The Next Big Thing: My Top 10 of 2015

2015 has arrived and the music industry is officially back to work today (don’t expect to get too many emails, though). Everyone from the BBC and The Guardian to iTunes and VEVO have revealed their ones to watch for the year ahead, and now it’s time for me to share mine, based on these predictions and my own opinions.

First, however, let’s find out if my predictions are worth anything anyway – let’s see how I did last year! My no.1 was the unsurprising biggest-selling new act of the year, Sam Smith, and I also listed 5 Seconds of Summer and Gorgon City, who both did very well. Banks earned acclaim but not hits, while A Great Big World and DJ Cassidy each had a big hit, but probably won’t be seen again. Sadly, Chloe Howl and Joel Compass didn’t click with UK music fans, but Mapei and Saint Raymond could be slow-starters – I think we’ll see more of them yet. 2014 also saw the rise of an act I thought would be huge in 2012: Ariana Grande. So maybe 2016 will be Chloe Howl’s year? Well, we can dream!

Here are my top tips for 2015 – click on the artists’ names to read my original Future Pop posts.

1. James Bay (Universal Republic)

James Bay has a good voice and looks very nice with a hat on (not so much without). Apart from that, there’s not much to say about him – his music’s unremarkable but inoffensive. He seems a dead cert for success following his Brits win (and surely an impending BBC victory?), but he’ll need some songs that are more than just “pleasant” if he wants to match what his predecessor Sam Smith has achieved.

2. Years and Years (Polydor)

There’s always one token pop act included in the annual ones to watch lists, usually the kind of “intelligent” pop music the list-makers find acceptable – more Chvrches than Rihanna. This year it’s Years and Years. I like their electro-pop music, but my hope for 2014 is that lead singer Olly’s talent and star quality shine through, allowing them to move toward a less trendy, more classic singer-songwriter sound (with electro influences) in future.

3. Rag ’N’ Bone Man (Columbia)

One of the acts I expected to see on more 2015 lists is Rory Graham, aka Rag ‘N’ Bone Man. His artistic persona is so powerful and distinctive, all he needs is a TV moment and everyone will be talking about him. Rag ‘N’ Bone Man follows the trend for male singers who make dark, dramatic, bluesy music with religious references, such as Hozier and Jamie ‘N’ Commons. His majestic songs should appeal to music fans young and old – they key to a hit album.

4. Tori Kelly (Capitol)

Failing to reach the American Idol finals worked out well for Tori Kelly. She used the exposure to kickstart her career as a YouTube star, which led her to sign with the unstoppable Scooter Braun. Apart from a UK hit with Professor Green, her progress has been slow, as her solo songs have been quite bland. But she has a strong fanbase and her next single is a Max Martin production, so don’t be surprised if she sneaks ahead in the race to win 2015.

5. Raury (Columbia)

Raury is an intriguing combination of many recent trends and artists, but is also original and fresh. His youth makes his publicity stunts seem less contrived, his bravado less obnoxious, and luckily he has the songwriting ability and star quality to back it all up. The Kanye comparisons are interesting because, being a generation younger, Raury approaches music from a different angle (less hip-hop, more hipster) but seems like he’s heading to a similar place in pop culture.

6. Catfish and the Bottlemen (Island/Communion)

The BBC Music Awards got mixed reviews but it was a big night for Catfish and the Bottlemen, winner of the BBC Introducing Award. As a new act, their performance was refreshing among a line-up of acts we’ve all seen many times before, and reached an audience of casual music fans who don’t usually seek out new music but wait for it to come to them. They’re not cool, but at least they’re not too dreary, and Van McCann could be the next indie frontman we love to mock.

7. Shawn Mendes (Island)

The Vamps’ use of 16-year-old Vine star Shawn Mendes to get the fifth single from their album into the top 10 shows that, although he hasn’t broken into the UK charts on his own yet, he has selling power. I hope his label know Shawn isn’t the next Justin Bieber – he’s more of a geeky-but-cute boy-next-door; the one who gets the girl at the end of a teen movie. He’s awkward in the Something Big video, but the song is good. Just a little re-positioning and he’ll be huge.

8. Låpsley (XL)

No matter how I try, I just can’t understand the fuss about classically-trained 18-year-old artist Låpsley, and I was even more confused this week when The Guardian described her as a “pop star” (she’s anything but). However, I’m featuring her here because the praise is so reverent and unanimous. My ears must not be finely tuned enough to appreciate this delicate art… or maybe the public will find the effort to pay attention as tiring as I do. I guess we’ll find out in 2015!

9. SOAK (Rough Trade)

From the deluge of singer-songwriters that the major labels have thrown at the wall (also known as Radio 1) over the last few years, the ones that have stuck have all been distinctive. Each has something about their sound or look that separates them from the rest but they still fit in on the radio. I think SOAK could be next. She has a cool androgynous look and brings her Irish influence to the popular indie-folk genre. She’s a captivating performer – all she needs now is a great song.

10. Rhodes (Ministry of Sound)

For a singer-songwriter, one song can launch a career, but you need a few more to sell albums. Unlike SOAK or Rag ‘N’ Bone Man, Rhodes doesn’t have a very distinctive artistic persona, but he does have some beautiful songs. Your Soul and Breathe are subtle and striking. When you make music like this, maybe it’s better to be faceless and personality-free? Let the listener enjoy it without getting in the way. Whatever happens, Rhodes has a long songwriting career ahead.

This year’s list was a hard one to narrow down, so here are some of the acts who didn’t quite make it, for you to investigate if you feel so inclined:

George The Poet, Shura, Shamir, Little Simz, Chløë Black, The Avener, Ryn Weaver, Jaymes Young, Karen Harding, Sunset Sons.

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