It’s the beginning of a new year, and with it comes the arrival of several certainties. This year will be THE YEAR for every road-rap MC that has never breached the obscurity of Channel AKA (despite making the same proclamation last year, and the year before that), fickle-minded cultural pedestrians will have pinpointed the exact personal brand they’re going to channel for the next twelve months, and every publication in the world will publish a list of their top tips for 2014. In the UK, the list that catches the most publicity is the BBC Sound of 2014, which will announce their number one act for 2014 at the end of this week.
In a few instances, Ones To Watch lists make sense. Films, books, and games have solidified release dates and digestible listicles act as an informant to consumers. They’re sort of like the Radio Times, but extended over four seasons, and geared toward median-income salariats that salivate over the idea of owning The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on special edition Blu-Ray. They also sort of make sense for start-ups, TV shows, and sport, but Ones To Watch lists no longer make sense in music.
This is because, more than any other art, music has completely shifted into another dimension. Release dates are no longer planned months in advance, instead, albums are sporadically leaked by unhappy artists (Angel Haze and Death Grips), pushed out without any forewarning (Beyonce), or banished into No One Cares Anymore territory (Azealia Banks). If it’s not determined that an artist will be putting out a full-length in the coming twelve months, then what are we watching the Ones To Watch for?
One of the artists from the BBC list, FKA Twigs, who is great
It could be argued that the lists serve to put a spotlight on new, intriguing, and important artists. But, most publications already have a weekly, or daily feature that already does this. The Guardian has New Band Of The Day, Pitchfork has Rising, and NME introduce thirty new bands a week like they believe everyone has enough time to care about more than three things at once. The majority of regular new artist features are over-saturated with similar sounding music, perpetuated by the increasingly redundant blogging law that more information and more discovery results in more importance. As often as not, the bands chosen aren’t special, they won’t change your life, and they’ll probably break up after their first EP fails to capitalise on that one airplay on Zane Lowe’s Next Hype.
Perhaps the Ones To Watch in 2014 feature acknowledges this. It’s the publications way of saying, alright, we’ve shoved Eagulls, East India Youth, and Hookworms down your throat all year, here’s some artists that we actually care about and aren’t writing about just to adhere to some mythical quota. Like the cultural pedestrian, it’s a way of shaping their personal brand, but formed around FKA Twigs and BANKS, instead of the gym and an acquittal of Marlboro Lights.
This is all good, and good music should be supported, always. Rejjie Snow, Real Lies and Jungle are all new artists that I love and will surely benefit from this start-of-the-year push. But how am I to know whether, in eleven months time, any of them will have even released another piece of new music, let alone made 2014 their bitch. And by that same-token, how is any publication to know the same about the artists they’ve tipped for the coming semester?
An artist who is not on the BBC List, but is also great, called Rejjie Snow
Unless you’re some sort of pagan, it’s impossible to predict the future. Looking back through several publications picks for 2013 is only proof. Loom? Scrufizzer? Charli XCX? They’re hardly icons of the Snapchat and #swiperight generation. Increasingly, music is about now. It’s about the track that you’ve helped clock up to 500,000 plays on Soundcloud within a month because it makes you feel feelings. It’s about that new EP that makes you want to confess your inner-secrets to a crush without the aid of narcotics, and the new artist that helps defibrillate your heart. It’s not about pinning astronomical hope and hype on to a really great artist, only serving to suffocate them, and everyone else. This almost always turns around to bite everyone, fans, artists, and critics alike.
So, while I’m suggesting that Ones To Watch lists are redundant, I’m not saying that the celebration of new music is too. Instead, We should consistently celebrate new music, when it matters, and when it’s important. This isn’t filling up a magazine or website with a canyon-sized load of new music each day because the internet. It’s about picking things that can quench thirst for more than half an hour. To use an outdated reference, it’s about picking an Arctic Monkeys and sticking with it, instead of introducing a Milburn and a Little Man Tate because three bands make a scene. And when we do pick these artists, they should be highlighted with proper insight, showing that they mean so much more to us than 150 words and a press shot.
At Noisey, we aim to live by our word, so we’re going to be kicking off a new feature on Noisey this year. Each month we’re going to pick an artist that we believe is important, and write a long-form feature on them. We won’t be staking their claim for worldwide domination by Quarter Two, instead, we’re simply going to highlight, indepth, an artist that we love. No filler and no grandiose statements, but rather actual information, background, and context to new artists that are currently making waves in their respective scenes. And if you hate it, tell us, and we’ll never do it ever again.
Starting tomorrow: Ben Khan
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanBassil
Read more like this: