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Dua Lipa’s ‘Studio 2054’ Stream Was the Post-Thanksgiving Dopamine Rush We All Needed

Dua Lipa’s ‘Studio 2054’ Stream Was the Post-Thanksgiving Dopamine Rush We All Needed

“I like it better when we’re intertwined,” Dua Lipa sings in her song “Cool,” maybe speaking for all of us who are doing Thanksgiving weekend and pretty much every other weekend of 2020 unentangled from most human beings. Her performance of that and a host of other songs from her two albums Friday in “Studio 2054,” a pay-per-view event, felt like a happy dispatch from another galaxy, where dancing and dopamine both still occur, and joy is a thing of the present, not past or future nostalgia.

Not much was revealed about the content of the streamed event ahead of time, other than a growing guest list, some of whom were recent collaborators on remixes or side duets (Miley Cyrus, the Blessed Madonna), some of whom were not (Kylie Minogue, Elton John), and the promise that it would be elaborate. But would it be an FX-filled spectacle, a la the recent state-of-the-art livestream from Billie Eilish that was performed on one tiny set but used high technology to give every number a different, often animated setting?

Lipa was having none of that. Her Black Friday show had exactly zero special effects, other than the ones that were arrived at in-camera, as it were, taking place in a few different connected spaces of the multipurpose Printworks venue in London. If anything, the show tried to throw off a low-tech vibe, especially at the beginning, with a determined initial intent to look like something that could have been done in the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s, in keeping with the motifs Lipa goes back to with the sounds of her Grammy-nominated “Future Nostalgia” album.

(How throwback did it ultimately get? Two words: roller disco.)

When the broadcast opened with the recent album’s statement-of-purpose title song, and for a couple of numbers after that, it was actually going out in the old-school 1.33:1 Academy aspect ratio, all the better to approximate something that looked a little like it was out of the classic “Soul Train” or “Solid Gold” era. With lots of garishly colorful neon in the set and large cubist structures hanging overhead, the nearest analog, so to speak, to what Lipa and company were doing might be how the band Muse similarly went for an ’80s vibe when they were designing and touring the “Simulation Theory” album a couple of years ago, albeit without Lipa’s distinct discotheque emphasis.

After the first costume-change interlude, the visual scheme lost its squareness went widescreen, without any great fanfare. But what stayed consistent throughout these and other changes was having the dancers (10 primary performers and another 10 additional dancers) alternate back and forth between choreography and the lack of it. When they first appeared for the opening “Future Nostalgia,” they almost appeared as if they might have been “Soul Train” kids taken in right off the street to boogie with Dua, revealing their pro status only as subsequent numbers brought everyone into tight formation. But even later in the show, everyone would break tight ranks for extended stretches in what appeared to be just a normal night out at a dimly lit dance club. Even the most impressive and formal dancing had a friendly, relaxed quality to it that felt more about drawing the viewer in as a participant than dazzling us with impossible feats of prowess.

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Dua Lipa in “Studio 2054”

(Side note: It wasn’t all an homage to the styles of decades past — there was one late moment of mass booty rumbling among Lipa and her female dancers that jerked, or twerked, us back into the present day.)

The opening act had Lipa, in a glitzy mini-gown, not just apparently singing live but interacting with an actual band, including a bona fide guitar solo during “Levitating,” and the phenomenal bass lines from the recent album possibly being played on something other than a MIDI, too. An interlude led into FKA Twigs working the pole and singing (as opposed to just the former during her recent Grammys guest shot with Usher) at some length before finally being joined by Lipa, now in more of a leotard for act 2. A mini-set on a secondary nightclub set began with a fist-pumping “Physical,” ended with the career-establisher “New Rules” and in-between had Lipa jumping into the DJ booth to jam alongside a designed spinner, the Blessed Madonna (who did the lion’s share of work on the singer’s recent remix album).

The guest cameos soon got underway, and the answer to how all these celebs would make their way to London soon became clear: some would, some would not. Lipa went into her elegant-bordello-like “dressing room” and kicked everyone out so that she could watch herself and Miley duet on “Prisoner” on an analog black-and-white TV… with a mutual coziness between the two stars that can only be described as somewhere between slumber-party chic and outrightly non-heteronormative. Next up was a more elaborate collab, “Una Día (One Day),” which had Lipa singing in the flesh but J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Tainy piped in remotely via the groove tube. Finally, Angèle showed up right in Dua’s faux dressing room for “Fever,” with a level of familiarity just a little less steamy than what Lipa shared with Cyrus.

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Dua Lipa and Angele in “Studio 2054”

Then things moved over to a very-dark-disco set where who should be awaiting Lipa’s arrival than Kylie Minogue, joining the host from behind (and occasionally on top of) the DJ’s mixing board for her own “Real Groove” and Lipa’s “Electricity.” Minogue is apparently not holding it against Lipa that she came out of the gate in 2020 with a neo-disco concept before Kylie got around to making a concept album out of it herself with “Disco.” Seeing these mutual Anglo dancefloor-revivalist birds of a feather flock together had to be a special kick in merry olde England, but it was a highlight over here, too.

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Dua Lipa and Kylie Minogue in “Studio 2054”

Then things got weird: While Lipa disappeared from the screen for a few minutes, her cast of dancers stood motionless watching a piped-in video of Elton John singing a mostly solo “Rocket Man” on a big screen, like rapt cult members awaiting instructions from Big Daddy. Since there was no interaction with the star, what this had to do with the rest of the show was anyone’s guess, although three minutes of Elton singing “Rocket Man,” even as a disembodied, spectral presence, can never be counted as a bad thing. And it did make “Studio 2054” feel a little bit more like a traditional holiday variety show.

Lipa’s time spent in her real dressing room was not in vain, as she returned for the finale of “Hallucinate” and the year’s show-stopper, “Don’t Start Now.” in a bedazzled bodysuit that did finally make it seem as if special effects weren’t off the table. Strict formation again gave way to full-title boogie and free-range hoofing, ending with a Lipa who had previously not had much to say letting out an exultant “Yeahhhhhh!” as the camera panned far out to reveal its overhead tracking and the vastness of the space. A celebratory expletive might also have been heard in the fadeout.

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Dua Lipa and friends in “Studio 2054”

Affirmative exultations and exhalations may have been shared by the audience (which tuned in in waves, as streaming start times were staggered to accommodate fans in time zones around the world). Lipa might not have had to do much besides stand there and sing the bulk of “Future Nostalgia,” which is maybe the most purely enjoyable album of 2020, to make “Studio 5054” worth the relatively economical $11.99 cost of early-bird admission. But, as seen on Lipa’s recent American Music Awards contribution, she and her team have already mastered the jubilance that can come from a long tracking shot that has Lipa and a bare handful of dancers marching toward the camera in time to a four-on-the-floor beat. The creative team (including director Liz Clare, choreographers Charm La’Donna and Alex Clark, and producers Ceremony London) clearly relished the chance to make Lipa the star of something that was undeniably a hairtrigger-tight extravaganza but also felt a little down-home, like a friendly party you could step into without being held back at the velvet rope.

The only drawback? The PPV status mandating that pay-per-viewers could only watch it in a 24-hour window, not put it on continuous loop until the pandemic is over. But at least it served as an espresso-style wakeup charge after a day and a half’s worth of turkey coma in America, however much more we might be needing it when life is returning to Zoom-business as usual next week. Thanks, Dua, for the dopa-twine.


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Long Ryders Bassist Tom Stevens Dies at 64

Long Ryders Bassist Tom Stevens Dies at 64

Tom Stevens, bassist for the Los Angeles rock quartet the Long Ryders, a key member of the so-called “Paisley Underground” scene of the 1980s, died on January 24, according to an announcement from the band. No cause of death was cited; he was 64.

While the group, heavily influenced by Gram Parsons, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan and other country-rock pioneers, released just three albums and an EP during their 1980s heyday, they were an early purveyor of the genre later dubbed Americana and represented the rootsier side of the Paisley Underground, along with bands like Green on Red. The more psychedelic contingent was held down by the Rain Parade — whose guitarist, David Roback, went on to form Opal and Mazzy Star and passed away last year — the Dream Syndicate, the Three O’Clock and others. The scene was a stronghold of the American independent-rock explosion of the era, and those bands played on many bills with R.E.M., the Replacements, Husker Du and other college-radio staples.

Born in Indiana, Stevens was classically trained and received scholarship offers from colleges to study double bass but chose rock instead. He joined a local hard rock group called Magi, which developed a strong regional following and released an album in 1976 before moving to Los Angeles; the group’s sound was out of step with the post-punk of the late 1970s and they split up. Stevens worked at local record stores, networked around the scene and released a solo EP. After hearing that the Long Ryders, whose debut EP he knew from the record store, had parted ways with their bassist, Stevens was recommended to the band by singer Carla Olson. He officially joined singer-guitarists Sid Griffin and Stephen McCarthy as well as drummer Greg Sowders in the band early in 1984. As well as playing bass, Stevens sang and went on to write a couple of songs per album.

After releasing their “Native Sons” album on the indie Frontier Records in 1984, the group toured the U.S. and Europe extensively — American rock bands of the era were enthusiastically welcomed by the British music press — and signed with major label Island and released “State of Our Union” the following year. The album featured a bigger sound and disappointed some longtime fans but generally received positive reviews and did well at college radio. However, the group was harshly criticized for doing a Miller Beer commercial in 1986 — a controversial move in the purist rock scene of the era — and their career never quite recovered. Despite releasing a strong album, “Two Fisted Tales,” in 1987, commercial success eluded them and they split at the end of the year.

Stevens, who had guested with Olson and Byrds cofounder Gene Clark as well as other L.A. area groups, moved back to Indiana in 1988, raised a family, got a degree in computer science and worked in information technology for many years; he also released several solo albums. Beginning in 2004, the Long Ryders occasionally reunited for gigs or brief tours before regrouping for a full-blown album and tour (minus Sowders) in 2019. The album, released on Omnivore Records and aptly titled “Psychedelic Country Soul,” reunited the group with producer Ed Stasium (who’d also helmed “Two Fisted Tales”) and former scene-mates the Bangles, who sang backing vocals. In many ways, it found the group coming full circle.

Below: the Long Ryders in the mid-1980s, L-R: Greg Sowders, Tom Stevens, Stephen McCarthy, Sid Griffin

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Did Billie Eilish Finally End the Grammys’ Best New Artist Curse?

Did Billie Eilish Finally End the Grammys’ Best New Artist Curse?

After logging two massive No. 1 hits last year, Megan Thee Stallion seems poised to have a bright career ahead… even if she does win the 2021 Grammy for best new artist.

Old superstitions die hard, though. Ever since Starland Vocal Band won the category in 1977 on the strength of their No. 1 single “Afternoon Delight,” then promptly disappeared from view forever — with a similar fate awaiting a good number of others who followed in that group’s wake — the myth of the “best new artist curse” has been a part of popular Grammy lore.

The frontrunners among the crop of eight contenders in this year’s race — including Megan, Doja Cat and Phoebe Bridgers — probably aren’t shaking in their boots at the thought of winning, though. It’d be hard to after Billie Eilish walked away exactly one year ago with best new artist among the portfolio of eight awards she won that night. Both she and Dua Lipa, the 2018 winner, are back and up for multiple awards this year, while other recent winners like Adele and Sam Smith are still flourishing, which bodes well for the trophy as a current indicator of future success.

Whether the category remains cursed or not, a scroll through the list of best new artist winners over the years does lend some credence to the theory that taking that particular gong has not always been the best career move. As different as their careers otherwise may have been, one thing Starland Vocal Band had in common with the next four winners that followed — Debby Boone, A Taste of Honey, Rickie Lee Jones and Christopher Cross — was extremely abbreviated runs as chart-toppers. The biggest of them all, Cross, the toast of 1980, accomplished the unprecedented feat of sweeping all four of the top categories at the 1981 ceremony. And, although he enjoyed a few more years of chart success and a best original song Oscar for “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” in 1982, by mid-decade, he was pretty much history.

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Members of the group Taste of Honey (from left: Perry Kibble, Janice Johnson, Hazel Payne and Donald Johnson) hold their 1979 Grammy awards for best new artist.

“Flash in the pan” was a recurring best new artist theme in the two decades that followed, with a large percentage of the freshmen Grammy winners failing to fulfill the promise of the title. Famously and scandalously, the 1990 pick, Milli Vanilli, later had theirs rescinded after it was revealed that the duo hadn’t actually sung a single note on their debut album, “Girl You Know It’s True.”

In the years since, the category has worked hard to win back its credibility, and it does seem to be working. Three of the last four best new artists — Chance the Rapper, Lipa and Eilish — have gone on to build impressively on their initial Grammy-winning success. This year, Lupa’s second album, “Future Nostalgia,” has scored nods in album, record and song of the year, while Eilish is up for record and song of the year for “Everything I Wanted” in her sophomore Grammy session. It’s the continuation of a trend this century, in which the best new artist has produced far more winning winners than clunkers.

That isn’t to say there haven’t been one or two egregious missteps in relatively recent times. It’s almost unfathomable now that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the Academy’s choice as best new artist of 2013, beat Kendrick Lamar, Kacey Musgraves and Ed Sheeran, all of whom have enjoyed exponentially more spectacular careers and major Grammy hardware (23 between them).

In 2011, Esperanza Spalding’s shock win was a rare triumph of artistic merit over chart clout. Although the jazz newcomer hasn’t gone on to approach the level of commercial success achieved by the four acts she defeated — Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence and the Machine and Mumford & Sons — her post-best new artist career has been solid. She’s since padded her Grammy tally by three, and like one-hit-wonder winner Rickie Lee Jones, she’s continued to be a critical darling with a loyal following.

While the red-hot careers of several champs this century — Norah Jones, Evanescence and Meghan Trainor — cooled after they nabbed best new artist, they all still felt like more valid choices a few years later than either Starland Vocal Band or Boone did. And the Recording Academy has otherwise made a number of impeccable choices since 2000: Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Maroon 5, John Legend, Carrie Underwood, Sam Smith and, of course, Adele. Amy Winehouse died three years after winning in 2008, but even with an abbreviated career is still regarded as a titan of 21st century pop.

So is the curse as good as finally over? Some might argue that the category was never all that cursed in the first place. Before Starland Vocal Band, the circle of best new artist winners included such legends-to-be as Bobby Darin, Bob Newhart, the Beatles, Tom Jones, the Carpenters, Carly Simon, Bette Midler and Natalie Cole.

Even in the ‘80s and ‘90s, for every pick that peaked the moment they won the award, like Men At Work, Marc Cohn, Arrested Development and Paula Cole, there was a Sade, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton and Sheryl Crow.

The category’s most WTF moment this century may have been the anointing of Shelby Lynne over Brad Paisley in 2001 — not because she didn’t go on to become a multi-platinum superstar, but because she was already a decade into her career as a modestly successful country act when she won. The critically acclaimed album that earned Lynne her coronation, “I Am Shelby Lynne,” was a sort of reinvention — but it was still actually her sixth release. Since her collection of torchy roots-pop hardly set the charts ablaze before or after the Grammys that year, the singer-songwriter’s middling career since feels less like cursed luck than business as usual.

(Lynne wasn’t the first vet to be named best new artist: Jody Watley and Lauryn Hill won after enjoying major success in Shalamar and Fugees, respectively, and each member of Crosby, Still & Nash had been in a legendary band that’s now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before forming the trio that won in 1970.)

Although the ghosts of Starland Vocal Band and A Taste of Honey continue to loom large over the category for historically minded Grammy watchers, part of being a “new” artist is not having all that institutional memory to stoke worries. As the March 14 telecast approaches — who knows — they might even be thinking of a best new artist win as a blessing. Sometimes, it’s just a sense of institutional memory that’s a curse. The recent hot streak in the category can reassure Megan, Doja, Phoebe and the other five nominees that when the next best new artist is announced at the Grammys on March 14, the show, for them, will most likely go on — even after the telecast’s end credits.



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‘The Prom’ Star Jo Ellen Pellman on Why Kate McKinnon Is Her Queer Role Model

‘The Prom’ Star Jo Ellen Pellman on Why Kate McKinnon Is Her Queer Role Model
‘The Prom’ Star Jo Ellen Pellman on Why Kate McKinnon Is Her Queer Role Model‘The Prom’ Star Jo Ellen Pellman on Why Kate McKinnon Is Her Queer Role Model

Long before Jo Ellen Pellman was cast in the starring role of Emma in Ryan Murphy’s movie adaptation of “The Prom,” she saw the original production of the Broadway musical.

“I’m only 25, yet I still wish I had this story growing up,” Pellman says on Tuesday’s episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket.”

“The Prom” is about a group of theater stars from New York who try to drum up some positive publicity for themselves by traveling to an Indiana town to help high school student Emma (Pellman) fight for her right to bring her girlfriend Alyssa (played by fellow queer actor Ariana DeBose) to prom.

Pellman has always been out about being queer. “That’s something that I do not take lightly; that I have the choice of whether or not to come out to someone, that I am white, cis-passing and able-bodied, and there’s so much privilege that comes with that and, if anything, I feel like my queerness has just been nothing but celebrated and it’s allowed me to tell stories like ‘The Prom.’”

Pellman said she’s received messages of gratitude from a lot of young people. “I remember one very sweet person who messaged me saying that they watched the film with their parents and hadn’t come out to their parents yet and the film prompted that conversation for them to come out in a very inclusive, welcoming environment and they felt so loved.”

Pellman first saw herself represented in Hollywood by “Saturday Night Live” star Kate McKinnon. “I really looked to people like Kate McKinnon when I was in high school, who were just so unabashedly who they are, who were so brilliantly talented,” Pellman says.

McKinnon, she says, showed her, “I can be openly gay, openly queer, and be accepted and celebrated.”

“The Prom” was Pellman’s first time on a film set, after having earned a couple of acting credits on television’s “The Deuce” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Her scene partners in the Netflix movie included Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, James Corden and Andrew Rannells.

“I was so nervous on the inside,” Pellman says. “Luckily, I’ve since been told by my fellow cast members that I did not seem nervous at all. But on the inside I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go act opposite Meryl Streep,’ and this is like my second day on set.”

Pellman has been living with her mom back in her Ohio hometown since the start of the pandemic, but she excitedly tells me she’s moving back to New York next month. “I am finally flying the nest and I’m very much looking forward to being an adult again,” she says.

Hear the full interview with Pellman above. You can also listen to “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you download you favorite podcasts.

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Teyana Taylor Drops Her First Collection With PrettyLittleThing

Teyana Taylor Drops Her First Collection With PrettyLittleThing

Teyana Taylor may have announced her retirement from music following issues with her record label, but her artistic career is far from over. As a new creative director for PrettyLittleThing, the Harlem native has released her debut collection with the online British retailer. 

The capsule is inspired by Taylor’s own signature style which pays homage to ‘90s icons and “encapsulates female sexuality, allowing you to own your confidence and be proud of who you are,” according to the brand’s site.

“I wanted the collection to be fun and reflect the way I dress,” Taylor told BET. “The new collection is where girly and tomboy meets.”

Designed by Taylor herself, the 25-piece collection features a range of baggy pants, tight body suits, bodycon printed dresses, and couture-inspired outerwear. The line also includes vegan faux leather items, pops of neon, and chocolatey browns. 

Image via PrettyLittleThing

“Do you remember back then when everything fit cute? It was talkin’. It was doing what it had to do,” she said of the collection. “Well, I wanted my new collection to have that classic ’90s feel and look to it. I have some vegan leather looks that are very Jean Paul Gaultier meets hip hop and R&B ’90s streetwear.”

This is Taylor’s first drop in her year-long partnership with PrettyLittleThing, where the multi-hyphenate hopes to elevate the brand.

“Being the creative director of PrettyLittleThing is very exciting,” she explained. “It is a lot that I want to do, and there are some changes that I want to make to better the company. I am a very hands-on person, and when I’m invested in something, I want to know everything.”

You can shop Teyana Taylor’s new collection on PrettyLittleThing.

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Country Singer Lily Rose Signs With Big Loud and Republic, Debuts Video for iTunes Chart-Topper ‘Villain’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Country Singer Lily Rose Signs With Big Loud and Republic, Debuts Video for iTunes Chart-Topper ‘Villain’ (EXCLUSIVE)

The Big Loud/Republic Records team, which currently has what is far and away the biggest album in the country with Morgan Wallen’s “Dangerous: The Double Album,” is celebrating that success by joining with Back Blocks in signing Lily Rose, the partnership’s first shot at breaking a female artist in country music.

But in a very real sense, Rose has already “broken” herself, if radio play isn’t the sole metric: Her song “Villain” became a TikTok sensation before it was ever officially out as a single, When it was released Dec. 15 on the independent Back Blocks label, it debuted at No. 1 on iTunes’ all-genre chart and spent several weeks on and off at the top there, topping the Christmas-song competition for most of the month. (Needless to say, if it was topping the overall chart, it was also No. 1 at country as well.) Big Loud took the lead in an aggressive competition among Nashville’s major labels over the holiday season for Rose’s services .

Rose is planning sessions with some of Music Row’s top writers to come up with additional material for what will be her debut album, but in the meantime, today she’s releasing the music video for “Villain” (below).


With the ink still drying on her contract, Variety spoke with Rose about why she went with this label team, and become as close a thing as there is to a real overnight sensation after a good number of years of going at it in her native Atlanta and eventually Nashville.

With presumably a lot of labels taking interest in you, what was attractive about this deal?

ROSE: After signing the single deal with Back Blocks Music and Rakiyah Marshall, when the song was just hanging out at No. 1 on iTunes for so long, we knew that the label deals were going to be starting to roll in, and we had ‘em all slotted, and it was kind of just that feeling of looking for my champions. The money was not something super, super important to mem or the legacy; it was finding the right champion and the right family. I felt that off right off the bat with Big Loud, and then immediately Seth (England) brought in Monte and Avery (Lipman) and Republic, and there was a mutual want for each other, even through the holidays. They really fought for me, and I was very thrilled, because Big Loud has been my dream label since I moved here four years ago.

Why was it your dream label?

I mean, they’ve only been around for five years, but their ability to break artists, first of all — and they haven’t gotten to break a female yet. And I’m very competitive, and I like to be the first in a lot of things, and I think I’m going to have the opportunity to get that. And they’ve got Morgan and Hardy and so many artists that they’ve just kind of let them be them. The authenticity is first and the songs are second, and those are my one and two that I hold true to in my career as well. So I was very drawn to that.

Even through COVID and Zooms and everything, it was a no-excuses situation with Seth where it was “We have no reason not to have everybody on a Zoom call with her on Dec. 23 and lawyers negotiating on Christmas Day.” And then he brought in Monte and Avery soon after. He also had all of the teams on every single Zoom, too — not just A&R but marketing and all of the VPs on the ground. Those were the only VPs I’ve met in town. Everybody else, it was just the A&R team. 

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Top Row: Avery Lipman (Co-founder/president, Republic Records), Tyler Arnold (EVP A&R, Republic Records), Seth England (CEO, Big Loud) Bottom Row: Lily Rose, Monte Lipman (Co-founder/CEO, Republic Records), Rakiyah Marshall (CEO, Back Blocks Music)
Courtesy Republic Records

Can you describe the timeline of December? It was a very short timeline with a lot of notches in it.

Timeline-wise, the song went viral on Dec. 1, and I sdecided the deal with Rakiyah and Back Blocks on the 2nd. And we were like, well, we’ve got to get this out (commercially) before Christmas. So Dec, 15 was the release date, but it was right around the 9th or 10th when the labels started rolling in. Our pre-save numbers were insane, and they couldn’t see that, but I think they saw the traction. And we were very, very adamant that we were not taking a single meeting until the song was released. So on Wednesday, Dec. 16 through that Friday, I think we met with 13 different labels in three days. [Laughs.] Which is crazy.

I had three meetings with Big Loud between Dec. 16 and Dec. 23. That’s how badly Seth and the whole entire team were like, “We don’t care if we’re with our families or anything. We will be on these Zoom calls, selling what we can do for you.” And I was trying to keep my poker face on and my hand very close to me that they were my dream label, you know — it was a very mutual longing and want for each other.

We shot the video on Dec. 22. We have seen how these songs and these moments on TikTok or whatever can make something go viral and have a moment where you’re like: “We need to capitalize on this as soon as possible, so when the new year rolls around and Morgan’s stuff kind of evens out, we can release it and just have stuff ready to go.”

When did you actually sign the deal?

It was Thursday, Jan, 7. The offer was all set on New Year’s Day. But I’ve been working at this for 13 years, since I’ve been starting to write songs; it’s eight years that I’ve really been chasing it professionally. And I expressed to Seth how important it was to me that, even if it was just me and him and Rakiyah in the photo, that (it was important) having that (signing) photo not (just be) on Zoom. I moved up here for this picture. And he got all the COVID testing and everything done so we could take that dream photo (below), so I’m super appreciative of that.


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Back Row: Jeff Tanner (VP, Business Affairs, Big Loud), Matt Cottingham, (Ritholz Levy Fields LLP), Stacy Blythe (VP Promotion, Big Loud), Rakiyah Marshall (CEO, Back Blocks Music), Lily Rose, Seth England (CEO, Big Loud), Candice Watkins (VP Marketing, Big Loud), Joey Moi (Partner, Big Loud) Front Row: Paul Logan (VP Sync & Visual Strategy, Big Loud), Daira Eamon, Patch Culbertson (VP A&R, Big Loud), Austen Adams (COO, Big Loud)
Chris Hornbuckle

That the song did what it did with no promotion speaks to the power one song can have.

Yeah, I mean, we all get into music to try to replicate the feelings and the sonic feelings that songs can do for us. You know, I went to my first Bruce Springsteen concert at 9 years old, and I’ve been trying to replicate that energy on stage ever since. But I think that the power of songs and truth and grit behind country music specifically is what makes this format so special, and it helped “Villain” just reach the top of so much content and so much talent these days that people connected with it.

Talk about the video, because there’s a storyline to it, and you didn’t go with the ins-and-outs-of-a relationship video, or just you singing alone by yourself.

Yeah. The coolest thing about TikTok and social media is the connection with fans. It lends a hand for them to be able to give their opinions, and when I read the comments about “Villain” and why people were connecting with it — first thought, you immediately go to the romantic relationship, or the detriment of a romantic relationship. But “Villain” also has just been tapping into this vein of friendships ending, or even mother-daughter relationships that are not doing well. There are just so many different things. So I was kind of like, you know what? If you listen to the lyrics of “Villain,” I don’t want to give any power to the ex, to the person we wrote the song about on the romantic side. So let’s just do a video that essentially does not give any power to the people we wrote the song about.

How would you describe the story that’s depicted in the video?

Oh man. It appears that a cop is going around looking for a bad guy and the (twist) is, I’m a dirty cop and I’m really just looking for the money. So the hero the entire time is actually the villain. It’s kind of the antithesis of the actual lyric.

What happens from here?

One of the reasons I’m so excited already to be a part of this team is they just put out the biggest double album in country history and it’s doing insane numbers, and they’re still finding time to figure out my stuff. So I think the next chapter of all of this is we’re gonna hopefully send it to radio. You know, that’s a dream. And if the numbers can hold up, we can get an add date. And then also just finding more music. I’m writing like crazy right now, while also building a team and trying to find what the next single could be ‚ and what the next few singles could be — and also trying to form a record to eventually put out. I’ve been writing for so long with the same crew, and we have a lot of great songs that are up for debate. But I’m also meeting so many new writers on the Row and just trying to get me in as many rooms as possible, so we have as many songs to choose from as we can. We’re in good hands.


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