The release of French electronic music producer David Guetta’s sixth studio album, “Listen,” on Nov. 24 isn’t just one of the most anticipated albums in the electronic music industry – it’s one of the most anticipated releases of the year.
Guetta’s album comes on the heels of the Nov. 4 release of Scottish superstar producer Calvin Harris’ fourth studio album release, “Motion,” which debuted No. 1 two weeks ago on Billboard’s electronic music charts and No. 5 on the overall Billboard 200. And together, these two electronic albums are likely to prove definitively that — much like the discussion around hip-hop in the ’90s — what was once considered a musical niche is now very much here to stay. In fact, they could prove to be the building blocks that mark EDM as the new normal in Top 40 airplay.
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Both albums are littered with highly recognizable names – in Guetta’s case, Nicki Minaj, John Legend, Sia, Ryan Tedder, Emeli Sandé, The Script, Nico & Vinz, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. And in Harris’, Gwen Stefani, Ellie Goulding, Big Sean, Tinashe, John Newman, Hurts, and Haim.
Both albums also feature collaborations with several up-and-coming artists and producers that carry industry credibility, such as newcomer vocalist Sam Martin, singer Bebe Rexha and producers Showtek for Guetta, and R3hab, Firebeatz, Alesso, Tedder, and Ummet Ozcan for Harris.
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Such high profile releases aren’t new for either artist, both of whose careers have paralleled each other in many ways over the past five years. Guetta, 47, hit the mainstream in 2009 with his fourth studio album, “One Love,” which contained one of that year’s biggest songs, “I Gotta Feeling” (feat. The Black Eyed Peas). And he repeated his success in 2011 with “Nothing but the Beat,” which featured the megahits “Titanium” with Sia and “Without You” with Usher, as well as huge songs with Minaj and Flo Rida, Taio Cruz and Ludacris, and Snoop Dogg.
In fall of 2012, a year after he entered the Top 40 universe with his Rihanna mega-collaboration “We Found Love,” Harris, 30, released his third album “18 Months,” which featured the aforementioned track along with huge singles from Goulding (“I Need Your Love”), Florence Welch (“Sweet Nothing”), Ne-Yo (“Let’s Go”), and “Feel So Close” (featuring Harris’ own voice).
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What is unusual, however, is two such high profile albums coming within two weeks of each other in a very crowded fourth quarter for music, which also contains major album releases from artists that include Taylor Swift, Minaj, Jessie J, Foo Fighters, Nick Jonas, Lil Wayne and One Direction – and possibly also still from Rihanna and Kanye West.
Although Harris’ 35,000 in first week album sales for “Motion” is only a fraction of the 1.3 million that Swift sold in her first week, electronic music has always been a field that revolves first and foremost around singles – and lead tracks “Summer” (again feat. Harris on vocals), and “Blame” (feat. Newman) provided a powerful pre-album release push. Harris recently released his second collaboration with Goulding, “Outside,” which has over 5 million YouTube views in its first week already.
Teaming up for the third time with many of music’s biggest names, Guetta’s album is expected to perform on par with Harris’, lead by singles “Lovers on the Sun” and “Dangerous” (both featuring Martin on vocals), as well as pre-release tracks from earlier in 2014, “Shot Me Down” (feat. Skylar Grey) and “Bad” (feat. Vassy), which have all proved to be hits.
“I spent way, way more time on songwriting,” Guetta recently told Rolling Stone about his latest effort, which comes on the heels of a high-profile divorce from his wife and business partner Cathy. “It’s probably my most personal album. Until today I was doing lots of songs about happiness and love and sexiness and just having a party — it was basically my life, you know? And lately, my personal life has been a little more difficult, so it reflects also on the album, on the things that we’re talking about, on the type of chords. I’ve never done this, because even for me it was all about making the people dance.”
It’s been five years since electronic music began to cross over into mainstream radio airplay in what many have called the second coming of the genre, and the latest from both Guetta and Harris are no exception. “Dangerous” and “Outside” can currently be heard on Top 40 rotation alongside the latest hits from Swift or newcomer Meghan Trainor.
TheWrap spoke with a couple of powerful industry sources that wished to remain anonymous, who both agreed that the importance of these albums is not to be underestimated. “I think the impact that these guys (Guetta and Harris) have on dance music is pretty huge,” one source explains. “Both of these artists are, at their core, producer/artists. Sure, they’re DJs. But I think the appeal of the records they’re making have proven to go much further. They’re basically pop acts with pop sensibilities.”
Having a formal full-length album is still a barometer of success for top-level DJ/producers when it comes to mainstream acceptance. Many DJ/producers are now working more closely with the major labels because they’re choosing to experiment with the traditional Top 40 radio release infrastructure. Such was the case with Avicii’s huge debut album “True” just over a year ago, or up-and-comer Dillon Francis’ release “Money Sucks, Friends Rule,” which came out just last month. Sony’s Columbia Records distributes Harris’ album and Warner Music Group’s Atlantic Records distributes Guetta’s album, both of which are produced by indie labels. (Fly Eye and Big Beat, respectively.)
“I think it’s still a milestone for an artist in their minds,” the second source explains. “A lot of these artists start off getting recognized for doing a really great single that gets noticed. And once they gain a critical following, the next thing in their heads is ‘I want to make an album.’ Or they’re gushing with singles that they want to get out. And maybe (before) the artist didn’t have the infrastructure or someone who could A&R an album, and now they have that help. They might have a story they want to tell.”
For a major pop artist either at the peak of their career, or staging a comeback — like Gwen Stefani currently — collaborating with an artist of Harris’ caliber is a no-brainer. It benefits a Top 40 artist’s career in much the same way that a similar partnership with someone in hip-hop has historically been able to help for two decades now.
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Stefani has a track on Harris’ album, “Together,” that’s sure to be a huge single down the line for both artists. Combined with her current visibility on NBC’s “The Voice,” and the release of her own new solo single “Baby Don’t Lie,” Stefani is now reaching an audience that ranges from soccer moms (who were likely fans in her heyday) to EDM festival goers. The Harris track opens her up for discovery to a whole new generation of younger college-aged kids, who may not have previously been familiar with her.
Of course, festival touring and DJ residencies in destinations such as Las Vegas and Ibiza are still where artists like Harris and Guetta make most of their money. Harris and Guetta came in No. 1 and 2 respectively on Forbes’ most recent list of the world’s highest-paid DJs – Harris estimated to have made $66 million in the past year, with Guetta at a distant (but still impressive) $30 million.
So what are the next moves for music’s latest superstars following such impressive accolades? In Harris’ case, it could involve taking over new mediums, such as television. As reported last January, a half-hour scripted comedy based roughly upon his life (think “Entourage” in the EDM world) is in the works at HBO, with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and Jay Z on board to executive produce, with “Trainspotting” author Irvine Welsh writing.