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Republic Records’ core approach, says chairman/CEO Monte Lipman, is built on five pillars: creative, expectation, strategy, execution and accountability. And following that plan has helped Republic cement its status as the No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 label for the sixth year in a row, as well as seven of the past eight. “We don’t leave things for luck,” says Lipman. “We’ve got a roster that we believe is second to none. And by virtue of being a strong partner, with those strategic alliances, we’re able to do amazing things.”
In 2019, that meant Hot 100 No. 1s from Ariana Grande (“Thank U, Next,” “7 Rings”), the reunited Jonas Brothers (“Sucker”) and Post Malone (“Sunflower” with Swae Lee, “Circles”), as well as Hot 100 top 10s from Taylor Swift, Drake and Lil Tecca. The campaigns have bridged the traditional and the nontraditional, with superstars and newcomers alike, in genres from pop to hip-hop to R&B and everything in between. But the results, for the label, are the same.
“Everybody wants a shot at the title, so everybody brings their A-game into every situation,” says Lipman. “We respect the competition -- it’s greater than it has ever been -- and we also accept the challenge. We go to work every day and want to win, and we will find a way to win.”
That has meant breaking some of the accepted rules of pop music. At the beginning of this year, Ariana Grande released Thank U, Next just seven months after her last album, the Grammy Award-winning Sweetener -- a time frame that would, says Lipman, “typically go against conventional wisdom.” But Grande was insistent in her vision and her plan, and Republic helped her land her first two chart-topping singles.
Even more impressive: Those singles both debuted at No. 1, a feat that only two dozen artists have pulled off -- and only three others have done twice. Yet the label scored another No. 1 debut, with the Jonas Brothers’ comeback single, “Sucker,” just a month later. “It’s almost like delivering a knockout punch: It’s calculating, it’s strategic. You veer back and give it everything you got,” says Lipman. “There was a lot of planning and strategy applied, but the reality of it is, it’s just brilliant music.”
For Post Malone -- at this point an established chart-topper -- the label played a longer game. Both “Sunflower” and “Circles” spent over a month in the top 10 of the Hot 100 this year before reaching its summit. “He’s the anomaly,” says Lipman. “He’s a modern-day superstar, and in the streaming revolution you couldn’t ask for an artist like Post Malone.” He ended 2019 with the most weeks in the top 5 of the Hot 100 among all artists, and spent every week but one in the top 10. Lipman says that each of Post Malone's No. 1s performed in a “more traditional way,” climbing the charts gradually and burrowing into the national psyche before hitting the top, as singles used to more regularly before the streaming era. On the other end of the slow-burn spectrum was Lil Tecca, the 16-year-old rapper whose debut single, “Ransom,” climbed to No. 4 on the Hot 100 in September -- another streaming juggernaut, but one from a newcomer in whom the label is investing.
Yet the biggest aces up Republic’s sleeve were Drake, whom Lipman calls “the heavyweight champion of the world,” and Taylor Swift, whose latest album, Lover, was her first as a Republic artist. (The label distributed and promoted her prior albums, which were released by Big Machine.) Swift had three top 10s on the Hot 100 this year, including two -- “ME!” (with Panic! at the Disco’s Brendon Urie) and “You Need to Calm Down” -- that reached No. 2. “Taylor, in particular, is very driven, focused and just an amazing human being,” says Lipman. “But it’s a real strategic alliance. We will feed off each other, we’ll bounce off different ideas, and ultimately it’s Taylor’s decision at every crossroads.”
Lipman points to his brother, co-chairman/COO Avery, as well as his “field general,” GM Jim Roppo and executive vp promotions Gary Spangler -- whose radio market share, says Lipman, “is higher than other music groups combined” -- as part of the team that has helped Republic deliver once again. But he’s already looking to the future. “What are we doing in the first 90 days? What are we hoping to accomplish?” asks Lipman. “I can tell you, our head is already in 2020.”
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 21 issue of Billboard.
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