As James Arthur celebrates his highest peak on the Billboard Hot 100, with “Say You Won’t Let Go” sitting pretty at No. 11 (chart dated June 24), he’s adding another honor to his growing resume. The British singer-songwriter is officially joining Pepsi’s The Sound Drop initiative, which brings emerging artists and aspiring singers together while also allowing artists to connect with fans on a deeper level.
“I was really interested in being part of encouraging people to make music,” Arthur tells Billboard about joining The Sound Drop. “I know firsthand how hard it is to get noticed, so I wanted to get involved and try to inspire people to involve their artistry, keep plugging away. That’s how I got to a place where I’m happy in my career, by expressing myself and trying to inspire others.”
Arthur expressed himself in a major way with his sophomore album Back from the Edge, which gave the 29-year-old an outlet to confront his addiction issues and the mistakes he’s made along his career path since winning The X Factor (U.K.) in 2012 — little did he know that it would top the Official U.K. Albums Chart and allow him to turn his life around. While he acknowledges that he’s “drained every last drop about this comeback story,” Arthur is hoping that The Sound Drop will help him share what he’s learned and also help aspiring singers on their own journey.
“We launched The Sound Drop platform last year to create heightened visibility for some of today’s most exciting emerging artists — connecting them with their fans through original content that gives an insightful look into their inspirations,” Emma Quigley, PepsiCo’s North American Head of Music, tells Billboard in a statement. “James is an undeniable talent, we are thrilled to have him become part of the Sound Drop family and have Pepsi play a role in his journey.”
Ahead of Arthur’s Sound Drop campaign launch Monday (June 19), Billboard chatted with Arthur about his involvement with the initiative, his upcoming summer tour with OneRepublic, and the “out of control” success of his album and “Say You Won’t Let Go.” Check out Arthur’s Sound Drop video and our interview with him below.
What has it been like seeing “Say You Won’t Let Go” have such a life after releasing it about nine months ago?
It’s wild, that’s the only way to describe it. It’s out of control in a good way. I hear so many good things all the time about what this song has done for people. People are getting married to it, falling in love to it, making babies to it — the full spectrum. So I’m happy to have conceived something like that. I’m an artist and I’ve made something that people love. That’s the goal.
Do you have any cool stories about fans connecting with the song?
The best story is something I saw in front of my eyes — we were performing in London and a guy got up and asked a girl to marry him. We kind of all stopped in our tracks and the crowd reacted to it. It was a real goosebumps moment. It was then that I know that the song is really special.
You may be seeing more of that when you hit the road with OneRepublic this summer!
Yeah! I’m beyond stoked for that, it’s going to be sick. I’ve never done a full band show in America and my first one is going to be supporting OneRepublic [Laughs]. We’ve done a lot of acoustic kind of stuff here, but I can’t wait to show people the whole production.
Ryan Tedder is one of the best in the world, in terms of singer-songwriters. I was told that they were fans of me and asked and I was like “Are you f–king kidding me?” It was a no-brainer. It’s weird about him saying that my voice is bonkers — I was fangirling over that for a good full week. Hopefully we’ll drag him on our tour bus while we’re there and get him to produce me a couple of songs.
Before you released your album last October, what were you hoping fans would get out of listening to it, and do you think that’s been achieved after seeing their responses?
I think it started out being songs for me to help me out of a slump and it then became something that I’ve felt quite strongly about being a helpful album for people who might be going through some kind of adversity. I never thought I would actually make a comeback, so when that happened and the album was a success, it gave the album like 10 times more context and became even more powerful. It’s quite miraculous, really.
What advice would you give aspiring artists who might be facing the struggles you were before deciding to getting yourself back on track?
Aside from all the clichés like “never give up” and “work hard,” “believe in yourself,” I would say always make art that feels like it means something to you. That should always be the starting point. Never try and make something for anybody else, and then people will feel it. That’s all I did. Music beats everything, good songs beat everything — you don’t need to think about anything else. If it’s really special, it’ll find a way to do what you want it to do, and ultimately for any artist I think the goal is to touch people and make people feel happy.
What have you learned from being so open in your music and seeing it be so successful?
My biggest takeaway is that I had to do it. It’s been really tough being very open, honest, and speaking about where I’ve been. I honestly now feel like, after a year of talking about it and promoting the album around the world, that chapter is closed for now. I kind of want to start giving less of a f–k about what’s going on and not feeling the need to explain myself so much.
I’ve literally drained every last drop about this comeback story, and now it’s about just being back and heading to the future — make music, make people happy, be happy myself, evolving and moving forward. Hopefully I can get lots more music out there and it’s received in the same way that “Say You Won’t Let Go” has been. I’ve got another single coming called “Can I Be Him,” it’s being serviced now to radio. People don’t really know me yet apart from that song, so we hope to have a follow-up hit with “Can I Be Him,” that would be the icing on the cake.