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I.B. BAD: 2016 IS OFF TO A WILD AND CRAZY START

FEAR OF FLYING: After months of indecision caused in part by a lingering case of Adele phobia, Rihanna finally pulled the trigger, releasing her Roc Nation album ANTI on 1/29, following an extremely unconventional, mismanaged rollout, triggered on Wednesday (1/27) by a “leak” on Tidal. It would appear that Team Rihanna, in an effort to breathe life into Jay Z’s badly listing premium streaming service, of which she’s a part owner, not only broke street date in slipping the album to Tidal, but initiated a giveaway of the entire album, accompanied by a 60-day Tidal free trial. This puzzling move served to upstage the Samsung tie-in and quite possibly take Target—which has a policy of not stocking titles following an exclusive—out of the mix. All of the above problems for manager Jay Brown seem certain to cannibalize the album’s first-week, digital-only sales, which had been forecast in the 150k range prior to this bizarre sequence.

Rihanna is coming off two straight commercially disappointing singles, and most feel her new single “Work” falls short of her best efforts. Nonetheless, she’s a bona fide superstar and a name brand, this stunt has put her all over the news and she’ll be getting massive media exposure, with extensive radio and video play. These factors, along with her upcoming Grammys appearance and Jay Z’s considerable clout, kept Samsung and that $30m sponsorship deal in place. The exposure should also boost ticket sales for her tour, which have been good but not great in the early going. But the tour, not the album, is where the big money is. In any case, it’s unfortunate that the first album on her Westbury Road label has been beset by so many missteps. 

Rihanna isn’t the only artist to have suffered from Adele phobia. But with that fear beginning to lessen, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Drake, Zayn Malik (whose first single has just gone to radio and is being extremely well-received), Kanye West and their teams have been throwing darts at the calendar targeting potential release dates for their respective albums. West appears to have settled on 2/12, with Madison Square Garden booked for 2/11, but speculation continues about the other superstars’ plans. Mars and Beyoncé will get a massive look on 2/7, when they join Coldplay for the Super Bowl halftime show, and striking while the iron is hot would seem to be a viable option for either or both. Many believe Drake, a rabid Toronto Raptors fan, will drop a track from Views From the 6 around the NBA All-Star Game, which is taking place in the Raptors’ arena on 2/14.

HOT & COLD: Chris Stapleton crossed over in the eyes of consumers the instant Justin Timberlake joined him at November’s CMAs, and there has been no drop-off in sales on Traveller (Mercury Nashville) since the initial eruption, with word of mouth fueling the momentum between the initial national TV exposure and 1/16, when he performed on SNL. The album is averaging 30k a week and broke 800k last week. 

The latest Country radio hits poised to cross to Pop are Cam’s “Burning House” (Arista Nashville/RCA), which is being worked by Joe Riccitelli’s team, and Thomas Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man” (Big Machine), with Republic’s Charlie Walk managing the attack. Most Pop programmers aren’t likely to add two Country records—which will emerge as the crossover hit?

David Foster’s UMG deal as head of Verve is said to be up in the near future, and industry observers are wondering what his next move will be. The UMG experiment that put Foster in charge of Verve as a standalone label wasn’t as fruitful as hoped for, and its subsequent move under the Interscope umbrella has failed to generate any heat. Foster has repeatedly said he’s a producer, not a label head.

In management action, Live Nation has acquired the management of The Weeknd for $20m, and there’s lots of chatter inside Live Nation about one of its managers poaching an emerging act from a colleague.

THE AGENCY WARS: For years, it was believed that William Morris’ music department was a distant second to CAA’s, but the gap is closing. The two powerful booking agencies have entered into a state of outright hostilities and are now going after each other’s personnel and clients—the gloves are off. Maroon 5, managed by Jordan Feldstein, has switched from CAA to WME. Feldstein has had a hot 18 months, signing A$AP Rocky and Miguel to his management roster. WME will have to find Levine good roles and deliver on privates, as CAA provided a windfall for M5 in that sector. CAA’s Robert Norman is widely viewed as the king of privates, having generated $150m for his clients last year.

Lady Gaga recently left WME and signed with CAA in all areas, while Beyoncé recently switched to CAA from ICM. It’s fair to say that there has rarely been as much movement on the agency front as there is now. Much more to come on this issue.

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Joe Ravitch, Jimmy Iovine, Tidal, Ari Emanuel, Larry Rudolph and Brian Manning.

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