How Rema’s ‘Calm Down’ With Selena Gomez Conquered the Global Charts
"We used to dream of this, but now it's time to put in work to properly represent the culture and connect with more listeners in the U.S.," says Mavin Records COO Tega Oghenejobo.
Amid a wave of Afrobeats artists making inroads on the U.S. charts and American radio in the past few years — headlined by the likes of Wizkid, Burna Boy and Tems, among others — came Rema, the young Nigerian singer signed to Jonzing World and Mavin Records based out of Lagos. Having built a following locally, Rema — who refers to his music as Afrowave — began putting out a series of EPs in 2019 and 2020, landed a spot on the FIFA 21 soundtrack and nabbed some fashion and branding partnerships as well as higher-profile collaborations with some of Nigeria’s up-and-coming artists.
But when he finally released his debut album, Rave & Roses, in March 2022, Rema’s star began exploding not just in Africa but around the globe. His album, which was critically well-received, became the launching pad for a tour that stretched into Europe and North America, while his single “Calm Down” began making inroads at DSPs and across the internet. But in August 2022, that buzz erupted after Selena Gomez hopped on the remix to “Calm Down.” Rema’s star then began an inexorable rise: The song debuted at No. 91 on the Billboard Hot 100 after its release, and it has continued growing ever since, topping the Billboard U.S. Afrobeats Songs chart for 19 straight weeks, reaching a current high of No. 46 on the Hot 100 and, most impressively, reaching No. 1 on the Global Excl.-U.S. chart this week. That success helps Mavin Records COO Tega Oghenejobo earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Oghenejobo breaks down how he and Mavin helped Rema grow from local Nigerian singer into one of the most in-demand Afrobeats artists around, how the Gomez collaboration came together and how his team has helped the song continue building, nearly a full year after its initial release — particularly impressive at a time when songs move so quickly in the modern music industry. “We stayed focused, paid attention to the details, got down and did the hard things needed to give the song a more viable shelf-life,” he says. “We connected with the music industry in every city we’ve been to, and religiously attended to the media rounds. It’s a lot of effort and hard work from everyone involved. We are proud, we are happy for the fans who are having a good time with the song, and we keep going.“
This week, Rema’s “Calm Down” remix featuring Selena Gomez topped Billboard’s U.S. Afrobeats Chart for the 19th straight week, and just reached No. 1 on the Global Excl. U.S. chart. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?
As a label, one of our most important ideals is critical artist development with long-term success in mind. This is the foundation of our earliest work with Rema. After the first year together with him, the world saw his potential just as we did, and his debut project was one of last year’s most anticipated Afrobeats projects. The remix came at the perfect time. We wanted to consolidate on the earlier traction the song had in territories like France and the Netherlands and give the song more life globally. Some of the key decisions that enhanced that success is our aggressive response to the early rollout efforts, and in how we worked with our amazing distribution partners at Virgin Music. They rolled out innovative campaigns in a timely manner and simultaneously with our own marketing efforts as well. The process was made even more seamless by Selena Gomez and her brilliant team at Interscope. Also, it is one thing to have a great song, it is another thing to be able to make it connect with a live audience. Rema’s Rave & Roses tour of Europe and North America was a great success. Our agency partners WME and CAA were phenomenal in aiding the smart routing of Rema’s performances. The artist’s connection with the creator community on social media, engaging with UGCs, were also key to the song’s success.
The song was originally from Rema’s Rave & Roses, out last March. How did the remix come together, and what kind of effect has it had?
Let me start by saying, incredible album by the way. So many gems in that project, and we are really excited about people discovering them. On the remix, shout out to our team, to Rema, the good people at Virgin Music, and of course, Selena Gomez and Interscope. The process of creating the song was seamless — as it often is when both artists love the song. Shooting the video and putting it out was our collective work, and I am very proud we could make it work despite the complexity in the teams’ schedules. Strategically, Selena Gomez is one of music’s biggest stars and a collaboration with her is sure to expand the song’s reach even more. As expected, the song has added new feats for both artists. It’s the No. 1 song on the Billboard Global Excl. U.S. chart — first time for both artists. Same with its place as the No. 1 song on Billboard’s U.S. Afrobeats chart. This is stunning for us, for Rema and for the culture.
How have you kept the song not just relevant, but continuing to grow for so long, particularly in an era when songs move so quickly?
Honestly, it took a village to keep the momentum going. There is the critical role Rema played with his tour of Europe, North America and Africa. Taking the music across new territories, connecting with new cultures. There is also the creator community — influencers and dancers using the song on TikTok, [Instagram] Reels and on Snapchat. The DJs who keep spinning it, radio, TV and the DSPs who love the song and just keep showing support. All the teams involved — Mavin Records, Jonzing World, Virgin Music and Interscope — have been amazing too. We stayed focused, paid attention to the details, got down and did the hard things needed to give the song a more viable shelf-life. We connected with the music industry in every city we’ve been to, and religiously attended to the media rounds. It’s a lot of effort and hard work from everyone involved. We are proud, we are happy for the fans who are having a good time with the song, and we keep going.
Rave & Roses was technically Rema’s debut, but he’s been building steadily over the years, including with some collaborations and inclusion on a FIFA soundtrack. How have you helped guide his growth to the point where the album was critically embraced, and the song has become a massive global hit?
Developing and activating new artists is always an exciting challenge for us at Mavin. There was no doubt about Rema’s talent from the start. But as they say, talent without hard work is nothing. There were a lot of things we still had to get right. His branding was important, his sound, his stage presence and a host of other things that needed attention. Rema is an interesting act to work with because he has a vision of how he sees himself. We at Mavin consider ourselves architects who can collaborate and execute this shared vision, and we were able to properly position him and his brand leading up to the project.
In his first year, we established his sonic versatility. We let the world understand that this is an artist with the ability to create new sounds and penetrate new markets. We had a phenomenal first year. We had three EPs in his debut year, and we kept working, recording and creating music. Brands like FIFA saw the potential and we had a great partnership. Rave & Roses was one of the most anticipated debut albums on the continent. We were patient in our approach and so was Rema. When the time came to put it out, we came on strong. “Calm Down” was the project’s lead single — and what a lead single that is!
How have you helped build Rema’s profile globally? And what deals have you made to help facilitate that?
From the onset, we were working on making a global superstar. His branding was made to be relatable with global audiences while retaining the fundamentals of what made him African. His sound is the same. He juxtaposes elements of western music with Afrobeats, interpolates languages and creates an experience that is enjoyable for both local and global fans. Everyone can enjoy a bit of Rema — and that is the charm. As we mentioned earlier, the collaboration with FIFA was great. We also had Beats on board, then Meta, Snapchat, Pepsi, HP. In fashion, we worked with Bohooman, Places+Faces, Jumpman and many others. These are brands that appeal to a young global audience and to Rema himself. They were a perfect fit for his profile and his trajectory.
With Wizkid, Burna Boy and now Rema breaking into the Hot 100, why do you think African artists are starting to see significant levels of success in the United States? And where do you see this going moving forward?
It takes tenacity, hard work and innovation. The sound has always been good, and we got even better. The industry is bigger. More competition, more investment, more collaboration, more access. It was only a matter of time and I am glad we are here. The U.S. audience is perhaps the most dynamic and experimental in the world. We can see how big K-pop and Latino music is here. The ambition is to have that level of success. To make more people fall in love with African music. The potential is immense. We will grow even bigger. As I often say, we are just scratching the surface. We used to dream of this, but now it’s time to put in work to properly represent the culture and connect with more listeners in the U.S.