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I.B. BAD: THE LIFEBLOOD

 

Let’s look at what’s breaking or has broken over the last year from the perspective of what’s hot in the streaming, sales and radio sectors. Rather than using Grammy Best New Artist favorites as the yardstick, we’re employing the old-school “show me the money” litmus test—because the breaking of new artists continues to be the name of the game.

We’re seeing a great many records—primarily from the hip-hop and R&B sectors—explode on streaming services, seemingly out of nowhere. With these artists, radio typically comes late to the party but gets on most of these songs eventually in hopes of shoring up its younger listenership, thus taking the artists to a new plateau of visibility. Video, too, helps translate streaming success to something more, as can a key sync or TV look. But despite what a certain uninformed, insufferable blogger has been spouting since the advent of Napster, nothing sells music and tickets like Pop radio smashes.

Of the artists who have risen to stardom in recent years, Island’s Shawn Mendes, with nearly 3m+ SPS on his two albums, with 600m streams on the second release, could serve as the quintessential example of the artist-development process during the last half decade—but the business has morphed considerably since his initial breakthrough with the exponential growth of Spotify, the advent of Apple Music and Amazon’s increased focus on streaming. Indeed, it’s remarkable how dramatically streaming, along with social media, is changing how we look at what’s happening in the marketplace.

The key criteria in assembling this list are (1) massive streaming, as with Post Malone; (2) sizable sales, as with Alessia Cara; and (3) sheer momentum, as with SZA. All the acts named below have big streaming numbers apart from Harry Styles, who conversely has sold more albums than any other artist on the list. For perspective, Harry’s album sales represent more than 50 % of his total SPS, compared to just 10% for Post.

Of the 21 relative newcomers in the YTD Top 50 Streaming Songs Chart (page 20), some will become career artists, while others will be among the one-hit wonders of the early streaming era. Time will tell who will fall into each grouping, but the following appear to have a shot at establishing staying power beyond that first hit.

THE NOW: This first group of acts has real momentum. Post Malone (Republic; 1.46m album SPS) is running away from the field in streaming, and new single “rockstar” is looking like a mega-smash as radio blows out. Khalid (RCA; 831k), like Mendes, is set up to become a career artist while still in his teens. SZA (TDE/RCA; 416k) is generating a deafening buzz; she is well on her way to being anointed as a crucial new voice of her generation. Logic (Def Jam; 598k) is putting out a positive and timely message, and people are responding in a big way. French Montana (333k) and 21 Savage (327k) are Epic’s latest hip-hop breakouts. And Harry Styles (Columbia; 580k) is a unique artist in several respects, starting with the startling difference between where he’s come from and where he’s going; no one could’ve guessed he’d be rock’s big hope in 2017.

LOCKED IN: Alessia Cara (Def Jam; 1.01m album SPS), DJ Khaled (Epic; 809k), Rae Sremmurd (Interscope; 2.06m combined on two albums) and Childish Gambino (Glassnote; 2.37m song SPS on the career-cementing “Redbone” and 600k on his latest LP) have a head start on the rest of the acts we’re looking at, and their big sales have propelled them into the mainstream.

ON THE VERGE: Although none of these artists has released an album this year, they’re worthy of consideration because of their impressive song SPS. With “Despacito,” Luis Fonsi (UMLE/Republic; 5.17m song SPS) had the song of the summer, and a culturally important one as well. How will he follow it up? Niall Horan (Capitol; 3.55m combined on two singles)—whose upcoming album is expected to debut at #1—and Liam Payne (Republic; 1.37m) are off to stellar starts in their solo careers. Julia Michaels (Republic; 2.42m) has made the transition from hit songwriter to solo artist, J Balvin (UMLE/Republic; 657k) is crossing with his new single, but if a superstar appears on the remix, as rumored, it could be huge.

NASHVILLE BREAKOUTS: If any of the following were to cross to Pop like Sam Hunt did, there could be a giant upside: Jon Pardi (UMG Nashville), Kane Brown (Sony Music Nashville), Brett Young (BMLG) and Brett Eldredge (WMG Nashville).

WHO’S NEXT? Playboi Carti (Interscope), 6lack (Interscope) and Russ (Columbia) are showing signs of breaking beyond Urban. Pop artists Dua Lipa (Warner Bros.) and Camila Cabello (Epic) are starting to look like they could go the distance with big hit singles.

NAMES IN THE RUMOR MILL: Gary Spangler, Joe Riccitelli, Lee Leipsner, Brenda Romano, Greg Marella, Rick Sackheim, Peter Gray, Royce Risser, Steve Hodges and Nick Petropoulos.

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