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Highest-Paid Country Acts 2019: Lil Nas X Debuts; Luke Bryan Tops List

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The Country Music Awards are billed as Nashville’s biggest night, but this year’s event buried the genre’s most significant breakthrough of the past 12 months, offering up just one nomination for 20-year-old musician Lil Nas X, whose “Old Town Road” spent a record 19 weeks atop the singles charts.

That run helped Lil Nas X notch a different honor, debuting on the Forbes list of top-earning country acts this year with an estimated pretax income of $14 million. The Atlanta native claims the No. 18 spot thanks to the fiendishly catchy country-rap track he released through indie music service Amuse in December 2018. The song clocked 1.8 billion spins by summer despite being booted from the Billboard country charts. The snub—and a bevy of remixes—helped “Old Town Road” broaden the genre’s audience more than any track in recent memory. 

“It was on viral charts in countries where no country song has ever positioned itself,” says Amuse cofounder Diego Farias. “Everything from Southeast Asian markets to eastern European markets. I mean, I’m talking about places that you don’t necessarily associate with cowboy hats and boots.”

Lil Nas X isn’t the only high earner to come up short at the awards ceremony: Luke Bryan claims the top spot on our list for the second consecutive year with $42.5 million but didn’t receive a single nomination. That’s mostly because the Georgia native, who favors baseball caps over cowboy hats, hasn’t put out a new studio album since 2017. Instead, he spent his time grossing more than $1 million per tour stop and serving as a judge on American Idol.

The genre-bending Zac Brown Band ranks second, pulling in $38.5 million on the strength of 50 live performances and a new album, The Owl, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album charts. Other crossover acts on the list include Canadian songstress Shania Twain (No. 7 with $29 million) and hip-hop-tinged duo Florida Georgia Line (No. 8 with $26 million).

“Country’s more of a lifestyle,” the group’s cofounder Brian Kelley told Forbes in 2015. “The music’s always going to evolve.”

“It was on viral charts in countries where no country song has ever positioned itself. Everything from Southeast Asian markets to eastern European markets. I mean, I’m talking about places that you don’t necessarily associate with cowboy hats and boots.”

Plenty of the CMAs’ stars did make our list, including performers Eric Church (No. 6, $30 million) and Miranda Lambert (No. 20, $13 million), as well as two of the hosts—Dolly Parton (No. 15, $17 million) and Carrie Underwood (No. 14, $16 million). A third host, Reba McEntire, narrowly missed the cut.

Overall, the top ten acts in country earned $311.5 million, up 2% from last year’s $304.5 million. Our list of the genre’s top earners measures estimated pretax earnings from June 1, 2018, through June 1, 2019. Fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted. Figures are generated with the help of numbers from Nielsen Music, PollstarPro and interviews with industry insiders.

Although our rankings typically reflect country’s woeful lack of diversity at the top, this year’s list offers at least a glimmer of hope that things are changing. There are 6 women in the top 20—the least lopsided ratio in the seven years Forbes has published the list—and Lil Nas X is both the first openly gay act and the first person of color to make it.

Though he declined to comment for this story through a representative, Lil Nas X is clearly taking his role as a trailblazer seriously, regardless of how much CMA hardware he takes home. As he told the BBC earlier this year: “I feel like [I’m] opening doors for more people.”

20. Miranda Lambert, $13 million (tie)

20. Lady Antebellum, $13 million (tie)

19. Rascal Flatts, $13.5 million

18. Lil Nas X, $14 million

17. Faith Hill, $15 million

16. Carrie Underwood, $16 million

15. Dolly Parton, $17 million

14. George Strait, $17.5 million

13. Tim McGraw, $18 million

12. Dierks Bentley, $20 million

11. Toby Keith, $21 million

10. Jason Aldean, $23.5 million

9. Garth Brooks, $24 million

8. Florida Georgia Line, $26 million

7. Shania Twain, $29 million

6. Eric Church, $30 million

5. Kenny Chesney, $31 million

4. Blake Shelton, $32 million

3. Keith Urban, $35 million

2. Zac Brown Band, $38.5 million

1. Luke Bryan, $42.5 million

– Zack O’Malley Greenburg

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Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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Gap Stock Surges After Kanye West Signs Deal To Sell A New Yeezy Clothing Line With Struggling Retailer

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The Ye Effect may be the new Oprah Effect: This morning Kanye West’s fashion and shoe company Yeezy and clothing retailer Gap GPS announced a ten-year partnership for a Yeezy Gap clothing line. 

Yeezy Gap will hit stores next year with a line of “modern, elevated basics for men, women and kids at accessible price points,” according to a statement from both partners announcing the news. West will receive an undisclosed percentage of royalties and, potentially, an equity stake, dependent on sales achievements.

Shares of Gap, which has struggled over the past five years to keep up with fast fashion retailers, surged nearly 40% when markets opened Friday morning in response to the news, but then tapered off. As of shortly after 1:50 pm ET, the stock was trading at $12.50, up 22% from Thursday’s close. The deal is welcome news for the retailer, whose namesake brand has lost its iconic status, and, as of earlier this month, had cash flow of negative $1.1 billion compared to negative $136 million last year.

“Gap has been a challenge for us,” Gap CEO Sonia Syngal said on a conference call earlier this month, adding that “years of inconsistent execution have depleted brand health.” Other brands under the Gap umbrella include Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta.

Years ago, West, who worked at a Gap store in Chicago as a teenager, expressed interest in partnering with the brand, whose product is quite different from his pricey Yeezy high-fashion line that sells shoes for more than $1,000 a pair and $925 cardigans.

“I’d like to be the Steve Jobs of the Gap,” he said in a 2015 interview on the now defunct Style.com. “I’m not talking about a capsule. I’m talking about full Hedi Slimane creative control of the Gap.”

But last year the rapper and designer, who is known to often change course, told Forbesthat  “What makes celebrity products sell so well is scarcity. … So if they make it too broadly available, I think it crashes the business model.”

That said, the Yeezy clothing line wasn’t selling “so well.” While his deal with Adidas to sell Yeezy shoes makes up the bulk of his $1.3 billion fortuneForbes estimates that his stake of the partnership is worth $1.26 billion—the Yeezy fashion line has struggled. His high-fashion line, meanwhile, is nothing more than a rounding error when it comes to his net worth. 

Partnering with a celebrity has been good—at least initially—for the stock of other companies.  When Oprah Winfrey announced she was partnering with and investing in WW (then Weight Watchers) in 2015, its stock surged 92%. Earlier this month, shares of the beauty giant Coty COTY rose 7% when it announced that it was potentially pursuing a partnership with West’s wife, Kim Kardashian West.

 It’s too early to say whether West’s Yeezy line can  help turn Gap around for good, but it will be another chance for him to do what he loves.

“I am a product guy at my core,” West told Forbes last year. “To make products that make people feel an immense amount of joy and solve issues and problems in their life, that’s the problem-solving that I love to do.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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The Def Jam Star And Trend-Setter In African Music: ‘I Come From A Place Where Dreaming Is Not A Thing’

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Nasty C, the award-winning South African rapper hailed ‘The Coolest Kid In Africa’, recently signed with Def Jam in the United States, through a joint venture with Universal Music Africa, which sees him joining the likes of Kanye West and Justin Bieber. The 23-year-old rapper, also one of FORBES AFRICA’s 30 Under 30 list-makers in 2018, tells us more.

Mainstream South African rapper, Nsikayesizwe David Junior Ngcobo, popularly known as Nasty C, recently made his US debut with the song, There They Go, a single launched just before the lockdown in South Africa in March. Shot in Durban, in the country’s sunny KwaZulu-Natal coast, it’s the first advance track of his forthcoming album Zulu Man with Some Power.

Known as the most-streamed South African artist on Apple Music for four years in a row, he is effecting the crossover to the global stage and helping change stereotypes about African music. The Universal Music Group also recently announced the launch of Def Jam Africa, which shows new interest in talent across the continent.

Says Nasty C, who has been rapping since he was nine years old, and shot to fame with songs like Juice Back and Bad Hair, to FORBES AFRICA: “I hope to change that whole stereotype and just show them that we have a lot of depth and different flavors, and there are a lot of things we can teach outsiders that they don’t really know about. Hopefully, by exposing more African artists and if I can open the gates and have hundreds of artists follow after me, I feel we can bridge that gap. They will see Africa in a different light.”

While on lockdown in Johannesburg, the rapper has been building his online presence.

“I have had to focus on the digital side of things, and also be able to go live on YouTube and connect with fans; give them a taste of music that’s still to come.”

Through technology, even if the pandemic pursues, he feels music will survive.

“Music is very unpredictable. With the whole TikTok thing, artists are able to go viral… And that’s been working out very successfully and help them earn a little bit of money. I don’t think artists are going to be struggling if this pandemic continues… But nothing can top the energy of being in an arena with fans.”

Ten years from now, the young rapper hopes to be seen as an artist for generations.

“I hope to be a legend, I don’t want it to be about how rich I am or how my music career is, as long as I have changed the way my people think…”

His new song album Zulu Man with Some Power, he says, is about taking more pride in his people and culture and showcasing it on the global stage.

He says he looks up to artists like Burna Boy and Wizkid “who are representing Africa and uplifting Africa in the world”.

“My idols are living testimony that there are powers in the universe that could allow you to go from zero to hero. That’s what I hope to teach my fans. I come from a place where dreaming is not a thing, where people’s ceilings are this low. They feel they are undeserving of the finer things in life. I am just here to tell them that they are wrong. They should go for their dreams no matter how crazy and outrageous they are!”

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