It has been less than a year since one of the biggest nights in the 29-year history of Interscope Geffen A&M (IGA). But for chairman/CEO John Janick, it may as well be a lifetime. At the 2020 Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 26 — before awards ceremonies became virtual and “social distancing” entered the cultural lexicon — 18-year-old Darkroom/Interscope superstar Billie Eilish became the first artist in 39 years to sweep the Big Four general categories (album, record and song of the year, and best new artist).
The typically reserved Janick has never been one for late nights at industry events, but that night he made an exception, first stopping by the Universal Music Group (UMG) afterparty at Rolling Greens Nursery, then repairing to a private gathering for Eilish, her family (including her older brother and producer, Finneas O’Connell), Interscope staff and label partners. The atmosphere was electric, Eilish and her team still on cloud nine; hugs were exchanged at a time before physical contact was considered hazardous. “Take a moment and really take this in,” said Steve Berman, Interscope’s longtime vice chairman, to the rest of the label team. “How can you beat this feeling?”
Six weeks later, the Grammy high had fully worn off: By mid-March, the coronavirus pandemic had torn through the music industry, leading to shutdowns across the United States, tour postponements (including Eilish’s first as an arena headliner) and album delays (like for flagship Interscope artist Lady Gaga’s highly anticipated Chromatica). The Interscope staff dove into reworking rollout plans and promotional strategies — all before the police killing of George Floyd sparked a nation- and industrywide reckoning with racial injustice, leading into the caustic U.S. presidential election that kept anxiety high through the fall.