NEAR TRUTHS: MORALE BOOSTERS

Sir Lucian Grainge’s top labels ruled overall (Interscope) and current (Republic) marketshare in 2022. He put three new team leaders on the field in Capitol’s Michelle Jubelirer, Def Jam’s Tunji Balogun and the Island tandem of Imran Majid and Justin Eshak. Once again, his aggressive leadership and dealmaking set the pace for the industry.

John Janick’s IGA, regarded by many as the most important label in the business, continued its winning combination of new-artist development and superstar blockbusters. The company had one of the year’s buzziest releases in Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (pgLang/TDE/Aftermath), which was decorated with Grammy noms for Album, Record and Song. Darkroom’s Billie Eilish and Geffen’s Olivia Rodrigo, meanwhile, remain two of the most significant young stars in the musical firmament.

The list of home-run hitters at Monte Lipman’s Republic continues with some tape-measure jobs. Taylor Swift, a contender for Song of the Year, among other hardware, had an absolutely stellar year with her biggest chart bow of the streaming era (1.5m+ for the boffo Midnights), mind-blowing merch sales and a rush for tickets for her stadium tour that crashed Ticketmaster. Tay is a force of nature and possesses one of the craftiest marketing minds in the biz.

Drake—whose prior set, the clubby Honestly, Nevermind, suggested that his iron grip on the streaming market might be loosening—came roaring back with a second 2022 album, Her Loss (with 21 Savage), that is yet another monster. It’s clear that when he’s in rap mode, at least, the megastar’s grip remains crushing.

Two other Republic stalwarts, SALXCO-repped The Weeknd (who recently saw a Starboy single reignited thanks to TikTok) and Post Malone, have been perennials on the chart, with Top 20 and Top 25 YTD albums, respectively. Glass Animals, meanwhile, had the year’s #2 single with “Heat Waves.”

And then there’s Morgan Wallen (on Seth England’s Big Loud, via Mercury), whose album is an absolute juggernaut. Though Grammy didn’t see fit to acknowledge the country giant (obviously due to his drunken slur of the prior year), it’s clear his audience has only grown.

Jubelirer is putting a new coat of paint on the Tower, adding able lieutenants like Gordan Dillard (from Doja Cat’s camp) and ex-Atlantic exec Orlando Wharton. MJ, who caught a late-breaking giant with Sam Smith’s “Unholy,” also prevailed in the signing contests for star rapper Kodak Black and hot TDE act Doechii.

The word around Def Jam, meanwhile, is that Balogun is in the process of making great music, much as he did during his RCA tenure; his signing Muni Long parlayed an R&B hit into big Grammy love, including a BNA nom. Rihanna resurfaced on the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ST ahead of her big Super Bowl look. Will she roll out more new music before kickoff, or is she done for this cycle, as some have speculated? The Island team has proven acute in identifying and inking new and upcoming talent.

Ethiopia Habtemariam’s decision to step down as Motown boss has occasioned much chatter about her next adventure and the label’s next chapter, with a handful of major players being loudly touted (and not only by themselves) for the job.

Amid all the top-tier action, Uni’s knight made a vital move to consolidate his indie operations under the umbrella of Virgin Music Group, now run by mtheory founders JT Myers and Nat Pastor. This includes Ingrooves, which had several successes during the year with projects like K-poppers Stray Kids (JYP/Imperial/Republic).

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