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Brit Beat Special: Legendary Madonna Publicist Barbara Charone on Music, Her Memoir and Her Role at Chelsea F.C.

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Her most famous client only needs one name to be recognized, but legendary Madonna publicist Barbara Charone can go one better: she’s known throughout the music industry simply by her initials.

BC’s remarkable 50-year career is now being celebrated in her new memoir, “Access All Areas,” which has been the talk of the U.K. industry since its publication at the end of last month. It charts her journey from Chicago, where she grew up, to London, where she moved in the 1970s, via bust-ups with The Eagles, partying with the Rolling Stones and a brief spell managing Rufus Wainwright.

Originally a music journalist for the likes of NME and Rolling Stone, she previously wrote the authorized biography, “Keith Richards: Life as a Rolling Stone,” (Richards even let her move into his notorious Redlands mansion to write it).

She moved into PR soon after, running the in-house press office for Warner Music’s WEA in London for many years, before setting up her own agency, MBC, with her business partner Moira Bellas, in 2000.

More than two decades on, MBC is one of the most powerful PR firms in the world, with a client list that includes the Foo Fighters, Rod Stewart, Metallica, Depeche Mode and, of course, Madonna, whom Charone has represented in the U.K. since she was an unknown pop hopeful in the 1980s. But while BC has been close to the biggest stars for decades, and the book takes you into many an inner sanctum, she insists it’s not her style to reveal too many secrets.

“All the artists that I work with are, in a way, incidental [to the book],” she tells Variety. “‘Access All Areas’ is about my journey, so the only person I really spill the beans about is myself.”

Even so, she makes clear her disappointment in R.E.M. – clients of Charone’s for 25 years – for switching PRs without any bandmember telling her in person (“A quarter of a century is a long time to work with someone,” she shrugs, “We’re only human beings”); while an interview with Stephen Stills during Charone’s music journalism days sees him portrayed as “having a chip on his shoulder so big it was a surprise he could get in the room.”

“I don’t think I’m the first person to write that he was like that, in those days certainly,” she says. “But, like I always say, famous people are just like regular people – they have good moods and bad moods. Some of them are great – and some aren’t.”

Generally, Charone, who recently picked up the Music Week Strat award for outstanding contribution to the U.K. music industry, has made a point of only working with the great ones, balancing a formidable protective urge towards her clients with a genuine appreciation of the media that covers them.

“It sounds crazy, but there are a lot of PRs that really aren’t that enamoured with the press,” she laughs. “But I read four or five newspapers a day. I’m a newspaper junkie and the more you read, the more you know. Then it’s all about positioning and where an artist fits best.”

The U.K. media landscape has been greatly reduced since the 1980s and 1990s, when it boasted numerous big-selling music magazines and a multitude of national newspapers shifting millions of copies every day, but Charone still believes in the power of the press.

“I miss NME in print and I miss Q magazine,” she says. “It’s sad, especially for bands, that no one has filled the hole that Q left. But I’m a very positive, optimistic person – you have to be. We can’t change what’s happened but, as much as some music magazines have gone, there’s still Mojo, Uncut, Record Collector, Classic Rock and others, so that’s great. And we have so many daily newspapers, it’s really amazing. I refuse to get gloomy about it. We’re very lucky working in England, because we still have quite a healthy press compared to the rest of the world.”

There’s an incident in the book where Charone phones an editor to protest about a three-star R.E.M. review, until a host of similarly lukewarm assessments arrive and she realizes that maybe it really is a three-star album. She says she rarely complains about such things these days, but is adamant reviews still matter.

“I still worry about them because I care, and the artists care,” she says. “And the artist is pretty crucial to this whole thing – they see everything and an unhappy artist isn’t a good thing. Sometimes you also have to inject a bit of realism into a press campaign. But I don’t think a bad review could ruin anyone’s career now. They’re just one person’s opinion and taste is subjective.”

Charone wrote “Access All Areas” in lockdown after Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie stumbled across one of her old Rolling Stones interviews and encouraged her to reissue her Keith Richards book (Charone famously spent time with Richards in Canada while he was awaiting trial for heroin possession, forging a bond that continues to this day, with MBC repping his solo work). Rather than do that, she decided to write the book that, after a few drinks, she always told friends she wanted to, documenting a life every bit as interesting – and occasionally as wild – as her clients.

Charone recalls her major label days – when she would fight tooth and nail to keep major artists in-house – with fondness, but says the decline of label press teams in recent years has helped specialist agencies like hers flourish (“One thing everyone’s learned through the years is that there’s enough work to go around”). But, unlike some independent PRs, she says she’s never afraid to disagree with those she works with.

“It’s not just disagreeing with an artist, sometimes it’s also with the journalist or the newspaper,” she shrugs. “If somebody says no, you try and push them for a yes, but sometimes no really is no, and you have to just move on. Ultimately, it’s the artist’s decision what to do, it’s their life.”

Charone admits to the occasional misjudgement (“I was offered Lana Del Rey when she was completely unknown and I said no, just because I didn’t get it. So that was one that got away!”), but MBC’s roster is an impressive balance of up-and-coming British acts such as Sea Girls and Rag‘N’Bone Man, and global superstars. But surely some clients – Madonna, say – are more demanding than others?

“Everyone’s demanding,” she laughs. “I’m not just being diplomatic – it’s fantastic to work with someone like Madonna. I still don’t think she gets enough credit for the legacy of work she’s left, and continues to put out.”

Sports fanatic Charone has recently taken on a new role, as a non-executive director at English Premier League soccer club Chelsea, newly acquired by U.S. businessman Todd Boehly. Charone has been an obsessive Chelsea fan since she moved to London, but maintains the new gig won’t distract her from her PR business.

“I don’t anticipate not having time to do all my MBC work,” she smiles. “I’m not managing the Chelsea team, so I’ll think I’ll be OK!”

Similarly, she insists the success of her book will not turn into a new career (a second, more gossip-heavy instalment is unlikely because “it’s really not in my nature to be like that”), and that there are no retirement plans on the horizon.

“The pressure’s always on with PR,” she adds. “But I love it, because it is different for every artist. And I never know what’s going to happen in the day. Anyone could ring up this afternoon and say, ‘I’ve got this great new band or this amazing artist’ – and that’s exciting.”

“Obviously, there is no forever, but for the immediate future, I’ll keep going, definitely,” she adds. “I like working.”

‘Access All Areas’ is out now, published by White Rabbit Books.

 



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Ethiopia Habtemariam to Step Down From Motown Records

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Ethiopia Habtemariam, currently chairwoman and CEO of Motown Records, will be stepping down from her position in order to pursue new endeavors, she and the company stated in a joint announcement Tuesday.

“It has been the greatest honor to work with some of the most incredible artists, songwriters and partners in the world,” she said in a statement. “I have always had a clear vision for the talent that I’ve had the privilege to work with, which has led Motown to global success and returned the label to the forefront of contemporary culture. I would not have been able to make that vision come to life without the support of my amazing team at Motown, my UMG colleagues around the world, and Sir Lucian.  I am incredibly proud of what we have created during my tenure, and I consider this the perfect finale to my 20 years at UMG spanning publishing and recorded music.”

Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of UMG said, “Under Ethiopia’s leadership, Motown has seen strong growth, continuing its legacy of bringing important new voices to modern culture.  Not only has Ethiopia been instrumental in developing and breaking incredible artists, but also she has strategically identified and amplified key partnerships that have been, and will continue to be, cornerstones of the UMG creative ecosystem.  While I will miss working with Ethiopia, I know she will achieve great things going forward and she leaves with our enduring love and respect.”

Habtemariam began her career as an intern at LaFace Records before joining Universal Music Publishing in 2003, ultimately rising to president of urban music & co-head of creative at the company. Beginning in 2014 she held a dual role as president of Motown as well as her UMPG post, before focusing on the label and being promoted to chairwoman/CEO in 2021.

Over her tenure at Motown, Habtemariam — a regular honoree on Variety’s annual Hitmakers lists — struck several partnerships with creative and entrepreneurial entities, including Atlanta-based Quality Control Music, a pact that has produced hits from City Girls, Migos, Lil Baby, Lil Yachty and others. Other companies and artists under Motown’s roof include Blacksmith Records (Ted When, Vince Staples), and Since the 80s (Asiahn, Njomza), along with artists Erykah Badu, Kem and Tiana Major9, among many others.

A successor to Habtermariam will be announced at a later date. Her internal announcement follows in full:

Team:

Some of you may or may not know that the top of 2023 marks my 20th year at Universal Music Group. And, after two amazing decades, I’ve made the incredibly hard decision to leave for my next adventure. I’ll address my future plans soon, but today is all about Motown, UMG and you.

First and foremost, to the Motown team, your commitment to our artists, the legacy of this label, and the community at large is not lost on me. It’s been a privilege and honor to work with each and every one of you and I’m so excited to see how you continue to move Motown forward. Over 60 years ago, Mr. Gordy forged a core for this company – one that respects and celebrates artistry and strongly supports creative entrepreneurship – and this continues to live on thanks to all of you. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve built. 

When I think of my time at UMG, it occurs to me that my career really started at this company.  I was a creative manager at UMPG 20 years ago, then by 2010 worked as an A&R consultant and manager while building a creative team at UMPG that signed and developed some amazing songwriters such as Cardo, Childish Gambino, Chris Brown, Ciara, Big Sean, Hit Boy, J Cole, Jhene Aiko, Justin Bieber, Miguel, Stacy Barthe and Quavo among many others. In 2014, I was promoted to the position of President of Urban & Co-Head of Creative at UMPG and appointed to President of Motown Records. 

It was a busy time being in dual roles and laying the foundation for what was to come in an industry with an ever-changing landscape. While continuing to build at UMPG, I was also deeply dedicated to bringing a renewed vision of Black excellence to Motown – rooted in the past but connected to today, global in nature and a platform for the future.  In 2015, we signed a landmark deal for Motown with Quality Control which included a distribution agreement ensuring support in developing the next generation of global superstars. By 2016, as that strategy brought Motown success with new groundbreaking artists, Motown became my sole focus as we continued to grow the company with artists including BJ the Chicago Kid, Brandy, Kem, Diddy, Erykah Badu, Lil Baby, Lil Yachty, Migos, Sebastian Kole, Smino, Tiana MAJOR9, YoungBoy and Vince Staples among others. 

The business has changed so much over those twenty years but throughout its ups and downs, I’ve always felt blessed to have the opportunity to work in so many aspects of the industry. My hunger to learn and continue to evolve led me to the unique experience of working across publishing and recorded music simultaneously. The fact that I was empowered to this unique position reflects my passion for supporting those that are blessed with the gift of music but also speaks to the incredible opportunities I was offered here and for that I want to thank Lucian who recognized my talent as a creative in publishing and gave me the opportunity to lead at a label as well.  

But one thing that has never changed is the love I have for music—and the artists, songwriters and producers that make such incredible art.  That continues to drive everything I do professionally, and it always will. 

This is an exciting time in music and I look forward to exploring new creative and entrepreneurial opportunities. I will share more about my future plans but for now I want to focus on winding down my role as we get to the end of the year.

Thank you for this incredible journey. Know that I will always be here to support you all. 

With love, gratitude and respect,

Ethiopia



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Chuu Removed From LOONA Amid Back-and-Forth Reports Between K-Pop Group & Label

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Chuu is no longer a member of the K-pop girl group LOONA, and the events surrounding the exit have raised eyebrows in Korea’s media and music industry.

BlockBerryCreative, the K-pop girl group’s label, announced through LOONA’s online “fan cafe” on Friday that Chuu had been expelled and withdrawn from the 12-member outfit. The fan cafe post is only available to subscribers of the Korean site, but local media widely shared the news and statement. In the report, the agency cited an investigation that found Chuu using “violent language” and “misuse of power toward staff” (as shared by translations from Soompi).

BlockBerryCreative and Chuu’s relationship has been a source of concern among fans and prone to media speculation in the past year.

In the spring, rumors surfaced that Chuu took legal action in 2021 to cut parts of her exclusive contract with BlockBerryCreative. By summertime, the stories evolved to Chuu joining a new management label and setting up her own agency. BlockBerryCreative denied any management changes. Still, the 23-year-old did not participate in LOONA’s world tour that visited North America, Europe and Asia from August to October this year or their recent Japanese single “Luminous.” Chuu has stayed busy, with many television appearances, growing a YouTube channel, and releasing solo singles as LOONA’s most visible member.

In the spring, Chuu was rumored to have taken legal action in 2021 to cut parts of her exclusive contract with BlockBerryCreative. By summertime, the stories ranged from Chuu joining a new management label to setting up an agency all on her own. BlockBerryCreative denied that she was transferring management. Still, the 23-year-old did not take part in LOONA’s world tour that visited North America, Europe and Asia from August to October of this year, or their recent Japanese single “Luminous.” Chuu has stayed busy, with many television appearances, growing a YouTube channel and releasing solo singles as LOONA’s most visible member.

On Nov. 28, BlockBerryCreative followed up with another statement saying that the expulsion was not in retaliation. The label said it’s up to the parties involved to share specific evidence. It asked the media to refrain from speculative reporting, after noting articles that doubted BlockBerryCreative’s claims and intentions.

Billboard repeatedly reached out to a BlockBerryCreative representative for comment as the stories unfolded. The rep confirmed Chuu’s removal from LOONA and pointed to previously shared statements.

Several K-pop stars and industry professionals have shown public support for Chuu. Singer Sunmi posted a selfie of her with Chuu after the expulsion news dropped, while Korean music journalist Joy Park shared her memories of Chuu and a signed LOONA album on her Twitter account. Kim Do Heon, another Korean music critic, criticized BlockBerryCreative’s statement through a Twitter post.

For her part, Chuu shared a short statement through an Instagram Story post. On Monday, the star wrote that she was not contacted about nor does she know anything about the recent events. She shared that she would release another statement soon but told fans she hadn’t done anything they would disapprove of.

Another report surfaced on Monday saying that nine of the remaining 11 LOONA members (Heejin, Haseul, Yeojin, Kim Lip, Jinsoul, Choerry, Yves, Go Won and Olivia Hye) were taking legal action to break their contracts with BlockBerryCreative. The agency dismissed the rumor. A BlockBerryCreative representative told Billboard that the report is “groundless.”

LOONA (whose Korean name translates to “Girl of the Month”) began their journey in 2016 with the ambitious plan of introducing each member with her own solo music and splinter units between the members before all 12 members finally came together in August 2018 for the [+ +] EP. LOONA has since earned multiple entries on World Albums and even sent their [12:00] album to the Billboard 200. The group hit No. 1 on World Digital Song Sales with their songs “365” and “Shake It” and also became one of the few K-pop acts to enter the Pop Airplay chart with an English single, “Star.”



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Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Promotes Amy Homma to Chief Audience Officer – Film News in Brief

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Long-time Academy Museum of Motion Pictures executive Amy Homma was promoted to Chief Audience Officer Nov. 28, Director and President of the Academy Museum Jacqueline Stewart announced.

“Amy has proven herself to be a skillful, forward-thinking, and inspiring leader since she began at the museum in 2019, and I look forward to seeing her and her teams thrive in this new capacity,” Stewart said. “As a seasoned programmer, educator, and administrator who brings a deep knowledge of audience engagement and museology, Amy is the ideal person to steer our museum’s next chapter of external relations.”

Prior to her new appointment, Homma worked as vice president of Education and Public Engagement at the Academy Museum. Under her leadership, the museum developed K-12 programming and public programs rooted in accessibility and activism.

Homma’s introduction to the Academy Museum was as the inaugural director — a position she acquired following the conclusion of her tenure at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

In her new role, Homma will continue to facilitate community engagement while having a heavier hand in the museum’s upholding of inclusive values.

“I am eager to work across teams to further develop the museum’s impact and commitment to local, national, and global audiences through a visitor-centered approach,” Homma said.

Cinema Audio Society To Honor Alejandro González Iñárritu with Filmmaker Award

 Alejandro González Iñárritu will receive the Cinema Audio Society’s Filmmaker of the Year honor at the 59th CAS Awards on Saturday, March 4, at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown hotel.

“It is an honor to name director Alejandro González Iñárritu as the recipient of the prestigious 2023 CAS Filmmaker Award. His sobering portrayals of the human experience bring empathy and consciousness to perspectives often left untold and unconsidered,” said CAS President Karol Urban. “No doubt drawing on his history in music, his films experiment and utilize sound — uniquely embracing its capacity to emotionally engulf the viewer.”

Upon hearing the news that he was to receive the CAS honor, Mr. Iñárritu said, “Being singled out as a filmmaker by my colleagues in the Cinema Audio Society is a great honor. I have had the pleasure of collaborating with some of the most gifted sound designers in the industry and truly cannot emphasize the importance of the work they do in creating a fully sensorial experience for audiences when watching a film.”

Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival Announces 2022 Winners

The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival has announced this year’s winners. In its 37th year, the festival took place from Nov. 4-13 and screened 200 films.

Below is the complete winners list of the Jury and President Awards at the 37th annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival:

Best American Indie

“Corner Office,” directed by Joachim Black

Honorable Mention:

“American Dreamer,” directed by Paul Dektor

“The Drop,” directed by Sarah Adina Smith

Best Foreign Film

“Ride Above” (Tempete), directed by Christian Duguay

Best Documentary

“The Ghost of Richard Harris,” directed by Adrian Sibley

Honorable Mention:

“The Long Rider,” directed by Sean Cisterna

“Territorio Africano,” directed by Joaquin & Julian Azulay

“Tiger #24,” directed by Warren Pereira

Spirits of Independents Awards

“Abuella’s Family: The Sansgiving Episodes,” directed by Kevin Bosch

“American Dreamer,” directed by Paul Dektor

“Bobcat Moretti,” directed by Rob Margolies

“Camino Al Exito,” directed by Sebastian Rodriguez

“Combat Club,” directed by Mark Moorman

“D.O.A.,” directed by Kurt St. Thomas

“A Matter of Trust,” directed by Annette K. Olesen

“The Mistress,” directed by Greg Pritikin

“Trade,” directed by Corey Stanton

“The Artist and the Astronaut,” directed by Bill Muench

“Freedom on Our Mind,” directed by Chad Light

Special Jury Prize for Production

“D.O.A.,” directed by Kurt St. Thomas

Best Florida Feature

“Bridge to the Other Side,” directed by KT Curran

Best Florida Short

“Connections,” directed by Jennie Jarvis

“Lioness,” directed by Molly E. Smith

Best American Indie Short

“Lift” by Charles Burmeister

Best Foreign Short

“Viva,” directed by Esteben Steven Petersen (Dominican Republic)

Best High School Video

“The Interns,” directed by Sabrina Dubner (USA)

“Backspace,” directed by Ethan Ross (UK)

“White,” directed by Vivian Burmeister (USA)

Best College Short

“Dad We Shall Sing Something,” directed by Aidana Baurjanqizy  (Kazakhstan)

Best College Long Narrative

“Nahrani,” directed by Angelina Auer (Germany)

Best College Animation (TIE)

“There Is Exactly Enough Time,” directed by Oskar Salomonowitz (Austria)

“The Many Benefits of Heartbreak,” directed by Luke Schroeder (USA)

Best College Doc

“Resurgence,” directed by Krushan Naik (USA)

Best Filmed in Broward Short

“Un Pequeno Corte,” directed by Mariana Serrano

Best Filmed in Broward Doc

“The Halls of Power,” co-directed by Janay Joseph, Graciel Quezada & Bianca Vucetice

Lifetime Achievement

Sally Kirkland

Career Achievement

John Gray

Career Achievement

Taryn Manning

Star on the Horizon

Hopper Jack Penn

Star on the Horizon

Zoe Bleu



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