Marian Hill's Airpods Synch Pushes 'Down' Way, Way Up

Timothy Saccenti
Marian Hill

A decade removed from Apple ads breaking artists like Feist and The Ting Tings, rhythmic pop duo Marian Hill has hit the mainstream thanks to the first AirPods headphones commercial. Since the ad — featuring gravity-defying footwork from dancer Lil Buck — debuted on Jan. 14, downloads for the song “Down” have jumped from negligible to 101,000, according to Nielsen Music, and the track has shot to No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100.

There are no "alternative facts" when it comes to the astonishing numbers for the rocket rise for the pair's single. Since the entrancing song from the EDM-meets-jazz pop duo hit the air as the soundtrack to Apple's first commercial for its wireless AirPods headphones, digital song sales have jumped from negligible in the week before to 22,000 for the week ending Jan. 19, according to figures provided by Nielsen Music.

The spare, beat-driven song from singer Samantha Gongol and producer/keyboardist Jeremy Lloyd's 2016 full-length debut, Act One, is the perfect compliment to dancer Buck's gravity-defying footwork in the spot. The skyrocketing sales are further proof that the right synch (especially an Apple-related one) can change lives overnight. "You hope for it but we certainly did not anticipate the degree to which everything has exploded," Gongol, 26, told Billboard. "We grew up watching those ads."

 

The Philadelphia-bred pair who've known each other since middle school and worked together professionally for three years grew up watching other iconic Apple ads featuring acts such as Feist. "We just proceeded as usual in our head, not expecting much," Lloyd said of the spot they didn't see until its online debut in mid-January, just hours before its placement during an NFL playoff game. "But for it to do everything it's done has been really gratifying and surreal and validating." Gongol said she got goosebumps while viewing it the first time.

"I saw it online the day it came out and I was with my friends and family in their hotel room," she recalled. "Thank god so many people watch football! The stars could not have aligned more perfectly... and to actually have them say our name at the beginning [of the ad] was so perfect."

On-demand streams for "Down" (audio and video combined) jumped from 89,000 the week before the ad to more than 1.6 million in the week ending Jan. 19, a leap Republic Records co-founder and president Avery Lipman calls "magical." In the first week after the ad debuted, Lipman said sales of Act One quadrupled totals for the six months preceding. Lipman and Marian Hill said they were not at liberty to discuss the terms of the Apple deal and both said it was too early to calculate the financial upside of the sales increase.

On the Digital Song Sales chart "Down" was up 53 percent, shooting up 33-8 to sales of 34,000 for the week ending Jan. 26, according to Nielsen Music. In a testament to how many "oh man, what is that song?" moments people are having, according to the group's label they continue to hold down the No. 1 spot on the Shazam USA chart. "For it to be in such a high-profile place and be so totally our vibe visually? We love it," said Lloyd. 

"Sales prior to this were literally anemic, with the single maybe moving 100 units a week, but in the past week (ending Jan. 28) they did 32,500 on just iTunes," an ecstatic Lipman said. Numbers for the pair's 2015 EP Sway have also spiked and "Down" went from "literally zero" airplay before to 270 spins on Jan. 26 and pick-ups across formats including Top 40, Triple A, Alternative, Hot AC as well as online and satellite radio. It also recently debuted on the Pop Songs (No. 36) and Alternative Songs (No. 37) airplay charts. "When Apple gets it right the sky's the limit… and financially speaking we had nothing on the books for this group and I call this one of the few unbudgeted windfalls we've had."

One more example of how quickly things have changed for Marian Hill? Before the commercial aired the group didn't have many plans for 2017 besides working on new music. The week after, they got booked on The Tonight Show on two day's notice and Lipman said the manager for a "huge artist" was recently in his office and a collaboration is in the talking stages.

"I'm trying to make as much music as possible," said Lloyd, whose group had a modest hit ("Back to Me") last year with Fifth Harmony's Lauren Jauregui. "A lot of stuff for us to work on together, things to send to other people. We're in a slightly different mindspace now because it's an exciting place to be where people will be listening."

Lipman recalled being a bit envious in the past when he'd be at home watching a high-profile commercial with an amazing synch from another label. He's just happy now that Republic's "number came up" with the AirPods spot, which has nearly 9 million YouTube views to date, plus 1.8 million for the official audio clip, more than one million streams on Pandora over the past week and over one million streams a week on Spotify, according to Republic.

"We've definitely met people we've looked up to and want to collaborate with," said Gongol. "[Actor] Chris Evans said he's a fan! Captain America likes our music!"

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 18 issue of Billboard.