HITS Daily Double


MAJOR YARDAGE: In the wake of the Super Bowl, askers are asking: Do you remember an artist on an indie label ever headlining the halftime show? L.A. Reid, Larry Jackson and teams gamma. and mega have achieved something pretty remarkable with their USHER campaign, which has culminated not only in the biggest TV look imaginable but also in a strong tour launch for the Ron Laffitte-repped entertainer, whose new album is due for a solid first week as part of the setup (his catalog hits, which spiked during and after the game, reside with RCA). USHER was, of course, signed to Reid’s LaFace as a teen, kicking off a career, highlighted by hits like “Confessions,” that is now in the midst of an extraordinary new chapter.

This year’s game was the most-watched ever, pushed to dizzying new heights of viewership by the Taylor Swift phenomenon; her relationship with the ChiefsTravis Kelce has the kind of gravitational force the culture hasn’t seen since Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. A better analogy might be the binding in marriage of two medieval European kingdoms. In any case, according to one report, a staggering 20% of the TV audience tuned in for a glimpse of the Republic megastar.

Anyone sitting shiva for Merck Mercuriadis and Hipgnosis showed up at the wrong address on Pico Blvd. Expect a renewed buying spree with full support from partner Blackstone; rumor has it a deal with Shakira may be among his next announcements. Insiders say Merck inked more deals than anyone last year, and that they represent north of $400m; he’s reported to be overseeing somewhere around $3b in assets. Hipgnosis Song Management now oversees almost a quarter of the songs in Spotify’s Billions Club and nearly half of YouTube’s most-viewed videos of all time. His year was further enriched by songs on huge albums by Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, perennial gigundo catalog from Mariah Carey and Fleetwood Mac, and plenty more. His Super Bowl Sunday included four songs in USHER’s halftime show and big syncs in top ads. The story is not in the labyrinthine corporate politics so breathlessly tracked by the financial press but in a song-management model that continues to gain traction. But hey, haters gonna hate.

SOUND BARRIERS: The Wicked Super Bowl spot suggested that the musical flick starring Tay labelmate Ariana Grande could be a blockbuster.

Beyoncé, meanwhile, seems to be embracing the rootsy Americana sound now enjoying a strong moment in the marketplace; the two songs she released after her big Verizon Super Bowl showing, with their Texas vibe, intimate a compelling, Southern-fried new direction for her act ii set, which is due from Parkwood/Columbia on 3/29. (It wouldn’t be the first time an artist known for R&B and pop moved into this twangy territory—Ray Charles brought off an epochally influential pivot with 1962’s Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.) Sony Music Nashville's promo squad has been enlisted to work Bey's record at Country radio. Will it get a big chart run-up from the format?

Coming off a massive, top-grossing global tour, will Bey soon be on the road again? Her earthy new approach, in a chart era dominated by Morgans and Zachs and Noahs, will undoubtedly add intrigue; could this help offset a slight cooling of the live side after its hottest run in history?

CLOUD COVER: Insiders say SoundCloud and its CEO, Eliah Seton, are going to figure in the narrative of 2024. Having conquered the issue of profitability, the firm—one of the trailblazers in the streaming space and a prominent factor in A&R research—is now dedicated to unlocking the future of fandom. Acts that got their earliest exposure on SoundCloud include Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, Post Malone and Ice Spice.

ALL YE WHO ENTER: What will happen with Kanye West? The troubled artist-producer retains a decent-sized and quite loyal fan base, and his new album with Ty Dolla $ign (out via his own YZY label, uploaded via Downtown-owned Fuga’s DIY portal as part of a typically bumpy, contentious rollout) looks like a lock for #1 in its first week. According to a Fuga rep quoted in a Billboard piece, the company had previously declined to put the album up, and one song has come off DSPs following a claim by the Donna Summer estate that it used an unauthorized sample.

What a #1 bow means in today’s marketplace is open to debate; the charts seem to have less and less relevance apart from the branding opportunities and PR impressions they can facilitate. Ye even made his own Super Bowl ad (on his phone), which ran in selected markets. The real question for bizniks is this: Would anyone trust the guy to show up for dates on a major tour? He does seem to have stepped away from his antisemitic ranting for the time being, which is certainly a welcome development.