Last week, Lana Del Rey claimed the No. 1 spot in the UK album charts with her fifth album, Lust For Life. Not only was it another victory for Del Rey, it also marked another triumph for Polydor, coming on the back of 2017 successes courtesy of Elbow, Pete Tong, the La La Land soundtrack, plus strong-charting entries from Haim, Take That and Kendrick Lamar. That is to say nothing of their blockbusting success with Luis Fonsi's Despacito track. Yet this is all but a part of the bigger picture that Polydor co-presidents Tom March and Ben Mortimer are working on. Earlier in the year the pair claimed they would "definitely be breaking artists" this year. Here Music Week catches up with March and Mortimer to dissect the Lana campaign and look back at Polydor's successful 2017 so far...
Talk us through the Lana campaign so far. What has stood out for you?
TOM MARCH: “It’s definitely been the best reviewed record of her career – she’s in a great place at the moment, I think. Every single review has been either 4 star or 5 star – it really has been spectacularly received by all media and critics. She’s been on the money, culturally, with the guests on the record. Playboi Carti feels like the most exciting rapper to be emerging from the US at the moment, and obviously she’s had a long relationship with ASAP Rocky and The Weeknd – none of them were forced. What was also really telling for me was that she played her first show in London in four years last week and it just reminded everyone quite how special and revered she is. It was a last minute show, but the reaction from the fans, the crowd and the reviews was that it was a very, very, very special evening. She’s very much the artist’s artist. I was at the show and looked around and there’s Dan from Bastille there, Florence And The Machine there, Hannah from London Grammar, Twigs is there, Professor Green’s there. It’s quite telling. I think she’s possibly in the best place she’s been for a long, long time and long may it continue.”
BEN MORTIMER: “From very early doors we knew we had a great record here. Starting from the early music we heard we could tell she was in a great place creatively. I think she’s really established now as a true artist. The reaction from the crowd at Brixton... you could really feel the love and admiration from the fan base. We’re really chuffed she’s No. 1. It was such a brilliant team effort from across the team at Polydor.”
How does working with Lana compare to other artists?
TOM MARCH: “She’s just so prolific and doesn’t care for the nonsense around it; she cares for her art and stands by it. She’s got the mystique – she sort of glides down from the Hollywood Hills to put music out to the masses and then she glides back up again. She does everything on her own terms. She makes the records she wants to make, how she wants to make them. I think that’s what connects her to her fans – they know it’s absolutely from her and it's genuine. She’s not fussed about making a record that works for a certain place; she does exactly what she wants to do. It’s the same for how she promotes and markets her records. You have to work in a slightly unconventional way because you know she doesn’t want to do TV performances, filmed interviews, or stuff you might normally do with other artists. You have to work out ways of doing things in a different way. We’ve been putting music out for six months on this campaign! Love was a real statement record that reminded everyone how phenomenal she is – it was a powerful return. She was adamant that that was the first record back from the campaign and that set the tone. Yet again, her visuals are spectacular. Like I said before, you can’t rely on the conventional stuff of doing TV and the filmed interviews because that’s not how she wants to promote her record. But her visuals are always so incredible, that’s one of the key elements. Not just the videos, but how she is on social media – on Instagram. There was a brilliant feature on The Fader where it talks about her Instagram game, and how she connects with her fans on social media and does it better than almost anyone else. It’s really interesting. The content she creates, the album trailers she creates, the world she creates around it – people hang on her every word. She’s a very modern artist in that way, she’s embraced the modern world incredibly well while still being a very classic artist. Tap, who are an excellent management company, they really are delivering the goods on multiple artists at the moment. I feel they should be flagged for doing a brilliant job and having an incredible run with Dua Lipa, Lana and others. They’re a brilliant, young dynamic company to work with. ”
In a wider sense, how do you feel about Polydor’s year so far?
TOM MARCH: “It’s been great. That’s our fourth No. 1 record of the year, we had a No. 1 from Elbow, Pete Tong and La La Land, and three big No. 2 records from Kendrick Lamar, Haim and Take That who were all held off the top spot by Mr Sheeran. It’s been a good run. Imagine Dragons was a No. 3 record, it did very well for us recently."
BEN MORTIMER: “It’s fantastic. There’s nothing that feels better, we’re feeling good at the moment. Jax Jones has been a personal highlight – it’s one of the biggest singles of the year. We always knew it was good, but we didn’t know we’d have a record that would be huge in Mexico and South America – it’s exciting to see when a record really goes. Glastonbury was great this year, too. Last year we had our big guns out like Ellie Goulding and Years & Years and others, this year we had the new crowd.”
Speaking of which, you said earlier in the year that you wanted to break new artists, how do you feel that’s going so far?
BEN MORTIMER: “I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy, but we have great things lining up with Stefflon Don, Mabel and Ghosted. We’re giving it our absolute best.”
TOM MARCH: “There’s emerging artists that I feel very excited about, like Mura Masa, that kid’s doing two million streams a day globally. He’s an artist who feels right on the zeitgeist of culture at the moment, he’s selling out Brixton Academy – he’s in a brilliant place. We’re really excited about Mabel, it really feels like it’s her time, she’s got a killer single about to drop imminently. There’s the new Stefflon Don record, Jax Jones has one of the biggest selling singles of the year and his new one with Demi Lovato feels like it’s absolutely huge. Mura Masa, Mabel, Raye, Stefflon Don, Jax Jones are all feeling in a brilliant place. There’s also Maggie Rogers and Julia Michaels. Julia is probably the highest charting debut artist on the singles chart this year with Issues, and Maggie played to 12,000 people at Glastonbury – she’s in a phenomenal place here, Mumford & Sons brought her onstage at their headline show at Latitude. We’re looking forward to her making her record. And then there’s Playboi Carti, and the No. 1 single with Luis Fonsi.”
Why do you think Despacito has been so big?
BEN MORTIMER: “It’s one of those records that just makes you feel fantastic. Away from that, streaming has changed the way people can listen and access, I think we’re going to keep seeing these moments now. It’s been such a phenomenon.”
How did you get involved with the Fonsi record?
TOM MARCH: “Obviously, Universal’s Latin division is on fire at the moment. In the past, records like this might not have gotten through. I remember a few years back there was a huge Enrique Iglesias record Bailando – every country had a massive hit with it but it struggled to go here. But now, with the globalisation of the chart, you can be braver. We just picked up an amazing French rapper called MHD, he raps completely in French, yet we feel there’s a time for him in the UK. He’s the hottest artist in France, Skepta’s a fan, his show here was huge and sold out. We’re embracing people around the world that, in the past, might have been slightly tougher to do. When you saw Fonsi, we saw it bubbling around the Top 50 on the global Spotify chart and you could instantly tell that it had something infectious about it by the speed it was moving so we jumped on it, at that point not knowing there would be a UK version, or that Justin Bieber was going to jump on the record. It was just knowing it was a hit record and that it was going to stream massively. It very quickly flew to No. 1 on the Spotify chart, and in the past maybe you couldn’t see the indicators in the UK – but the speed it started to move through Spotify and Apple Music charts, you could see something was happening in the UK. Initially, a full Spanish record was definitely met with a few raised eyebrows from some media partners, but you can see on Shazam people are playing this in clubs. Spotify and Apple embraced it very early, and their support of the record really drove it through. To be fair to UK radio, who were understandably a bit nervous about playing a Spanish record, as soon as the Justin version came, that just gave it the final kick it needed. Really, it was the power of the public that drove the record through.”
Is that the lesson for the industry here?
BEN MORTIMER: “It goes to prove you can’t be afraid to try some crazy things some times. Everything I’ve been taught for the past 15 years is that foreign language records don’t work in the UK. It was a real punt.”
TOM MARCH: “A record has to have the magic. That does have the magic, it’s undeniable. The lesson, sometimes to all of us, is just to get out of the way – the public are telling you they love a song, they’re telling you it’s a smash. If they want to listen to it, stream it, play it, then who are we to stand in their way? Let’s help take these songs to the masses. This is definitely a sound that’s taking on the whole world. It’s great to be a part of it. We’re working the Mi Gente song by J Balvin at the moment, he’s probably the other massive superstar in that world and the speed at which that song is moving is twice as fast as Luis Fonsi moved in the UK. It’s No. 2 now in the global Spotify chart, in the UK its top 20 on UK Spotify already, top 40 on iTunes already, it’s Shazaming through the roof. Maybe the public are braver that we think.”