The music industry’s first fevered hypefest of the calendar is upon us: the BBC has announced who a panel of 184 UK-based tastemakers – mainly journalists and broadcasters – think are the best new artists without a top 20 hit to their name.
Top of the Sound Of… list for 2012 is Michael Kiwanuka – “a London soul singer with a lovely retro rasp”, as he was described way back in November by, cough, Radio Times. He edged out RnB prodigy Frank Ocean, eye-wateringly explicit rapper Azealia Banks, “brostep” pioneer Skrillex and Swedish electro duo Niki & the Dove.
Here’s Kiwanuka singing the possibly-a-bit-too-retro Tell Me a Tale:
So what sort of track record does the Sound Of… poll have? It started inauspiciously in 2003, conservatively and rather pointlessly predicting that 50 Cent would make it big. Bland superstardom duly came Fiddy’s way, but the Sound Of… was yet to hit its hip stride.
In the 2004 poll, voters were spoilt for choice in terms of future unit-shifters: they went for Keane as the winners, with Franz Ferdinand in second, Razorlight fourth, Joss Stone fifth, McFly sixth and Scissor Sisters trailing in seventh.
2005 saw Sound Of… stick its neck out for the first time, with questionable results. Overlooking what hindsight would call the more obvious choices of Kaiser Chiefs and KT Tunstall, the nation’s experts said The Bravery, a slightly laughable Strokes/New Romantic crossover, deserved to be massive. They didn’t and weren’t.
Corinne Bailey Rae was the Sound Of… winner in 2006, with Mika and Adele following her to take the top spot in ’07 and ’08. Then in 2009 the poll lost its commercial Midas touch by backing Little Boots, now almost forgotten having not released a record since that year.
The last two lists, however, have seen Sound Of… back winners without earning much credibility. Ellie Goulding won the 2010 poll, going on to have a number one album, Lights, and a top-five hit with a version of Elton John’s Your Song, which featured in the John Lewis Christmas advert and has inspired a whole swathe of winsome covers by X Factor contestants.
Last year, Jessie J edged out the much more interesting James Blake to win Sound Of… and progress straight into the mainstream, enjoying a big number one single with Price Tag.
So Michael Kiwanuka can, the record suggests, hope for good sales in 2012. But the poll itself is arguably overdue a more credible winner – could Kiwanuka’s soul sound bridge that gap? Or will we look back and say that the runners-up made edgier, more vital records?