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NEAR TRUTHS: DUA, GRAMMY, NASHVILLE, BMI, MORE

SPILLING THE POP TEA: The latest single from Warner’s Dua Lipa, “Houdini,” has quickly made a strong showing on the Spotify global chart and at radio. Could Dua, who was signed and broken out of the U.K., be the last in a line of British-bred pop superstars, a dynasty that once ruled the marketplace? The streaming revolution, the rise of the indies, the increasing importance of hip-hop, Latin and country—these factors have left less room for the old-school pop divas who previously held sway. But Dua, who fired Ben Mawson and TaP Management in 2022 and recently bought back her publishing from them, is a thoroughbred who streams, sells mondo tickets worldwide and develops her brand imaginatively. (She's now managed by her dad, Dukagjin Lipa, himself a former artist and an accomplished player in music and media.) It’ll be fascinating, as ever, to watch her latest chapter unfold.

NO ENTENDEMOS: Though many of the topline noms are laudable, the absence of country, Latin, hip-hop and K-pop from the Big 3 Grammy categories shows how out of touch the Academy can be—and how the back-scratching and logrolling in the secret chambers have reached a new peak (or nadir). Given the gigantic impact of Latin acts like KAROL G, Bad Bunny, Peso Pluma and Eslabon Armado and country giants like Morgan Wallen, Luke Combs, Zach Bryan and Lainey Wilson, it’s simply bizarre that none of these massive artists was recognized in Album, Record or Song. (The exclusion of hip-hop from the top categories, meanwhile, has become a depressingly regular occurrence.)

Rewarding such acts in genre is all well and good—though the snobbery of Nashville’s so-called "squad," which continues to dump on Wallen and his label, Big Loud, is glaringly obvious. The exclusion of the label’s acts from the general field—much like the CMAs’ refusal to give Wallen a trophy—is a reminder that they’re just not in the Nashville club. Said club doesn't like them and its members talk about them in a denigrating way. England and team, of course, are laughing all the way to the bank; Big Loud is rumored to be worth just south of $1b.

Bryan, meanwhile, has shown absolutely no desire to be in the club, and his marginal status among the nominees relative to his importance is attributable to the fact that he apparently doesn’t give a shit about the Nashville orthodoxy and its politics. His status as a countercultural figure is working for him; it reminds older bizniks of '60s rockers’ go-fuck-yourself stance toward traditional media.

In fact, trimming the nominees in these top categories from 10 to eight narrowed the possibilities at a time when perhaps they should’ve been expanded. It all underscores the ongoing reality that the Grammys will never properly reflect the musical landscape until there is real structural change at the Academy. The petty fiefdoms at the various chapters, the cabals and cliques that advance personal and professional agendas rather than the goals of the larger music community, the kneecapping of projects (however important to fans and the biz) that threaten those agendas—it’s a clown car that keeps disgorging more and more clowns.

SPILLING THE TENNESSEE WHISKEY: While Grammy was keeping Nashville out of the Big 3, the CMAs showed that Broken Bow’s Lainey Wilson, despite being limited to genre noms by Grammy, is hugely important to the country community. Likewise Jelly Roll, who got a Grammy BNA nomination but nothing in Album, Record or Song. Luke Combs’ “Fast Car” was amply recognized, whereas Grammy only gave the artist himself a performance nod. Big Loud’s HARDY, who was utterly ignored by Grammy due to reasons elaborated above, got two big CMA trophies. His labelmate Morgan Wallen, who has the year’s biggest album, came home empty-handed from the CMAs; the sole Grammy nom one of his projects is up for, meanwhile, is in a song category—and he didn’t write it. Could Chris Stapleton, another big winner at the Nashville trophyfest, clean up in the country categories on Music’s Biggest Night?

TURNING THE TABLES: As we look forward to the Grammy telecast, wonderers wonder: Will Taylor Swift do the show? Will Jack Sussman change the producer mix dramatically? Will the powers that be retain the tables that made last year’s festivities into a star-studded cocktail party—the Golden Globes of music—with Tay, Harry, Adele and other famous faces front and center? This lively approach, one assumes, played a role in the show’s stellar ratings, its best in the last three years (+31% from 2022’s telecast). Big changes are said to lie ahead for the TV production team; stay tuned.

PRO TIP: Following the sale of Mike O’Neill-led BMI to New Mountain Capital, much chatter surrounds how that very large pile of money (thought to be in the neighborhood of $1.2b) might be distributed to writers, executives and company shareholders. Who will benefit most handsomely?

Meanwhile, the outcry from rightsholders, who allege that BMI has been sitting on payments to make its bottom line more attractive ahead of this transaction, is getting louder. Several managers and attorneys say that while BMI previously was a partner in the development of writers and producers—paying out advances many times the size of the monies in the pipeline to help develop promising creators—that has completely dried up. A spokesperson for BMI says, “The notion that we are no longer supporting up-and-coming songwriters or composers by giving advances is completely wrong and untrue” and that, in fact, advances had been up by nearly 50% throughout the year—and that myriad other opportunities were ongoing. “No other PRO in the world,” the representative added, “has bet more on emerging talent than BMI.”

EIN GRÖSSERES BOOT: Word that Thomas Coesfeld’s BMG is planning to set up its own distribution system, with its WMG distro deal having ended, has speculators speculating about what the plan is for the Teutonic firm. The company has definitely shown signs of life lately, with a UMG alliance as well as Nashville success from Jon Loba’s Broken Bow (Lainey Wilson, Jelly Roll). Will Coesfeld, considered a charismatic young leader, be able to change the company’s longstanding image as a bottom-feeder, the last and cheapest resort for a deal? What’s his plan? It will be interesting to watch.

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