As we hang up our calendars for 2015 and the Grammy Awards kick off the awards season next month, one topic will attract even the most casual music listener’s attention: predictions for the next big names in the business. Such speculation is only natural; the music industry is one ever evolving and ever changing. New names bring with them the new hope that one of these people might do something extraordinary. It’s no secret that Top 40 has started sounding more like a chart of recycled chord structures and melodies than original creation.
From the past few years, we can see such a hope is justified. Florence and the Machine, Emelie Sandé, George Ezra… all names which have been notable for making the popular music charts more interesting. Whether that’s through their use of sound or the way that they convey what they want to say. British music is not a landscape where you have to be obscure or fiercely independent to be ‘fresh’ – something that I think separates us from American music industry, and for the better.
However, to what extent does this reflect a world where ‘new names’ only serve our craving of an unknown making it big? Shows such as The Voice and The X-Factor demonstrate that we aren’t yet sick of watching the modern musical Cinderella story. When we watch someone new we like come out of nowhere and make it big, it’s as if their public validation proves we’re ‘cool’ or ‘in the know’. This isn’t just a phenomena of the music industry. All up and coming actors and models are all supported by fans believing that their investment is realer and truer because we liked them before their bandwagons became big and shiny.
Artistic development is all part of the game, but it is something we seem to resist. Much has been made of Taylor Swift’s conversion to pop and it’s a little sad that an artist’s shift in genre is treated as big news. It should be expected of musicians that they don’t limit themselves to the same old rigmarole. I certainly don’t expect an artist to be making music that sounds the same after twenty years (if they’re even still on the circuit at all, that is).
There are exceptions to the rule. Lana Del Rey seems to have weathered the sophomore slump, the notorious perils of making a successful second album, fairly well. Her new album, Ultraviolence has been a success with both critics and her fanbase, whilst still retaining the spirit that made her so exciting. It was her authenticity and individuality which grabbed our attention in the first place. She holds public and musical interest, and this in turn has kept her a notable name.
Contrast this with old X-Factor artists – One Direction being an obvious exception. Singers with clear talent such as Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke were well-buoyed with their ‘newness’ when they first came out – but both suffered drastically as soon as they hit the sophomore slump. Proving that we don’t like these artists for their music, but we have been caught up in their clever PR hype. If any of these talent show types have survived, it’s because they have a certain je ne sais quoi which whilst not always unique, is at least different.
Certainly, the music industry is not the same as forty or fifty years ago, where a new band or name or sound could very likely be something very few had heard before. Today, so much has been covered by so many that bands like The xx, Alt-J and Bon Iver are so loved because they are different from the popular spiel.
It’s clear that publicity has never been more important: music is big business, and it’s folly to pretend that this will change anytime soon. But there is a difference between ‘newness’ and ‘authenticity’. I’d like to hope that of the new young ones predicted to be big in 2015, many of them will actually make it. After all, they are people with real hopes and lives. Of course, we know this isn’t the case. When I look back on 2015 this time next year, I think the name we’ll really remember are the ones that, underneath all the publicity, good lighting and kooky outfits, actually attempt to offer something new. The ones that are real and genuinely dedicated to their craft.
Photo: Florence and the Machine by Jason Persse https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonpersse/sets/