One Direction and the Wanted aren't the only British teen acts lighting up the pop world. Meet Conor Maynard, a fast-rising 19-year-old singer who has been referred to as the United Kingdom's answer to Justin Bieber.
Maynard is pleased by the attention but also a bit confused by headlines bonding him with Bieber. "To be compared to him when I'm on my first single is a crazy feeling," says Maynard, who signed to Parlophone/EMI in 2009. "At the same time, that comparison only goes so far. We're both young and came through YouTube [but] in terms of the music, it's very different."
Like Bieber, Maynard was discovered after posting videoclips singing cover versions of contemporary chart hits on YouTube. Initially filmed in the singer's bedroom, the videos found an instant audience, with his 2010 cover of Usher's "OMG" receiving more than 100,000 views. A subsequent rendition of Ne-Yo's "Beautiful Monster" scored 1 million-plus views and caught the attention of Ne-Yo himself, with the Grammy Award-winning artist inviting Maynard to Los Angeles earlier this year for some studio work.
Pharrell Williams was also quick to pick up on the early buzz. He recently spent a week in a Miami studio working on songs for the young Brit's debut album, "Contrast," due for a summer release. "This kid will change the future of pop music," Williams says, delivering a fawning prediction for his protégé.
"That was an insane time," Maynard recalls of his Miami stay, adding that he "met more famous people in that one week than [any time] in my entire life," with such celebrities as Ludacris, Lil Wayne and Tyler, the Creator making the scene. "Pharrell made a point of playing my music to everyone that rolled into the studio."
The Brighton-raised Maynard is now busy translating online stardom into mainstream success. In the United Kingdom, his debut single, the edgy R&B track "Can't Say No," bowed at No. 2 for the week ending April 22, with first-week sales of 74,000 copies, according to the Official Charts Company. This week, it has dropped to No. 4. YouTube views for the song's video have crossed the 5.6 million mark.
"He's a massive YouTube phenomenon, but our key challenge was turning a virtual star into a real one," says Damaris Taylor, marketing manager at EMI Music U.K. Taylor credits online engagement with Maynard's fast-growing fan base-who call themselves "Mayniacs"-as a major sales driver. In addition to his 190,000 Twitter followers (@ConorMaynard), a series of online films called "The Conorcles" pushed Maynard's total YouTube views to more than 75 million. Visitors to Conor-Maynard.com jumped to 55,000 in March, according to EMI. Strong support from U.K. top 40 radio stations BBC Radio 1 and Capital FM also helped establish the artist's profile in England, but breaking Maynard on a global level is the "massive aim" for EMI going forward, according to Taylor.
"When I did my YouTube covers, people were watching them from the U.K., the [United] States, Germany and Australia," Maynard says. "I would definitely love to take my career to a wider international stage."