Monday, 27 November 2017

The BBC Sound Of 2018 - Commentary


Being the sort of geeky music nerd that likes to order things into league tables and turn pop music into a sport of sorts, late November and December is a dream for me as we get the end of year lists, of which I devour as many as I can find. 

I love trying to make sense of how my taste compares with others, from small scale bloggers to professional journalists and to sometimes find records that I've completely missed that others like. So far my current early thinking suggests that one of my favourite records of 2017 is also a lot of other people’s favourites, whilst another of my favourites isn’t – but the reasons for that aren’t necessarily because my taste is removed from the majority. More on that when I publish my end of year list at the end of the year.

But besides the backwards looking lists we also get the tips for next year and one of the more widely known and discussed of those is the BBC Sound of list. If I appeared on Mastermind I would probably choose it as my specialist subject I’m so obsessed by it. Yes, I’m probably one of the only people in the world that could tell you off the top of my head that the Sound of 2007 poll included Enter Shikari at number 5 and Ghosts at number 9. Ghosts. Anyone remember them? No me neither. As I've said before, tipping is always perilous and even the most savvy tastemaker gets it wrong sometimes. 

It’s that obsession that forced me to stay up last night till midnight to see the unveiling of this years poll, despite having to be up at 5.30am in the morning for work.

Having taken a bit of time to digest the Sound of 2018, here are my observations from this year:

1. By and large I like this year’s list. Much of it matches with my tastes. Of the 10 artists I selected for my own Ones to Watch for 2018 list last week 4 of them are also on the BBC list (Sigrid, Pale Waves, Jade Bird and Superorgansim).

2. This time round quite a large number of artists on the list have been promoting material for the whole year. Gone are the days when an artist released a debut ‘buzz’ single around August or September and a couple of months later was on the BBC Sound Of list. It’s an indication of how much harder it is today to break a new artist. 

3. I had a go at predicting this year’s poll and out of the 15 chosen acts I managed to guess 8 correctly: Sigrid, Alma, Pale Waves, Superogranism, Billie Eilish, Jade Bird, Lewis Capaldi and Khalid (who has already a big hit in the US, so he was a no-brainer). So, if there is a criticism of the list it’s that this year, in the main, it was quite predictable. But then last year’s list was very unpredictable; an unsigned act was voted number 1 and an artist that had already been round for a number of years and was tipped on my own blog’s Ones to Watch list several years before (Rag N Bone Man) came in at number 2. However, there are some surprises. 2 artists that I suspected would be on the list (Jessie Reyez and Mist) aren’t featured. However, the Sound of poll’s job isn’t necessarily to pick artists that will be big – pundits are asked to vote for artists they are excited for. Hence this year we have the likes of indie-jazz-soul artist Nilufer Yanya, who has just 1,687 followers on Twitter, (for comparison Jessie Rayez has 26,000 and Mist has 39,000) but Nilufer has been releasing some intriguing high quality music over the last year or so. Despite having seen her live and being impressed, I’ll happily admit to not considering her a potential on the BBC list, but it's nice to see her there.

4. There are just 2 bands on the list. This is a growing trend in the music industry. I tried to address this in my own Ones to Watch list, because I’m convinced that there are lots of great new bands out there – it’s just that the industry is finding that it works better for it to take on solo artists. It’s why I included the likes of The Blinders, Off Bloom and Confidence Man alongside the 2 BBC nominees of Superorganism and Pale Waves on my own list.

5. This year the panel of music industry experts who voted included past BBC Sound of winners and nominees from previous years such as Ellie Goulding, Ray BLK and Stormzy. Did their input make any difference to the outcome? It’s impossible to say, but I’d take a guess and say not really. The list doesn’t seem that different from many of the years before it.

6. There seems to be quite an emphasis on pop this year. Even the one traditional indie rock band on the list (Pale Waves) have a very pop shine to their music. It’s also noticeable that the old-fashioned virtues of song writing still find favour with the likes of Jade Bird, Lewis Capaldi and Tom Walker all making the list.

7. Who will be in the top 5 announced in the New Year? This is the one area where I’m not so sure. Personally, I’d like Sigrid to top the list and I’d say she’s in with a fair shout, certainly for the top 5 but there’s a lot of quality this year so there could be quite a scrum for the top positions. Or maybe like sport, just when you think you know how it’s all going to play out a Leicester City will come along and shock us all.

The BBC Sound of List in full:

Alma
Billie Eilish
IAMDDB
Jade Bird
Khalid
Lewis Capaldi
Not3s
Nil├╝fer Yanya
Pale Waves
Rex Orange County
Sigrid
Sam Fender
Superorganism
Tom Walker
Yaeji
Yxng Bane


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