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With COVID-19 impacting music artists’ very livelihood in 2020, attorney Kenny Meiselas, name partner and head of the music department of New York-based firm Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks, diversified when it came to his clients’ business endeavors. From a Super Bowl halftime show to a branded Oreo cookie to the wild frontier of Non Fungible Tokens, Meiselas was undeterred by the new normal that excised concerts, a huge portion of a top musician’s earnings.
In fact, you could point to new heights for one act he represents: The Weeknd (real name: Abel Tesfaye), whose 2020 was busier than ever thanks to his top-selling album “After Hours,” released in March. “The Weeknd and his team showed, not only could new music be released successfully during the pandemic, but great music could be an inspiration to everyone suffering through the scary and uncertain early days,” says Meiselas.
Since its release, and based on the strength of several hit singles (chief among them: “Blinding Lights,” with 1.2 billion streams, according to Alpha Data), the album moved 2.5 million units to date and led to multiple TV appearances throughout the year, including the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards and the Super Bowl Halftime show in Feb., where he followed in the footwork of previous performers Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, The Who, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Prince, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, U2, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, to name a few
“Abel joined the elite, superstar club … whose historic performances at the Super Bowl will be remembered for years to come,” Meiselas tells Variety. “As someone who first saw Abel performing at a club in Toronto and has worked with him since 2013, I was so proud and happy for him and his team.”
The Weeknd has already expanded to the screen with a small role in “Uncut Gems,” and Meiselas says to expect, “Abel to make his mark in film and television, not just as an actor but as a creator, writer and producer.” And as new technologies emerge, “Abel will be right there as we recently saw with the release of his groundbreaking NFTs,” he adds. “It’s a whole new world.”
For Lady Gaga, who Meiselas has represented since 2011, deals with Valentino, Dom Perignon and Oreo Cookies kept her profile high, along with the 2020 album “Chromatica” and the Grammy nominations it garnered (the song “Rain on Me,” with Ariana Grande, won best pop duo/group performance).
Says Meiselas, who was recognized by Variety in 2019 as its Power of Law honoree: “From my perspective, when I look at Lady Gaga, I think excellence. I think the best. I think number one. These are alliances of greatness as these brands like Gaga herself are each respected as being at the very top of its product category. So the connection is there — excellence merging together with excellence.”
Having represented Sean Combs for more than two decades, Meiselas has long been committed to the city of New York (his office is in the famed Carnegie Hall) and the underserved communities that the music and spirits mogul has endeavored to help. Meiselas’ efforts include being a partner in the Robin Hood Foundation, and, in May 2020, helping raise $115 million for the city at a dire moment in the pandemic. Another event, “Heroes of New York,” added millions more to the tally in December. “It was one of the highlights of my year to be able to assist Robin Hood with their efforts to raise money to help battle against the horrific effects of COVID-19 on those less fortunate,” says Meiselas, noting that The Weeknd also committed millions to aid the recent crisis in Ethiopia, the Aug. 2020 explosion in Beirut and COVID initiatives throughout the year.
“At times, I wonder how I ever got through everything pre- pandemic when I spent hours of each day commuting, having business lunches and attending other industry events,” says Meiselas, only half-kidding. “Sometimes there does not seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done.”
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