Part pep rally, part upfront presentation, Capitol Music Group held its sixth annual Capitol Congress Aug. 7 at Hollywood’s ArcLight Theater, just a short distance from the famed Capitol Tower.
Capitol Music Group artists Katy Perry, NCT 127, Quavo, Halsey, Niall Horan, Lil Baby, Vince Staples, BJ The Chicago Kid and Marshmello showed up to fly the company flag and, in some cases, introduce new music or accept plaques for hitting career milestones.
But the news that drew the biggest cheers was the formation of SuperM, a K-pop supergroup composed of Taemin from SHINee, EXO’s Baekhyun and Kai, NCT 127’s Taeyong and Mark, and Lucas and Ten of Chinese band WayV. Seoul-based SM Entertainment founder and producer Soo-Man Lee called the outfit “The Avengers of K-pop,” promising new music in October.
All eight members of NCT 127, who released new single “Highway to Heaven” three weeks ago, were on hand to thank the CMG and Caroline ranks including Caroline president Jacqueline Saturn. She praised the group’s accomplishments, among them the May release of NCT #127 We Are Superhuman, which debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard Top 200.
Diversity was a repeated theme throughout the five-hour presentation. During his introductory remarks, Capitol Music Group chairman/CEO Steve Barnett, who welcomed hundreds of CMG staffers from around the world, spoke about the company’s commitment to diversity throughout its artist roster and staff, stating, “Diversity is our superpower. We don’t just welcome it, we strive to achieve it and embrace it fully.”
CMG COO Michelle Jubelirer continued the theme, introducing a film that touted CMG’s participation in International Women’s Day, Pride Month and Bonus Tracks, a program that mentors at-risk youths and this year will expand into Atlanta, following initial efforts in Los Angeles and Nashville.
Later, Universal Music Publishing Group CEO/chairman Jody Gerson and Dr. Stacy Smith, head of USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative took the stage. Noting that the Initiative’s February study revealed that only 22 percent of pop artists and 12 percent of songwriters on Billboard’s Hot 100 over the last several years are women, the pair commended CMG’s recent two-day all-female writing camp—organized by She Is the Music—that paired CMG female artists, including Carmen DeLeon, Grace Weber and Njomza, with top female producers and songwriters. She is the Music, founded by Gerson, Alicia Keys, producer Ann Micieli and agent Sam Kirby Yoh, champions equality, inclusivity and opportunity for women.
In honor of Motown’s 60th anniversary this year and its ongoing legacy, founder Berry Gordy was presented with the Capitol’s second annual Icon Award (2018’s inaugural recipient was Paul McCartney). Capitol’s Barnett and Motown president Ethiopia Habtemariam presented the award to a spry Gordy who joked, “Did Ethiopia say 60 years of Motown? That’s impossible, I’m only 50.” He went on to thank the Motown family past—“Who laughed and cried, lived and died to make Motown what it has become”—and present including Barnett, Habtemariam and [UMe president/CEO] Bruce Resnikoff: “They’re all here today helping to spread our legacy of love around the world.”
Other highlights of the 2019 Capitol Congress included:
*Niall Horan was the first performer of the day, debuting poignant ballad “Put a Little Love on Me,” with keyboard accompaniment by producer Greg Kurstin. “I haven’t performed in a little over a year, so I’m shitting it,” the Capitol artist said with a laugh. With his strong performance behind him, Horan then introduced new single, the trippy “Nice To Meet Ya,” which will come out in September. “It’s been a while since I’ve released music,” he said. “I know there are a lot of people in the room supporting me and I can feel that … and your anxiousness.”
* Following a performance of “Time Today,” a single from his new album 1123, Motown artist BJ The Chicago Kid helped announce a year-long partnership between Bose and CMG designed to “create the future of immersive listening experiences” to kick off the new partnership, the audio-augmented reality platform Bose AR is using a selection of tracks from BJ’s album to demonstrate how artists can distribute interactive singles, promote upcoming concerts and unlock exclusive location-based stories, among other capabilities.
* After introducing a riveting clip from the forthcoming movie Queen & Slim, Motown’s Habtemariam revealed the label will be the film’s soundtrack partner. Written by Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe with a score by Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), Queen & Slim marks the feature-film directorial debut of Grammy Award-winning video director Melina Matsoukas, who sat down for a Q&A with Habtemariam. “We want to create a modern-day version of such powerful ‘90s soundtracks as The Nutty Professor and Love Jones,” said Matsoukas. “I want to show the diversity of black music new and old; a sonic black culture journey that changes people’s minds as to who we are as a people and how we live.”
* Katy Perry received a plaque commemorating 100 million RIAA song certifications, making her one of only five artists to have topped 100 million certified units with their digital singles, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America and the first Capitol recipient. Perry then debuted her new single, “Small Talk,” co-written with Charlie Puth. The follow-up to “Never Really Over” drops to radio and streaming services at midnight, Aug. 8.
* Quality Control CEO Pierre “Pee” Thomas and COO Kevin “Coach K” Lee presented a platinum plaque to its hot artist Lil Baby to salute the more than 9 billion global streams of his songs. Both executives talked about their 24-month journey in tandem with Motown in developing Lil Baby into a music star after his stint in prison. “For that kid to come home and be able to turn his life around from negative to positive speaks volumes,” said Thomas. Added Lil Baby, “I just want to say thank you. That’s it.”
* The QC principals were next joined onstage by Migos member Quavo, Marginal Mediaworks founder/CEO Sanjay Sharma, Imagine Kids+Family president Stephanie Sperber and CMG execs to announce their partnership in developing an animated franchise series. Aimed at children aged 8-12 and inspired by Atlanta’s hip-hop music and culture scene, the series will be executive produced by Imagine Entertainment chairman Brian Grazer (who appeared via video), Sharma, Sperber and Quavo. Noted Quavo of his segue into animation, “I have long seen how hip-hop, as well as [Migos’] music really impacts kids. I’ve loved animation my whole life whether on TV or in movies and I wanted my first jump into this premium content world to be a show just for kids. It will definitely reflect the creativity, love and families in and around the ‘Nawf’ [north] side of Atlanta where we grew up.”
* Motown vp of A&R Lindsey Lanier and CMG senior vp of global creative Amber Grimes introduced Vince Staples as the newest member of the Motown/CMG family via his manager Corey Smith’s newly launched Blacksmith Recordings. Staples participated in a 30-minute live taping of the podcast Jemele Hill Is Unbothered. Asked by Hill when fans can expect a new album, Staples noted that the way people consume music is changing. “I’m just trying to put out things I’ve created for the sake of creating,” he said, “versus 10 songs pieced together for commercial purposes. We are working on a project called The Vince Staples Show. It’s not necessarily an album … I don’t know what it is yet. We’ll see what people say in comments and go with that.”
* Gabriela Henriques, CMG senior manager, creative sync licensing, moderated a short panel with Emeka Ofodile, ESPN vp, sports marketing; Kevin Wilson, ESPN music director and Paul Steele of Triple 8 Management about the network’s music usage and its selection of Cletus the Van/Caroline act Judah & the Lion’s “Let’s Go” as the anthem for the 2019-2020 college football season. “The song has to be amazing and has to last 15 weeks,” said Ofodile. “After hearing it all the time, you still [have to] think it’s super cool.” Steele, who manages the band, called the sync placement an “absolute game changer.”
*Marshmello showed up in his trademark cylindrical headwear to accept an RIAA plaque commemorating sales in excess of 5 million for the Joytime Collective/Astralwerks single, “Happier” featuring Bastille in the U.S. “This record changed my life, so thank you guys,” he told the audience.
*Director Spike Jonze, a longtime Beastie Boys collaborator, introduced a clip from Beastie Boys Story-A 2 Person 1 Man Show About 3 Kids Who Started a Band Together, a forthcoming Beastie Boys documentary taken from a stage show he developed with surviving Beasties Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock”Horovitz that the pair performed in New York and Philadelphia this Spring. “Mike and Adam tell the story from inside the band,” Jonze said. The doc’s release date has yet to be set.
*Halsey, who released new track “Nightmare” in May, sat with author/journalist Lizzy Goodman for a wide-ranging conversation that covered social media and creativity, as she continues work on her successor to 2017’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. “I’m finishing my [third] record. I’m going to be 25 in two months,” the “Without Me” singer said. “I’m a quarter of a century old. I didn’t think I was going to be alive that long. I grew up in a world where being 25 [meant] having three kids and being in a shitty relationship or I was going to be dead because young people with bi-polar disorder who grow up with no resources don’t usually end up thriving at 25.” Prior to the interview, Capitol presented Halsey with an RIAA plaque for 5 million adjusted sales for “Without Me.”
Following the presentations, the event moved to the Capitol Tower lot for the annual evening party attended by CMG executive and staff, acts, managers and media.