Mogwai, Olivia Rodrigo Lead U.K.’s Midweek Charts

Mogwai are leading a tight race for the U.K. chart crown.

At the halfway stage in the chart week, the Scottish instrumental rock veterans hold the edge with As The Love Continues (Rock Action), their tenth studio album.

As The Love Continues rules the Official Chart Update, though just 1,800 chart sales currently separate a Top 3 that also features Foo FightersMedicine At Midnight (up 3-2 via Columbia) and British grime MC Ghetts’ Conflict of Interest (new at No. 3 via Warner Records).

Should Mogwai stay on top when the weekly chart is published Friday, it would be their first No. 1 and third consecutive Top 10 studio effort.

Meanwhile, Ariana Grande’s former leader Positions (Republic Records) is on track to revisit the Top 5 for the first time since November 2020. Following the release of a deluxe edition, Positions is at No. 5 on the chart blast and is the most-streamed record of the week so far, the OCC reports.

Also aiming for Top 10 berths are the Whitesnake compilation The Blues Album (new at No. 9 via Rhino), and Yorkshire indie outfit The Reytons’ fourth EP May Seriously Harm You and Others Around You (at No. 10 via Scruff of the Neck).

Over in the U.K. Singles Chart race, Olivia Rodrigo holds her position out front with “Drivers License” (Interscope), ahead of Nathan Evans’ “Wellerman” (Polydor) and “Calling My Phone” (Columbia) by Lil Tjay and 6lack.

Rodrigo is chasing a seventh successive week at No. 1 in the U.K.

Facebook to Lift Its Australian News Ban

Australia’s government announced on Tuesday that Facebook has agreed to lift its ban on Australians sharing news after a deal was struck on legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed in statements that they had reached agreement on amendments to proposed legislation that would make the social network and Google pay for news that they feature.

Facebook blocked Australian users from accessing and sharing news after the House of Representatives passed the draft law late Wednesday last week.

The Senate will debate amended legislation on Tuesday.

“The government has been advised by Facebook that it intends to restore Australian news pages in the coming days,” Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a statement.

On Monday night (Tuesday afternoon AEST), FB issued a statement that points to an agreement with the Australian government.

“After further discussions,” the statement reads, “we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them. As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days.”

Moet Hennessy Buys 50% Stake in Jay-Z’s Champagne Brand

Moet Hennessy is acquiring a 50% stake in rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z’s Champagne brand in an effort to up its cool factor and expand distribution.

Terms of the deal, which was announced Monday, weren’t released.

Armand de Brignac, known familiarly as Ace of Spades because of its distinctive label, is produced in France’s Champagne region by a father and son who are 12th and 13th generation wine growers.

Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, gave the brand a boost in 2006 when he featured one of their bottles in a music video after a public fallout with Cristal, a rival brand. Carter accused Cristal of racism after an executive for the brand mused in an interview about whether partnering with a rapper would harm its image.

In 2014, Carter bought Armand de Brignac for an undisclosed sum. The brand sold more than 500,000 bottles worldwide in 2019.

Moet Hennessy President and CEO Philippe Schaus said Armand de Brignac breaks barriers and reflects contemporary ideas of luxury, even as it supports historic Champagne-making traditions.

“We are incredibly proud to be partnering with them,” Schaus said.

Carter said the partnership will help Armand de Brignac grow and flourish, noting Moet Hennessy’s track record of developing luxury brands like Dom Perignon and Veuve Clicquot. Moet Hennessy is the wine and spirits division of luxury goods company LVMH.

“It is a partnership that has felt familiar the entire time,” Carter said.

Carter is one of several celebrities to profit from a partnership with an alcohol brand.

Actor George Clooney co-founded Casamigos, a tequila brand, in 2013. It was purchased by beverage giant Diageo in 2017 for $700 million. Last year, Diageo also scooped up Aviation American Gin, a brand co-owned by actor Ryan Reynolds, for $610 million.

Actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson recently released a tequila brand called Teramana. Singer John Legend has his own wine label, LVE. And in 2018, singer Bob Dylan launched the Heaven’s Door whiskey brand.

Billie Eilish Releases Live Version of ‘ilomilo’ Ahead of ‘The World’s a Little Blurry’ Film

Billie Eilish continues building up the hype for her upcoming documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry by releasing the live audio for “ilomilo.”

The 19-year-old global phenomenon released the nearly three-minute recording on Monday (Feb. 22), and one of the song’s lyrics contains the doc’s very title. She performed the spine-chilling, pulsating track “ilomilo” at Houston’s Toyota Center on Oct. 10, 2019, which will briefly appear in the film.

Her brother and hitmaker-in-crime Finneas confirmed on Instagram to a fan that the song references a 2010 puzzle video game where a player has to reunite two friends named ilo and milo who are constantly separated from one another. During her March 7, 2019-dated episode of First We Feast’s Hot Ones, Eilish told host Sean Evans about the song. “The whole idea is the game, it’s just like, losing the person you love and then finding them again,” she said.

“The world’s a little blurry/ Or maybe it’s my eyes/ The friends I’ve had to bury/ They keep me up at night/ Said I couldn’t love someone/ ‘Cause I might break/ If you’re gonna die, not by mistake,” she sings in the second verse, which references two other tracks from her 2019 breakthrough debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?: “xanny” and “bury a friend.”

Before The World’s a Little Blurry debuts globally on Apple TV+ on Friday, a live premiere event is set to kick off at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on Thursday. Viewers can stream it for free through the Apple TV and Apple Music apps, or on Eilish’s YouTube channel. Apple Music’s Zane Lowe will host the special, which will include a stripped-down performance from Eilish and a chat with her, plus an interview with director R.J. Cutler and video from the film.

The Apple Original Films documentary feature — produced in partnership with Interscope Films, The Darkroom, This Machine and Lighthouse Management + Media — tells the story of Eilish’s extraordinary rise to superstardom as a teenager, on the road and at home recording her Billboard 200 No. 1 album and two-time Grammy-winning debut When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Listen to “ilomilo” below.

Spotify Stock Hits New High, Valuing Company at $72B

Boosted by news from Spotify’s global Stream On event Monday (Feb. 22), the company’s share price reached an all-time high of $387.44 at midday. During the presentation, CEO Daniel Ek and a host of executives announced plans to launch in 80 new markets; upcoming podcasts from Barack and Michele Obama’s production company, Higher Ground; new tools for do-it-yourself podcasters; and a high-definition audio tier to match existing offerings from Amazon, Qobuz, Tidal and Deeper.

Remarkably, Spotify’s enterprise value hit $72 billion, twice the €30 billion ($36.5 billion) value of Universal Music Group, Spotify’s largest music supplier. But investors’ initial enthusiasm faded away as Spotify’s share price dipped into negative territory just three hours later and ended the day down 4% from the opening price at $349.91. For all of Spotify’s hard work, the realities of running a streaming audio company are unavoidable: Margins are slim and competition is strong.

Since 2019, podcasts have been central to Spotify’s growth strategy and goal of improving the company’s margins. Original and exclusive content not only attract listeners but can help ease pressure from rigid music licensing costs. On that front, Spotify’s spending matches its ambition. Most notably, Spotify paid $100 million to exclusively license The Joe Rogan Podcast, a consistent top podcast since its arrival on the platform in December. Other deals show Spotify is looking beyond celebrity podcasters to attract smaller creators. Megaphone, acquired in November, inserts audio advertisements into podcasts. New self-serve tools for Anchor, the podcast app it purchased in 2019, as well as new monetization options announced Monday, could also attract “long tail” podcasters and, eventually, more advertisers.

Not everybody is buying the growth strategy — at least not at current valuations. Credit Suisse analyst Brian Russo pegs Spotify’s value at just $315 per share and expects “disappointing” subscriber additions in 2021. But other analysts see opportunity ahead. Stifel’s John Egbert, with a price target of $360, sees benefits from geographic expansion and expected price hikes in select markets. Morgan Stanley’s Benjamin Swinburne, who puts the stock’s value at $350, likes Spotify’s expansion potential and leadership in audio streaming.

For its part, 12-year-old Spotify argues the streaming audio business is still in its early stages and that growth, not profits, should be its focus. Its subscribers grew to 155 million at the end of 2020, and it expects to finish 2021 with 172 million to 194 million. “We’re committed to building the world’s leading audio platform,” said Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s chief content officer and advertising business officer, during Monday’s event. Aside from purely advertising impacts, the combination of spoken word with music may increase listening time and reduce churn, a particularly nefarious problem for subscription services because acquiring new customers increases sales and marketing expenses.

An expanding footprint will also help Spotify grow beyond its core European and North American markets. An additional 80 markets — in unnamed countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean — will increase Spotify’s addressable market “to more than a billion people … with nearly half of them already using the internet,” said Ek. It is already available in most of Asia’s most populous countries, such as India and Indonesia, as well as Japan, the world’s second-largest music market. Africa is full of opportunity, although its countries’ average revenue per user will be less than the U.S. or European countries. Still, breaking into markets such as Nigeria (population 201 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (90 million) and Kenya (population 53 million) can amount to big paydays for streaming services.

Teenage Old Soul Casey Bishop Blows ‘American Idol’ Judges Away With Motley Crue, Sarah Vaughan Covers

Casey Bishop may be just 15 years old, but her music taste might say otherwise.

During her American Idol audition on Sunday (Feb. 21), the Florida native named classics like Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime and “blues like Ella Fitzgerald” as her favorite artists.

She admitted to the judges that she doesn’t “have any performing experience, really” and “most of the people that know I love to sing are my friends,” which was surprising when it came down to her rich, powerful cover of Motley Crue’s “Live Wire.”

While the rendition was impressive on its own, judge Katy Perry also wanted “to hear some of the Ella Fitzgerald that she likes.”

“It’s just going to show us a little bit of the difference and the soul part of your voice,” she told the teenager. Bishop rose up to the challenge, performing Sarah Vaughan’s take on “My Funny Valentine.”

Luke Bryan, visibly blown away, compared the young singer to Alejandro Aranda, the runner-up on season 17. “I didn’t think anybody would get close to Alejandro’s audition as far as me being just, like, dipped in Disney and sparkles and flowers and doves, and that’s what your audition was for me,” he shared.

Perry agreed. “Okay, so you’re 15. It’s obviously not your first time on this planet, but maybe this time you will fulfill your purpose,” she joked. “You’re really, really, really good and I love that nobody knows you can sing besides you and a couple of your friends and your hairbrush, probably.”

“What a great concept,” Lionel Richie added. “‘I discovered I could sing, center-stage on American Idol.’ We’re going to enjoy watching you grow right here in front of us.”

“I think she’s the damn winner of American Idol. Period,” Bryan proclaimed.

With a unanimous “yes” from the judges, Bishop easily proceeded to the Hollywood rounds. Watch her full audition below.

 

UK Government Unveils Roadmap for the Return of Live Music

LONDON — This summer could see the return of live gigs, packed nightclubs and outdoor music festivals in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday (Feb. 22), provided COVID-19 infection rates continue to fall and there is no let-up in the U.K.’s vaccination program.

Unveiling a four-step plan to ease England out of lockdown, the prime minister said Monday that limited capacity indoor music shows will be permitted from May 17 onwards — if a number of health provisions are met, including capacity restrictions and social distancing.

The U.K. is the first major music market in Europe to unveil a roadmap for its live sector to return to operation sometime this year. Like most countries around the world, the U.K.’s live industry ground to a halt last March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and it has remained mothballed ever since. On Jan. 6, the country went into lockdown for a third time.

Under the new guidelines, promoters must set audience sizes at a maximum of 1,000 people or 50% of a venue’s capacity (whichever is lower) for select indoor events with up to 4,000 people, or 50% capacity for outdoor events. Large outdoor seated venues where crowds can be safely distributed will be allowed up to 10,000 people or 25% of total seated capacity.

The prime minister said the government could lift all social distancing restrictions in the U.K. from June 21, meaning the return of full-capacity concerts and outdoor shows, as well as the reopening of nightclubs and bars.

For that to happen, four key conditions around vaccinations, infection rates, hospital admissions and new variants of coronavirus need to be met, Johnson said.

He said the four-step proposals, which include the reopening of schools on March 8 and the reopening of shops and outdoor hospitality on April 12, were intended to be “cautious but irreversible” and would be led by “data, not dates.”

Reaction in the U.K. live industry was mixed. Executives welcomed some long-awaited clarity over when they are likely to be able to open again, but called for greater financial support to help businesses, crew members and technicians to survive until then.

Greg Parmley, CEO of newly formed U.K. music trade body LIVE, said the sector had “as predicted” been left “at the back of the queue to reopen.”

According to LIVE, the sector contributed £4.5 billion ($6.3 billion) to the U.K. economy in 2019 and supports 210,000 workers. It estimates revenues dropped by 81% last year.

“Any return to normality for live music could be months behind the rest of the economy,” Parmley said. He called for the establishment of a government-backed insurance scheme covering live shows, similar to what officials have introduced in Germany and Austria, to help mitigate risk for promoters, artists and venues.

David Martin, CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition, said the prime minister’s statement “offers some green shoots of hope for live music” but cautioned “there is some way to go before we return to pre-pandemic levels of activity.”

Similar hopes have been raised before, both in the U.K. and across Europe, only to quickly fade away. In July, a number of socially distanced pilot shows by artists like Frank Turner and Beverly Knight were held in London to explore how live music could safely return. Those plans were put on hold when infection rates and deaths began to rapidly rise across the U.K., resulting in local and national lockdowns.

Last fall, other major touring markets in Europe, including Germany, France and Spain, abandoned plans to return to live entertainment following a spike in COVID-19 cases. Among the casualties was a 12,000-capacity Live Nation-promoted “Return to Live” concert in Düsseldorf headlined by Bryan Adams, scheduled for Sept. 4.

The recent cancellation of the Glastonbury festival for a second year running deepened fears that live music would once again be off limits in 2021. But the success of the U.K.’s vaccination program has produced cautious optimism the sector can bounce back in the second half of the year.

To date, health officials have administered more than 17 million vaccination doses in the U.K. (about one-quarter of the population), with the government planning to offer the vaccine to everyone over the age of 18 by the end of July. The U.K. has the third-highest vaccination rate of any country in the world, behind only Israel and UAE.

“Live music events could be the shot in the arm that Britain needs as we look to bounce back from this pandemic,” said UK Music chief executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, welcoming the prime minister’s announcement.

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