Take a look at the list of Brit Award winners over the last few years. The big winners in 2013 were Ben Howard and Emeli Sandé – what do these two have in common? They are new artists. In 2012, Ed Sheeran was the success story, the year before that was Tinie Tempah, five years ago was Duffy; Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand, James Blunt, The Darkness, Ms Dynamite, Dido… all these people were trumpeted as the “biggest British acts” of their years… but where are they all now?
Now, let’s take a look at the Grammy Award winners of the last few years. Mumford & Sons cleaned up this year (a British act, who we’re barely even rewarding at home), the year before Adele won six (see above), the year before was Arcade Fire and Lady Gaga, 2010 was dominated by Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, 2008 by Amy Winehouse (NO BRITS FOR AMY). U2, Coldplay, Kanye West, Jay-Z; all have been rewarded heavily over the last few years by the Grammys and what do they all have in common (Winehouse aside)? Longevity.
Tune in to Radio One and more often than not they will be championing some new act, playing something “cool and edgy and fresh”. Their whole mantra/campaign of “In new music we trust” says a lot about the whole mentality of their industry. A few years ago, Pixie Lott was hailed as a fresh new British popstar, scoring multiple number ones, while Rita Ora was the toast of last year. For a brief moment StooShe were doing well, Rizzle Kicks looked poised for greatness, La Roux was HUGE, The Ting Tings, Mika, Estelle, even X Factor alumni Leona and Alexandra Burke; money is invested to launch them and then, a year (or a few years) later, record companies don’t want to invest anymore. Put Adele aside and I challenge anyone to name a British musical legend created in the last few years, who is still releasing music today, who could still produce a number one single/album.
Meanwhile, in the States, we have seen Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Chris Brown, The Black Eyed Peas, Bruno Mars, Kanye West and even Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift emerge, who they will have long and successful careers because the American market will market their third album, will promote their tenth single, will play that great fifth single from their fourth album on their radio stations. And musicians from ten, twenty years ago are still releasing music; Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake first arrived on the scene fifteen years ago, Britney and Christina a year later, while Usher has been releasing singles for sixteen years. Where are the Brits doing this? In the year Destiny’s Child arrived, Jon Bon Jovi and Björk won Best International Male & Female at the Brits; both of them are still famous, both of them still releasing music (a new song by Jon Bon Jovi was even nominated for a Golden Globe this year). Who won Best British Male and Female that year? Finley Quay and Sola Ama.
These days, chart performance isn’t the be-all and end-all of a musician’s career. A high percentage of the money the majority of artists now earn comes from live performances and touring over records sold, but obviously the public’s willingness to spend their money on going to a live gig depends entirely on a continuing awareness in that artist as a current and relevant artist. How many people are going to see that Mika is touring and jump at the chance to see him? The fact that Mika is indeed still making and releasing music, which has matured and improved in quality, is beside the point - as far as the industry is concerned, Mika had his moment and he won’t get another one. But why not? Considering how long they spend ramming these new artists down our throat (was there an event Emeli Sandé DIDN’T attend last year?), surely it’s easier to promote the music of an existing artist than it is a new one? Remember Katie Melua? Remember how, for a time, she was a big deal? A few years ago she released a single called The Flood. It was a piece of musical genius, a truly great pop song, with an anthemic chorus and a really gimmicky, eye-catching video. And yet barely anyone heard it, because as far as the industry was concerned, her time had been and gone.
Watch this space. For the last few years, Jessie J has been splashed all over the media and performing well in the charts, but album number two isn’t going so well is it? That has nothing to do with its quality, just her label’s lack of conviction in promoting the music instead of Jessie’s image as a brand. Ellie Goulding had a number one single from the re-release of her second album; amazing! I give her one more album before we never hear from her again.
The biggest selling singles of this year are dominated by new artists like Naughty Boy, Avicii, Rudimental, Bastille and Passenger, while Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky were huge international hits from established artists that unavoidably did well in the UK too. Rudimental have scored two number one singles and a number one album since their debut in 2012 – are we going to be looking back in ten years and seeing them as one of the greatest acts of our age? It’s doubtful. In ten years time, we’ll make a list of the greatest musical acts of this decade and I guarantee that not one of them will be British (yes yes, besides Adele).