On Michelle Jubelirer’s desk sits a nameplate that says “Fuck You.” On a coffee table in the Capitol Music Group chief operating officer’s pop-art-filled office is a gold statue of a hand, middle finger extended skyward, as well as a sign that reads “Suck less. Thanks.”
These serve as reminders that even though the Pittsburgh native has ascended to the C-suite of Hollywood’s Capitol Tower, she still knows it’s only rock ‘n’ roll: “No matter how serious I am in business, there will always be a little punk inside me.”
Though music was always her passion, Jubelirer, 45, initially chose to go into law. “Because I had a father die when I was 3, I was cognizant that I needed to always have a way to support myself financially,” she says of her early days in mergers and acquisitions. After stints at Sony Music and another law firm — this time as an entertainment attorney — she joined Capitol Music Group in 2013, ascending to COO by 2015. She works closely with chairman and CEO Steve Barnett in overseeing the company’s business strategy, development and roughly 400 employees, and acts as a liaison to CMG parent Universal Music Group, while helping set the creative direction for CMG’s portfolio of labels. (Capitol, Virgin and Motown, among others, account for a 7.8 percent market share thanks to such artists as Katy Perry, Migos and Neil Diamond.) Jubelirer, who lives with her partner (Buckcherry guitarist Keith Nelson) and their son, most recently helped steer Lewis Capaldi’s U.S. breakthrough, Halsey’s first No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and Maggie Rogers’ ascent to Grammy best new artist nominee — a trophy Rogers will vie for on the Jan. 26 CBS telecast.
What is the value of a Grammy to an artist’s career?
In 2015, when Sam Smith [won four], it put an incredible spotlight on the artistry that Sam embodied. It’s different in each circumstance, but I think that primarily best new artist is a category that’s critically important.
Pop stars have a notoriously short shelf life. What is the key to sustaining a pop career after age 30?
It’s fucking hard, but ultimately it’s all about the songs and ensuring that [the artists] remain authentically themselves. I think it’s a lot more difficult for a female pop star to sustain that level of success in this current environment. We live in an unforgiving world where everyone is on to the new. Women, whether pop stars or in any kind of outward-facing job, are not allowed to age.
A number of artists, including Sam Smith and Halsey, have been open about their mental health issues. What is a label’s responsibility in helping artists who are struggling?
We think about our artists’ mental health on a daily basis. We have an artist whose managers asked for money to rehearse for a show, because the artist hadn’t been on the road for a while. Then the artist met with me, and I didn’t feel like they were in the best mental health. I [told] the managers, “The only way I will give you money is if that artist uses it to go to a therapist.” So we got an agreement in writing that the money would be used for therapy. Can I give you a 100 percent guarantee that that was the case? No, but I felt like at least we were doing the right thing.
During your tenure, Paul McCartney landed his first No. 1 album debut as a solo artist in 2018. What’s it like working with a Beatle?
He takes nothing for granted. He’s a good guy and he thanks everyone. And he’s humble. He was open to ideas, [though] he was certainly resistant to doing “Carpool Karaoke” at first. He said, “How can I be better than Adele and Stevie Wonder?” Then Steve Barnett had the idea of doing it in Liverpool. That, in partnership with James Corden, pushed Paul to do it. [The episode earned 4.3 million viewers and an Emmy.]
After the success of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, how will CMG exploit classic catalogs?
Absolutely. We did the Motown documentary and we’re doing a Beastie Boys documentary [at Apple, with Spike Jonze directing]. Five years ago, we were all just trying to figure out how to pivot a business that was still in decline. [Now that] we get some free time, we can explore areas where we can have fun and create new revenue streams. We’re able to dedicate more time to exploring other areas of media.
Unlike in the past, mainstream music isn’t reflecting the current turbulent times. Why is that?
For musicians to use their voice beyond speeches — like Halsey has done at the Women’s March — it’s too fucking dangerous. It’s crazy but not surprising. Look at a map. If one of our artists were to do [a political song] coming from a liberal viewpoint — which most of these artists would — middle America would just leave them in the dust. A speech you have to seek out, whereas a pop song will be heard in all cross sections of the world — and, especially in the politicized U.S., it could be alienating to a fickle consumer base.
As an attorney, you repped artists against labels. How are you reconciling that on the label side?
I still fight for the artists here. I had incredible clients, [including] Frank Ocean, Pharrell, Kesha … Ultimately I came here because I thought that I could make artists comfortable that they had an advocate within the building. I’ve really tried to stay true to that promise to myself.
What is the most rewarding project you’ve worked on at CMG?
Halsey. A team of us signed her in the infancy of her career. She had one song out online. You knew, when you sat with her, you were in the presence of an unmitigated future superstar. To see her go on to sell millions of albums, and [in February 2019] host and perform on Saturday Night Live has been one of the proudest moments of my life. As much as I’m proud of my son, I’m proud of her.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.