At Universal Music Group’s annual pre-Grammys artist showcase in New York Saturday (Jan. 27), UMG chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge expressed gratitude that “our industry has transformed itself and returned to growth,” further praising UMG during the decline. “We didn’t dig a hole and hide,” he said.
Instead, the world’s largest music company doubled down on its investment in developing talent. “We never lost faith of one simple fact: the one thing that drives us, our true north star, is music.”
The dividends of that investment were obvious as Grainge ceded the stage to eight acts within the UMG family— many of whom were unknown even two years ago— for an enjoyable showcase/pep rally at Soho’s Spring Studios.
An energetic Luis Fonsi, the musical veteran of the event’s performers, got the afternoon off to a rousing start with the bouncy “Echame La Culpa” — duet partner Demi Lovato was missing — before launching into a solo version of international smash “Despacito,” which is nominated for song and record of the year at Sunday’s (Jan. 28) Grammy Awards.
Double Grammy nominees Migos then got the joint jumping with “Motorsport” and “Stir Fry,” before declaring the new Capitol album, Culture ll, was already No. 1 in 50 countries since its Friday release.
Kacey Musgraves debuted two gorgeous ballads from Golden Hour, her forthcoming third album for MCA Nashville, the lilting “Butterflies” and “Space Cowboy.”
Island FMLY singer/songwriter Jessie Reyez received the first standing ovation of the event for her provocative song “Gatekeepers,” which could be the official anthem of the #MeToo movement, with the lyrics “We are the gatekeepers/ Spread your legs open/ You could be famous.” It was a daring choice in a room full of mainly male gatekeepers, but her raw, take-no-prisoners delivery was undeniable. She followed with the heartbreaking “Figures.”
6lack strongly delivered “Free” and best rap/sung performance nominee “PRBLMS,” adding he didn’t expect the hit to be nominated. “Don’t try for a particular outcome,” he preached. “Do it because you’re supposed to do it.”
Best new artist nominee Julia Michaels showed a newfound confidence on stage with a boisterous “Uh Huh,” before the Republic artist launched into her song of the year nominee, “Issues.”
Logic, who closed the show with his song of the year contender, “1-800-273-8255,” confidently stated, “I know I’m going to win a Grammy,” before bashfully adding, “I just don’t know if it’s tomorrow.” He was joined by Alessia Cara for the moving song about suicide prevention.
In between performances, the approximately 500 guests were treated to rousing trailers for three upcoming documentaries from UMG’s film and TV production unit, PolyGram Entertainment.
All three looked to be powerhouses. Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams plugged his upcoming doc, The Apollo, about the history of the storied Harlem theater. Also previewed was Todd Haynes’ doc on the Velvet Underground. Both are expected in 2019. Ron Howard’s documentary, Luciano, about iconic opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, is coming in late 2018. That film reunites the team who collaborated on the acclaimed 2016 doc The Beatles: Eight Days a Week.
Additionally, influential rapper Nas received the Spotlight Award for his cultural and philanthropic contributions to New York presented by Grainge, UMG exec VP Michele Anthony and the Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s office of media and entertainment, Julie Menin.
In addition to Grainge and Anthony, among the other UMG execs in attendance were Capitol Music Group chairman/CEO Steve Barnett, COO Michelle Jubelirer and president Ashley Newton; Republic Records chairman Monte Lipman, president Charlie Walk and SVP of promotion Sharon Dastur; UMG Nashville chairman/CEO Mike Duncan, Lava Records CEO Jason Flom, Verve Records CEO Danny Bennett and Interscope president of promotion Brenda Romano.
Universal Music Publishing Group chairman/CEO Jody Gerson, COO Marc Cimino and president, North America, Evan Lamberg were also in the house, as was Universal Pictures president of film music and publishing, Mike Knobloch.
Other executives included Spotify founder/CEO Daniel Ek, CAA head of music Rob Light, IHeartMedia president of entertainment enterprises John Sykes, Big Machine Label Group president/CEO Scott Borchetta, Glassnote founder/president Daniel Glass, Paramount president of motion picture music Randy Spendlove, ABC’s VP, alternative programming and specials, Scott Igoe and coordinating entertainment producer Monica Escobedo, Nickelodeon SVP of music Doug Cohn and legendary Island Records founder Chris Blackwell.