The major label’s president, west coast creative looks back at the making of record-shattering albums for Ariana Grande and Jonas Brothers.
Now in her 10th year at Republic Records, A&R veteran Wendy Goldstein has had a hand in the careers of The Weeknd, Hailee Steinfeld, Julia Michaels, DNCE, and Jonas Brothers, among others. She led the latter pop-rock trio’s surprise comeback earlier this year with ubiquitous Top 40 hits like “Sucker” and “Cool,” which helped propel their fifth full-length LP Happiness Begins — their first album in a decade — to become the year’s biggest debut so far, with 414,000 equivalent album units in its first week. “Wendy is a true visionary who brings so much knowledge and passion to the table,” the band tells Billboard. “We really trust her perspective and her track record. She’s a force.”
Since first landing at the major label in 2009 as an A&R consultant, Goldstein has been promoted four separate times, including stints as svp of A&R, executive vp and head of urban, and overall executive vp before rising to her current role this June. “Wendy’s reputation as one of the industry’s best A&R executives is accurate and well deserved,” Republic founder/CEO Monte Lipman said at the time. “Her instincts, focus and respect within the creative community remains unparalleled.”
Another career milestone for Goldstein? Singer Ariana Grande, who she signed to the label in 2011. She has watched the now-26-year-old star grow up, and steered her transition from Nickelodeon star to pop-R&B provocateur. But it was Grande’s Thank U, Next album — recorded during a cathartic, five-week blitz in New York and released just six months after 2018’s Sweetener — that took both of their careers to the next level. The album scored Grande her first two Hot 100 No. 1s, “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings.” And when follow-up “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” hit No. 2 in February, Grande became the first artist since The Beatles in 1964 to occupy the chart’s top three spots simultaneously.
Below, Goldstein looks back on the making of that record-shattering album.
After Mac [Miller] passed, Ari wanted to get into the studio — not for the purpose of making an album, because she had just put one out, but just to write about her experiences. There was no pressure. It was real. Not that any of the Sweetener tracks weren’t, but Ari said she wanted to put it out like a hip-hop artist would. It was spontaneous, and had an element of humor to it, which is very her. The world finally got to see who she is: a beautiful, smart, funny, complicated person. This record was her truth.
Even before we started mixing, Ari got this idea to surprise drop the title track off-cycle. She called [producer] Tommy Brown one morning who then called me like “Ari wants to put this record out but it’s a Friday.” I was like “OK. She knows it’s not mixed right?” So I called L.A. based producer Cirkut whose parents were visiting from Canada. I said “I need this Ariana Grande song mixed today, and if you can master it by 5 o’clock we might want to put it out tonight.” We were done by 5 PM and put it out the next day.
I always thought “7 Rings” was the bigger of the two records, but “Thank U, Next” had to come first. After the album hit No. 1, we celebrated at Nobu in Malibu with Ari’s real people: friends, family, management and her longtime vocal coach, Eric Vetro. To go through what she had gone through and put it all back into her work — I can’t say how much I respect her.
History never repeats itself in the exact same way twice, but the double-album strategy worked for Ari in that moment in time because it was driven by a significant event. Everything aligned. The industry is moving so fast, but some of the care that I put into Ariana, I put into the Jonas Brothers’ comeback with “Sucker” — a group that had something different to say about love, positivity, family and coming back. It cut through differently. This has been one of those times in my career where I’m getting it right more than not — I’ve learned to let things unfold naturally.
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