Record Labels

Billie Eilish's Grammy Awards Come Amid Interscope's Hot Streak

John Janick
Rich Polk

John Janick

Billie Eilish’s Grammy Awards sweep was “a culmination,” says John Janick, founder of the influential independent label Fueled by Ramen and chairman/CEO of Universal Music Group’s Interscope Geffen A&M Records. And not only for Eilish, whose sales, including streaming equivalents, jumped 109% in the two days after the ceremony.

On the Feb. 1 Billboard 200 chart, Interscope has half of the albums in the top 10 -- including sets by Eminem (No. 1), Selena Gomez (No. 6) and DaBaby (No. 8) -- and its market share rose from 7.4% in 2016 to nearly 10% in 2019, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. “Billie has become the biggest star in the world,” says Janick in a late-night phone interview, during which he also credits the other members of Eilish’s team, especially his indie partner Justin Lubliner of Darkroom Records. “That’s exactly what I did with Fueled by Ramen,” he says. “Build an artist for the long term.”

Your biggest artist swept the Big Four categories at the Grammys. What was your night like?
Going in, I heard Finn [Eilish’s brother and collaborator, Finneas O’Connell] got producer of the year and [won best engineered album, non-classical]. Lady Gaga got two awards, as did Jacob Collier. Pretty much all of Billie’s awards came in the last half of the show, so seeing her name called practically back-to-back was an amazing experience for the company, Billie and her team.

Were you surprised her album connected with Recording Academy voters? And did you do a lot to help that?
It wasn’t just about a Grammy plan -- it’s about making sure we’re making the right moves to execute her vision. None of us thought she would sweep the four major categories. You always hope for something like that, but it has only happened one other time.

Does Eilish’s Grammy success change your promotion plans? Will she start playing bigger venues?
We’ve always looked at a 12- to 18-month plan for Billie -- she’s a career artist who deserves that -- and I don’t think it’s going to change much. That said, winning these awards is great for her career: We expect that she’s going to continue to grow and sell more tickets.

Are you planning to release more music to take advantage of this?
Billie and Finn are always working on music -- we announced that she’s doing the next James Bond theme song, and that will obviously come soon. And there’s a documentary that we’ve been filming. … But all that has been in the works for a while.

The success of Eilish’s album is part of a broader hot streak. On the Feb. 1 chart, Interscope has five albums in the top 10 of the Billboard 200; Rocketman is up for the Academy Award for best original song; and on Valentine’s Day, you’ll release the new album by Tame Impala, one of the rare modern rock acts that can headline festivals.
Eminem, who’s obviously at the foundation of Interscope, is [No. 1 on the chart]. I’ve been at the company now for eight years, and the other artists [in the top 10] we signed over the last seven years or so. Real artist development -- like we did with Billie -- takes two, three, four years. With Billie, it took three-and-a-half years. It’s the same with getting the culture of the label in the right place and putting a team together. Interscope was always an amazing place, but Jimmy [Iovine, the label’s founder] brought me in to tweak it a little bit. And I feel like over the last three years everything has started to come together. The good thing is, it’s every genre of music: pop, rock, urban.

A lot of this is about new acts.
Yeah. We’ve been able to do a good job with the superstars -- the Lady Gagas, the Eminems -- and I signed Selena, who has been around for a while. But we’ve also developed these new acts -- Summer Walker, DaBaby, Billie Eilish.

You formed Fueled by Ramen when you were around the same age Billie Eilish is now. Does that make it easier to relate to where she is?
I don’t know if I can relate to anything Billie’s probably feeling -- she’s become the biggest star in the world. But as far as the approach we took over the last three-and-a-half years, that’s exactly what I did when I ran Fueled by Ramen. And Justin, who’s our partner at Darkroom, is very much like what I was when I was running Fueled by Ramen. 

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 1, 2020 issue of Billboard.