Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bay of Pigs

The Guardian chose to eviscerate James Bay (twice) last week partly for the crime of being ‘the boy most likely to’.

In doing so they repeated my belief about the BBC’s Sound Of and Brit Awards newcomer garlands being artless self-fulfilling prophecy. The problem is actually one of how the question is phrased. If we’re asked to choose a bunch of acts that are going to be successful then naturally we’re going to pick ones that have major label backing and are in the same territory as other acts that have already proved successful. We can see there’s an appetite for that kind of shtick and that there are many record companies willing to meet that demand. Backing a winning horse is about studying form rather than pointing to the one you like the best.
The music business is just that, it’s an industry that tries to pander to existing tastes. It may occasionally try to develop them but rarely from scratch. James Bay’s crime is simply that he is unremarkable: an identikit white pop-soul boy with some nice songs to suit his unthreatening, above-average-looking, boy-next-door persona.

I have long wondered why and how some acts break big leaving others unjustly unheard by the masses. It is often a matter of luck, timing or contacts. Do I believe that James Bay or George Ezra are better than, say, Dan Whitehouse or George Barnett? Some may consider them so; I suspect they are just luckier. Right time, right place, right representation.
We can kick James Bay (and The Guardian continues to do so) but he is simply a product of these times. Bland times, take-no-risks times, identikit times, follow-the-leader times – whatever you want to call them it doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Out with the bold

There’s a chance that current musical output hasn’t really become more conservative. There’s a big chance that there are pockets of ad hoc, left-field, anti-commercial dissent all over the place that remain unheard and unseen by the majority. There’s a chance that this stuff will break out and we’ll have a new revolution. There’s a chance that pigs might fly and that we’ll all live happily ever after but there’s a bigger chance that they can’t and we won’t.

This year I found the BBC’s self-fulfilling Sound of 2015 even more depressing than usual. It was really a case of ‘is that it?’ Is that the best we can do? In the dying stages of 2015 Radio 1 had promised to resurrect rock music but their efforts seem not to have made it as far as warranting their validation for the year to come. The top five choices were all a bit meh and then some.
Predicting success for the likes of Kwabs or James Bay is hardly going out on a limb. Both have had ‘hits’ and radio playlists already, they are signed to major labels and are making pop/soul music that is great but far from challenging. Bay strikes me as being in the George Ezra school, good but not outstanding – I prefer my singer-songwriters to be saying something, or at least trying. Kwabs could be a true great, he has the lungs for it – if the songs are there (or can be found) he could be around for some time. Kwabs is unquestionably better than Sam Smith whose success has been astounding.