Polydor is riding high at the moment with a huge UK No.1 album from the Rolling Stones. Hackney Diamonds opened with staggering sales of 72,204 (Official Charts Company).
Charting at No.3 in the US, the Rolling Stones have become the first act to reach the Top 10 there with new albums in every decade since the 1960s.
The Stones’ comeback is one of seven No.1 albums for Polydor so far this year, putting the label joint first with EMI at this stage (chart week 43). Polydor also hit No.1 in the singles chart with Billie Eilish’s What Was I Made For? and Olivia Rodrigo's Vampire.
Polydor, headed by label president Ben Mortimer, can also claim the most No.1s by different artists across albums and singles so far this year, as eight of their nine chart-topping results are for separate campaigns.
To mark Polydor’s chart achievements in 2023, the label’s co-MDs Stephen Hallowes and Jodie Cammidge got together to reflect on their hugely successful campaigns, breakthrough talent and returning acts, and look ahead to more big releases in 2024…
The Rolling Stones has been one of the biggest stories of the year, as well as being one of the most significant album campaigns. What were some of the highlights and challenges for quite a short pre-release period?
Jodie Cammidge: “It’s been a truly remarkable experience to be involved in the Stones and we’re all incredibly happy and proud of how it’s gone so far with Hackney Diamonds. This is just the beginning though, now the full focus is on keeping the album flying throughout Q4 and beyond, and making sure the catalogue remains buoyant too.
“Seeing the band all together at Hackney Empire for the launch was a huge highlight, but the tease campaign [including a spoof advert in the Hackney Gazette] that the Polydor team orchestrated leading up to that point was simply brilliant. It was tasteful, smart and fun. It generated tons of online conversation and resulted in multiple pieces across every major news programme and front pages of the papers. One of the main challenges was making the campaign feel fresh and young, but we’re delivering on that. It’s a truly modern campaign; the Angry video and the Spotify-FC Barca partnership is testament to that and there’s lots more to come.”
Lana Del Rey had the biggest vinyl sales for much of the year and a strong opening week. Can you reflect on her campaign activity this year, which combined traditional retail sales with TikTok and catalogue activations?
Stephen Hallowes: “Lana has had one of the best years of her career. The fandom around her is at an all-time high and you can see that translated into everything; the new album, her catalogue, global e-commerce revenue, the incredible live moments from Hyde Park to stadiums in South America, the conversation around her on social media. She’s the eighth biggest selling artist in the UK so far this year, and globally she now has more monthly listeners on Spotify than both Adele and Beyonce. She’s a true visionary who forges her own path which is often the road less travelled. But she’s always favoured her artistry over chasing immediate commercial success and that’s not necessarily easy. To see that pay off in the way it has this year is an inspiration.”
We love the process of building an artist, but we’ve also had a lot of success helping more established artists take their careers to the next level
Olivia Rodrigo came back even stronger on album No.2. With its obvious array of singles, how has it been working on a campaign that’s set to deliver multiple hits?
JC: “I mean, there was no other option than delivering a No.1 album for Olivia, right?! Thankfully, our job was made a little easier given that Guts is such a brilliant record but also Olivia is so hard-working, plus her management team and Geffen are magnificent partners. It’s been a juggle at times with the focus songs in some of the more traditional areas such as radio, as the album is filled with multiple hits (at one point we had three songs in the Top 10 including a No.1 single for Vampire), but that’s a champagne problem really. We’ve navigated it all well and currently all three of those songs are playlisted at Capital and Radio 1 added them all straight to their A List (as well as A-Listing the whole album too).”
Boygenius had a No.1 album and a charting single. What was it like working on that indie supergroup campaign?
SH: “Boygenius are one of the biggest breakthroughs of the year. The album surprised a lot of people; their audience profile is younger than you would imagine with heavy super-fandom – including many of us at the label! – meaning that, like Lana, they sell vinyl and stream. We could see the opportunity for a No.1 early on and we worked closely with them and their teams to make the right moves towards that but without ever compromising their credibility. And the campaign has continued all year, with the Gunnersbury Park show to 35,000 people in the summer, the album now nearing silver and the new EP last month, which yielded their first charting single.
“We love the process of building an artist from scratch, but we’ve also had a lot of success over the years helping more established artists take their careers to the next level. Alongside Boygenius, Glass Animals has been a fantastic example of that and we’re very excited to be working with Self Esteem and Confidence Man moving forward, both artists with a certain amount of success under their belt but with huge potential to reach new heights.”
Billie Eilish had the first No.1 from the Barbie soundtrack. How special was that result?
JC: “Yeah, a very special result for us all. Billie loves the UK so much, we made it our mission to deliver her another No.1 single. It’s the best song in the film by quite some distance and it also soundtracks the movie’s most poignant moment. It’s all been said before, but artists like Billie don’t come along very often. She is uncompromising and boundary-breaking, and has a remarkable ability to connect instantly with a diverse audience through her music and persona. We’ve witnessed her performing on the smallest stages in London to headlining the very biggest of them all at Glastonbury and this year’s Reading & Leeds Festival, and she owns it with every performance. We’re all very excited to see what’s to come next for her.”
Cian Ducrot was an incredible chart battle – does that show how you can break talent and really deliver on a campaign?
SH: “Cian is one of only two artists to have their debut album go to No.1 this year. Boygenius are the other one. That’s something we’re extremely proud of as breaking artists isn’t easy to do in the current climate, and it’s a vital part of what we do. Polydor are known for consistently delivering fantastic results in the charts. In fact we have more individual artists with No.1 singles and albums than any other label so far this year.”
Clavish is the biggest breakthrough of the year for a UK album act. What’s been key to his success and how can it build from here?
JC: “It’s been a huge year for Clavish and the key for us is simple: always listen to him as he is completely in tune with his audience, and everything is done with authenticity and credibility. I was watching his performance at Wireless Festival this summer, and remember thinking he will be a future mainstage headliner there, I have no doubt about that. His work rate is also phenomenal, so to see his album as the No.1 best-selling debut album of the year is totally deserved.
“Breaking artists is something we really do pride ourselves on at Polydor, and we have five of the Top 10 best-selling debut albums of the year in 2023 – Clavish, Boygenius, Cian Ducrot, Gracie Abrams and Ice Spice.”
Jazzy has been one of the breakout stars of the year with multiple hits. What makes her unique in the dance space?
SH: “Part of what makes Jazzy unique is actually the fact that she has managed to have multiple hits. Dance is such a vibrant genre right now but it’s also a genre that can sometimes favour tracks over artists. Giving Me is the biggest-selling debut single of the year, but what’s almost more exciting to us is that the follow-up single was also a hit. With Jazzy we’re building a proper fan community. The music coming next year is going to really take her to the next level.”
You launched Chaos with a new approach to breaking talent, how is that ramping up for the year ahead in terms of live and multimedia content?
JC: “It’s been a wild first six months for Chaos, they hit the ground running and have quickly become the most talked about dance label in the UK. What’s key to them is breaking artists in a hyper-localised way first, cementing super fans and building from there. They have ambitious plans for Chaos live events in 2024 – and not in London. They will continue to build on the brilliant livestream series that has been a big part of their culture so far, and will also be ramping up their merch range which flies out the moment they get a new delivery.
“The Chaos team are also super aligned with the WUGD label and, alongside Dan Stacey, are doing superb work on Hannah Laing. She’s just announced two nights of massive homecoming shows at Caird Hall in Dundee, both sold out in minutes.”
The Courteeners had a No.1 early in the year - how does Polydor approach a catalogue campaign in partnership with UMR?
SH: “We love working with UMR. Hannah and Azi have brought an incredible fresh energy to that team, and we’ve made a real point this year of identifying and capitalising on these opportunities starting with the Courteeners but also including Haim, The 1975, Snow Patrol, ABBA, and that’s just the anniversary projects we’ve worked on. Every returning artist campaign needs to have a catalogue element to it. With UMR, it’s truly a collaborative process where we both bring our respective skill sets and strengths to deliver the best possible results. SJM were also fantastic partners on the Courteeners project in particular, having the artist and management buy-in was a huge factor in being able to achieve that No.1.”
You also had the 10th anniversary of Haim with a return to the Top 20, how important have they been to the label over the past decade in terms of critical and commercial success?
SH: “Haim are so beloved in the artist community, we’re so proud to have them on the label. They reached a new level of credibility with their last album being nominated for Album Of The Year at the Grammys, and winning the BRIT Award for International Group. They’re working on a new album at the moment which will hopefully come out next year, so this year it felt like the perfect opportunity to shine a light on their beloved debut to mark the anniversary. It’s a classic album and seeing them headline All Points East to 25,000 people over the summer was another brilliant moment in what’s been a fantastic career.”
Ellie Goulding is one of Spotify’s Top 15 UK acts globally of the last 15 years. How have you helped to develop her into a long-term career artist?
JC: “There are various factors at play here. Firstly, it goes without saying but Ellie is such a talented songwriter and has an amazing ability to craft meaningful and relatable lyrics that connect with so many people. From a label perspective, having a consistent release strategy for new music means we’re always maintaining Ellie’s presence. We’re also constantly finding ways to reintroduce her catalogue to new audiences and we’re reactive to social media trends too. Her live performances are also undoubtedly a contributing factor, she’s in the middle of another sold-out tour right now. Unquestionably, Ellie’s collaborations with other artists have expanded her reach and introduced her music to new audiences too. She’s also one of the most versatile artists around, you won’t believe what she’s planning next.”
Breaking artists is something we pride ourselves on at Polydor, and we have five of the Top 10 best-selling debut albums of 2023
Elmiene has been an interesting development story with sold-out shows, TV and fashion performances. What are the opportunities in 2024 in partnership with Def Jam?
JC: “Elmiene is a truly exceptional artist, he has the lot… Sublime voice, incredible songs and he is also such an amazing character, honestly his live shows are borderline stand-up routines. He’s a naturally funny guy and manages to get the audience in the palm of his hands instantly. I went along with him to his debut TV appearance on Later… With Jools Holland earlier this year and he was the one artist that all the others wanted to chat with afterwards, they all knew they had witnessed something special. I could listen to him sing all day long. He has the world at his feet, and I don’t think we will be shy of opportunities in 2024.”
Confidence Man is one of those acts where the word of mouth is incredible. How are you tapping into that growing awareness to take them to the next level?
SH: “You’d have to be living under a rock to have not caught Confidence Man at a festival this summer. They are so much fun and their ability to win over a crowd is second to none. They’re also a testament to our meticulous approach to artist development. Our aim this year was to connect the live story back to their socials and their audience on streaming. Their Spotify listeners have quadrupled in part thanks to some clever features, including Now U Do with DJ Seinfeld, which was also a big radio record, and their social audience has followed a similar trajectory. Next year will be about releasing a lot more of their own music, which is sounding incredible – starting next week with a song called Firebreak that’s been going off in their live set all summer.”
Troye Sivan's first full album in five years went Top 5 and he's now got multiple singles chart entries. Where can he go from here in terms of UK hits and audience building?
SH: “Troye Sivan is such a brilliant example of long-term artist development in the modern age. He has slowly built up a huge audience globally over the last 10 years, and at the same time has had time to develop musically and creatively. As soon as we heard the music and saw the creative he had been working on for this album, we could see the potential to take it to the next level. He’s fantastic at short-form content and a real social media native, but he’s also really proven the value in the long-form music video is still there with the right creative.
“We really encouraged him to spend as much time in the UK as possible over the summer to lay the groundwork for the campaign and it really paid off. He is a joy to work with, the whole team absolutely love him. He has such confidence in what he’s doing. Seeing all this translate into hits and the success of the album has been brilliant.”
What are your other priorities early in 2024 in terms of breaking talent and returning acts?
JC: “We’re all very excited for the return from Glass Animals; a few of us have been lucky enough to hear songs already and we are blown away by it, it sounds stadium-sized! Cannot wait for Sam Fender to be back with new music after a huge year headlining festivals and his enormous shows at Newcastle St James’ Park Stadium in 2023. We should have new music from Self Esteem who’s just started her run as Sally Bowles in Cabaret, is there anything she can’t do?
“Elbow have just delivered one of the best albums of their career, a genuinely brilliant record that will blow people away. Paul Weller will be back, Celeste has been super busy in the studio, Inhaler will be back with their third album having spent the entire year touring the world and have their first ever arena show coming up in Dublin in November, too, which sold out months ago. Snow Patrol will be back too, and there will be a very exciting start to 2024 for Clavish with a new project. Also, we’re very much looking forward to introducing the world to Nia Smith and Kaeto.”
SH: “Becky Hill’s second album is nearly delivered and packed with hits. She just put an arena tour on sale and sold over 70,000 tickets in the first day, which is spectacular, so we are excited to see what we can achieve on an album with her. Mabel has been working away on new music, which I think will surprise and really excite people when we start releasing early next year. Olly Alexander was just immortalised at Madame Tussaud’s, which was wild, he will have new music next year and has something very exciting up his sleeve. We can’t wait to hear what Michael Kiwanuka has been working on and hopefully that will come next year. In terms of new artists, we’ve been building Etta Marcus quietly for the last year and people are starting to take notice. And as I said, very excited to ramp things up release-wise with Confidence Man.”
JC: “And that’s just the UK stuff! Lots more that we can’t talk about yet but we’re in for another big year at Polydor.”
Subscribers can read our Jazzy interview here.
Click here for more on the Stones campaign.