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NEAR TRUTHS: GRANDE, GRAMMY, GRAND TOTALS

GRANDE SLAM: Ariana Grande has landed the biggest album bow of her career, 355k first week/700k+ RTD, the biggest by any act since October and the biggest by a solo female since Taylor Swift’s blockbuster in 2017. Monte Lipman’s Republic star continues to show she’s cracked the code of the streaming marketplace, dominating the Spotify and Apple charts and earning streams achieved by few artists outside the hip-hop realm. Moreover, she’s making the best and most assured work of her career. The way that she and Scooter Braun have navigated the shifting waters of the biz, strengthened and redefined her brand and launched her into the very highest tier of stardom is the success story of the last year, and an object lesson for the many pop acts trying to make a dent in the new world order. Braun, for his part, is having a very big moment.

All of which makes Ariana’s absence from the Grammys all the more glaring. Her Twitter beef with Ken Ehrlich just prior to the telecast showed how wide the gulf had become between several top acts and the Grammys, a perception intensified by Ehrlich’s comments in the press about hip-hop. Between heavy-handed attempts by show creators to control what material artists perform and the Grammy Secret Committee (GSC)’s shortchanging top stars in the nominations, they’ve now managed to alienate Ari (who pointedly stayed home, though she won a Pop trophy), Taylor, Ed Sheeran, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar and, most recently, Drake, who got his mic cut off as he appeared to deliver a critique of the institution during his acceptance speech. It’s clear that there’s still a big disconnect to be addressed.

Yet Ehrlich and Jack Sussman managed to deliver a show that showcased overwhelmingly female artists, was largely entertaining and moved the needle in the marketplace. Icons like Diana and Dolly—both in their 70s—and mainstream superstar Gaga helped keep that adult audience tuned in. CBS exec Sussman’s fingerprints were particularly evident as regards upper-demo viewership; he’s clearly taken the lessons of successful country-music awards shows to heart.

STEPPED UP: 2019 certainly looks like the Year of the Woman, what 
with Ariana coming out of the gate with a dominant release and a Grammys show that was overwhelmingly and winningly female. Alicia, Gaga, Cardi B, Kacey Musgraves, Camila Cabello, Dua Lipa, H.E.R., Brandi Carlile, Miley Cyrus, Janelle Monáe, Dolly, Diana, J.Lo, Katy, Maren, Chloe x Halle—women ruled the screen for almost the entirety of the broadcast, with just a few exceptions. This was no mere pendulum swing in response to last year’s criticism and the ferment of #MeToo/#TimesUp; a genuinely impressive wave of female acts made this new development feel more organic than political.

MUSIC’S BIGGEST SIGH OF RELIEF: The consensus, following this year’s Grammys, is that Ehrlich and Sussman managed to keep the many conflicting forces in balance. Before the show, the labels had begun to feel that the Grammys had become irrelevant, particularly for the young demo that doesn’t watch the tube. (Add to this the fact that the labels have been asked to foot the bill for hundreds of thousands of dollars for artist appearances—even though CBS gives the Grammys some $20m yearly.) Certainly, interest remains among the adult viewership that, for the most part, doesn’t stream with anything approaching the frequency of the supercharged 12-24 demo. Threading the needle to make a show that balances the huge number of competing agendas and remains entertaining and current while not losing the older viewers is diabolically tough to begin with—even before you factor in the often-damaging interventions of the Secret Committee.

Indeed, Nashville was a major part of the show, with Musgraves, Carlile and Dan + Shay making a splash, and country acts giving big support to Dolly. It’s hard to remember a Grammy telecast in recent years with Nashville playing such a prominent role. It was a particularly memorable night for Music City management heavy and Sandbox Entertainment chief Jason Owen, who reps Musgraves, nominees/Dolly-medley champs Little Big Town and presenter Kelsea Ballerini and co-manages Dan + Shay with Scooter Braun.

Will there be a halo effect for any of the highest-profile winner/performers, and if so, how big? Kacey Musgraves is surely on the marketplace radar following a strong performance and Album of the Year and Country wins, but whether this project will expand beyond a blip of a week or two remains to be seen. Her Golden Hour (MCA Nashville) was at only 312k RTD before the show. What she—and the other standouts from the show with room to grow—most need is a radio hit; making a substantial mark with airplay can in turn drive streaming. Capitol has picked up the promo baton for pop radio, with iHeart leading the way at Country; John Sykes has been championing the artist for months. Given Musgraves’ history and the lack of support from the Country format, the project undoubtedly faces a slugfest at radio, despite many people considering it one of the finest albums of the year. (It’s noteworthy that Musgraves was inked by the very forward-looking Luke Lewis, who also signed Chris Stapleton.)

Musgraves is one of two Grammy performers who were outside the Top 20 last week and will be in it this week, the other being Carlile, whose album is now at only 134k. There’s obviously a market for the Will Botwin/Mark Cunningham-managed singer/songwriter, who has conquered the Americana world; can her team capitalize on her powerful Grammy look and deliver a radio hit? “The Joke” has reached Top 5 at AAA/Non-Comm, which has a very small but active listenership.

H.E.R. is the other show standout with an opportunity to connect. The young RCA artist made a strong impression at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy extravaganza, where Kevin Weatherly, Michael Martin and Tom Poleman saw her perform; adds followed quickly at Weatherly’s AMP and Martin’s Alice, with some other super-important call letters being buzzed about and Riccitelli getting ready to rumble.

Of the breakout performer/winners from Grammy night, this R&B artist/songwriter sounds closest to what’s already working on the streaming charts. Indeed, the artist has an RTD project total of 795k  U.S. and 1.2m worldwide on 21 songs with little to no radio—a huge number—and racking up 1 billion+ streams.

It seems very likely H.E.R. labelmate Childish Gambino would have had another big marketplace spike had he appeared on the stage with his powerfully political ROTY/SOTY winner “This Is America.” But it was telling that Gambino (aka king of all media Donald Glover) didn’t consider a Grammy appearance necessary. The big wins for Childish and H.E.R. and the winning perfs by the latter, able host Alicia Keys and stellar guest Miley Cyrus (who will be dropping new music soon) added up to another solid Grammy year for Peter Edge’s Team RCA. Edge, who got a warm mention in H.E.R.’s speech, classically developed the artist with MBK Entertainment’s Jeff Robinson over many years.

Dua Lipa’s BNA win and innovative duet with St. Vincent gave the new Warner Bros. regime of Aaron Bay-Schuck and Tom Corson an adrenaline rush. WBR U.K. chief Phil Christie and A&R head Joe Kentish get much credit for U.K. signing Dua (she’s sold 3.2m albums globally). Dan + Shay’s trophy and great perf, meanwhile, was all great news for Espo and Warner Nashville; the duo’s Pop radio run on “Tequila,” now Top 20, is being handled by Mike Chester’s WBR promo squad, as Burbank gets marketshare on the project (now 656k RTD).

Gaga’s “Shallow” (1.75m), which didn’t win in the big categories but which she performed on the show, jumped from 4.3m U.S. streams on Saturday to 6.4 on Monday. Meanwhile, as the Oscars loom—with an expected Gaga-Bradley duet that’s closer to the familiar version of the song—there are whispers of a new Gaga album on the way. A Star Is Born’s ST is now at 1.26m U.S. and just under 4m worldwide.

This year also marked Neil Portnow’s final rodeo, as strivers within and without the Recording Academy’s power elite maneuver for his handsome gig. Most people were surprised Portnow even did a speech after last year’s debacle but in his remarks he acknowledged his “step up” gaffe and was suitably contrite and upbeat (despite a rather long presentation, we note, he was never in danger of getting played off). Though not an especially strong leader, Portnow has been a consensus builder. What changes will the new Grammy leadership bring?

THE NEW METRIC: By the current chart-keeping yardstick, Ariana’s first-week total on thank u, next is 355k, a very big number, to be sure, especially compared to the 232k she bowed with just six months ago. But that sum doesn’t tell the real story about how big she is. Increasingly, as artists drop singles that enjoy massive streams ahead of their full-length releases, the biz is looking at the RTD number, which includes streams on all of the album’s tracks to date. By that metric, Ariana’s total by the end of her first week (thanks to mega-singles like “thank u, next” and “7 rings”) is in excess of 700k. The RTD is an increasingly vital criterion, even as the week-to-date number informs the charts.

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