Radio is dealing with another format conundrum. What to do when an artist from outside its universe releases a song that’s an undeniable fit? Think 1983’s “Beat It” from Michael Jackson, with that blistering guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen. This time it’s Ed Sheeran, whose “Blow” from new Atlantic Records album, “No.6 Collaborations Project,” features Bruno Mars & Chris Stapleton in an all-out riff-fest.
This comes a day after Inside Radio reported on a Billboard story with a similar theme: “Can Adult Contemporary Radio Figure Out Its Hip-Hop Issue?” which took on the issue of how AC programmers are dancing with the idea of adding rap into rotation.
The question of whether—and how—to place pop star Sheeran, renegade country artist Stapleton and pop/R&B act Mars on rock radio is front of mind for consultant Fred Jacobs, who asks in his blog for Jacobs Media Strategies, “Will Rock Radio Play This Song (Can It Afford Not To?)” He begins by noting that the rock format needs all the help it can get.
“The format – originally known as AOR (Album-Oriented Rock), and later Active or Mainstream Rock – was once predicated on a solid, healthy base of great new music. But these days, most stations in the format are struggling to play a current and a recurrent an hour,” Jacobs writes.
“Blow,” in fact, “could be a game-changer for a variety of reasons,” he suggests. First, take a look at the video HERE. Yes, no question, it is balls-to-the-wall rock. Jacobs notes: “Hands down, this is one of the best rock songs I've heard in some time. ‘Blow’ brings a sense of raw energy and fun not heard in some time.” Meanwhile, “today, great new music for rock stations is a rarity. It's why so many have focused their energies on their gold libraries, as well as their personalities and lifestyle promotions.”
iHeartMedia is featuring both an audio and video interview special with Sheeran and syndicated morning man Charlamagne tha God, which launched on the artist’s YouTube Channel at 4am July 12, while iHeart broadcast audio from the 60-minute chat at 8pm Friday on 150 stations. In the interview, Sheeran was asked by the one-air personality, “Why the hell y'all did a rock record?" Sheeran responds: "Because, exactly that. I think people do not expect that. Any time I play that to anyone, the first cord instantly people [are surprised], and I love that."
Sheeran also explained to Charlamagne how the song and its classic rock sound came together. Stapleton initially came up with the track's guitar riff, and it grew from there after the country star and Mars came together to collaborate on the song. Says Sheeran, "Throughout my career, I've never had an excuse to get a band, and now, that's an excuse to maybe tour with a band.”
Inside Radio’s analysis of Mediabase airplay of “Blow” shows 384 total plays at radio, as of Friday afternoon. CHR accounts for 263 of those spins, 3 at rhythmic, 50 at hot AC—and 55 at mainstream rock, with two at classic rock.
In his blog post, Jacobs wonders if stations will ultimately take a chance on the Sheeran collaboration. He notes that only 14% of BDS-monitored rock stations have played ‘Blow,’ and most have just spun it just a handful of times. The heavier airplay is occurring at mainstream or hot AC stations, just as Mediabase data shows.
Meanwhile, online, during its first four days available as a stream, the song earned nearly 3 million on-demand plays (both audio and video) in the U.S., “indicating there's consumer interest and curiosity,” Jacobs adds. He then offers the question that only time will reveal: “Will programmers add ‘Blow,’ open up the phones on morning shows or ignore it all together? Is it possible a song could break on top 40 and then cross to rock radio? And perhaps the more existential question is what will become of new music on rock radio as fewer and fewer labels release songs that are solidly in the genre?”
“No.6 Collaborations Project” is actually the fourth studio album from the British singer-songwriter. It includes guest appearances from Justin Bieber on first single “I Don’t Care,” second single “Cross Me” with Chance the Rapper and PnB Rock, and a third release, “Beautiful People” with Khalid. Other artists on the collection include Camila Cabello, Travis Scott, Eminem, 50 Cent, Cardi B, Paulo Londra and Young Thug, alongside British rappers Stormzy, J Hus and Dave.