I wrote this yesterday for another site and thought I’d post it here as well, as it’s rather topical at the moment…
January is generally a very dull month for music fans, with few new releases and a distinct lack of gigs worth attending, but there is one reason why I always look forward to it. January is the month when music journalists of the UK unite to decide who will be the stars of the coming year, both in collaborative polls such as the BBC’s Sound of 2010, and in every magazine, newspaper or website’s own list of predictions.
Of course, there are many problems with this tradition, not least the unpredictability of music trends and the British public’s preference to at least be under the illusion that they are choosing their own new favourite bands. However, this process is a delight for those of us who are always on the look out for exciting new acts. Last year I discovered Marina and the Diamonds thanks to a journalist’s recommendation, and since then she has grown into one of the UK’s most promising female singers. If I find one new artist this January with Marina’s popstar potential, all my magazine-purchasing and MySpace-browsing will be worthwhile.
One interesting aspect of the BBC Sound of 2010 poll is how it exposes and opens up a process which is a fundamental yet usually hidden part of the music industry. This poll is supposed to provide us with a list of the music press’ favourite new acts and the ones they think will make a great contribution to the music of the coming year, but in fact it is a better signifier of which acts have been promoted most efficiently to those all important opinion leaders.
The winner of the BBC poll is always an act who has been carefully, subtly promoted so that journalists can say that they supported them in the early days. They feel connected to the artist and invested in their career. These acts are hyped, but not overhyped, because journalists are just as likely as the public to be put off by even the slightest scent of desperation. This year Delphic and Ellie Goulding have been the acts most noticeably receiving such treatment from their wise and well-connected PRs and marketing teams, and sure enough they are both appearing in nearly every ‘next big thing’ list going.
At the time of writing, the top two of this year’s BBC poll are yet to be announced, but Ellie is undoubtedly a shoe-in for at least one of those. Despite their less mainstream appeal, Delphic still managed to reach number three, and it would not be surprising if Marina, a year after my own discovery, finally reaches the destination of her journey of hype and joins her pal Ellie in the top two. With her new cool-yet-accessible single, Hollywood, Marina is likely to be this year’s Florence and the Machine, with a hugely successful album and a few signature hits, but one has to wonder if the BBC’s dogmatic poll may be subject to a little backlash this year.
After Little Boots didn’t quite live up to expectations in 2009, Speech Debelle appeared to gain absolutely nothing from her Mercury win, and the X Factor winner Joe McElderry failed to secure his promised Christmas number one, we have learned that nothing is certain for the winners of these prizes. All they have actually earned is a title. If Ellie is announced as the BBC winner on Friday, she’s going to need nothing less than the year’s best single and album if she wants to avoid being labelled a disappointment. Considering that she has not yet demonstrated much personality or released anything even approaching extraordinary, this could be quite a challenge.