The Big Loud/Republic Records team, which currently has what is far and away the biggest album in the country with Morgan Wallen’s “Dangerous: The Double Album,” is celebrating that success by joining with Back Blocks in signing Lily Rose, the partnership’s first shot at breaking a female artist in country music.
But in a very real sense, Rose has already “broken” herself, if radio play isn’t the sole metric: Her song “Villain” became a TikTok sensation before it was ever officially out as a single. When it was released Dec. 15 on the independent Back Blocks label, it debuted at No. 1 on iTunes’ all-genre chart and spent several weeks on and off at the top there, topping the Christmas-song competition for most of the month. (Needless to say, if it was topping the overall chart, it was also No. 1 at country as well.) Big Loud took the lead in an aggressive competition among Nashville’s major labels over the holiday season for Rose’s services.
Rose is planning sessions with some of Music Row’s top writers to come up with additional material for what will be her debut album, but in the meantime, today she’s releasing the music video for “Villain” (below).
With the ink still drying on her contract, Variety spoke with Rose about why she went with this label team, and become as close a thing as there is to a real overnight sensation after a good number of years of going at it in her native Atlanta and eventually Nashville.
With presumably a lot of labels taking interest in you, what was attractive about this deal?
ROSE: After signing the single deal with Back Blocks Music and Rakiyah Marshall, when the song was just hanging out at No. 1 on iTunes for so long, we knew that the label deals were going to be starting to roll in, and we had ‘em all slotted, and it was kind of just that feeling of looking for my champions. The money was not something super, super important to me, or the legacy; it was finding the right champion and the right family. I felt that off right off the bat with Big Loud, and then immediately Seth (England) brought in Monte and Avery (Lipman) and Republic, and there was a mutual want for each other, even through the holidays. They really fought for me, and I was very thrilled, because Big Loud has been my dream label since I moved here four years ago.
Why was it your dream label?
I mean, they’ve only been around for five years, but their ability to break artists, first of all — and they haven’t gotten to break a female yet. And I’m very competitive, and I like to be the first in a lot of things, and I think I’m going to have the opportunity to get that. And they’ve got Morgan and Hardy and so many artists that they’ve just kind of let them be them. The authenticity is first and the songs are second, and those are my one and two that I hold true to in my career as well. So I was very drawn to that.
Even through COVID and Zooms and everything, it was a no-excuses situation with Seth where it was “We have no reason not to have everybody on a Zoom call with her on Dec. 23 and lawyers negotiating on Christmas Day.” And then he brought in Monte and Avery soon after. He also had all of the teams on every single Zoom, too — not just A&R but marketing and all of the VPs on the ground. Those were the only VPs I’ve met in town. Everybody else, it was just the A&R team.
Top Row: Avery Lipman (Co-founder/president, Republic Records), Tyler Arnold (EVP A&R, Republic Records), Seth England (CEO, Big Loud) Bottom Row: Lily Rose, Monte Lipman (Co-founder/CEO, Republic Records), Rakiyah Marshall (CEO, Back Blocks Music). Courtesy Republic Records
Can you describe the timeline of December? It was a very short timeline with a lot of notches in it.
Timeline-wise, the song went viral on Dec. 1, and I decided the deal with Rakiyah and Back Blocks on the 2nd. And we were like, well, we’ve got to get this out (commercially) before Christmas. So Dec, 15 was the release date, but it was right around the 9th or 10th when the labels started rolling in. Our pre-save numbers were insane, and they couldn’t see that, but I think they saw the traction. And we were very, very adamant that we were not taking a single meeting until the song was released. So on Wednesday, Dec. 16 through that Friday, I think we met with 13 different labels in three days. [Laughs.] Which is crazy.
I had three meetings with Big Loud between Dec. 16 and Dec. 23. That’s how badly Seth and the whole entire team were like, “We don’t care if we’re with our families or anything. We will be on these Zoom calls, selling what we can do for you.” And I was trying to keep my poker face on and my hand very close to me that they were my dream label, you know — it was a very mutual longing and want for each other.
We shot the video on Dec. 22. We have seen how these songs and these moments on TikTok or whatever can make something go viral and have a moment where you’re like: “We need to capitalize on this as soon as possible, so when the new year rolls around and Morgan’s stuff kind of evens out, we can release it and just have stuff ready to go.”
When did you actually sign the deal?
It was Thursday, Jan, 7. The offer was all set on New Year’s Day. But I’ve been working at this for 13 years, since I’ve been starting to write songs; it’s eight years that I’ve really been chasing it professionally. And I expressed to Seth how important it was to me that, even if it was just me and him and Rakiyah in the photo, that (it was important) having that (signing) photo not (just be) on Zoom. I moved up here for this picture. And he got all the COVID testing and everything done so we could take that dream photo (below), so I’m super appreciative of that.
Back Row: Jeff Tanner (VP, Business Affairs, Big Loud), Matt Cottingham, (Ritholz Levy Fields LLP), Stacy Blythe (VP Promotion, Big Loud), Rakiyah Marshall (CEO, Back Blocks Music), Lily Rose, Seth England (CEO, Big Loud), Candice Watkins (VP Marketing, Big Loud), Joey Moi (Partner, Big Loud) Front Row: Paul Logan (VP Sync & Visual Strategy, Big Loud), Daira Eamon, Patch Culbertson (VP A&R, Big Loud), Austen Adams (COO, Big Loud). Credit: Chris Hornbuckle
That the song did what it did with no promotion speaks to the power one song can have.
Yeah, I mean, we all get into music to try to replicate the feelings and the sonic feelings that songs can do for us. You know, I went to my first Bruce Springsteen concert at 9 years old, and I’ve been trying to replicate that energy on stage ever since. But I think that the power of songs and truth and grit behind country music specifically is what makes this format so special, and it helped “Villain” just reach the top of so much content and so much talent these days that people connected with it.
Talk about the video, because there’s a storyline to it, and you didn’t go with the ins-and-outs-of-a relationship video, or just you singing alone by yourself.
Yeah. The coolest thing about TikTok and social media is the connection with fans. It lends a hand for them to be able to give their opinions, and when I read the comments about “Villain” and why people were connecting with it — first thought, you immediately go to the romantic relationship, or the detriment of a romantic relationship. But “Villain” also has just been tapping into this vein of friendships ending, or even mother-daughter relationships that are not doing well. There are just so many different things. So I was kind of like, you know what? If you listen to the lyrics of “Villain,” I don’t want to give any power to the ex, to the person we wrote the song about on the romantic side. So let’s just do a video that essentially does not give any power to the people we wrote the song about.
How would you describe the story that’s depicted in the video?
Oh man. It appears that a cop is going around looking for a bad guy and the (twist) is, I’m a dirty cop and I’m really just looking for the money. So the hero the entire time is actually the villain. It’s kind of the antithesis of the actual lyric.
What happens from here?
One of the reasons I’m so excited already to be a part of this team is they just put out the biggest double album in country history and it’s doing insane numbers, and they’re still finding time to figure out my stuff. So I think the next chapter of all of this is we’re gonna hopefully send it to radio. You know, that’s a dream. And if the numbers can hold up, we can get an add date. And then also just finding more music. I’m writing like crazy right now, while also building a team and trying to find what the next single could be ‚ and what the next few singles could be — and also trying to form a record to eventually put out. I’ve been writing for so long with the same crew, and we have a lot of great songs that are up for debate. But I’m also meeting so many new writers on the Row and just trying to get me in as many rooms as possible, so we have as many songs to choose from as we can. We’re in good hands.