A little more than a year ago, Tove Lo, 27; Kiesza, 25; and Nick Jonas, 22, weren’t even signed. But in 2014 they all emerged as very different kinds of sensations, from alt-rock to dance to pop-R&B. In doing so, they helped define a new chapter for Island Records, which split from Def Jam in April to become a stand-alone label for the first time in 13 years.
David Massey, president, Island: The rebuilding of Island has been about the emergence of our brand-new artists and the recognition they’ve achieved.
Eric Wong, executive VP/GM, Island: And those three artists couldn’t be more different from each other. With Nick, and all the history of the Jonas Brothers, we had to reimage and let the music lead.
Nick Jonas: “Chains” was a bridge between what people had heard from me in the past and what was coming. This leans more toward alternative R&B, neo-soul. My social presence was a main driver, at least in the beginning stages, of my new music being released.
Wong: With Kiesza, we had our friends in the U.K. start the record.
Kiesza:I got to London on Jan. 21. [BBC ?Radio 1 DJ] Annie Mack played “Hideaway” on the 24th. It blew up on SoundCloud. We had to catch up to the song.
Massey: For Tove Lo, the idea was to break her at alternative, because “Habits” has such a cool lyric. [E.g., “I gotta stay high all the time/To keep you off my mind”]
Tove Lo: When we released “Habits” in the U.S., it was a slow but steady climb, with people discovering it on their own, hearing it on the radio. But as soon as it started catching, it went quick.
Massey: The reaction was organic. Programmers see the Shazaming and the sales. Radio embraced it, and the more they did, the more great feedback they got.
2014’s No. 1’s: J Balvin & Farruko | Idina Menzel & the ‘Frozen’ Soundtrack | Tove Lo, Kiesza, & Nick Jonas | Taylor Swift | Barbra Streisand | Weird Al Yankovic | Ed Sheeran & Charli XCX | Nicki Minaj | ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Soundtrack | Enrique Iglesias | Kacey Musgraves | Santana | Sam Smith | Iggy Azalea | Jason Derulo | Meghan Trainor, Nico & Vinz
This article first appeared in the Dec. 20 issue of Billboard.