You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Interscope Records’ John Janick Named Variety’s Hitmakers Exec of the Year

Two of the biggest film soundtracks of the past several years. Massive chart successes from acts well into their second decade of stardom. One of the last rock bands still ruling the pop charts. An inescapable radio smash pairing a Russian-born DJ and a Nashville singer-songwriter. And a flurry of fast-breaking young acts, including two soulful sirens named Ella and Billie. Not only did Interscope Records have a year to remember, but its hits covered the waterfront of genres more thoroughly than any label in 2018 could have hoped.

For Interscope chairman and CEO John Janick, the past year has offered proof that his steady, unflashy style of label leadership can pay big dividends. Now 40, Janick was an unexpected pick to succeed longtime Interscope head Jimmy Iovine at one of UMG’s flagship imprints six years ago. The Florida native made his name running the self-started indie outfit Fueled by Ramen (launchpad for pop-punk acts including Jimmy Eat World, Paramore and Fall Out Boy), and helped relaunch Elektra Records at Warner. But while some initially wondered if he’d look to remake the house that Dr. Dre and Eminem built in his own image, Janick had other ideas.

At the beginning, “there were definitely people that would go, ‘What kind of music do you want to sign?’” Janick recalls. “Because I came more from the alternative side and crossed into pop, they’d be like, ‘Obviously you want to do that.’ And I said no, ‘I want to do what Interscope has always done, which is find the best artists in every genre.’”

And that’s precisely what he’s been doing. Though a number of Interscope’s biggest 2018 successes came via acts that were already established before his arrival — Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You,” Imagine Dragons’ “Believer,” and the double-shot of Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Panther” and Lady Gaga’s “A Star Is Born” soundtracks, which lead a film music push that looks set to continue with the Mike Will Made It-produced “Creed II” companion and the Interscope-backed Elle Fanning starrer “Teen Spirit.” Yet 2018 saw a number of Janick’s newer signings really begin to ascend the upper echelons.

None broke bigger quicker than teenage Chicago rapper Juice Wrld. While young hip-hop acts are increasingly expected to enter into label negotiations with a demonstrable track record of SoundCloud plays and social-media notoriety, Juice was signed the old-fashioned way.

“He came into the office in February of this year, and it didn’t seem like there were a ton of people on him,” Janick says. “He didn’t have much going on in terms of a fanbase, didn’t have that many streams, but the music was just amazing. It was one of those gut/ear things where you know something’s great and feel people are really gonna connect with it.”

Juice promptly broke into rap radio with singles “All Girls Are the Same” and “Lucid Dreams,” and his debut full-length, which dropped in May, “is at platinum or will be platinum by the end of the year.”

New signings don’t always move so quickly. Ella Mai was first spotted back in 2015 by DJ Mustard, with whom Interscope has a label deal. She didn’t break immediately, releasing a slew of EPs, but when San Francisco’s KMEL started pushing her single “Boo’d Up,” the label worked overtime to translate that radio momentum to streaming, birthing a hit. Rapper Rich the Kid, signed in 2017 after years of mixtapes, finally became a household name this year with “Plug Walk.” And Interscope’s most obvious smash of the year, Zedd, Grey and Maren Morris’ “The Middle,” went through multiple versions — and vocalists — before settling into its sweet spot.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always had those records that you wanna get perfect,” Janick says. “Of course you don’t want to just sit on them, but when you have a song you feel will stand the test of time, it doesn’t matter if it comes out six months or a year from now.

“You look at someone like a Billie Eilish,” he says of the now-16-year-old rising Interscope singer. “She had [breakout single] ‘Ocean Eyes’ out when we signed her, but she was a 14-year-old girl. [The song] had some numbers attached to it, but we were telling her and her family, who were her managers at the time, ‘Look, you’re 14, you need to find out who you are and take your time developing, and not be stuck in a system where they do a deal and want a return on their investment right away.’ And I think it’s paid off in a big way.”

Janick, who had to take time off last year to recover from cancer and says he’s doing much better now and is “hopefully past all of it,” aims to continue building with Eilish, as well as nascent talents including Sheck Wes, Yungblud, Lil Mosey and Summer Walker. But there are also times when patience is less of a virtue. Just half a year after the release of the indifferently received “Revival,” no one at the label would’ve been expecting a new Eminem album any time soon, but the rapper and his longtime manager Paul Rosenberg called Janick up to Detroit to spring a surprise late in the summer: A new album, “Kamikaze,” that the rapper wanted to drop unannounced.

“We showed up on a Thursday, and he literally wanted to put it out that Friday,” Janick remembers. “So fortunately we were able to have conversations saying, ‘Just give us a LITTLE bit of time to set up.’ … But obviously, Marshall [aka Eminem] and Paul are so smart, they’ve been doing this such a long time and know their fanbase, so while we always wanna make sure they have all the information, we also listen. That’s how Marshall wanted to release that music, and he was right. I think if he would’ve released it in a different way, it might not have had the same impact.”

Popular on Variety

More Music


    Billie Eilish Tells Crowd She Plans to Tour Behind... Her 2017 EP

    Okay, so it may just have been a way to get some crowd members who were dead-set on calling out requests off her back. But she seemed to mean it. At a show for SiriusXM and Pandora at L.A.’s Troubadour club Wednesday, Billie Eilish made an interesting vow to the crowd: She plans to tour [...]

  • UTA lobby in Nashville

    UTA's Nashville Office Sets 2020 for Move to Historic Downtown Library Building

    UTA has announced a forthcoming move to much bigger digs in Nashville, with plans to leave its current home at the Cummins Station complex in the first quarter of 2020 to make good on a signed lease on a major library building in the heart of downtown that’s being renovated for office use. Once construction [...]

  • Toni Cornell

    Chris Cornell's Daughter Toni Releases First Single, 'Far Away Places'

    Toni Cornell, the daughter of late Grammy-winning rockstar Chris Cornell, is carrying on her father’s musical legacy with her first single, titled “Far Away Places.” The song, which the 15-year-old wrote at 12 years old, was produced by her father in his home studio in Miami, known to be one of the last songs he [...]

  • Depeche Mode - Dave GahanLes Vieilles

    Depeche Mode Documentary Gets One-Night Theatrical Release

    Depeche Mode has reunited with the group’s long-time filmographer, Anton Corbjn, for a combination documentary/concert film, “Spirits in the Forest,” which Trafalgar Releasing has announced it will put on approximately 2400 screens worldwide for one night Nov. 21. The film documents performance footage from the Berlin dates of Depeche Mode’s 115-gig Global Spirit Tour of [...]

  • Patti SmithVariety's 10 Storytellers to Watch

    Patti Smith Talks Biopics, Beats and Losing Her Cool in Front of Bob Dylan

    On Thursday afternoon Variety partnered with IFP for the first “10 Storytellers to Watch” event, and among the novelists, lyricists, podcasters, playwrights, graphic novelists and brand storytellers who were honored was the pioneering singer, poet and author Patti Smith. The legendary artist received the Impact in Storytelling honor not only for her formidable body of [...]

  • Leaving Neverland HBO

    Judge Sides With Michael Jackson Estate in 'Leaving Neverland' Dispute

    A federal judge is leaning towards granting the Michael Jackson estate’s move to take HBO to arbitration in its dispute over the documentary “Leaving Neverland.” Judge George Wu issued a tentative ruling on Thursday in which he denied HBO’s motion to dismiss the estate’s case. Wu is expected to make the ruling final by the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content