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NEW RELEASES:
SWIFT UPS THE ANTE
Does she ever. (4/20a)
HITS LIST ENTERS
PLAYOFF MODE
Will scoring records be broken this week? (4/19a)
HOUSE PASSES BILL THAT COULD RESULT IN U.S. TIKTOK BAN
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill... (4/20a)
BLACKSTONE ASSEMBLING $1.5B BID FOR HIPGNOSIS SONGS FUND
A white-knuckle moment (4/20a)
THE COUNT: COACHELLA, FROM THE COUCH
The coziest way to experience the fest (4/19a)
THE NEW UMG
Gosh, we hope there are more press releases.
TIKTOK BANNED!
Unless the Senate manages to make this whole thing go away, that is.
THE NEW HUGE COUNTRY ACT
No, not that one.
TRUMP'S CAMPAIGN PLAYLIST
Now 100% unlicensed!
Music City
SHE'S A BIG GIRL NOW
4/19/24

Maybe you start at the end to make sense of the beginning. “Clara Bow,” the opening track on Taylor Swift’s wildly anticipated new album, traces the crystal in circles until the “next young heroine” can run, screaming at the same tone as the expensive glass. The lovely, ethereal “Bow”—which praises the authenticity and freshness of the newest young diva—also invokes Stevie Nicks, as well as a meta Taylor, all soon to be emulated and replaced. Ahhh, the wages of the female supernova.

Once upon a time, Swift probably filled the margins of notebooks with snatches of Nicks’ lyrics the same way young girls have tattooed their own schoolbooks with Swift’s lines. Making real life reflect dreams, The Tortured Poets Department opens not with a song, but a poem by no less than the double Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee. “For T — and me...” weighs the delusions, realities and truths of being a female artist in the throes of love and creative transformation, never quite blaming, but utterly clear-eyed.

And so it is with TTPD, which sifts through seemingly an entire lifetime of romantic—and on the teasingly taunting “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” business—(mis)adventures. It is canny, measured, confessional. Having spent most of her career emptying her diaries into collections of songs, the 14-time Grammy winner delivers 17 songs that merge her recent work with the personal pearl diving that’s made her the voice of a generation.

At times, a bit of a fluttering mess, but ultimately, utterly true to the music and woman driving its life. People may obsess playing tic-tac-toe of the supporting characters, but what matters: she’s honed in on melodies that swirl around the listener, drawing them closer—and found an edge.


That is part of what compels and repels: that game of pin-the-tail-on-the-paramour. Remember, this is a young woman who brought Carly Simon, rock’s ultimate secret keeper, out for a vampy “You’re So Vain” at Gillette Stadium, so the drama of mystery is a commodity she understands. But there’s also the matter of privacy, of keeping something for yourself. Where is the line of owed versus offered? Sharing with fans versus devoured by entitled hordes?

“I just found these people try to save you—because they hate you,” she half-whispers on “But Daddy I Love Him.” There is duplicity everywhere, those who say one thing, but feel another. And for a barely teen chasing the dream, there are the stains of how she came into adulthood, which she concedes later in the same song, “Growing up precocious sometimes means not growing up at all.

Just as Midnights and Folklore broke from the sleek pop gleam and almost self-mutilating lyrics people craved, it was only a matter of time until Swift spun it all into a superTay cocktail of expansive songwriting with hooks that embedded and confessional lyrics that clawed to the bone. Tortured Poet’s delivers on those, profoundly.

Beyond the wiseass tweaking of compounding the declaration “But daddy I love him” with the checkmate announcement of a pregnancy that isn’t (“You should see your faces”), she reminds people that it is her life. HER life, full stop. She will live it on her terms.

Agency is something women can’t take as a given. Not anymore. Beyond the political restrictions of a woman’s autonomy over her body, there’s the trend of men punching random women in the face—and running. So to think a female can think, act, believe for one’s self?

“I’m telling you something right now, I’d rather burn my whole life down / Than listen to one more second of all this / bitching and moaning / I’ll tell you one thing about my good name / It’s mine alone to disgrace / I don’t cater to all these vipers dressed in empath’s clothing.”

It’s a siren’s claim on her own life; crash on these rocks if you choose. “Fresh From The Slammer,” “The Alchemy,” “Guilty As Sin?” all make the case for pick who you want, sleep with who you please, feel the hard shudder of release. “Down Bad” metaphors an alien abduction with a lover who ghosts, her own rage at herself for wanting what she wants—and dropping F-bombs like $100s at the craps table. Indeed, the gently churning “Fortnight,” which opens the album, features a pensive Post Malone as the man she had a raging affair with; now coping with his and his wife’s presence in her neighborhood is triggering.

Who does one trust? Who do you believe? People say so many things, and yet—here she is shards of “loml” (love/loss of my life) and other promises, caving into her feelings like razors contrasting the lullingly tender, piano-anchored arrangement. “I Can Fix Him (No, Really I Can),” with its a sinister, minor key, suggests the doomed delusion of the vulgarities clearly seen, while “The Smallest Man In The World” has a formidable double entendre to the punch that lands as much in the groin as in the details, like the confessional “You said ‘normal girls are boring,’” as the arrangement builds to almost fugue-like fury before receding into the ultimate, intimate damnation, “I’ll forget you, but never forgive.”

“I Can Do It With A Broken Heart” may be the skeleton key to it all. Closest to a classic pep club Taylor single, it juxtaposes what’s seen onstage with what’s under her skin: pain, depression, rage. But the propulsive, Casio-keyboard-driven arrangement suggests a euphoria that blinds as she hits a double chorus that proclaims, “Cause I’m a real tough kid, I can handle my shit ... lights camera bitch smile, even when you want to die ... I was grinning like I’m winning, I was hitting my marks, cause I can do it with a broken heart,” before painting the true state of mind, “I’m so depressed I act like it’s my birthday, every day,” and later, “I cry a lot, but I’m so productive.”

Beyond the who’s who—and there are plenty of Frankenparamours, amalgams of the men in her life behind the metaphors and references—powerful truths about being a woman at any age, but especially coming of age in this time of social media and instant judgment drive Poets. A cascade of reckoning, not just with cads, but what it means to be single, successful and in the spotlight, judged without being known and finding your own truth in the glare, Swift throws down what can only be known by living it. Equally radical—on “The Manuscript,” one of the bonus tracks—she recounts in script form the conversations that led to the entire full-life examination, from the older man who shouldn’t have gone there to dating boys her own age “with dartboards on the backs of their doors,” the man’s deflection of blame because she “was so wise beyond her years, everything had been above board” and her own in that later moment realization, “she wasn’t sure.”

It’s not an excuse, but leveling up. She is here now. It had all happened. She endured it, invited it, explored it, felt it. But as the strings lowed, and the keys rippled, she knew, “And at last / She knew what the agony had been for.”

To get caught up in the name game is to miss a supreme cri de coeur, one that allows for mistakes, chasing one’s hormones or heart, finding that wanting it to work won’t make it work. For Swift, agency is the ultimate destination. That agency includes a sense of humor about it all, whether announcing she and the tattooed golden retriever aren’t Dylan Thomas and Patti Smith at the Chelsea Hotel on the title track or joking about outrunning one’s past or regrets with Florence Welch on the screechy, slightly crazed “Florida,” an escape of tinny elation and little substance.

For a serious work of art, and this is perhaps the album stans have waited for, Swift delivers an album where she weighs and measures all that has happened. An honesty about what she wanted and why, and even knowing better, exonerates the humanity within any woman chasing a dream or desire, but it also offers freedom from the person people expect her to be.

As is Taylor’s way, she holds people accountable with direct telling. But it’s damning by the details, not calling names for the sake of names. In her “summation,” the written afterword, she pleads temporary insanity from the unnatural way her life has been shaped, but she also honors and owns it all:

“It was a mutual manic phase.
It was self harm.
It was house and then cardiac arrest.
A smirk creeps onto the poet’s face
Because it’s the worst men that I write the best.

And so I enter into evidence
My tarnished coat of arms
My muses, acquired like bruises
My talismans and charms
The tick, tick, tick of love bombs
My veins of pitchblack ink.
All’s fair in love and poetry.”

As “The Manuscript” starts to fade, she confesses in her softest voice, “Now and then, I re-read the manuscript / But the story isn’t mine / anymore.”

MONUMENT RECORDS UPS TWO
4/15/24

Monument Records has upped Casey Thomas to VP of marketing and commercial partnerships and Ansley Neeleyto manager of marketing and creative.

In her new role, Thomas will continue to oversee marketing, publicity, creative, digital and streaming, while Neeley will step into project management and continue her work in supporting creative and publicity efforts.

“Casey has worked tirelessly in support of Monument and our artist roster over the years she has been with us. Her leadership and relationship skills along with her one-of-a-kind marketing mind are beyond impressive and she will excel in this role,” said Monument’s GM Katie McCartney.

She continues, “Ansley has leaned in and worked so hard to grow and learn all aspects of marketing and promotion. This is a natural progression for her and this elevation is well-deserved.”

Boston native Thomas joined Monument as manager of PR in 2018 from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum before being elevated to publicist and most recently director of marketing, publicity and creative.

Neeley, who moved to Nashville in 2019, began her career at The GreenRoom PR as a junior publicist before joining Monument in 2021 as the label’s promotion coordinator, later adding in marketing coordinator responsibilities. Most recently, she became more involved in overseeing and developing the roster’s creative elements.

Thomas and Neely look forward to ignoring our emails.

JOSH HOGE RE-UPS WITH VERSE 2 MUSIC AND SMP NASHVILLE
4/15/24

Sony Music Publishing Nashville and Verse 2 Music have renewed their global publishing deal with Josh Hoge.

The award-winning, multi-platinum hitmaker recently had chart success with Kane Brown’s #1 hit “Bury Me in Georgia,” which was a top-performing track at the 2023 SESAC Music Awards, and his crossover #1 hit “Thank God,” which was named SESAC’s 2023 Country Song of the Year.

Hoge’s latest credits include Zac Brown Band’s “Tie Up,” which debuted at #24 on the Country Airplay chart. He also has more forthcoming cuts this year with Brown as well as Chris Young, Jelly Roll and Kameron Marlowe, among others.

“When Kane and I started Verse 2 Music, we wanted to foster long-term relationships with writers and artists that desire to make music history, and Josh is a prime example of this. Delivering a Song of the Year within the first deal proves our visions align. We look forward to continuing an already successful relationship,” said Verse 2 Partner Kent Earls.

“Josh is a creator who is always carving his own lane. He’s passionate, enthusiastic and delivers great songs again and again. We couldn’t be happier to continue this successful relationship with Josh, Kent and Kane,” added SMP Nashville CEO Rusty Gaston.

“I’ve always been a writer that’s loved when I’ve been able to be exactly who I am and create exactly the way I want, and Kent and team have always let me be myself, which I think that’s a big reason to our success together,” said Hoge.

Having earned a Grammy nom and a CMA nom for his work on Young’s “Think of You” and “I’m Comin’ Over,” respectively, Hoge has also penned hits like Brown’s “Cool Again” and “Used to Love You Sober,” as well as “One Thing Right” with Marshmello.

Photo credit: Peyton Hoge

OUTSIDERS, OUTLIERS AND NEW STARS RISING: ACM NOMS BREAK GROUND
4/9/24

By Holly Gleason

See the full list of nominations here.

In spite of the obvious—Luke Combs has eight nominations across six categories, including Entertainer, Album, Song and Single of the Year; Morgan Wallen receives six in six categories, including Entertainer, Album, Single and Male; Chris Stapleton takes five, including Entertainer, Album and Male; and Jon Loba’s wildly impactful, color-outside-the-lines signings Jelly Roll and Lainey Wilson dominate the major categories with four and five nominations, respectively—the story of the Academy of Country Music Awards 2024 nominees is the emerging artists. Beyond the seemingly ubiquitous Jelly Roll being a first-time nominee, four more new names score multiple major nominations, and two serious Nashville outliers are on the list.

Megan Moroney marks country music’s first serious out-of-the-gate female impactor since Maren Morris exploded with “My Church.” A songwriter with a tart way of twisting the truth, with her mid-century sex appeal, social-media savvy and willingness to spill her own vulnerability, the Georgia-born breakout receives the most female nominations with six. Moroney lands both Female Artist and New Female, as well as the highly coveted Song of the Year as artist and performer for “Tennessee Orange.” In addition, “Tennessee Orange” snags a Visual Media nom, and her duet with six-time Group of the Year Old Dominion, “Can’t Break Up Now,” is competing for Music Event.

Warner Nashville’s Cody Johnson, Cris Lacy and Ben Kline’s breakout hardline Texas country force—and recent HITS cover victim—is right behind with five noms. Beyond Male Artist and his first Entertainer of the Year, Johnson’s Leather earns an Album nod, and “The Painter” receives a prestigious Song slot, while “Human” lands in Visual Media.

Jordan Davis, the perennially likable everyman from Louisiana, pulls a creative trifecta. He scored Single, Song and Visual Media nominations for his life-spinning, life-spanning “Next Thing You Know,” which shows the power of a song that hits people in the heart.

Parker McCollum, an ACM New Male Artist winner, also connected with voters from the creative space. His sensuous, antihero country is epitomized by “Burn It Down,” which took home both a Single and Visual Media nod for the smoldering tension-builder.

On the outlier tip, Zach Bryan keeps making his presence felt with fans and voters without courting the traditional gatekeepers. The 2023 New Male—who’s been playing stadiums and seeing Wallen-level streaming numbers—is nominated in the Artist-Songwriter category against Stapleton, Wallen and Big Loud’s other cornerstone forces ERNEST and HARDY. Equally seismic, his Grammy-winning duet with Kacey Musgraves, “I Remember Everything,” competes in Music Event, demonstrating the impact one can have without terrestrial radio.

Tyler Childers, a hard country/bluegrass outsider, saw eschewing the traditional industry path as a way to preserve his integrity. With three Grammy nominations, including the only country-leaning clip in Best Music Video, “In Your Love” struck a chord as both a classic wedding song and as a love-who-you-love-affirming video, which portrays two coal miners tentatively finding each other. Co-produced by acclaimed author and environmental/LGBTQ+ activist Silas House, the clip, which earns a Visual Media nom, shows the humanity of two men in the South facing impossible odds, self-acceptance and a death from black lung disease.

Powerful stuff.

But that has been a signature for the Academy from its beginning. Started as a rebuke to Nashville’s more proper Country Music Association Awards, the West Coast-based organization was more honky-tonk, Texas/Bakersfield and rough-edged. Many performers won their first—or only—major awards with the organization, which was founded by Bill and Fran Boyd, stewarded by producer-director Gene Weed and delivered to networks by Dick Clark. In keeping with that tradition, so many deserving artists are emerging as serious contenders.

It’s also worth noting shifts in several categories. Female, which remains a trouble spot at radio and a topic of conversation for nearly a decade, sees truly unique individuals in the category. Whether it’s blue-collar strength siren Wilson; breakout Moroney; pop-excavating Kelsea Ballerini, whose Rolling Up The Welcome Mat (For Good) is the sole female Album nominee; genre-smearing international favorite Musgraves; or hardscrabble journeywoman Ashley McBryde, each nominee is a world-class writer telling her truth in a way that speaks for women in all phases of the struggle of just being female. Equally powerful is their ability to be singular in a cookie-cutter industry determined to roll baby dolls off the conveyor belt.

This year Male shares some of that deep individuality. Jelly Roll’s ardent emo-traditional take on the genre is as much Haggard as it is absorbing hip-hop rhythms into the flow. Between Wallen’s updated Bro-country, Combs’ Every(young)man, Johnson’s resolute Texas and Stapleton’s Southern rock/soul that feels like Adele’s Kentucky cousin, the nominees easily stand apart.

There are still hiccups. Wondering why or when Kane Brown, who earns his second Entertainer nomination, will be recognized as the force he is, seeing Duo of the Year nominee The War And Treaty being the only other Black artists nominated or Tracy Chapman’s seminal “Fast Car” in Song as a Black woman creator in the competition and realizing as country music moves in so many directions, it’s clear progress is a process.

Much will be made of stats, streams, weeks at #1, all the analytics people embrace to quantify something that defies why country matters, especially at the Academy of Country Music. Always an outlier, the org has long focused on the artists and songs hitting the sweet spot for people often derided or dismissed by the media centers. Offering big swagger after a long week, deep commiseration after a pounding heartbreak or a rebel yell when the job was done, the unthinkable achieved or the girl said yes, it was a different lingua franca. ACM country was brash, bold and unrepentant. Hopefully enough to lure Beyoncé, who’s also exploring and blurring some of these realties, to the show.

As a true witness to a musical style that has long been America’s biggest niche—and largest radio format—the Academy often held the line for those even the country institutions weren’t sure about. With its move to Amazon’s Prime Video, making it country’s first livestreaming awards show, the ACM has moved into new realms. In its second year at the Dallas CowboysFord Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, new ground can and probably will be broken.

A GOLDEN NIGHT IN THE BIG APPLE
4/5/24

On the heels of dropping his new EP, Songs in the Gravel, Dylan Gossett (Big Loud Texas/Mercury/Republic) hit the Big Apple for the first time to perform two shows at the Mercury Lounge as part of his sold-out debut headlining tour, No Better Time. Adding to a monumental night, Gossett’s team surprised him with his first plaque, marking the gold certification of his breakout hit, “Coal,” which has logged 150m+ streams RTD and is currently in the Top 20 at Country radio. Seen just before handing out goodie bags full of coal are (l-r) Range Media Partners Director of A&R Federico Morris, Homebase Management’s Sam Katz, Mercury Records Prez Tyler Arnold, Gossett, and Mercury Manager of A&R Jake Levensohn and EVP Alex Coslov.

WCM LAUNCHES STRAIGHT TO THE HEART
4/4/24

Warner Chappell Music has unveiled the Straight to the Heart project, a pioneering initiative aimed at simplifying the release of demos from publishers' catalogs.

This project promises to boost distribution and revenue for songwriters and streamline how demos are launched. It represents a collaborative effort between songwriters, publishers, the American Federation of Musicians, distributors and singers to bring each demo to the public.

The project's inaugural five-track EP, showcasing demos for hits by George Strait and Kenny Chesney, includes tracks like “Carrying Your Love With Me” (Jeff Stevens and Steve Bogard) and “It Just Comes Natural” (Marv Greenand Jim Collins).

WCM Nashville President/CEO Ben Vaughn said: “‘Straight to the Heart’ celebrates the creative journey behind each song but also opens up new opportunities for songwriters, publishers, and fans to enjoy the original demo versions of their favorite songs. We've collaborated with songwriters and partners to make these original versions available for the world to enjoy."

Seen above wearing their hearts on their sleeves are (l-r) Vaughn, Stevens, Green, Bogard, WCM’s Alexa Morris and Kayce Russell.

Photo credit: Courtesy of WCM

BMLG WELCOMES BENSMAN AND KERR
4/3/24

BMLG, a subsidiary of HYBE America, has bolstered the team with the addition of Dexter Bensman as senior director of digital marketing and Rebecca Kerr as manager of communications.

Bensman, who will report to COO Mike Rittberg, was previously director of digital marketing at Brown Sellers Brown Management, where he helped formulate digital-marketing, DSP and social-media strategies for Quartz Hill Records and Stone Country Records and served as Innovo Management’s VP of music management.

Kerr, who will report to BMLG Head of Communications Quinn Kaemmer, joins the team from The Oriel Company, where she was a publicity coordinator working with acts like Old Dominion, Jason Isbell and Riley Green.

Said BMLG Chairman/CEO Scott Borchetta: “We are so excited to welcome Dexter and Rebecca to the Big Machine team. Dexter has an impressive background in digital marketing and I look forward to seeing him apply his expertise and elevate our artists. The addition of Rebecca to our team has been a long time coming; she was supposed to be one of our interns in 2020, but the pandemic had other plans, so we’re extra-excited to have her onboard now.”

Seen above are (l-r) Bensman and Kerr.

THE BLACK CROWES KICK OFF TOUR WITH A SURPRISE GUEST
4/3/24

On 4/2, The Black Crowes kicked off their Happiness Bastards Tour in Nashville, Tenn. with a sold-out night at the Grand Ole Opry House.

During the set, which included new tracks and iconic songs from their 40-year career, the Mark DiDia-repped rockers surprised fans by bringing out Grammy-winning country star Lainey Wilson to perform their collaboration “Wilted Rose” from their new record, Happiness Bastards, and the band’s 1991 hit “She Talks to Angels.”

Next up on the 35-city trek, the band will hit markets like Atlanta, L.A. Seattle, Chicago, NY and more before wrapping their North American run in Philadelphia on 5/7. Meanwhile, their international run kicks off 5/14 in Manchester, U.K., at the O2 Apollo, making stops in London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Berlin and more before concluding the tour on 6/9 in Mérida at the STONE & MUSIC Festival.

For tour dates and tickets, click here.

Seen above feeling extra grateful security didn't let us in are (l-r) Chris Robinson, Wilson and Rich Robinson.

Photo credit: Erick Frost