Interscope’s Michelle An and Annie Lee on AAPI Representation in Music

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Interscope Geffen A&M’s Annie Lee and Michelle An share a unique 17-year friendship and partnership as first-generation Asian-Americans. Together, they have risen through the ranks as the company has gone through several transitions in leadership, expanding into global markets, and most recently making a successful leap into the film industry.

A Taiwanese-born Lee began his journey with UMG as a senior financial analyst in 2005 and became the company’s chief financial officer in 2019. He currently manages all of the company’s financial functions, as well as other key operational teams. and reports to John Janick, the company’s president and CEO, and Steve Berman, the company’s vice president.

A marketing and branding specialist, An started as a member of Interscope’s brands department team in 2006 and moved into the creative field in 2012, where he was appointed head of the department. The Korean American was promoted to vice president of the division in 2020. She has worked on visual elements, working on projects ranging from video, photography and advertising to live shows, film and television projects for IGA artists such as Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Gomez and Lana Del Rey.

Lee works closely with creative executives like An to ensure they have the resources they need while also keeping up with the company’s larger business expansion goals. As industry professionals with decades of experience working with a variety of artists, An and Lee are some of the most important voices in the music industry.

Below, the duo offers a behind-the-scenes look at the creative strengths of the label’s diverse cast, the importance of having BIPOC leaders, and their commitment to supporting young executives at the label.

Take me back to your first digs with Interscope. What do you remember from your start there?

Annie Lee: We kind of grew up together at Interscope, from the days of Jimmy Iovine until he was now under the direction of John Janick. [beginning in 2014] – a bond that keeps us firmly connected to each other. The AAPI connection has also naturally woven into our friendship – because of the cultural bond and also because we are both women and mothers in this industry, we are very comfortable around each other and it’s nice to have this support system.

michelle moment: Yes, our threads with each other are kind of funny. At one end, it’s all business, and then at another end, “How do you deal with the spill?” “Is grandma looking after the kids?”

FOR: It’s like we often say to each other, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you!” I feel like we’re saying And I think that says a lot about our partnership professionally, just in terms of support from the executive team.

How do your jobs intersect?

FOR: This is interesting because I think some people would probably think that my job as CFO is operational and that Michelle is on the other end of the creative spectrum, but we talk every day. It’s not just about budgets – obviously part of my job is to manage the overall financial health of the company – but I really embraced this role with a mindset of helping creators. When Michelle and I talk, it’s not just about “I’m out of my photo shoot budget” or “I have to get this payment at the door” but “We’re shooting this and there’s an artist and so many people involved. Are we going to move it into this building?” We talk about every detail.

MA: I was the first person in my family to be born in the United States, and when I was a kid, my parents always leaned on me. As I was the first in line, I always felt something in the back of my head that if the family got into some kind of trouble, I was responsible for getting them back to safety. So when I was a kid, I had the feeling that I had to take care of it. all Details.

Making music is risky. Therefore, I have a natural desire to help these artists, find that determination, or make them feel like, “I’m here for you as you take that risk in your career.” And what I love is that subconsciously, on the other end, I know Annie gets it. She gives me that space to explain where we want to take an artist visually. It’s nice to know that someone understands my feelings and what drives me to do what I do.

You both had a hand in the re-enactment. Interscope MoviesWhat does your partnership look like on this front — with projects by Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, and Selena Gomez?

MA: Annie understands this when someone like me works with artists who have stories they want to tell, whether it’s an important story like Selena’s. [“My Mind & Me”]or a coming-of-age story like Billie’s [“The World’s a Little Blurry”]understands this importance and gives us an open space for this to happen. We share this trust with artists to tell their stories, and it’s truly amazing. So I don’t think it was something we felt we had to do, and it was definitely organic. And then the way Annie led, the way John led, naturally we were able to do that.

FOR: I don’t think Michelle credits herself enough with the emergence of ideas and projects. I help manage risk – because going out and filming everything someone does for a year is a big commitment and sometimes we don’t know what’s going to come up, but Michelle and the creative team know how to hunt. then tell authentic stories.

MA: I think the most important thing is for the artist to feel like he has something he wants to say, something he wants to create, something he wants to share with fans, or want new fans to learn about.

You both have worked in many different capacities at Interscope., What was it like growing up with the evolution of the label?

FOR: I’ve had great mentors throughout my career – all my predecessors and John [Janick], frankly, a huge, incredible support in both of our lives. The way he runs the company and his relationships with the executive team. It helps you feel empowered to use your voice… I’m probably talking too much now.

There’s a stereotype that Asians are a little more shy and less aggressive this way, and I think we need to remind each other that we put a lot at the table and it’s okay to raise our voices about it and make sure we’re being nice. seizing this opportunity and believing that we can be successful in it.

Growing up, did you see yourself in a leadership position?

FOR: I mean, I definitely had that in mind. I knew I wanted to be a CFO, but I didn’t expect or expect it to happen this fast.

MA: I love that you know you want to be a CFO… I’m a classic “I’ll do anything to get my parents to say they’re proud of me.” I still don’t think they really understand what I’m doing [laughs]. But they are really happy that I am happy and stable. I worked as a consultant for the first few years of my career and then left to pursue public relations and marketing. When I started music I didn’t tell my parents and when they found out they thought I was crazy. Then I got married too and didn’t tell my parents.

How has AAPI’s presence and strength in the industry changed – if you really feel it has changed?

MA: I’m proud that we’re both in leadership positions and also how diverse we are as a company. More than a necessity for the work we do – it helps the label appeal to many different audiences and tastes, it’s part of the fabric as our lineup is so diverse.

Speaking of staff, black pink He was one of the first major K-pop artists to sign with a US label. Since then, many other major US-based companies have followed these steps – did you see that set a precedent back then?

WHO: Considering when we first signed with Blackpink, it was a little surreal. The moment I know I grew up as an Asian, we know what K-pop is. And when we brought that into the company, I think at that moment I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is really happening.

When they played Coachella for the first time in the Sahara tent, I looked back and saw a sea of ​​people who knew all the words… It was crazy. It was so crazy that we were a part of it. I will never forget that moment.

MA: I also remember watching Girls’ Generation with my mom and my mom, I was so excited that I stuck with it. But it was still very new back then and so I was very proud when we started working with a lot of artists from Korea and then started working like me on Blackpink’s first performance at Coachella. I also remember looking and seeing everyone. ‘Is it real?’

WHO: There was already a huge audience there but we wanted to do a good job introducing them to the Western world and when we worked with them we wanted to [YG Entertainment]We shared a lot of chats to make sure we agree on expanding the K-pop fandom to the US in the right way – respectful of origin and culture.

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