Sony’s 22% and Warner’s 19%. In the U.S., meanwhile, Universal is at 39%, Sony 27% and WMG 16%. (The U.K. indie labels collectively have a bigger slice of the pie than their U.S. counterparts because of geography and more concentrated media.) The U.K. companies have been fertile breeding grounds for executive talent as well, so much so that Brits now run three U.S.-based major labels: Rob Stringer at Columbia, Steve Barnett at Capitol and Peter Edge at RCA. Interestingly, all three came up through the ranks of the Sony system, though Barnett has spent the bulk of his career in the States. Additionally, SYCO’s Simon Cowell, who just re-upped with Sony for an additional six-year stint, is a looming presence in both markets, as is the company’s President, Sonny Takhar.

Three big U.K. acts have albums coming in the next few weeks—SYCO’s One Direction (11/13), XL’s Adele (11/20), both through Columbia in the U.S., and Parlophone’s Coldplay (12/4)—and the three releases are all but certain to tower over the field through the holidays. The sales and streaming explosion will clearly be led by Adele, whose lead single, “Hello,” is bigger than anything we’ve seen in the market for a very long time. It’s outselling the #2 record, Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” seven to one at presstime—and the gap is widening daily.

Adele is in a class by herself. What other current artist could inspire over a half-million American fans to buy a new album before they even hear it, in parallel with dozens of other countries around the world. Clearly, she’s adored like no other artist of the current era, and her return satisfies a widespread and longstanding hunger for something undeniably real from an artist the whole world trusts to deliver powerful, universally relatable emotion. Adele’s appeal is imbued with such humanity that it stands out in sharp relief from the surrounding noise. She’s the antithesis of the American pop artists who attempt to dominate pop culture through social networking and high-profile marketing campaigns with the resulting magazine covers and TV appearances, as we’ve seen with the likes of Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Drake, The Weeknd and Bieber. Unlike the rest, Adele isn’t seen as a brand but as a female archetype. Among her superstar contemporaries, only Taylor Swift comes close to sharing these traits.

As her Rolling Stone cover portrait strikingly suggests —with Adele staring piercingly yet enigmatically at the camera—this is classic old-school underplay that recalls the glory days of album rock in the 1970s, when artists retained an air of mystery, sharing little of themselves with the media. It’s the polar opposite of the American pop divas Katy, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Taylor, who compete at the highest level for media bandwidth.

This force of nature has hit the release schedule like a tsunami. When it became clear Adele was dropping on 11/20, the 1D release scheduled for that date was moved up a week to this Friday (11/13), putting the group against Bieber and potentially depriving him of a #1 debut. The news had an even more dramatic impact on the Rihanna project; the album, originally set for 11/20, now may not come at all this year. Coldplay, trying to figure out how to avoid getting creamed, has locked in on 12/4, hoping 25 has a slow enough week to enable the band’s album to edge it out. Beyoncé’s track record suggests that she too could conceivably unseat Adele with an early-December release, but it now appears that her album won’t arrive until 2016, though the reasons behind the decision are unclear. Given his single-mindedness, Kanye West probably isn’t as preoccupied with Adele as the above-mentioned acts, but he’s shown little interest of late in making mass-appeal records, so it’s highly unlikely that a late-Q4 album would contend for #1.


2015 IS NASHVILLE’S YEAR: The country format has been brewing this perfect storm for some time, with big hits for Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Zac Brown Band, Little Big Town, and others, leading up to this week’s CMAs, which gave Nashville its most mainstream moment yet. Chris Stapleton’s triple-trophy haul and genre-busting performance with Justin Timberlake reactivated his previously dormant album, which dropped in May, and rocketed it to #1, selling 60k+ in a matter of hours, while Eric Church’s sneak-attack release flew to #2 within the same time span.

This week’s album chart is suddenly topped by three country sets (Stapleton, Church and Carrie Underwood), Nashville releases crowd the upper reaches of iTunes, and the Grammy buzz on Hunt, LBT and other Nashville acts is deafening. Would these same acts have made this kind of mainstream noise a year ago? It’s doubtful.

The Apple Music spot starring Kenny Chesney, meanwhile, underscored this moment of commercial convergence. All of which begs the question of how the Nashville majors will cross these acts from Country to mainstream radio. The pressure is now on Nashville labels to take Pop promo for their acts under their own control. Or will they wait for Scott Borchetta to do it first?

MIDYEAR VINYL TOP 50
The world is turning at 33 RPM. (7/26a)
PAUL GETS BACK
Hit series doesn't let us down. (7/26a)
HITS LIST IN GLORIOUS
BLACK-AND-WHITE
The inner circle of Outer Limits (7/26a)
MIDYEAR SONG ACTIVITY & STREAMS
Olivia's in the driver's seat. (7/26a)
THE NEW KID IN TOWN
Thunder from Down Under (7/26a)
NEW & DEVELOPING ARTISTS
From tender shoots to mighty oaks.
MARKETSHARE MANIA
Let's do the numbers.
DELTA VARIANT
It is not the name of a Henry Miller novel.
IS IT TIME FOR ANOTHER ROCK STORY?
Could be. Dunno.
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