Pop

Inside Justin Bieber's Flood-The-Zone Approach at Pop Radio

Justin Bieber
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Justin Bieber

With four singles in the top 25 of the Pop Airplay chart, including new hit "Anyone," Bieber is challenging the number of songs that can be promoted to top 40 at the same time.

Last June, Scooter Braun played over a dozen new songs by his client Justin Bieber for Def Jam executive vp/head of promotion Nicki Farag, and proposed a new kind of radio release strategy.

The pop superstar was in the midst of the most fertile creative period of his career after releasing his 16-song album Changes only four months earlier in February, and “Stuck With U,” his quarantine-inspired charity single with Ariana Grande, in May. “No album, just yet -- a single release every month,” Farag remembers Braun saying. “I’m like, ‘You’re out of your f--king mind. Who’s gonna want to consume that much Bieber in such a short amount of time?’”

Plenty of listeners, it turns out. Since September, Bieber has released “Holy,” a gospel-tinged ode to marital bliss featuring Chance The Rapper; “Lonely,” an ultra-vulnerable ballad with producer Benny Blanco; “Monster,” a downbeat meditation on fame alongside Shawn Mendes; and “Anyone,” a rhythmic pop anthem released on New Year’s Day. All four have become top 20 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, with “Anyone” debuting at No. 6 on this week’s chart; they’re also all in the top 25 of the Pop Airplay chart, which suggests there’s room for more songs at once by a major artist than previously believed.

“Scooter was right,” says Farag. “I’m not saying that consumers want to hear a new Justin Bieber record every seven minutes, but you’ll hear three within an hour -- no flack.”

It’s rare for an artist to have so many songs promoted to Top 40 radio at once, but other pop artists have also found recent success with the strategy, including Grande, Ed Sheeran and The Weeknd. Bieber also isn’t the first superstar to quickly move on from a full-length project just months after releasing it -- Grande, another SB Projects artist, did so two years ago, when she launched “Thank U, Next” in late 2018 to put an abrupt end on her Sweetener album promotion. “We are big supporters of artists releasing music at their pace for their fans,” says Tony Bracy, vp marketing & promotion for SB Projects.

“The difference here,” says Mark Medina, Z100 New York program director, of Bieber’s multi-song approach, “is that all [four] of the records are kind of working! People who have put out a slew of records at the same time or back-to-back-to-back, they don’t always all become radio hits. But so far, that’s what’s happening.”

The traditional way to set up singles at pop radio -- pick a single, promote it for weeks or months until it peaks, then begin pushing a follow-up -- “may be winding down,” adds Medina. One reason: songs become hits even faster on streaming services, and fans expect to hear them on radio. If Bieber puts out a new single every month, Top 40 stations can’t wait until one peaks before starting to play the next.

“If I wait three weeks for a label to roll out a [single] campaign, the kids have chewed it up and spit it out after five days,” says Alex Tear, vp pop music & programming at Sirius XM/Pandora. “I’m looking late, and not in the now. That’s not healthy for radio.”

Farag thinks flooding Top 40 will only work for established stars, though. “I don’t think newer artists are able to do that,” she says. “You really gotta ride a new song [for those artists] all the way to the end, because they need to prove themselves still.”

Bieber’s singles will lead into a new album, Farag confirms, although the immediate goal is “taking ‘Anyone' all the way at multiple formats,” says Bracy. None of the new singles have yet topped the Hot 100, but Medina says Bieber’s flood-the-zone rollout could inspire other labels and managers to rethink release strategies. “I think the key is measuring what success is,” he says. “Is it a No. 1 on the Hot 100? Or is it having three songs out [at once] that are incredibly strong?”

Does that mean that a smaller number of established artists will dominate Top 40 and squeeze out newer acts? From a radio perspective, “that’s a good problem to have,” says Jeremy Rice, director of branding and programming for WBLI (Long Island, N.Y.). “Don’t you want your biggest artists to constantly be having hits?”

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