It was the biggest call anyone in the recorded music business made in 2020. When the initial coronavirus lockdown loomed back in March, most major artists with an album scheduled quickly decided to move it back until things got back to normal.
But one star – Music Week 2020 Artist Of The Year Dua Lipa, no less – was brave enough to go the other way. Future Nostalgia had been due to be released on April 3 but, prompted by an online leak, physical copies already being in the supply chain and a burning desire for the world to hear the music she’d been working so hard on for almost two years, Lipa and her team made the bold decision to bring the release forward by a week.
It didn’t pay off straight away – Future Nostalgia was narrowly beaten to No.1 by 5 Seconds Of Summer’s CALM (Polydor) in its first week. But, as the end of the year comes around – despite things never actually getting back to normal – it’s clear that the move paid off, big time.
Future Nostalgia has sold 246,068 copies to date, according to the Official Charts Company, and is the biggest-selling 2020 artist release of the year to date, behind only 2019 albums Lewis Capaldi’s Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent (EMI, 440,300 sales this year) and Harry Styles’ Fine Line (Columbia, 273,492).
Along the way, the album has also spun off five monster hit singles, been nominated for six Grammys and Lipa delivered her record-breaking Studio 2054 livestream, attracting over five million viewers worldwide.
The full story of a campaign like no other is told by Lipa and her team in the new issue of Music Week, available now. But we also gathered the superstar singer-songwriter, Warner Records president Phil Christie and head of A&R Joe Kentish, plus Ben Mawson and Ed Millett, Music Week Managers Of The Year and co-founders of Lipa’s management company and publishers Tap Music, to tell the oral history of the most crucial moment in the story: the release itself.
Read on to find out how they pulled off 2020’s biggest high-stakes gamble…
How did you feel going into the album release?
Dua Lipa: “I’d be lying if I said it was totally fine and I was so ready for whatever was going to happen! I was definitely scared, because there’s always that uncertainty. I put it out just as lockdown was happening in the UK and there was so much uncertainty and suffering, it was a very confusing time. We didn’t know how long we’d be in this, some people were saying two weeks, some were saying six months and I literally had no idea. The thing that made me want to put it out at this time is that I made this record as a form of escapism, to get away from any pressures or words from other people. It was the reason why this album was created so, if there was any time to put it out, it should be now.”
Ed Millett, Tap Music: “Just as we entered the year, there was so much internal excitement about getting this music out because, as the songs came in, they were everything and more that we hoped they would be. Our hand was forced to a certain degree, but she just owned it.”
On release day, people’s responses made it feel like it was Christmas morning
Did you contemplate putting the release back?
Ben Mawson, Tap Music: “Yeah, we did debate that obviously, but I’m glad we didn’t because we don’t know when normal’s coming back. We’ll have another album out before then!” [Laughs]
Phil Christie, Warner Records: “There was a leak that we had to evaluate, but it was also because the music was in the physical supply chain both here and in America. So the idea that we would have physical copies sitting in storerooms across America, it was going to be impossible to fix a future date and hold the record in, and it was leaking anyway so we said, ‘We’ve got to roll’.”
Joe Kentish, Warner Records: “We were having all types of discussions about what should happen and Dua was the one who said, ‘We’re going to put it out and what’s going to happen is going to happen, let’s go’. There was a possibility of it being moved back months. But she came round to it and said, ‘It needs to come now’.”
Release week must have been stressful…
JK: “Yeah, especially as, as Dua says herself, the whole album was written with a view to being performed live. Her tours had been really growing at the end of the first record and so this one, she saw where it was going and wanted a record that she could tour and do one of those massive world arena tours that she’d always dreamed of. When she was writing the songs, she imagined herself singing them at Glastonbury, that’s how she envisioned whether it was going to have the right energy. But all that went out the window with so many other things. The mood of fear, people’s health was seriously at risk, suddenly everything changed, not just in terms of the industry, but the world. It felt the opposite of this record she’d made.”
DL: “It was scary, for sure. But now when I look back on it, I really wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I’m really happy that I went with my gut and said, ‘OK, let’s just do it’. I’d been holding on to these songs for a while and they needed to come out.”
I haven't checked in on 5 Seconds Of Summer's Grammy nominations...
Phil Christie, Warner Records
Famously, you missed out on No.1 in the first week…
PC: “I haven’t checked in on 5 Seconds Of Summer’s Grammy nominations but I think week one might have been their peak week. [Laughs] We had to run with it and that week one chart battle was just a case of the situation we are in in the UK with the chart, which is about physical formatting, D2C plays, how many cassettes you can bundle and how directly you can engage with a small core audience that you sell multiple copies to. I didn’t really lose much sleep over that if I’m honest. The run rate of the record, the critical acclaim that we got, we knew was going to give us an opportunity.”
When did you realise things were going your way?
DL: “On release day. Regardless that I didn’t get my No.1 first week, that was fine. But on release day, people’s responses made it feel like it was Christmas morning. Honestly, I was just so happy and excited. Everybody had a different favourite song and everybody was sending such nice messages. People’s responses were amazing. Once things started opening up again, I would bump into people and they’d say, ‘Your music was soundtracking all my workouts at home’ – all of that was amazing and I was really happy about it. That’s all I could ever hope for.”
PC: “It was landing with people well outside of Dua’s core fanbase and the people who engaged with album one, it had a much greater level of appreciation. We had Don’t Start Now which was a bonafide global hit but, when the album dropped and the reviews started to land and the chatter online showed people’s appreciation for the record, they got the concept, it listened brilliantly from start to finish, people picked out multiple records… It just felt like an album that was landing with real clarity and weight and that was the most exciting thing about week one. The chart position wasn’t something we lost a lot of sleep over. And then it went to No.1 the week after…”
How will you will look back on this campaign?
DL: “It could have gone one of two ways and I’m glad it went that way! I’m glad people responded to it.”
BM: “In terms of its lasting value, Future Nostalgia will benefit from the memories that people attach to it. It’s been such a weird year, both musically and for the fact that it came out at such a strange time, which means that, for a lot of people, it will be a very special album for them.”
PC: “Future Nostalgia was conceived pre-Covid, so it was about togetherness, a record for dancing to at parties and clubs. Although that fell away, the record still had that feel to it. It’s impossible to say how it would have been received had life been going on normally, but it certainly had a very particular resonance in the vacuum that lockdown created. We were debating moving it back, but we stuck with the date and it was probably the best decision we collectively made on the campaign, because it gave the album that opportunity to exist in isolation. It got more coverage and consumption as a result and that really got it going.”
DL: “This is the record that really helped me find my confidence and helped me grow into the artist and performer I want to be. It’s taught me so much. So I’ll always look back on this time, and this record in particular, fondly. It was the album that taught me the ropes.”
* To read our full, exclusive Dua Lipa cover story, get the new issue of Music Week magazine, available now, or click here. To order your print edition, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.