There could be 100 people in the room, but there is only one Lady Gaga. Since her debut on the BMI stage at Lollapalooza in 2007, Gaga has become a “record-setting megastar,” according to Billboard magazine. Her first album, The Fame, catapulted her to superstardom with the Billboard Hot 100 chart toppers, “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” while her follow-up album, The Fame Monster, solidified her place as a pop powerhouse. Over the years, Gaga has continued to expand her empire while staying true to the girl from New York City who dreamed of selling out Madison Square Garden: herself. The year 2016 saw the release of her deeply personal LP, Joanne, and that same year she became the first female artist to receive the prestigious RIAA Digital Diamond Award for “Bad Romance.” Now with 11 GRAMMYs, two Golden Globes, an Oscar, a headlining slot at the 2017 Super Bowl halftime show, a Las Vegas residency, and a well-received turn in the hit film, A Star is Born, Gaga kicked off 2020 with the announcement of her sixth solo studio album, Chromatica. Even as her future classic with Bradley Cooper, “Shallow,” continues gaining streams every day, Gaga changed gears, using her February single “Stupid Love” to signal her return to the dance-pop sound that first made us fall in love with her. Chromatica became her sixth consecutive #1 on the Billboard 200, and the set’s second single, “Rain on Me” with Ariana Grande, peaked atop the Hot 100. Gaga received nine nominations at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards (winners will be announced on August 30), and her highly anticipated Chromatica Ball stadium tour will launch next year.
Every artist has a moment in their career that they consider a turning point. A benchmark. A milestone. For many of the artists featured in this edition of the Indie Spotlight, the BMI stage at Lollapalooza was home to their pivotal performance, one that fanned the flames of ambition to make their mark in the music industry. We’re going back in time to celebrate the careers of some of our most successful Lolla performers who have made the leap from the BMI stage (some of them literally!) and into our hearts, ears, and playlists.
From the beginning of their career, Cage the Elephant has had something special. The five-piece band made their first appearance on the BMI Stage at Lollapalooza in 2007, released their debut album a year later. Since then, the Kentucky natives have released hit singles like “No Rest for the Wicked,” “Shake Me Down,” and “Cigarette Dreams,” while their 2013 Melophobia album led to a Best Alternative Music Album nomination at the 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards. Now one of the most popular rock groups of our time, Cage the Elephant has headlined shows around the world and had their songs land on both the Billboard Hot Alternative Songs and the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Meanwhile, an impressive six of their projects have appeared on the Billboard 200, peaking as high as #2 with the Thank You Happy Birthday LP in 2011. Cage is now a GRAMMY Award-winning band: they won Best Rock Album in 2016 and 2019 for Tell Me I’m Pretty and Social Cues, respectively. Their latest single, “Broken Boy,” features the iconic Iggy Pop and was released in January 2020.
Chicago native, Chance the Rapper, made his first appearance on the BMI stage at Lollapalooza in 2013. Having just released his first two projects at the time, 10 Day and Acid Rap, he wowed his hometown crowd with performances of songs like “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and “Juice.” His career skyrocketed from there: his 2016 mixtape, Coloring Book, was lauded by Rolling Stone for being a “gospel-rap masterpiece,” and he worked closely with President Barack Obama on the My Brother’s Keeper Challenge in 2017. With eight GRAMMY nominations and three wins to his name, Chance has worked with some of the biggest names in music, among them DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber, Cardi B, DaBaby, and Childish Gambino, to name a few. His Billboard achievements are equally impressive, with 14 Hot 100 entries (including a #1, “I’m The One”), 16 weeks on the Artist 100 chart (with a #7 peak), and three top 10 projects on the Billboard 200. The Big Day is his most recent album; the 22-track LP was released last year and features a who’s-who roster of guest artists including John Legend, Nicki Minaj, Death Cab for Cutie, and Ari Lennox, among others. His collaboration with Ed Sheeran and PnB Rock, “Cross Me,” is one of the most popular songs on Sheeran’s chart-topping No.6 Collaborations Project, having exceeded 280 million streams on Spotify alone.
A little rain didn’t stop a turquoise-haired Halsey from giving an unforgettable performance on the BMI stage at Lollapalooza in 2015. At the time, she had only released one EP, but her on-stage charisma captivated the audience, foretelling a successful career boosted by catchy melodies, personal lyrics, and a devoted fanbase. It was no surprise then that she went on to sell out Madison Square Garden and launch her debut album, Badlands, at #2 on the Billboard 200. Halsey has toured with Imagine Dragons and The Weeknd, and her first #1 single, “Closer” with the Chainsmokers, dropped in July 2016. The song gave her one of two 2016 GRAMMY nominations, the other being for her work on Justin Bieber’s Purpose album. Her evolution continued upon the release of her 2017 hopeless fountain kingdom album, which featured hits like “Now or Never” and “Bad at Love,” and her 2020 album, Manic, was led by the smash hit, “Without Me.” Notably, “Without Me” became Halsey’s second #1 single and was named Song of the Year at the 2020 BMI Pop Awards. Her Billboard chart history is impressive: aside from her two #1 singles, she has placed 19 songs (including six top 10 hits) on the Hot 100, four albums on the Billboard 200, and 241 weeks on the Artist 100 chart, peaking at #1 in June 2017. Another remarkable fact about Halsey is that she has appeared in the top 10 of the Hot 100 every year since 2016. Manic remains one of the best-selling albums of the year, and her recent collaborations with Marshmello (“Be Kind”), Juice WRLD (“Life’s a Mess”), and Kelsea Ballerini (“The Other Girl”) are climbing the charts worldwide.
After initially starting his career as part of a hip-hop collective, a solo Vic Mensa made his debut on the BMI stage at Lollapalooza in 2014. With a distinct sound inspired by music of the ‘90s, he next joined J. Cole and Wale on the What Dreams May Come Tour before topping XXL Magazine’s Freshman Class list. Mensa’s voice and pen caught the attention of fellow Chicagoan, Kanye West, who tapped him to co-write and feature alongside Sia on “Wolves” for The Life of Pablo album. From there, he became a sought-after collaborator, having now worked with G-Eazy, Chance the Rapper, Logic, G Herbo, and many others. Mensa’s debut EP, There’s Alot Going On, arrived in 2016; he has released a project each year since, two of which landed on the Billboard 200. His rising success has not been limited to the charts, either, and he now has both GRAMMY (Best Rap Song) and NAACP Image Award (Outstanding New Artist) nominations to his name. Mensa now has more than 2.4 million monthly listeners on Spotify, and his latest track, “Sing Me a Lullabye” with Sherman’s Showcase and Phonte, was released in June.
Since their 2012 performance on the BMI stage at Lollapalooza (where they performed as The Ambassadors) the group now known as X Ambassadors have propelled themselves into the global spotlight. The Ithaca-based indie band’s debut album, VHS, went platinum and spawned genre-defining hits like “Renegades” and “Unsteady,” leading them on a three-year tour odyssey across the world. Follow-up albums, VHS 2.0 and Orion, showcase their artistic development as songwriters and performers, and they have racked up several nominations at both the Billboard Music Awards and the Teen Choice Awards. Chart-wise, XA has landed five songs on the Hot 100, two projects on the Billboard 200, and 85 weeks on the Artist 100. Their music has been featured on Netflix’s Bright film soundtrack, and they have logged collaborations with The Knocks, Machine Gun Kelly, Illenium, and Bebe Rexha, among others. They released a three-song EP called Belong earlier this year, and their latest single, Zen (featuring K.Flay and grandson), came out in May. With millions of streams and over 11 million monthly listeners on Spotify, X Ambassadors plan to resume touring as soon as it is safe, having just released a BMI Jam Session in April featuring a performance from lead singer, Sam Harris.
Bebe Rexha’s career was meant to be. Her 2011 debut on BMI’s Lolla stage was one of many milestones this singer/songwriter has accomplished, and in 2012, she became one of the youngest recipients of the Abe Olman Scholarship Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Rexha, a New York native who used to commute from her home in Staten Island to attend workshops at BMI, is now an established artist and a go-to songwriter/collaborator for music heavyweights like David Guetta and Nicki Minaj (“Hey Mama”), Martin Garrix (“In the Name of Love”), Rita Ora (“Girls”), and the Chainsmokers (“Call You Mine”). Her first solo single, “I Can’t Stop Drinking About You,” was released in 2014, and she has continued releasing solo music ever since; her All Your Fault EPs and her debut full-length, Expectations, fared well on charts around the world. Singles-wise, her biggest hit to date is the song “Meant to Be” with Florida Georgia Line, which spent 50 consecutive weeks at #1 on Billboard’s country charts. The song also went 9X platinum, earned several BMI Awards, and was given a GRAMMY nomination, the same year Rexha was nominated for Best New Artist. She most recently co-wrote “Crowded Room” for Selena Gomez’s #1 album, Rare, contributed to the Maleficent: Mistress of Evil soundtrack, and released solo singles like “Last Hurrah” and “Not 20 Anymore.” Rexha remains hard at work on her upcoming sophomore album.
Born Jeffery Williams, the Atlanta rapper now known as Young Thug first performed on the BMI stage at Lollapalooza in 2015. The years leading up to his performance were spent perfecting his rap skills and releasing mixtapes and EPs, eventually catching Gucci Mane’s attention for the release of 1017 Thug. Now a superstar in his own right (and with an extensive catalog to prove it), Young Thug has had nine albums on the Billboard 200, 52 songs on the Hot 100 (including the #1 “Havana” with Camila Cabello), and a Song of the Year GRAMMY win for co-writing Childish Gambino’s “This is America.” With his distinctive sound and chameleonic style, Young Thug has hopped on tracks by Gunna, Trippie Redd, Nicki Minaj, 2 Chainz, and Future, and the hit single, “The London” with J. Cole and Travis Scott, earned him another GRAMMY nomination in 2020. Earlier this year, he dropped a genre-bending guest feature on Diplo’s country project, Thomas Wesley, alongside country superstar, Thomas Rhett. Young Thug’s most recent album, a joint project with Chris Brown called Slime & B, dropped in May, and contains the current hit single, “Go Crazy.”
New York-based singer/songwriter, MAX, made his inaugural performance on the BMI stage at Lollapalooza in 2017. At the time, his single, “Lights Down Low,” was approaching 100 million streams across platforms and became known as a sleeper hit due to its not peaking on the Billboard Hot 100 (at #29) until nearly two years after it initially dropped. Called a “young pop god” by GQ and a “top popstar to watch” by Billboard, one look at MAX’s extensive catalog and you will see that those declarations are accurate. Hell’s Kitchen Angel was released in 2016, and he has continued releasing tracks alongside Quinn XCII (“Love Me Less”), Wiz Khalifa, Yung Bae, and bbno$ (“Bad Boy”), and Hayley Kiyoko (“Missed Calls”), among others. In 2019, MAX was nominated for Best New Pop Artist at the iHeart Radio Awards and dropped singles like “Where Am I At” and “Naked,” the latter of which is among his most popular tracks on Spotify. His joint album with Party Pupils called Neon from Now On was released in May.
After only a few months of collaborating and drawing inspiration from the throbbing house beats of the ‘90s, Sofi Tukker (a dance duo composed of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern) wrote and released the 2016 viral hit, “Drinkee.” The song earned a GRAMMY nomination and placement in an Apple Watch commercial, further propelling its success before the pair landed on the BMI stage at Lollapalooza in 2017. Since that performance, they have released a steady string of singles like “COPYCAT,” “Purple Hat,” and a remix to Katy Perry’s single, “Small Talk.” Additionally, their 2018 album, Treehouse, was nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Dance/Electronic Album, and their music has been on soundtracks to films likes like Birds of Prey and To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You. ST’s song with Nervo and The Knocks, “Best Friend,” cracked the Billboard Hot 100, and their work has found international success in markets across Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Canada. Despite the pandemic, they have continued creating and releasing new music like “House Arrest,” “Good Time Girl,” and their latest offering, “broken people,” with almost monday.
LANY is a three-piece pop band with southern roots whose collective dream was to play music across the United States (from LA to NY… Get it?). Now, because of their monumental talent and touring prowess, they have transcended single-country notoriety to become a worldwide success. Since appearing on BMI’s stage at Lollapalooza in 2015, they have released several EPs, a few collaborations with Lauv and Julia Michaels, and are now two albums deep into a career marked by relatable lyrics, heart-wrenching vocals, and sold-out headlining shows. Both of their LPs (a self-titled set and its follow up, Malibu Nights) charted on the Billboard 200, and they also spent a week on the Billboard Artist 100 in 2017. So far in 2020, LANY has released two singles: “good guys” and “if this is the last time,” both of which are already among their most popular songs on Spotify.
PVRIS (pronounced “Paris”) is an electro-pop trio known for their dark, haunting sound and unapologetic honesty. Frontwoman Lynn Gunn’s powerhouse vocals fit perfectly with the group’s signature synthesizers, and their debut on the BMI stage at Lollapalooza took place in 2016. Within the last four years, PVRIS has crossed milestone after milestone, touring with Fall Out Boy, Muse, and 30 Seconds to Mars, selling out London’s O2 Academy, and winning two Rock Sound Awards (2017 Artist of the Year and 2018 Rock Sound Icon) and an AltRock Award (Best Tour of the Year). Their first full-length studio album, White Noise, was released in 2014, and a deluxe version featuring additional tracks was reissued in 2016. All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell, was made available in 2017 and marked their second appearance on the Billboard 200. Notably, Billboard ranked the project as one of the best albums of 2017, and they were described by Q Magazine as connecting the dots between The Cure, Chvrches, and Florence + the Machine. Earlier this year, PVRIS released an acoustic version of their 2019 single, “Hallucinations,” as well as the songs, “Dead Weight” and “Gimme a Minute.” Their latest track, a collaboration with guardin called “alive” dropped at the end of June.