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NEAR TRUTHS: I.B. BAD PLAYS PAC MAN

PAC MAN, REVISITED: With profits and revenue skyrocketing, UMG has become increasingly aggressive about taking high-priced deals off the table. If Sir Lucian Grainge’s acquisitive tendencies give you a feeling of déjà vu, perhaps you’re recalling his days atop UMG U.K., where his relentless dealmaking strategy built a behemoth that left the competition in the rearview. Some say his tactical onslaught helped crush EMI—perhaps that’s mere industry folklore, but it’s part of the Knight’s legend. It’s certainly true that, as Eamonn Forde recounts in his book The Final Days of EMI: Selling the Pig, Grainge regularly inked commercially viable projects that Parlophone was “too cool” to sign and ate their lunch.

One can only imagine what Sir Grainge will be able to accomplish if Vivendi sells 50% of Uni, as planned, to a major investor or group. With valuation as high as $40b, sparked by unprecedented and unrivaled marketshare, the mind reels at the possibilities. Could this be the dawning of a new era of domination hitherto unseen in the biz? Will the 500-pound gorilla become the 50-foot Transformer?

BID-NESS: While we’re at it, who’s kicking the tires of UMG? How serious a candidate is Liberty Media? Many insiders wonder if they have the requisite financial statement to compete for a company valued at as much as $40b. Word has it Tencent and Alibaba are among the most serious bidders—how might Chinese-based involvement affect the evolution of the company? Alphabet/Google, Amazon and Apple are also believed to be in the queue; either would instantly change the power balance of the biz with such a purchase, given how intensively they’re involved in content delivery. And then there’s Verizon, which has already bundled music streaming in various consumer offers. How disruptive might a mobile carrier’s ownership of the leading music company be with respect to the streaming landscape?

Of course, some biz folk wonder if the above is more than the churning of the “what if” rumor mill—are any of these strategic players real? Some doubt that any of them are. Is a consortium of financial institutions a more likely buyer than any of the above strategic players?

THE PIE AND THE SCOOP: Speaking of marketshare, UMG’s current dominion is built on the label power trio of Interscope, Republic and Capitol. Currently leading the trinity is white-hot Interscope (9.4 in share), whose Juice WRLD continues a chart-topping run while A Star Is Born, re-energized by its big Oscar moment (which gave us the long-awaited Gaga-Bradley live duet), continues to sell and stream and now sees “Shallow” explode at radio. Star is the #2 album YTD. And then there’s J. Cole (#5 song YTD), whose latest single tops the streaming chart, and the ongoing success of the Benny Blanco-Halsey-Khalid track (which is just about Top 20 on Spotify Global).

Monte Lipman’s Republic (8.4) continues to consume much of the streaming oxygen in the room. The label currently has seven of the Top 10 tracks on the Spotify U.S. chart; its rule on these charts has lately been led by the super-resilient Ariana Grande (who has the #1 album and #1 and #8 songs YTD) and Post Malone (#2 song, #6 album). Both artists have helped pave the way for the new “never off cycle” artist trajectory, releasing music constantly and refusing to relinquish the charts. Most recently, Republic has scored a new hit from the reunited Jonas Brothers, who are exploding.

Steve Barnett’s Capitol Music Group (7.8) has the #3 and #9 songs YTD, thanks to Halsey (whose smash has been a monster by every metric) and Quality Control/Motown’s Lil Baby & Gunna, respectively. He’s also got serious momentum with singles by Sam Smith f/Normani, Mabel and Fletcher; highly touted Brit Freya Ridings is on deck. (We note the ongoing synergy, on multiple Tower projects, with Capitol’s prolific U.K. division.) This in the wake of recent breakouts by XXXtentacion, 6ix9ine, Trippie Redd, Niall Horan and more.

Next to drop for House Janick: Billie Eilish, whose youthquake is due for its first true seismic reading. Insiders setting up their NCAA-style brackets are betting on Eilish debuting in the range of 250k-350k, a huge number for a non-hip-hop act; songs from her forthcoming album will be close to 300k RTD by the drop date. Overall, artist consumption on Eilish is creeping up on 1.5m. This is one of the biggest artist-development stories of recent times, and reflects years of patience on the part of Janick’s team, Justin Lubliner (who has Eilish on his Darkroom imprint), Eilish’s brother, Finneas O’Connell, who serves as co-writer/producer, managers Danny Rukasin and Brandon Goodman, agent Sara Bollwinkel at Paradigm, attorney David Ferreria of MMML and others. As Janick noted in an interview with us last year, “When we were talking to her, we were early on it, but then some other labels came in, and we said, ‘Some of these labels are just going to want to jam you to have hits sooner rather than later.’ We felt like she needed to develop.”

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