I suppose it’s not too early to start assessing the prophecies of the BBC’s Sound Of 2012 list, given that there are only about 6 weeks left in the year. The list is compiled using the suggestions of, this year, 184 ‘Taste makers’ who name their top 3 stars of the year to come, which are then sorted into a top 15, before naming the top 5. I think I preferred having a top 10, but never mind.
The Sound Of list has tended to be a bit hit and miss in the past, unfortunately. Among some of the good shouts were Adele in ’08, Jessie J in ’11, and Ellie Goulding in ’10, who all won the vote. Perhaps not so good choices were The Bravery winning in 2005, ahead of KT Tunstall (#6), Kaiser Chiefs (#5) and Bloc Party (#2), and Little Boots (as enjoyable as some of her output was, the success didn’t follow) ahead of La Roux (#5), Florence and the Machine (#3) and, bizarrely, world-conquering Lady Gaga at number SIX.
Looking back at the top ten lists of all previous years does produce some surprise and confusion at some of the names thrown up, never to be heard of again such as Gemma Fox, Marcos Hernandez, Sadie Ama, Tom Vek… the list goes on and on. I think, in terms of massive success to follow, the top year was 2004 with, Keane (1), Franz Ferdinand (2), Razorlight (4), Joss Stone (5), McFly (6), Scissor Sisters (7) all going on to have pretty major careers, with Scissor Sisters and Keane having the two best-selling albums in the UK that year.
However, comparing that list to this year’s shortlist, you can’t help wondering what has gone wrong with new music. The criteria state that nominees must not have scored a top 20 hit before November of the previous year in order to qualify, and this is where the Sound Of people were screwed over a bit. 2012’s biggest selling album was from Emile Sandé, who had had a late ’11 hit and wasn’t allowed (although she didn’t make the previous year’s list). Exactly the same for bafflingly successful and assembled-from-odd-parts Lana Del Rey (or The King’s Wool, as I call her). When two of the biggest new acts who would have saved your list are not allowed, you have to scrape a few barrels and it’s pretty clear from the top 5.
Number ONE: MICHAEL KIWANUKA
Album, chart position: Home Again, 4 Top 40 singles: Home Again (29) (4.1 million Youtube views) Awards? Mercury nominated More info: The personal life section on his Wikipedia page only states that he supports Tottenham Hotspur, which I’m led to believe is a football team. Radio plays in last 30 days: 17 Of which were on Radio 1: 1
Notes: At number one is guitar-strumming and soulful Michael Kiwanuka. Inoffensive, not untalented, but not world-conquering. He didn’t set the world alight and there’s not much more to say. He’s probably quite nice in real life because he doesn’t play his guitar like he wants to break it and he sings about wanting to be home, so probably doesn’t have deep-rooted family issues.
Number TWO: FRANK OCEAN
Album, chart position: Channel Orange, 2 Top 40 singles: Thinkin Bout You (25), Pyramids (21) Most viewed on Youtube: Novacane (10.3million) Awards? Several nominations Fun fact: Published a letter telling of how his first love was a man, which was pretty important for the generally homophobic hip hop genre. This letter came out around a week before the album though, so it’s hard not to think it was a well-timed publicity stunt. Radio plays in last 30 days: 40 Of which were on Radio 1: 5
Notes: The most headline-grabbing thing that Mr Ocean has done was publishing that letter, which I can’t deny was pretty important and proved that hip hop artists are not all domestic abusing P.I.M.P.s, so that was nice.
Number THREE: AZEALIA BANKS
Album, chart position: Postponed and postponed some more, still unreleased. Although a free mixtape (mixtape!), Fantasea, was released and was mostly new songs, so I don’t know the difference. Top 40 singles: 212 ft. Lazy Jay (12) Most viewed on Youtube: 212 ft. Lazy Jay (37.3 million) [that’s more like it] Awards? Billboard Awards: “New Style Icon”. Fun fact: Despite being a rapper, Banks featured on Scissor Sisters’ ‘Shady Love’, where she sang the chorus and singer Jake Shears did the rapping. Radio plays in last 30 days: 266 Of which were on Radio 1: 23
NOTES: Banks seems to be getting a bit of a reputation as being difficult to work with. The Scissor Sisters feature was left uncredited, with rumours that she didn’t want to be associated with it, and then the single was never released (despite the announcement of a release date) and no reason was given. Other rumours circled that Banks could not release single ‘Esta Noche’ because her management had not cleared the samples used in the song, and had then tried to bribe the person she sampled. Banks has uploaded several new songs, from the mixtape, onto Youtube with accompanying videos but nothing has been as good as the sonically excellent but lyrically repugnant ‘212’. It’s hard to deny that ‘212’ was one of the biggest songs this year, but it was the ‘buzz single’ that was available before the Sound Of… ranking. No other hits followed. Imagine if Lady Gaga stopped at ‘Just Dance’. More pleasingly, most of Banks’ cartoon artwork for the singles has been great, she called one song Jumanji, which was nice, and she is reportedly working on two songs for Lady Gaga’s upcoming, sure-to-be-overblown ‘ARTPOP’ (CAPS LOCK!!). Sadly, most of the good bits of Azealia’s songs seem to be the samples, which she then just raps and swears over.
Number FOUR Skrillex
Album, chart position: Various EPs, it seems, of which ‘Bangarang’ charted at 31. Top 40 singles: Bangarang (24) Most viewed on Youtube: Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (111.7 million!!) Awards? Three Grammys. Fun fact: More one for the club kids than the pop charts, can make $100,000 dollars for a night’s work, post Grammys. Radio plays in last 30 days: About 30 Of which were on Radio 1: 18
NOTES: I don’t suppose the above numbers bother him so much as, at 24 years old, he is reportedly earned $15 million dollars in a year, mainly from live shows. He looks disgusting, his artwork is terrible and he dated Ellie ‘Your Song’ Goulding for a bit, which all work against him. His music is dubstep though, which, as flavour of the month, is loved by many people and he is generally considered to be quite good at it, so that’s nice for him. Grammy awards will also look quite nice beside the telly, better than my trophy for not quite winning a TV game show. Confusingly, the EP and song that won the Grammys were released in October 2010, so all of this is coming a bit late and I’m not quite sure why he was eligible for the list..
Number FIVE Niki and The Dove
Album, chart position: Instinct, 60 Top 40 singles: None. DJ Easy My Mind at 103. Most viewed on Youtube: DJ Ease My Mind (664k) Awards? European Border Breakers Award (Sweden, 2013) I’ll believe it when I see it. Fun fact: … The Dove is not really a dove? Radio plays in last 30 days: 12 Of which were on Radio1: 0
NOTES: There isn’t anything to say here, they haven’t achieved much at all and all of their radio plays were from NME radio. With the 2013 Border Breakers award, maybe the big push will come next year instead?
That’s your top five for this year, apparently. It hasn’t exactly been a classic year. Proving their lack of continued success, they have 365 radio plays between them in the past month. 2004’s top 5 has this month had 2783 plays (mainly due to Keane) and that’s without 6th place McFly’s 761 plays and 7th place Scissor Sisters’ 1227 plays. Not too impressive. In comparison, 2011 winner Jessie J has had 4428 plays alone in the past month. Having looked at the statistics, I believe this to be the first year where of all the listed artists, not one had a number one single or album in the year of their ranking.
Elsewhere in the Top 15 shortlist there are not many familiar names. Lianne La Havas had a Top 5 album and was nominated for the Mercury Prize, whereas Ren Harvieu became a Radio 2 favourite and scored a Top 5 album. Aside from that, there were a couple of top 40 singles, but one of the acts hasn’t even scored their own Wikipedia page yet, so all in all it’s pretty poor.
Maybe one act that should have been higher, at least in fifth place are terribly-named, clumsily-marketed Stooshe. Branded as ‘Potty-mouth pop’ by the Sound of 2012 site, Stooshe’s management finally decided what they wanted the group to be, then cut the swearing, re-recorded ‘F* Me’ as ‘Love Me’ and became a Heart FM staple with completely harmless, inoffensive and guilty pleasure sing-along love song ‘Black Heart’, with sales making it go gold in the UK. Overall the girl group has a pretty impressive 4927 radio plays in the last month, mostly thanks to the Heart FM network and a career making-or-breaking TLC cover, which is the new single. As with Banks, the album has been put off a year ‘to make it the best it can be’, which is worrying.
Other big hitters missed out:
Gotye: This year’s biggest seller, million-selling xylophone-featuring single ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ was number one for five weeks and slipped under the radar of the taste makers.
Carly Rae Jepsen: 4 weeks at number 1 with ‘Call Me Maybe’, possibly excluded because she came third in Canadian Idol 5 years ago, although that’s not enough of a reality TV link to be relevant.
Psy: Nobody predicted a KPOP number one, unsurprisingly, but I’ll be surprised if he has a second hit.
Rita Ora: Flying the flag for Kosovo, Ora had three number one singles and a number one album this year, so her exclusion is a mystery. She must have been disqualified for some reason although I can’t see what. Maybe because she auditioned for Eurovision once?
Hopefully this embarrassment of a selection will force the compilers of the Sound Of 2013 list to go to some new ‘Taste Makers’. OR A PSYCHIC. That would be much more fun for everyone. If you’re a record company thinking about the best time to launch a new artist, now might be a good time. There’s probably not much competition.
Just back to the term ‘Taste Maker’. That’s pretty annoying. I’m not going to automatically like something just because it’s on the Sound Of list and it seems that most of the population agree. All of the ‘taste makers’ asked will have jumped on some kind of bandwagon in the past year, just one of a smaller size. Was there anyone on the list who nominated Psy? They would surely be the real taste maker. I used to think the Sound Of list was a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with the attachment to the BBC, who run the biggest non-commercial radio network in the country. I thought they used to play the artists to death and make them famous just so they didn’t look silly, though obviously they’ve given up on that now. I used to be excited when reading the predictions for the year to come, although it seems not have lost its relevance and I’m not too excited about what 2013 will bring.
The whole top 15 shortlist of Sound of 2012:
A$AP Rocky, Azealia Banks, Dot Rotten, Dry The River, Flux Pavilion, Frank Ocean, Friends, Jamie N Commons, Lianne La Havas, Michael Kiwanuka, Niki & The Dove, Ren Harvieu, Skrillex, Spector, Stooshe.