Universal Music Group U.K. has scored a legion of #1 albums in 2022, thanks in part to releases by British acts Years & Years, Bastille, Frank Turner, Blossoms, Florence + the Machine, Jamie T and Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott. Lewis Capaldi and Sam Smith have secured successful comebacks with #1 singles, with the latter staying at the top of the chart for four weeks with “Unholy” with Kim Petras. Earlier this year, Dave also enjoyed four weeks at the top of the chart with “Starlight.” 

In addition to the chart haul, label Chairman and CEO David Joseph points to wins at the BRITs—among them five for Polydor artists—and multiple releases in the Mercury Prize nominations. “The Mercury Prize nominations were something to celebrate: a fantastic and eclectic mix of records reflecting the diverse talent currently emerging in the U.K.,” he says. At Universal, four labels were represented with nods for albums by Sam Fender, Self Esteem, Yard Act and Jessie Buckley & Bernard Butler—all of whom were included on the list for the first time.

Another win for Joseph this year was the launch of UMG’s 12-month Women in A&R program, which gives employees an opportunity to move to one of the company’s A&R departments with the support of mentors, training and workshops. “Judging by the response, we are confident it is going to be a real game changer,” he says.

When it comes to challenges, “There’s no doubt that social-media burnout is one of the biggest conversations we’re having with our artists and managers,” Joseph continues. “We are all on the same page in that everyone needs to be more strategic and understanding of the pressures artists face when it comes to social media. In short, I’d rather our artists were ‘occasionally brilliant’ than ‘always on.’”

The globalization of music, meanwhile, is providing extensive competition for U.K. music’s place in the world. While it’s #3 on the IFPI’s list of top music markets for 2021 (behind the U.S. and Japan) and the world’s second-largest exporter of music, only two British acts made the global Top 10 recording-artist list (Adele and Ed Sheeran). Does that cause Joseph sleepless nights? It doesn’t sound like it. “Music has always been a great British export and our calling card to the world,” he says. “There’s no doubt it’s incredibly competitive out there, but what keeps me positive is the U.K. is a special place, a melting pot of cultures.”

Instead of seeing the competition as a threat, he notes the constructive impact of access to a wider pot of creativity: “The interconnectedness of culture across the world is a huge opportunity. Let’s not forget that U.K. artists have always shaped the culture and no doubt have a big part to play in forging authentic new partnerships around the world. It still excites me that an 18-year-old can wake up tomorrow and discover The Beatles or Queen for the first time. Combined with the depth of talent emerging from every corner of the U.K. right now, that puts us in a very strong position.”

The major labels breathed a collective sigh of relief this year when the U.K.’s Competition & Markets Authority decided not to scrutinize the British music-streaming market further. Part of the reason for this was the conclusion that labels are not, in fact, causing restrictions or distortions to competition. Discussing the findings in CMA’s interim report, Joseph says it was encouraging to see recognition of the important role record labels have to play in supporting, promoting and investing in British creativity.

Still, were there any takeaways from the hearings and findings that might impact the U.K. streaming market down the road? “A lot has already been done when it comes to royalty portals and shared-data platforms for artists,” Joseph responds, “but more can definitely be rolled out across the industry, and that’s something we’re actively engaged in.”

On the subject of what’s to come from UMG U.K. this year and beyond, Joseph mentions the arrival of rap star Stormzy’s third album, his first since signing with 0207 Def Jam, which is set to land on 11/25. “It’s been a great start for 0207 Def Jam and you can expect to see a lot more of their new talent in the year ahead,” he adds. “All our frontline labels—rosters and teams—are firing on all cylinders. We’ve already seen the return of Lewis Capaldi and Sam Smith, with lots more brilliant music to come.”

UMG Acts to Watch: Olivia Dean, Baby Queen, FLO