The Problems with Touting Artists as the ‘Next Big Thing’

The one-hit wonder has been a pretty common phenomenon in the music industry for as long as we’ve had the chart system. Sometimes artists just do not achieve the consistent success we may expect from an initial boom that takes the chart by storm. Usually, they take the form of silly, camp, almost humorous distractions (Think ‘Too Sexy’ or ‘Rico Suave’), but it fascinates me that as well as these almost novelty songs we get the occasional one-hit wonder that comes from a truly talented, thoughtful artist that probably deserves far more time in the spotlight. Acts like Soft Cell, Devo and Dexy’s Midnight Runners may have become critical darlings, and proven themselves far more interesting than their reputation suggests, but in the public eye they’ll always be “that one band with that one song”. Fundamentally, one-hit wonders are victims of expectation, either the expectation that a band isn’t worth your time based on a silly joke song, or the disappointment created by finding out that an artist you think you’d love is nothing like what they’d first seemed. Expectations can make or break an artist, and it can be just as damaging with positive expectations and negative expectations. So why, every year, do we have the same idiotic awards predicting that some artist who’s released something like two EPs is going to be the next big thing in the coming year.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like what I’ve heard from James Bay, I think he’s a good singer. I think Prides have some really catchy and sweeping songs and what I’ve heard from Years & Years has been a nice breath of fresh air in the electropop genre but really? Sound of 2015? It seems a little bit silly to assume that, because of a few quite catchy tracks, a band or artist is going to become the defining sound of a whole year. It’s not like these lists and predictions don’t ever hit the mark. Adele isn’t exactly small news and Ellie Goulding has made quite the name for herself as a featured artist on EDM tracks, but does anyone honestly remember Little Boots? Or The Bravery? Or Michael Kiwanuka? Can you seriously tell me that Tom Odell was the big name on everyone’s 2013 playlists? No, because these lists are not about the potential for artists to be popular or well received, they’re essentially a self-congratulatory opportunity for critics and so called ‘audiophiles’ to parade their personal favourite new artists.

At the end of the day, another unfortunate fact must be acknowledged when looking at the entire idea of Sound Of and Critic’s Choice lists, and that’s that, in the mainstream musical world, new and innovative are almost dirty words. The charts have increasingly become a place for the safe and the familiar. It doesn’t matter if James Bay is one of the more talented figures to have come out of the indie-folk scene in the past few years (which, as a sidenote, he probably is), people will want their Katy Perrys and their Jason Derulos and their Iggy Azaleas as much in 2015 as they did in 2014. If we want to push new artists into the spotlight we should give them exposure throughout the year, not just at the beginning of it. We may be giving these artists fish by putting them on a Sound Of list but we should really be giving them a chance to fish for themselves by giving them exposure at every opportunity we can.