While most of the attention on the self-fulfilling prophesy that is the BBC’s Sound of 2014 award focused on the lack of bands, there was another trend worth commenting upon. Yes, the top five are all solo artists but take a look at those names – Sam Smith, Ella Eyre, Banks, Sampha and George Ezra – they’re not the kind of people you’re likely to call to get the party started. Some of the above do have form (Smith with Disclosure, Eyre with Rudimental and Sampha with SBTRKT) but on their own they’re an altogether different proposition. They’re much more likely to sing about loneliness and alienation than they are hedonism and wild nights out.
This isn’t inherently a bad thing. Planet Pop is a broad church, and a counterpoint to bone-headed, empty bangers are always needed, but it seems that the pendulum is starting to swing too much the other way. Can it be right that the five main acts tipped for (i.e. guaranteed) UK success in 2014 collectively bring about as many LOLs as a Tory party manifesto?
This shoulder-shrugging malaise isn’t just limited to the Sound of 2014 list – cast your peepers over the BRIT Award nominations. We’ve nominations for Jake Bugg, Tom Odell, Birdy, London Grammar, John Grant, David Bowie and Passenger – it’s not exactly poppers o’ clock, is it?
So, what of the artists who can inject some much-needed fun into the upper reaches of the charts? Katy Perry and One Direction, normally not shy of a three minute dance-friendly belter, have started to adopt a more inward-looking stance. Lady Gaga is still arguably churning out the sort of instantaneous serotonin-releasing behemoth the chart is lacking, but is hamstrung by her insistence on banging on about high art, not to mention the diminishing quality of the music she’s producing. Lily Allen did release a good-humoured single, but it was eclipsed by her reedy, winsome cover of a Keane song.
You might point towards the hedonistic rave-pop that’s afflicted the charts in recent years as an example of something a bit less self-conscious and introspective. However, it appears to be on the wane, and acts such as Avicii have now become so mainstream that he comfortably sits on the Radio 2 playlist. Plus, people like Pitbull are so sexually aggressive that the night out conjured by his tracks wouldn’t be too many people’s idea of a good time.
It’s a trend that doesn’t just affect music either. Superhero movies, normally a fount for escapism, adventure and fantasy, have taken themselves markedly more seriously ever since The Dark Knight, with last year’s Man Of Steel almost ludicrously po-faced. But in a bad economic climate with a government who apparently hate everyone who earns less than £100k a year, we need someone to look to for our pop sugar rush.
Simon Cowell is an unlikely musical saviour, admittedly, but without him, no X Factor and without X Factor, no Little Mix. Little Mix might have started their career in the usual X Factor winners’ style (i.e. a melismatic, melodramatic cover of an established hit) but since then, they’ve proved to be a beacon of light in the charts. Two albums and seven singles into their career, they’ve worked with Missy Elliott, recorded some brilliantly mindless pop tunes, and had one of the best number one singles of recent years with the addictive Wings. For their next trick, they’re releasing a cover of Word Up!, originally by ludicrously codpieced funk forefathers Cameo, as the official Sport Relief single. Amazing.
If we look to the future, the bratty pop-punk torch has been passed from McFly to The Vamps, four impossibly fresh-faced boys with gravity-defying hair, a bunch of guitars and a way with a melody. They may not have come up with anything as memorable as Obviously or Star Girl just yet, but there’s a refreshing breeziness to their music that makes you know they’re not worrying about anything as boring as their tax return or getting on the housing ladder just yet.
And how about Neon Jungle? A fierce all-girl quartet bringing the attitude of the Spice Girls into the 21st Century, they’ve already enjoyed a Top 5 hit in 2014.
Hopefully these acts, and more besides, can give pop music the slap in the face it so badly needs. In its purest form, pop is instantaneous and ephemeral, and all the better for it. Here’s hoping that at next month’s BRIT Awards, someone throws a bucket of water at a politician, storms the stage or does something similarly mischievous and anarchic. We’re being weighed down by too much introspection, and it’s time to kick against it.