EMI and Universal execs on how breakthrough star Mae Stephens became a global streaming sensation

EMI and Universal execs on how breakthrough star Mae Stephens became a global streaming sensation

At a time when there are calls for a new generation of UK superstars, a teenager from Kettering has emerged as a global streaming sensation.

Based on Chartmetric data, Mae Stephens’ If We Ever Broke Up has helped to establish the 19-year-old as the biggest new UK developing act globally. She is just short of 10 million monthly listeners on Spotify.

The breakthrough star is part of the new crop of talent at EMI, including Caity Baser, Mae Muller and Olivia Dean. The Universal Music UK label won the Record Company trophy at the Music Week Awards.

“In our first A&R meeting of 2023, Mae Stephens came up in discussion through our superb scout Richard Lutkin as IWEBU was blowing up on social media,” said Archie Lamb, EMI’s senior A&R director. “As soon as I heard the snippet, I knew it was a hit and made sure the core team including myself, Rich Castillo and Michaela Browne met Mae and her manager, Claudia [Piazza], that day. 

“I’m a big believer in how artists and songs are breaking through short-form content, and when I saw Mae’s content I saw a unique talent. It was a massively competitive deal, one I knew we had to do. It was amazing to see EMI come together to make it happen and deliver the biggest global breakthrough from the UK in a long time!”

Mae Stephens is the first UK developing artist to debut in the Global Spotify Chart on launch in over two years. The original version of the single is on 135 million streams on Spotify alone. Across all platforms including streaming consumption in China, If We Ever Broke Up is on 270 million streams.

As well as 337,000 TikTok followers, Stephens has 119,000 on Instagram.

“Mae’s completely native to social media, which is a total blessing, and she’s really passionate about always being transparent and authentic online,” said EMI’s Michaela Browne, who’s spearheading the marketing campaign. “The monthly listeners and streams are undeniable, and having a hit is key."

Browne praised the team's "incredible work connecting the dots between a global viral hit and artist development".

“There was a clear appetite for IWEBU on social media but we knew the song and the artist were so much more than that,” added Lamb. “The record has such simple yet fresh production from the amazingly talented producer, Morien [van der Tang]. The chorus Mae wrote is so catchy and was clearly resonating with people all over the world – when you hear it you can’t forget it! It sounded like a break-up anthem – which it has gone on to become.”

Mae’s really passionate about always being transparent and authentic online

Michaela Browne

Mae Stephens has broken the record as the highest day ever of daily global video creations for a UK UMG artist and track ever, and has done so for two weeks. The track has more than four billion views on TikTok.

Browne credited the power of the song and Stephens’ “authentic storytelling, audience and ever-evolving short form content” for the viral success.

“TikTok led the record at the beginning massively, but Reels and Shorts took over and drove the record as it grew and each platform had a different strategy,” she explained. “Presenting Mae as a global artist and campaign from the beginning by our presidents Jo [Charrington] and Becky [Allen] alongside the amazing International department, Thom, Joe and Nickie, was integral and meant their creative and entrepreneurial energy was breathed into every market individually from day one.”

If We Ever Broke Up is the biggest airplay hit release of 2023 from a debut artist. It is currently the 11th biggest streaming UMG record globally.

The single has spent 11 weeks in the Top 20 in the UK, where it has sales to date of 253,223 (Official Charts Company). It has spent the last two months on the BBC Radio 1 A list.

Stephens spent April in LA writing with producers and songwriters including Justin Tranter and Jason Evigan. Lamb is working with EMI’s Faye Fullerton on the A&R strategy.

“We, as team, have a very close relationship with Claudia Piazza, Mae’s manager, who has been integral to all the success so far,” he added.

Stephens is supporting Pink this week at BST Hyde Park, followed by an appearance as part of the BlackPink line-up. She also appears at Glastonbury, Latitude, TRNSMT, Wilderness and Reading & Leeds. Headline dates take place later this year.

“It’s been great to see Mae develop as an artist,” said Lamb. “In terms of her writing and live performance, I have seen her continue to grow in confidence. Mae is a phenomenal talent, works so hard and there is no ceiling to what she can achieve globally.”

If We Ever Broke Up is heading for gold status in the US, where consumption is at 25,000 adjusted units per week. It has peaked at No.1 in the Western Chart in China and is doing more then 27 million streams in China per week.

Mae Stephens will become established as a global superstar

Archie Lamb

It has also reached No.1 on the TikTok Chart in Japan, where it is the second most streamed track across all Universal Music catalogue.

“It’s only just starting in some territories which is really exciting,” said Browne. “Although IWEBU is a monster, Mae is still a developing artist and we’re not losing sight of that. The next record has an established US feature which came about extremely organically, which is amazing especially for Mae as it’s one of her idols and will no doubt receive great support. But, fundamentally, any substantial record starts with a story and the fanbase, they’re our No.1 focus and a step that can’t be skipped.

“Storytelling is at the forefront of everything we’ve done globally. A huge amount of people are discovering Mae globally on a daily basis and it’s her story. The ability for them to be brought along for the journey is what’s been key to turning them into real fans. No matter who you are in life, there’s something in Mae’s story and world for you. That has been matched with hard work and relentless commitment from the team with huge focus and support from our MD Lucy Dann.”

“With the inroads and huge streaming success we have had in China & South East Asia, we want to continue to build Mae as a real global artist proposition and solidify her in those markets,” said Lamb.

“I think the future for Mae Stephens is incredibly bright with the amazing team we have here at EMI, led by Jo and Becky, who have been so integral to Mae’s journey so far,” he added. “Mae will continue to write songs which can appeal to people from all walks of life, and she will become established as a global superstar.”

Here, Nickie Owen, president, international marketing, Universal Music UK, takes us further inside the global streaming campaign for Mae Stephens…

How have you helped to secure this streaming breakthrough globally for Mae Stephens? And how is the streaming campaign progressing?

“The excitement around Mae signing to EMI was felt worldwide with all the teams across our markets eager to dive into the world of Mae and work If We Ever Broke Up. We had a huge launch off the single and that came from the momentum that had been built starting with Mae’s fan engagement. We saw early builds across Europe and Australia, then into the US through Republic Records, and now we’re the top streaming track in China and across Douyin, whilst South East Asia – specifically Philippines and Indonesia – are building into another phase now.”

Why do you think it's blown up in this way – what has made it connect to global audiences? How significant is the result for an emerging UK act?

“The result is extremely significant and the connection has come from a  number of things. It’s primarily Mae’s talent and hard work, creating a track that sits across all lanes – we’ve seen it react online across all our global and local social channels, radio, and then translate ultimately into streaming, and that connection with fans.”

Are there global hot spots you are building in partnership with affiliate labels?

“IWEBU started across Europe hitting peaks initially in the Nordics back in February, then into Germany where Mae has been back in this past week, into France where she already has huge support, across to the US with Republic, and now we’re seeing another new phase that has come from a UK trend, embraced by Japan and South Korea, and now streaming partners in China.”

The excitement around Mae Stephens signing to EMI was felt worldwide

Nickie Owen

Are there plans to link Mae Stephens with successful artists in other markets to strengthen her position?

“We have some further remixes to come, which we’re working on in some of the lead markets – especially in South East Asia -  more to come soon!” 

How are you connecting the TikTok audience with DSPs to build consumption?

“Before the track was released, we could already see Mae’s Spotify followers and pre-saves rocket, which is incredible for an artist at this early stage in their career. From there, we’ve made sure that we have Mae – her music and personality – front and centre as much as possible, using more short-form native creative, on and off those platforms, that feels true to where she is being discovered. 

“It’s important to say also that, although TikTok has, of course, been a driver of discovery for this song, we have also seen impressive data on other short form platforms like Reels and Shorts over the course of the campaign.”

What are the ambitions for the next single and a debut album for Mae Stephens?

“The ambitions for Mae into her album are sky high, we really feel that all the work and success of IWEBU has put us in an incredible position for the launch of the next single.

“The focus on Mae internationally from the start with her signing to EMI is her artist proposition, not just the one track. Everything we’ve done with IWEBU has been with that in mind, as she has the whole package and drive to have more success and even bigger tracks internationally.”

Click here to read our Music Week Awards interview with EMI.


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