Who says you can’t break a debut album in 2018? It might have been another tough year for UK debut artists on the Official Charts but Anne-Marie successfully made the transition from stream queen to albums artist.
She did it with long-awaited first record Speak Your Mind (Asylum/Atlantic), which has gone on to sell 157,217 copies, according to the Official Charts Company. It’s the biggest-selling debut album of the year and the only 2018 UK debut to make the Top 100 sellers of the year to date (including compilations). Speak Your Mind currently sits at No.24 on that rundown with two weeks of the year still to go.
That achievement, along with a growing touring base that saw her support Ed Sheeran on his stadium dates and headline two sold-out nights at O2 Brixton Academy on her UK tour, sees her crowned Music Week’s Breakthrough Artist Of The Year in our new Christmas double issue (“That’s so cool!” she screams, when told).
But this success did not come overnight. Anne-Marie first charted in 2015 and had plenty of single hits, both as a lead and featured artist before hitting albums paydirt thanks a perfectly executed strategy overseen by Asylum’s Ed Howard, Atlantic’s Ben Cook and Hunger Mgmt’s Jazz Sherman. So Music Week sat down with Anne-Marie Nicholson (to give her her full name) to talk Ed Sheeran, pop stardom and why it’s sometimes better to take the long way round…
So, does it feel like this has been your breakthrough year?
“This is the year when I’ve had really big songs out. Although it’s actually more noticeable when you go on tour and the places are full and they sell out. It’s like, ‘Oh, maybe something’s actually happening now’, because other than that, you can’t ever really see how well you’re doing. No matter how your song goes up the chart or whatever, when I see it is when I go on tour and see everyone at venues queuing up. That’s when I’m like, ‘Woaahh!’.”
So, are you pleased you weren’t an overnight sensation?
“I’m in two different minds about the way I’ve done it. I’m very impatient so it’s been a struggle for me to take so long. Every time I write a song I just want to put it out. So, on one hand, it’s been quite frustrating but, on the other, it’s been so good, because I’ve really had the time to figure out who I am and what I want to achieve and what I want to put out into the world. If it had happened really quickly for me, I wouldn’t know what I was doing still. When I first got into the industry I literally had no idea about what I wanted to do, or sound like, or anything, so I’m glad it didn’t just happen overnight for me.”
Do you have a better relationship with your fans because of that?
“Yes. I’ve been able to start really small with them, be in small venues and really see them all the time. Every tour I do, I see the same people, even from when I was with Rudimental. It’s really lovely and I’ve actually got really great fans. I always try and put a positive message out and try and be honest with everyone. I’ve got people who follow my music that are really great and I hardly ever see anything bad. Which is so rare, because there is a lot of bad stuff online and on social media, but I’m lucky enough to have really great supporters and happy people.”
What do you think people like about you and your music?
“It comes down to me just being who I really am. I haven’t changed to become a ‘pop star’. Hopefully they can see when I’m on stage that I’m the same as I am in interviews and when I meet them after the show and if I see them out when I’m shopping. Hopefully they know I’m exactly the same everywhere I am. That’s the way that I’ve been able to cope and deal with social media and shows and stuff: by being who I am. If I became an artist who was known to have perfect selfies and a great sense of style and all that stuff, I probably wouldn’t be able to keep it up! I’d be like, ‘I can’t do it any more!’ I’m just hoping they like the honesty and the lyrics.”
I haven't changed to become a 'pop star'
How important has your team been on the long road to success?
“I’ve always been very opinionated and always known what is best for me and not been scared to say that stuff to people. But I’ve come to understand that Jazz [Sherman] is amazing and my label really let me grow into this for this long. My label have been there for me since the start, when I didn’t know who I was, and they still took me on, seeing potential I guess, and waited for me to write the songs that they needed to take to radio. I have had really good people around me for the journey that I’ve had.”
You’ve also had some bloke called Ed Sheeran in your corner…
“He was probably the first famous person I met as I got into the industry. I was young and didn’t know anything and Ed was really normal – that word is quite boring for some people, but I couldn’t believe how humble he was. He always reminds me, not even by telling me, but just by knowing him, that you don’t have to change. He’s one of the main reasons why I’ve never changed because he hasn’t and he’s so supportive of me.”
For the full, exclusive story of Anne-Marie’s breakthrough, including interviews with Anne-Marie, Ben Cook, Ed Howard and Jazz Sherman, see the new Christmas double issue of Music Week, available now, or click here. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.