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Why Giulia Be’s ‘Momager’ Adriana Marinho Felt the Urgency to Take Over

"Momager" was not Adriana Marinho's end goal, and "Brazilian pop star" wasn't her daughter Giulia Be's either.

Adriana Marinho didn’t mean to become her daughter Giulia Be’s manager. The mother of four was an interior designer until one label meeting magnified the mismanagement of her youngest and changed everything. “I don’t know what happened, but the spirit came in me and I just got up,” says Marinho.

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In 2019, Marinho and Giulia finally convinced the singer-songwriter’s then-manager (Marinho kept his name anonymous) and Warner Music Group Brazil CEO Sérgio Affonso to switch out her upcoming single. The mother-daughter duo was pushing “Menina Solta,” a pop ballad which unbeknownst to anyone would catapult Giulia’s career. “Her manager comes in through Zoom and I’m in Rio with Giulia and everybody: the presidents, the marketing team,” explains Marinho. “Sérgio says, ‘Giulia has convinced me that we’re going to release “Menina Solta.” I don’t think it’s going to be a hit, but we will do what the artist is asking. It’s not going to be a single and we will not be investing in the song or in a video.’” At that point, Marinho says Giulia’s manager went on the record against the last-minute switch, “contrary to what we had agreed to as a team before.”

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“I’m a true believer that within four walls, we can say whatever we want, but outside we should be united,” says Marinho. “When he started going against Giulia, I pressed the Intercom button and said, ‘Thank you so much for your time, but you will not be speaking for Giulia anymore.’ I hung up the Intercom, turned to the entire table and said, ‘From now on, you only deal with me.’”

The move was bold and confident, contrary to everything Marinho was feeling at that moment, who broke down upon entering her car. “I said, ‘Oh my God, what did I do?’ And Giulia says, ‘Mom I know you can do this, you’re managing me already and you don’t even notice.’”

With Marinho by her daughter’s side as mom and manager, Giulia’s rise picked up pace. “Menina Solta” went on to become Giulia’s breakthrough single, bringing in over 178 million streams on Spotify alone and its video clocking in at nearly 200 million views on YouTube, making it the burgeoning singer’s biggest record.

The successes continued to pour in, with the Rio-born singer becoming the youngest Brazilian to be nominated for best new artist at the 2021 Latin Grammys “which came as a huge surprise,” says Marinho. The momager secured her daughter a global publishing deal with Sony, renegotiated her original contract with Warner, and locked in a number of brand campaigns including Hawaiiana (in Spain). During her interview with Billboard, Marinho is in Miami with Giulia as the trilingual singer works on a Spanish EP, set to release at the end of May.

While Marinho makes it clear that “momager” was not her end goal, “globally renowned singer” wasn’t Giulia’s either. She had her head in the books, with plans to argue human rights cases in courts throughout the world and eventually make it to the United Nations. “She was going to eventually be the Brazilian Amal Clooney. That was her idol from a very young age,” says Marinho. But every chance Giulia would get, be it a Mother’s Day dedication or school event, she was singing, with “zero shyness,” her mom adds. One of the more A-list impromptu performances came backstage at a Maroon 5 concert when the singer was still in high school. “They all started coming together around her, saying you should definitely do this with your life, and she believed them.”

While Marinho came from a family of attorneys and was always mathematically minded, the music business was entirely new ground for her to explore. “I wasn’t trained for this but I’m not an idiot, so I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, what are these people doing?’” says Marinho of early mismanagement. “So I start taking notes because at the end of the day, it’s my child and my main interest is for her to be happy. And how is she going to be happy? If she succeeds.”

Was it always known that Giulia would become a famous singer?

No, it was not. We thought that Giulia was going to be an attorney, there are a lot of attorneys in the family. She was going into human rights law to eventually be the Brazilian Amal Clooney. That was her idol from a very young age. But at the same time, Giulia was also very into music. She wrote her first song when she was eight years old. She began playing the piano very naturally and the guitar, too. After high school, she got into good colleges in the U.S. and Britain, like Barnard College at Columbia. Then she comes to us and says, “Could I please try to do something with my music before starting college?” And she’s only 17. My husband and I said, OK, Giulia. There’s no reason for us to tell you no. It is your life. So take six months to try to do something with this. Let’s see where it goes. But if for any reason it’s not going anywhere, you have to go back to school.

Did she ever go back to school?

No! [laughs] She put two covers together, and opened a little YouTube channel all on her own. Very simple videos. Not even 30 days later, we get a call from who was to become her manager. He’s a known person in Brazil and we couldn’t believe it. We met with him and he’s telling me all these things like “Giulia is phenomenal. I want to represent her. She has a future. This is what she has to do with her life,” and blah blah blah. I’m really skeptical and he senses that. As I’m leaving, he shows me on his phone offers from Warner Music Brazil, Universal Music Brazil and Disney Brazil. He showed Giulia’s covers to these people and they all wanted her. He was very protective because he already had three majors that wanted her. And I said, great. But I still have to talk to my husband and digest all of this. He calls me maybe 15 minutes after I get home and says the president of Warner Music Brazil wants to meet with you, he’s canceling all his plans. And Giulia’s like “Please, mom, please, mom.”

And did she convince you?

We did have lunch with Sérgio Affonso–wonderful man–and he convinced me that he’s the one. Finally, in March 2018 Giulia signed to Warner, but it was one year before she finally released her first song. Giulia wrote in English, and they wanted a Portuguese song. She started learning how to write in Portuguese and they sent her to different writers but nothing came of it. So finally, they decided to pay attention to the songs in English.

How did the first single, “Too Bad,” come about?

Sérgio shows her song “Too Bad” to the head of global television, who does the soap operas. And the guy freaks out and says, “Oh my god is this Halsey?” Which is the constant comparison, and Sérgio says “No, this is Giulia.” So they finally accept that we’re going to release a song in English. They put “Too Bad” in a soap opera before putting it up on [streaming] platforms. It was number one in Shazam for like three weeks, but nobody could actually get the song because it wasn’t [on platforms]. Then the song comes out with no marketing whatsoever. Horribly done. [At this point], I’m noticing there’s something wrong. And when it came out, without any effort from Warner–at that time, I didn’t know how it worked, but now I do–it goes into 25 international playlists, in the Netherlands, especially. It’s now one of her most popular songs with over 50 million streams on Spotify.

And this is when you begin to notice the mismanagement?

I’m sensing that things are not being done properly. But of course, I wasn’t trained in this industry, so I’m listening a lot more than I’m speaking. Then there was a second release, “Chega,” which she didn’t want to do. It was not that great, but we had to release it. So I’m noticing all these [issues] with management and also Warner. I didn’t feel I had the power to do anything, but I started gaining more confidence.

What was Giulia’s reaction when you fired her former manager in the Warner meeting?

I think Giulia was happy. She just looked at me with relief and I said, “We’re going to look for [another manager] because this is very serious.” So I started looking for someone and we’re still looking.

It seems like you already found the perfect person.

Yeah, I’ve come to that conclusion myself, but it’s been a journey. It’s a lot of responsibility and work. There were many ups and downs in the whole process, including my relationship with Giulia, because we had to adapt. I was always the mother, so at the end of the day, my word was final. But being her manager, I’m working for her. She’s the boss. In my opinion, what a good manager does is draw a map that will get the artist to their goals and respect their peculiarities because you’re not going to change them. They think very differently.

What are some of those differences?

Giulia is very artistic, her mind goes into different places and I’m very objective and very focused on getting the job done. We complement each other. But your artist won’t do exactly what you’re saying and there are events that are not under your control. So everything that is under your control has to go right to have some room for the things that don’t go so well. In the beginning I’m saying to Giulia, “Just do it like this,” and sometimes it doesn’t work that way. But now it flows very, very easily. If she asks for my opinion, I will give it. But I pick my battles. Giulia’s listens, but artistically, she’s her own person in her own world and will do exactly what she wants to do. For many things, she says, “Mom. Forget it.” I’ve suffered a lot, I’ve bit my tongue [laughs].

What would you say has been one of your biggest wins as her manager?

Something that is very important to mention–which is a battle for all artists and is something that I dealt with for the last year–is that Giulia had a five year contract with Warner, and when new artists sign with the major [labels], the contracts are very leonine. It is all for the label, and the artist is nothing.

Artists don’t have any leverage.

Whatsoever. And even though I had a very good attorney, Giulia was still a bet [for Warner]. But after two years, Giulia had over a billion streams and with very little exposure. She had already accomplished so much in so little time that I went to Sérgio and asked if we have room to renegotiate the contract, because the way it is right now, Giulia is not very enthusiastic. They had 88 percent of Giulia. And he said, “Of course.” Giulia’s demand was actually unheard of because it was an existing contract with three years left to go. She wanted to own all her masters, which is a movement around the world. After a year, we signed on December 24th at 9:30pm. It was Christmas Eve and Giulia was the host that year. She is completely independent now but we all live right next to each other.

Like walking distance?

Walking distance. Her brothers together in one place, us and then her.

So did she get her masters?

Yes, I was able to negotiate and now she owns all her masters. We switched it to an atypical licensing contract.

That’s a great Christmas present.

Yes, it was.

At the time Giulia was taking a break to work on “Beyond The Universe?”

Yes. I got Warner to release her for almost four months because of that. The main theme song is Giulia’s composition, and she’s also the protagonist, she plays a pianist. The last scene shows Giulia at the most beautiful theater in Sao Paolo, black-tie with a full orchestra, playing and singing her song. Warner is going to release [the song], but the master is hers with Netflix, and she’s also the author. Netflix usually does buyouts and I said, ‘That’s not going to happen. I’m sorry. The most important aspect of Giulia’s profession are her compositions.’ So I negotiated a very good contract, Giulia has eighty seven and a half percent of the song, and Netflix has twelve and a half percent–I don’t mean to brag or anything like that, it’s sounding like I’m bragging but I’m not [laughs].

How did you learn to do all of this? What’s your professional background?

I’ve had businesses before in interior design and architecture. That’s my natural talent. Everybody has one, I think. I have very good instincts for business but also for math, which was very easy for me in school. And I come from a family of attorneys. My father was an attorney, my husband, brother, niece, then my stepdaughter, her husband and many more.

What does a day-in-the-life look like for you?

Giulia, Giulia, Giulia and more Giulia [laughs]. I get a lot of complaints from the rest of the family.

How were you received when you stepped on the scene as her manager?

Not very well. Sérgio said, “Adriana. I know you’re very involved and you should continue to be because there will come a time when you’ll be the only one who can bring Giulia down to Earth. But don’t do this to yourself. It’s not going to work.” But he was the first one to concede that I proved him wrong. In every meeting that I went to–and it was the case with Netflix, too–for every 10 men, there’s maybe one woman. The industry is still dominated by older men. They look at you and they say, “Oh my God, the mother, what does she know about the industry?” They think they’re going to eat me up. I felt a lot of resistance, but it didn’t bother me. I was raised to be tough and to believe in myself. But it was frustrating. My tactic was and still is to only open my mouth when I was absolutely sure of what I was saying, and to say something that was fundamental to hear at that time.

How do people in the industry describe you now?

An adjective I constantly get is “intense.” And I say thank you because if intense means that I’m here every day pushing to make sure that Giulia gets her [needs] met and that things get done, that’s fine. I’d rather be intense than nonexistent. But I doubt very much that if I was a man, I would get the same adjective.

Are there people in the industry you go to and learn from?

I have a couple of very well-established people that I admire tremendously and trust for advice. The CEO of UBC, Marcelo Castelo Branco. He’s been in the industry forever, in every position. He’s also a voting member at the Grammys and he told me he had voted for Giulia. I’ve just been learning a lot from him. He’s my guru. Also Sérgio Affonso. Even though sometimes we might be at odds, he’s someone that I admire and respect.

How did the conversation about your commission happen?

Giulia is the one who wanted to have this conversation. We are fortunate to have a financial situation where money has never been Giulia’s objective. In our case, I felt very uncomfortable taking money from my daughter. But Giulia wanted to find a way because it became my full-time job, I’m not doing anything else. So she had an idea to create an escrow account where we put away ten percent of everything. Although a manager usually would make 20.

And you didn’t want 20?

I didn’t want anything. It felt very weird to be spending her money that she worked for. But it is a part of the business. It’s important and I recognize that. But it’s a very delicate issue.

I’m sure if you were managing someone who wasn’t your kid, it would be different.

Which I’ve been asked to do, and I’ve refused. I don’t want to manage anyone else. To me, this is a full-time job. I fell into this and I do it because it’s my daughter. At the end of the day, [momagers] are working so hard, we’re dedicating our lives to this. So these mothers really should not feel guilty whatsoever [taking money]. They’re doing their job much better than any other manager would.

Will you stay with Giulia as her manager or do you see yourself phasing out eventually?

I have no idea what the future holds, but I imagine [I’ll stay] as long as she wants me around. It is my nature to supervise everything that my kids–not only her–are doing. I’m interested in their lives. I want to know who is around them. That’s the type of mom I am. So as long as she wants me around, I’ll always be helping in whatever way she needs me. (“Forever!” Giulia shouts gleefully from across the room.)