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Amex AIR 2015 Launches in Los Angeles With Concert, Summit Day

Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for American Express
Slim Jimmy and Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd perform onstage at American Express UNSTAGED: Artists in Residence Concert with BORNS, Gavin James, Pia Mia and Rae Sremmurd at El Rey Theatre on Aug. 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  

American Express’ 2015 Artist in Residence program, which aims to boost awareness of rising musical acts through a series of live performances and online interviews, officially launched Thursday (Aug. 20) in Los Angeles with an educational summit and an exclusive concert at the El Rey Theatre. 

The second cycle of Amex AIR -- which features hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd, singer/actress Pia Mia, singer-songwriter Gavin James and pop singer Børns -- began with a morning summit at L.A.’s historic Carondelet House, where the buzzworthy artists were treated to career advice and best practice tips from some of today’s top players in music and technology. 

“We see today as a beginning of a relationship with each of you,” Walter Frye, VP of entertainment marketing and sponsorships at American Express, told the musicians in his opening remarks at the summit. “Last year we kicked off with Rixton, Betty Who and Mary Lambert, and since then we’ve done a lot with each of those artists.” 

From there, Paper Magazine chief creative officer Drew Elliott led Q&As with Interscope Geffen A&M vice chairman Steve Berman and execs from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pandora. AIR acts participated in private one-on-one sessions with producer and songwriter Emile Haynie, video director Diane Martel, stylist Brandy St. John and music marketing guru Kelly Covell. 


Børns, whose real name is Garrett Borns, tells Billboard that he’s looking forward to working with the financial services company in the months leading up to the Oct. 16 release of his new album, Dopamine.

“I feel like Amex has done a good job of working with really creative people,” Børns said, noting that he’s especially happy with the new Amex AIR online interview that tells the story of his musical journey and the inspiration behind his songs. 

“I’ve never had the experience of working with a corporation like this before, but they’ve done a great good job of bringing in pretty amazing artists who I never would’ve met,” Børns continued.  Pia Mia echoed that sentiment, telling Billboard that she left Thursday’s summit feeling very inspired.  

Follow the Journeys of Rae Sremmurd, Pia Mia, Gavin James & Børns

“It’s been so cool hearing how are stories are almost similar -- with Børns and Gavin, music found us,” said the Guam-born singer, who’s currently working on her debut album. “It wasn’t something, like, ‘we want to be famous.’ We all accidentally got into this and felt the passion instantly.” 

Later in the day, Rae Sremmurd, Mia, James and Børns headed to the 770-capacity El Rey to deliver explosive 30-minute performances exclusively for American Express cardholders.

Highlights of the evening showcase included James acoustically performing “Better Pill” while circled by fans on the floor, Pia Mia snatching an audience member’s phone to Snapchat herself, Børns tossing zebra pinatas filled with candy into the crowd, and a shirtless Rae Sremmurd tearing down the house with their hit songs “Throw Sum Mo” and “No Type.”

“Thanks American Express the show was lit,” the hip-hop duo tweeted after the show. 


Billboard and Amex AIR will share exclusive footage from the concert and behind-the-scenes interviews from the event in the coming days.