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CMU Beef Of The Week #290: Iggy Azalea v Virgin EMI

By | Published on Friday 22 January 2016

Iggy Azalea

Be careful what you wish for, they say. For years now some have been predicting the demise of the record label. But if they go, we’d lose one of the music industry’s biggest and most important traditions. Who would artists moan about if they don’t have a label?

I mean, if Iggy Azalea didn’t have any hoops to jump through at the moment, she’d just be pumping out videos for her tracks left, right and centre. But the hoops are there. Virgin EMI shaped hoops. Which means we get angry tweets instead. And that’s surely better.

“Bad news update”, she began, ominously, via the Twitter matrix yesterday. “My record label Virgin EMI seems to feel the response to my viral record ‘Zillon’ wasn’t good enough and I’m not allowed a video”.

She’s referring to her track ‘Azillion’, which was released two weeks ago on SoundCloud, during which time a couple of letters seem to have fallen off the title. Perhaps because it’s had 900,000 plays in that time and it’s got a bit worn out. Though apparently the bloody label, Universal UK’s Virgin EMI, would have preferred a few more to have been rubbed off. By which I mean, for it to have had more plays.

“I felt like it was dope so, whatever”, she continued. “[Virgin EMI boss] Ted Cockle doesn’t wanna see me shine. What can I say?”

Don’t answer that question, because she immediately answered it in the next tweet: “Anyhow I could say A LOT – but I’ll keep it mildly professional. Just wanted to let some of you guys asking know what’s happening”.

Yes, it’s lucky none of this turned out unprofessional. Anyway, let’s go back a bit. ‘Azillion’ is the first track made available from Azalea’s new album, ‘Digital Distortion’, which is due out some time this year. The track was uploaded to SoundCloud earlier this month to start the process of buzz-building for the album.

It’s not unusual for this to happen – one or two tracks are quietly eeked out before the marketing campaign really grinds fully into action. Azalea herself seemingly admitted this, when responding to a fan who told her that ‘Azillion’ would have been more successful if she’d put it on iTunes. “It’s a viral song tho babe”, she said. “It’s just something free for fans. Selling it kinda makes it a single. That wasn’t the intention”.

So there you go. It’s not a single. And if it’s not a single, why complicate things by making a video? Maybe ‘Azillion’ could have been elevated to ‘single’ status had it gone super duper viral. But perhaps 900,000 plays in two weeks doesn’t qualify as ‘super duper’ in the world of pop. And possibly Virgin EMI is more keen to pump its money into videos for the presumably better songs that have already been selected as actual singles.

Responding to another fan asking what the label expected of her, Azalea said: “They expect me to find a popstar to whack onto a radio friendly song with me rapping the verses. That’s what THEY want”.

Though with the album already in the can, signed off, and a promotional campaign planned out – starting with the release of ‘Azillion’ on SoundCloud – if she hasn’t already made that record, then presumably the label isn’t going to get it.

But look at me defending a record label. A major record label. One that sits within the majorest of record companies. Maybe there is fault on that side too. Maybe Ted is being a bastard about it. Or perhaps it’s one of those fashionable communication breakdowns, exacerbated by a US-based artist being signed to a UK-based label.

It’s possible there was one of those “maybe we’ll make a video, let’s see how it goes” kind of conversations. Though always remember label people, such chat might result in you basically having to tell your artists, “yeah, not enough people liked your track, mate”. So, just never ever mention the possibility of any videos being made until you’re actually shooting them, I say. Then the conversation goes, “Hey, we’re doing a video, because that’s how popular you are, my friend. Super popular, that’s you”.

Then the artist’s ego is stroked, they can get on with becoming more insufferable but at least be briefly happy, and the label people can, for a few minutes, bask in the glory of not being considered evil. And isn’t that what everyone wants? No, of course not.

Spats such of this are a vital rite of passage, an assertion of the separation between art and commerce. If Iggy Azalea starts getting on with her label, what’s next? An uncertain future for the Beef Of The Week column, that’s what. And that will never do.

Virgin EMI declined to comment on this story. Even after we offered them real beef.