BBC Sound of 2017 list: the tipsters have lost the plot

The inclusion of Anderson .Paak on the once influential poll shows up the project’s shortcomings

 Anderson .Paak of Anderson onstage at the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience last month  in New Orleans. Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

Anderson .Paak of Anderson onstage at the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience last month in New Orleans. Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

 

You have to wonder just what Anderson .Paak is doing on the BBC Sound of 2017 longlist published this week. No disrespect is meant in many way, shape or form to .Paak, the rapper who is behind some of the most exceptional releases of 2016 – and 2015, come to think of it.

The problem is indeed just that: what the hell is an artist who has already released three albums and collaborated on a ton of other releases over the past two years doing on a hot list for 2017? Sure he should have been on the sound-of-2015 or sound-of-2016 lists before all this fuss began? Isn’t spotting future breakout stars what this list is supposed to be all about?

That was certainly the intention when the BBC started compiling this list in the first place. Each year, the Beeb tap various media and music industry types for their musical predictions for the coming year, someone somewhere does some adding up and the likes of Adele, Ellie Goulding, 50 Cent and Haim are tipped for greatness. It doesn’t always produce long-term winners – hello The Bravery – but it was a project with a decent rate of retum for a long time.

However, the process was swiftly gamed by record labels looking for a promotional push for their new signings. They copped which judges had very little real interest in or knowledge of new music so canvassing and coaxing ensued to ensure the labels’ priority acts got a leg-up. As a result, the longlists in recent years began to resemble the minutes of major label A&R meetings and the dross began to creep in.

The public too got wise and stopped giving a damn, so the acts who got Adele-like acclaim never received Adele-like sales. Sound of 2016 winner Jack Garratt has had a decent year, but nothing compared to what Team Jack probably expected back in January before his debut album was released. Other releases came along and took over the narrative. Who’d have thought 12 months ago that the sound of the year nearly gone by would be David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Prince?

This may be a good time to go back to where we came in. Paak released his debut album Venice in 2014, collaborated with Dr Dre on Compton in 2015 and was everywhere in 2016 thanks to his Malibu album and superlative live show. Tipping him for great things in 2017 is like saying a lot of turkeys are going to be plucked in the next few weeks. It’s a given, a self-fulfilling prophecy, a fact of life.

Had those judges tipped him for 2015 or even 2016, you’d be applauding their foresight. But they didn’t and instead went for for the likes of Mura Masa and Sunset Sons because those were the known knowns in the new music equation at the time. Paak was far from an unknown quantity and had been covered widely, but the judges weren’t looking the same way and missed the signs.

There are caveats galore when it comes to lists of this ilk. It sometimes takes acts a couple of years to get out the door and away and often an act doesn’t make a significant splash until their second or third album. There are also acts who find themselves in the Sound Of spotlight who’ve never asked for the attention.

But putting an act in the running with a significant track record is definitely a sign that the tipsters have lost the plot. The way things are going, the Sound of 2017 may well be an act who released the album of 2016. 

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