The No.1 albums never stopped for Kylie Minogue in the U.K. – but in recent years that hasn’t been the case with her singles.
All that has changed with the lead track from Minogue’s forthcoming 16th album, “Tension,” due out September 22. “Padam Padam” has become her first Top 10 U.K. hit as a lead artist since 2010, and her first appearance in the chart’s top tier of any kind since 2011. That means she has now had Top 10 British hits across a remarkable five consecutive decades.
“We were all confident we were going to have a great result,” says Jamie Nelson, SVP of U.K. Recordings at Minogue’s label, BMG, who has worked with the star for over 20 years. “But it’s now flipping into an area that’s unprecedented, not just for her, but for a lot of projects that have got so much history.”
Remarkably, the song became a hit despite an initial lack of playlist support from the U.K.’s leading national Top 40/youth radio station, BBC Radio 1. The network was caught up in an ageism row after declining to add the track on release, although “Padam Padam” does now feature on the station’s C List, reportedly making Minogue the first woman over 50 to make the station’s playlist as a lead artist.
“Sometimes there’s a moment that’s undeniable and it becomes a bit strange if you’re not supporting it,” Nelson tells Variety. “And it got to that point. When we launched this, thinking we were going to get Radio 1 was the last thing on our minds. But it’s one of those things where you’ve got fans that are so obsessive about the record, there’s been a lot of messaging into everyone at radio to make sure the record was getting the relevant support.”
The track has earned plenty of radio play elsewhere, including BBC Radio 2 and Capital Radio, and has also proved popular on TikTok. Nelson says Minogue has “been excited to lean into TikTok and have fun with it,” with the song providing “the right mood at the right moment.”
Nelson says there are plenty of potential follow-up hits on the album, which he says is “more electronic” than Minogue’s 2020 “Disco” record, which topped the charts in Britain.
“Have we got music that’s going to resonate and connect with people, and surprise them? Absolutely!” he declares. “We’ve certainly got the singles for a long campaign and there will be a few surprises along the way.”
BMG – which signed Minogue ahead of 2018’s country-tinged “Golden” album and has significantly grown her sales and profile ever since – is also hoping to take the “Padam Padam” pandemic global, especially to the U.S., where the Australian-born superstar has enjoyed a stop-start career. The single has already scored Minogue her biggest hit in Australia and Ireland for a decade, and has become her first-ever Top 10 Dance/Electronic song on the U.S. Billboard chart.
Ariana Grande even posted footage of herself lip-synching to the song on her Instagram story during London’s Pride March. “HAPPY LONDON PRIDE,” she wrote on Saturday. “I LOVE YOUUUUUU.”
“We’ve got so much more reach on the DSPs and TikTok now,” says Nelson. “It’s doubled over the last two albums. There’s a lot of heat and excitement about the record in America and we’ll continue to constantly build that story.”
One record Kylie Minogue no longer holds is the one for the most-watched Glastonbury Festival performance.
Back in 2019, she had set a new mark for the festival’s BBC TV coverage when a peak of 3.9 million watched her ‘legends’ afternoon slot. Paul McCartney matched that peak last year, but this year’s event saw Elton John’s ‘last-ever’ U.K. gig draw a remarkable 7.6m to BBC One on Sunday June 25 – a figure on a par with the series finale of smash hit drama “Happy Valley.”
“It’s testament to Elton’s amazing catalog,” BBC Director of Music, Lorna Clarke, tells Variety. “At Glastonbury, all of the ingredients come together to make things really happen. That starts with an amazing artist, but then it’s what you do with that opportunity. If you’ve got an amazing artist, then you add in broadcast and they don’t make the most of it, you’re not going to get a brilliant experience for the audience. But BBC Studios is the best production team in the world, no question.”
Elton John’s success was part of a raft of impressive Glastonbury figures that also saw Arctic Monkeys set a new Friday night festival record with 2.6m viewers, while digital audiences hit an all-time high on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds. In total, a record 21.6m – one third of the U.K. population – watched the BBC’s Glastonbury TV coverage, although Clarke stresses the event, which also saw extensive live radio broadcasts, is not all about the ratings.
“Glastonbury and the BBC are not just about scale and volume,” she says. “It’s also about Glastonbury and the BBC being able to support emerging artists. I’m not particularly interested in a narrative that says BBC Glastonbury is just about getting bigger.”
Earlier this year, the corporation signed a new multi-year deal with Michael and Emily Eavis to be the festival’s exclusive broadcast partner. But, while many in the music industry have looked at the ratings as proof that there’s an audience for more music on TV, Clarke cautions against pushing things too hard, too fast.
“It’s much more complex than that,” she says. “Of course I want more [music] TV, but it’s got to be the right TV and it’s not just about volume. The last thing you want is a lot of TV and no one watching it.
“Glastonbury is a shortcut for quality,” she adds. “But there are plenty of people who, if they thought they were going to have three Glastonbury moments a year, would literally say, ‘Enough, I don’t want that.’”
Apart from the long-running music showcase, “Later with Jools Holland,” there is currently no regular popular music show on BBC TV. And, despite regular industry appeals, Clarke does not expect that to change in the immediate future.
“People say, ‘Why don’t you have another weekly show?’” she says. “We could, but I don’t have infinite money so, if I did that, what would I stop doing? We’d need the right format – and I haven’t had the right format pitched to me yet.”
The huge appeal of Glastonbury did not prevent London’s biggest festival getting off to a flying start over the same weekend. American Express Presents BST Hyde Park kicked-off on June 23-25, with two sold-out shows from U.S. superstar Pink, as well as its first-ever classical event, All Things Orchestral.
2022 saw the multi-day event score its most successful year ever with shows from the likes of Adele, Elton John and the Rolling Stones, but AEG’s CEO of European Festivals, Jim King, tells Variety this year is already even more successful.
“You just couldn’t think we were going to get any bigger, but we have,” says King. “There are even more tickets sold – 550,000, while 700,000 people will come to BST Hyde Park including our midweek content. It’s phenomenal. It beats our wildest-ever dreams and expectations when we started this back in 2013.”
The 2023 festival features plenty of veteran artists in the likes of Guns N’ Roses (June 30), Take That (July 1), Bruce Springsteen (July 6 and 8) and Billy Joel (July 7). But it also sees appearances from the likes of Lana Del Rey (July 9) and Blackpink, both of whom are playing their biggest-ever U.K. headline shows, with King hailing a significant breakthrough.
“Blackpink are the first K-pop act to headline a major festival in this country,” he says, hailing their July 2 show as “one of the biggest productions that you’re going to see anywhere in the world at the moment.”
“Lana could have sold two shows out, the demand for the show was massive,” he adds. “To have a contemporary female artist headlining the closing night at BST Hyde Park, selling it out easily – it’s a great story.”
With younger artists coming through, King is confident that the oft-discussed festival/stadium headliner pipeline problem is finally easing.
“Look at Harry Styles and his level of quality and showmanship,” he says. “Look at Beyoncé or Ed Sheeran. Taylor Swift is going to have the biggest tour of many a season. There are a lot of younger acts selling a lot of tickets so I don’t think the future is as stale as people think it may be. Music consumption and the development of artists is different from a generation ago – but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be inferior in the future.”
King acknowledges that times remain tough for grassroots and mid-tier touring, but says the top end of U.K. live music is booming again after “rebalancing” itself following the pandemic and numerous supply chain issues.
“If you look at the volume of shows, it’s evidently clear that the industry at that level is incredibly strong,” he says. “Look at who’s touring, look at the scale and quality of those artists and those events. The key to the success of our industry is the value that we put into the marketplace. Our industry will be strong as long as we maintain the quality.”
AEG’s festival portfolio includes London’s All Points East and Paris’ Rock en Seine, also on track for its most successful ever year. Those two events have formed a late-summer mini-circuit with Cala Mijas in Spain, Kalorama in Portugal and Forwards Festival in Bristol, U.K., and King – who says he already has 15-odd active discussions for BST acts underway for next year – says AEG is always looking for more.
“We’re always looking to grow our business,” he says. “But we’re not a volume business in terms of quantity of events – we are a volume business in terms of quality. It’s not about, ‘How do we get to 50 festivals?’ It’s about how we get to six-to-eight festivals in this cycle and make those cycles make sense.”
Another live music business making a big noise in the middle of London is talent agency UTA, which opened its new office just off Oxford Street with a lavish rooftop party last month.
While the music industry has largely moved away from central London in recent years, co-head of UTA U.K., Obi Asika, says the location is crucial.
“It is a big statement to be slap-bang in the middle of town,” Asika tells Variety. “But it’s a big business and London is an extremely important city, so it’s the right statement.”
Asika says the new hub “signals the start of the next stage of the business.” UTA came to the U.K. music industry in 2015 when it bought legendary booking agent Neil Warnock’s Agency Group. Warnock remains co-head of UTA U.K. alongside Asika.
“Although we’ve only been around [in the U.K.] as UTA for eight years, we’ve got 50 years of Neil’s experience so we’re good,” says Asika, whose Echo Location Talent Agency was acquired by UTA in 2021. “London’s never going to be the size of the L.A. office, but we’re the pocket rocket version.”
Asika says “mid-tier touring is still struggling a bit in places,” but – unlike many in the industry – he is optimistic that the U.K. can continue to produce new global stars, despite a lack of breakthroughs in recent years. He cites his client Central Cee, newly signed to Columbia Records in the U.S., as one artist with huge international potential.
“Stuff that comes out of America is much louder and has more money spent on it, but the influence of British artists is still huge,” he says. “Artists like Burna Boy and Wizkid [both repped by UTA] are breaking all convention and that tells you that they’ve created a world outside of our traditional metrics.
“We need to look at that with our British acts,” he adds. “Maybe we shouldn’t always look to America for recognition and look to build in other places as well. Then we might get some huge results that make it easier for us to enter other countries like America.”
Finally, as the U.K. industry waits with bated breath for the government’s creator remuneration working group to start looking at how musicians are paid for streaming, another fault line between musicians and rights-holders has opened up.
Despite lengthy negotiations, labels group BPI has failed to reach an agreement over minimum fees for session musicians with the Musicians Union. The deadline to accept the BPI offer of a 38% raise in the session rate for pop and rock recordings, and a 15% hike for classical sessions, passed on May 31, with both sides blaming the other for the breakdown of talks.
“It does look like a good headline figure and we acknowledge that,” Musicians Union General Secretary Naomi Pohl tells Variety. “If it was a 38% increase with no strings attached, I’m sure our members would probably accept that as a minimum rate. However, there are actually a lot of strings attached.”
Pohl says the session rate has failed to keep up with inflation (although the BPI says there was an 8.3% increase in 2019) and, even with the proposed boost, would remain below other comparable MU agreements with the likes of the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television. But the MU also wants session musicians to be paid a royalty when recordings they have worked on in the past are streamed, as they do when works are broadcast or played in public.
“The record labels are making record profits,” she says. “It’s just not fair that you don’t get any extra income for the fact that you’ve been on a hit record.”
For the BPI, Chief Strategy Officer and interim CEO Sophie Jones tells Variety that such a move would “be a very costly exercise.”
“The industry doesn’t have endless resources at its disposal,” she adds. “The Competition and Markets Authority found there is no excess profit sloshing around. What we’ve proposed is a very significant offer – and that’s going to provide new costs to labels big and small.”
If agreement can’t be reached, conversations about royalty payments for session musicians could be rolled into the remuneration working group’s discussion of the wider issues thrown up by the #FixStreaming and #BrokenRecord campaigns, spicing up those talks still further. The BPI – while stressing it will be a “willing, engaged participant” – has already raised concerns about the working group.
“There’s no problem in having on-going, proper scrutiny of these issues,” Jones says. “The concern is, we’ve had a very long conversation involving government about the industry. So it has to be a really well-informed and dispassionate discussion that also takes into account the potential future consequences of some of the things that are being proposed.
“And I don’t think that has been borne out in the conversations [so far],” she adds. “There’s been a lot of anecdote, a lot of emotion – that was understandable in those dark days of the pandemic, but we are now in a place where other parts of the industry have bounced back. We will run the risk of unbalancing the industry to the extent that future investment and what we can do for the future talent pipeline is jeopardized.”
The BPI wants the MU to put the proposed session musician deal to its membership but, while Pohl has written to union members to inform them of the proposal, she says the MU’s elected officials have decided it is not a strong enough offer to be put to a ballot.
Jones calls that decision “disappointing and perplexing,” while both trade bodies now insist the ball is in the other’s court when it comes to the next move. Pohl says the MU is open to further discussions. Jones says the BPI proposal constitutes a “final offer.”
Ironically, both execs say they want the stalemate to be over so they can work together on other issues, such as the rise of AI-generated music.
“There’s so much we could be campaigning on jointly because we’ve got a lot of shared issues,” says Pohl. “It’s a shame that we’re so bogged down in this dispute – and it might go on for some time.”
And until there’s a resolution, the U.K. music industry’s long waiting game will go on…