To kick off its biggest artist-discovery campaign in years, MTV held a special showcase at New York's Highline Ballroom on Jan. 17 featuring four of the program's 13 spotlight artists — Glassnote's EDM singer Robert Delong, Atlantic's power-pop duo Twenty One Pilots, Cherrytree's alt-soul singer Jessie Ware and Interscope's EDM wunderkind Zedd.
The on-air component of Artists to Watch kicked off informally Jan. 8 with the premiere of Delong's "Global Concepts" music video on MTV's AMTV, mtvU and MTV Hits, continuing with the premiere of Zedd featuring Foxes' "Clarity" on Jan. 10. Individual Artist to Watch campaigns featuring custom content will debut Jan. 28 and are scheduled to run for two-week flights. Amy Doyle, exec VP-MTV Music & Talent Strategy, told Backbeat that the campaigns are designed to air as close to an artist's album or touring cycle as possible, to ensure that each one drives as much exposure for each artist during crucial periods as possible. on-air
From left: Van Toffler, President of MTV Music Group, Joanna Bomberg, SVP of MTV Music & Talent Strategy, Jessie Ware, Josh Dun, Twenty One Pilots, Tyler Joseph, Twenty One Pilots, Stephen Friedman, President of MTV, Zedd, Andrew Hampp, Amy Doyle, EVP of MTV Music & Talent Strategy, Jem Aswad, Robert DeLong (Photo: Courtesy MTV)
In addition to Doyle, MTV's programming heavyweights were fully represented at the show — Van Toffler, president of MTV Music Group; Joanna Bomberg, senior VP of MTV Music & Talent Strategy; Stephen Friedman, President of MTV, all four of whom also posed for a photo with the show's four artists and Billboard's Jem Aswad and Andrew Hampp (above). Moments after the shoot, Ware was bombarded with praise from Friedman and Toffler, who was heard rattling off a list of concert programming in the MTV family (VH1 "Storytellers," MTV "Unplugged," etc.) that Ware could potentially get involved with this year.
Also spotted in the VIP section were Glassnote head Daniel Glass, on-hand to check out Delong's opening set, and RCA’s Dan Hairston, who introduced us to a surprisingly unaccompanied quadruple Brit Award nominee Emeli Sande (who, it turned out, had just lost sight of her husband for a few minutes).
From left, RCA's Dan Hairston, Emeli Sande, Alex Aluro (friend of Billboard's Andrew Hampp, who took the photo) and Billboard.biz editor Jem Aswad
Sande, who played to a rapturous crowd the following night at Webster Hall, said she’d come to support Ware during her short, four-song acoustic set; she added that they’d just met for the first time a week before at the Brit Awards nomination ceremony. We also chatted with her about her wild 2012, which saw her scoring hits for herself as well as songwriting credits on albums from Alicia Keys and Rihanna. Of the latter, Sande said she had written a verse to the song "Half of Me" (a bonus cut on the deluxe edition of "Unapologetic") before tailoring the song's truth-behind-the-tabloids message to Rihanna's own personal narrative.
"It was crazy to hear Rihanna's voice on one of my songs," Sande said. She then traded music tips with Backbeat for a solid five minutes (U.K. garage-house act Disclosure is a recent fave, and she's eager to check out L.A. electro-soul act Rhyte) before finally finding her husband Adam (the newlyweds tied the knot in September.)
Other artists to be featured this year are Alt-J, Joey Bada$$, Becky G, Gold Fields, Hunter Hayes, Trinidad James, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Austin Mahone and The Weeknd. Additional concerts featuring Artists to Watch are slated for New York and other cities throughout 2013.