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How blink-182 Balanced Nostalgia With Emotional Directness to Recapture the Billboard 200

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In a year that’s been dominated by familiar albums and re-releases at the top of the Billboard 200 chart, this week served up a refreshing new No. 1: veteran punk rock band blink-182, which returned with the album One More Time and scored its first placement atop the tally with its original lineup — Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker — since 2001.

The album’s coronation was not a flash-in-the-pan, news cycle nostalgia play. Instead, it was the result of a year-long reunion and rollout plan that included a massive world tour, a string of singles and a behind-the-scenes video series with hundreds of thousands of views that both allowed the band’s original fans to get a glimpse inside the lives of their longtime heroes and brought in new fans drawn to the group’s irreverent humor and oddball visuals. For a group that came of age in the heyday of MTV — and was well-known for its provocative and hilarious music videos — the visual element was a key part of re-engaging that fan base, helping earn Columbia Records senior vp of video production Saul Levitz the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.

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Here, Levitz breaks down the content plan behind the group’s big comeback, the nostalgia factor of a beloved band’s reunion, how the visuals reflected the music and more. “We wanted to bring context and emotion to every visual,” Levitz says. “Whether it be the album trailers or music videos, we needed to bring the audience into the cathartic moment that the band was going through.”

This week, blink-182’s One More Time debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the group’s first No. 1 with its original lineup since 2001. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?

We wanted to bring context and emotion to every visual. Whether it be the album trailers or music videos, we needed to bring the audience into the cathartic moment that the band was going through. When Ron [Perry, Columbia chairman/CEO] first sent across the song “One More Time” I cried every time I listened to it and felt the visuals needed to match this place it was taking the listener. Both because the band was processing their own lives with a directness they hadn’t before and also because it’s a universal message that can be applied to any relationship that has gone silent due to ego, mismanagement, or just time letting it slip away.

blink obviously has been around a long time, but it had been years since they released an album. How did you approach the content given that history?

There’s always a pull between nostalgia and making things feel fresh and modern. The modern approach usually wins out because no artist wants to rest on their laurels when rolling out new music. But this time it felt more appropriate because the band was acknowledging their past in a way that confirmed a lot of what the fan base had been thinking in their heads but never heard them say to each other. Never had I seen the fan base live vicariously through each member’s journey. They saw a piece of themselves in Tom, Mark or Travis’s personal journey, so we had to acknowledge that and not make it seem like it didn’t mean anything.

blink’s original incarnation was also at the height of the music-video era, and many of their videos are iconic. How did you balance that track record with bringing in new elements for this project?

Oh man, this is the best part of the job — living up to expectations and a visual history. We literally went inside so many of these iconic music videos for the “One More Time” video so this process was less about living up to those videos and more about celebrating them. There is so much expectation for their videos to be funny and self-aware. The band wanted to push beyond this expectation, though. Their personalities have also evolved so much that as soon as something felt too much like something the old blink-182 would do it stopped feeling fresh. But trust that Tom kept things OG on set with the humor and personality that people remember the band for.

This album also had an extended rollout, with the first single being released a full year before the album. How did that help you develop and roll out the content for it?

Being on the “EDGING” set was a revelation. The band hadn’t played together in forever, and even though they were playing to track there was something so clear about how they all locked in musically together and how their personalities melded together to create this nexus of what the band was. I remember being on set and thinking, “How could these guys ever have not been together?” It seemed so effortless and perfect the way they complemented each other through friendship and music. And Cole Bennett did a tremendous job with the video having the POV of a younger fan who has embraced the band’s legacy and sees their influence on a ton of new artists in genres you wouldn’t expect. It’s rare that you have a gap this long between a first single and then the album, but it certainly made us realize early the power the band had in this trinity coming together.

In a way, this entire project could be seen as a throwback: an extended rollout strategy, big radio singles, a major tour around the world and a beloved rock band topping the charts. What’s the significance of that in this era of the music industry, when things are often on much tighter timelines and rock rarely reaches No. 1?

I attribute the success as much to the music just being f—ing great and everyone seeing a part of themselves in the journey of these three individuals that come together and put aside their differences and find that spark again that made them special and unique and beloved. It was amazing to have the amount of time needed to get everything right, and that is rare nowadays, but without those other elements being in place the time is irrelevant. This album is less about the story of rock returning and more about how the audience can see themselves within artists that share so much of themselves and their journey. If you can make them cry, you’ve got something.

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