One of the breakout stars of the past few years has been Lizzo, the multi-talented singer (and flautist) whose Atlantic Records debut Cuz I Love You in 2019 led to a whopping eight Grammy nominations and three wins, including for best urban contemporary album. Plenty has changed since then, both in the music industry and the world at large, but one thing has not: Lizzo’s presence on the Billboard charts.
This week, her latest single, “About Damn Time,” reached No. 1 on the Pop Airplay chart, her third No. 1 on that list, while spending its seventh week at No. 1 on Hot R&B Songs and charging up to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. And ahead of the July 15 release of her new album, Special, that helps earn Atlantic Records senior vp of A&R Brandon Davis the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Davis talks about the creation of the song, how Atlantic capitalized on its explosion on TikTok, and the many ways in which A&R has changed through the years. “Lizzo markets Lizzo best,” he explains. “We need to keep her out there in the marketplace: we have a sold-out arena tour this fall, a steady stream of videos and short form content and so much more. We feel strongly about the entire album and will continue to amplify songs that we see are connecting with the fans.”
This week, Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” became her third No. 1 single on the Pop Airplay charts, and pushed to No. 3 on the Hot 100. What key decision did you make to help make that happen?
We were at the end of the record making process and knew we had a brilliant body of work but wanted to try one final session for the album. [Producer] Ricky Reed and [songwriter] Blake Slatkin had both been working with Lizzo individually, and I thought for our final session the combination of all three of them would bring an injection of new energy into the studio. The trio hit it off right away: Ricky called me at the end of the first day to play me the bass line of what would eventually become “About Damn Time” and we knew we had something special. Being the musical perfectionist that Lizzo is, we spent 4 months chiseling away with dozens of iterations of the song and eventually landing on the version you hear today.
The song also stays at No. 1 on Hot R&B Songs, where it’s topped the chart for seven weeks running. What have you guys done to help maintain its longevity?
We fly low to the ground — our team is always very aware of what’s happening and has the ability to amplify or quickly pivot when we need to. Whether it’s a TV performance, an interview or a social media post, everything Lizzo does has a life of its own and can become a moment. On one hand we have a long runway of marketing, promotion and publicity hits methodically planned out, but we are also nimble and move quickly when we see something like a TikTok dance go viral.
“About Damn Time” was initially propelled to the top of that chart due to a TikTok dance challenge. How did you use TikTok to help market this song?
Lizzo is a brilliant creator on the platform, so going into this album we knew that TikTok was naturally going to be a meaningful part of our rollout strategy. Within just a few hours of [TikTok creator] Jaeden [Gomez]’s dance video going up, I saw that it was over-performing and sent it to Lizzo. Lizzo’s interaction with that original post amplified it and we very quickly knew we had real momentum with this trend. From there we were able to take the story building on TikTok and convert it to DSPs, radio and beyond. At the end of the day, the best ideas and best content always come from Lizzo, so a lot of our job is following her lead and supporting her to authentically create on TikTok.
Lizzo’s new album, Special, is out July 15. How have you set up this album differently from the last one?
The first album was all about the discovery of Lizzo by the masses. This album is about solidifying her as a global superstar. So much is different now: there are so many opportunities and chess pieces to move around, from TV performances, sync and brand deals, an arena tour, interviews and magazine covers. Our core team, led by Lizzo’s product manager Grace James and publicist Ashley Kalmanowitz along with Lizzo’s managers, Kevin Beisler and Alana Balden, have done a meticulous job at juggling all of these and selecting the right looks that we know will be meaningful moments for Lizzo. Getting music out into the world early was also a point of emphasis for us: whether it was premiering unreleased music in a Super Bowl commercial, or teasing new music on TikTok.
It’s been more than three years since her last album came out. How has the industry changed in that time, and how have you adapted within your role?
The marriage of A&R and marketing has become closer than ever before. As an A&R executive, I now need to think like a marketing and digital executive. I have spent more time than ever before working hand-in-hand with our marketing staff, and also letting them into the record making process earlier. A&R in the current environment has become about so much more than just music and record making — you need to be entrepreneurial and have a sophisticated understanding of many different verticals.