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How much of a positive effect can opening for a huge act really have on sales?
Well, anecdotal evidence would indicate that it can have a significant impact. Taylor Swift, it would seem, has the magic touch when it comes to anointing those whom she chooses to open for her on her massive stadium tours into superstardom. It was only months, in each case, after Ed Sheeran, Vance Joy, Ellie Goulding, Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello exploded onto the scene. That can’t be a coincidence, right?
Maybe it is. For every Shawn Mendes there is also a Casey James whose career actually took a downturn after opening for Tay Tay, or an Austin Mahone (who, quite ironically both Shawn and Camila opened for on tour). Taylor’s fans resonated with Shawn, and Ed, but both of those artists were also already on the fast track to success, and Camila was already riding high following her split with what was then an enormously popular girl group, 5th Harmony.
Let’s leave Taylor aside for a moment and move onto Shawn Mendes who has been selling out arenas for years. Charlie Puth, himself a massive pop star with over 15 million YouTube subscribers, top 10 albums and a string of hit singles, actually opened for Shawn on his “Illuminate” tour in 2017, which gives an indication of just how big Shawn’s career is as Charlie was already a firmly established artist when they headed out on the road. If, however, you look at some of Shawn’s other opening acts, such as Julia Michaels and Alessia Cara… those artists’ careers have taken downturns despite the huge exposure such massive tours provided.
Now, there are dozens of active factors involved in an artist’s career, such as the quality of new work released, the promotion of said work, image changes (including aging/weight gain/ill-advised fashion makeovers) that can negatively affect sales, so there is definitely more to the story, I’ll admit. My point, however, is that opening for some of the biggest acts on the planet isn’t in any way a guarantee for success.
Since winning the 2018 Grammy for Best New Artist, and after a string of huge singles, Alessia Cara has struggled to maintain her previous success and even opening for Shawn for virtually his entire world tour over the last year has done little to help sales/streams of her new album and singles. All three of her singles from her latest album did chart, but peaked at the very edge of Top 40 and their stays there were short. Her latest album debuted at #71 and fell off the radar soon after.
Julia Michaels, with whom Grace introduced Shawn’s performance at the 2018 MTV Music Video Awards has experienced a similar downward trajectory since opening for Shawn.
When Grace opened for Imagine Dragons it lent her much needed “street cred” that made journalists, when interviewing her, take her more seriously, but it did very little in regards to selling more records.
Grace’s four concerts on Florence + The Machine’s last few shows of the US leg of that act’s world tour did more for introducing Grace to new fans than an entire summer of touring with Imagine Dragons did. Why? Well, for one thing Grace’s stagecraft had improved 1,000% since the Evolve Tour, and Grace’s music and persona were also a very close match for Florence’s fans.
So, what’s the take away, if there can be any?
I would say that, as with all marketing, one should know one’s target audience.
Female artists who open for Shawn, for example, don’t seem to have very much impact on his fans, whether that may be because of jealousy, or simply that they don’t want to hear, or rather SEE, anything other than Shawn, and view the openers as little more than irritants to be suffered through.
Contrastingly, Ruel, the 16-year-old Australian singer Grace met a couple of years ago while in New York City, when both were on individual promotional tours, is set to open for Shawn in Brisbane and Auckland in one month will likely experience a massive surge of positive awareness because, like Shawn, he is (as Shawn recently was) a handsome and tall teenage male singer with a lot of soul in his voice; perfect for the primarily teenage female fans that show up to Shawn’s concerts.
This brings me to whom, if anyone, Grace should ever open for in the future.
If I were Grace’s management team, especially in light of Grace’s new music (and a certain recent Instagram post – see below), I would lobby hard for an opening slot for Lana Del Rey on her “Norman F’ing Rockwell” brief world tour that will play in venues ranging from 5,000 seat theatres up to Arenas and landmarks like the Hollywood Bowl, the Hearst Greek Theatre, the 02 arena in London, and the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam.
Yes, the title of Lana’s most recent album and tour will be troubling to many of Grace’s existing fans, especially parents of younger fans, but I see a potential tour opening for Lana as an introduction to a more mature fanbase in keeping with Grace’s 16th birthday (the European leg takes place in February). Grace, personally, doesn’t seem to have a problem with the f-bomb, so I don’t think she would have an issue with it. It depends, really, on whether Grace chooses to market herself to an audience who doesn’t allow choice foul language to impact their enjoyment of her art, or if she wants to continue courting the pre-teen market and allowing that choice to influence her artistic expression and marketability. My personal opinion is that a foul mouth, one that would make many sailor blush, hasn’t hurt Billie Eilish’s wallet when it comes to having her younger fans support her career, and so I’m not immensely troubled by the possibility that Grace would open on a tour whose title would be considered controversial to a vocal portion of her existing fanbase.
I believe Grace’s newer tracks, and the more mature ones from her catalogue, would land well with Lana’s fans, especially if a fuller band were to support Grace without a backing track to lend her more artistic credibility (just add a cellist and a bass player);
– A Better Life
– Darkness Keep Chasing Me
– Ur So Beautiful
– Waste My Time
– Don’t Like U
– The City
Grace’s smoky and smooth vocals, the depth of her lyrics, and the moody vibes would sync well with Lana’s fans the demographics of which are broad, like Grace’s; the common factor being an appreciation for well crafted music and lyrics. Grace isn’t the next Taylor Swift, she isn’t the next anybody as she is her own unique artist, but a better comparison would be someone like Lana or Lorde.
Lana just added a number of U.S. dates to her world tour for November and hasn’t yet announced any opening acts, nor has she for the European leg set for February.
It should be noted that on this tour Lana’s opening acts have been creative choices, most likely hand picked by Lana; Sean Lennon (son of John), Adam Cohen (son of Leonard), and Joan Baez.
It’s a long shot, but I think it would be worth the effort.