Being Modern: BBC Sound of… poll


It has embedded itself into the national psyche so deeply that it's hard to believe that the BBC's annual Sound of… poll is a mere 10 years old. Each December the longlist is revealed and picked apart, and each January the winner is proclaimed (see the BBC website right now for 2013's lucky recipient).

Harmless bit of good fun, fills the gap between New Year and getting back into the swing of things, no one gets hurt, etc… What's possibly not to like?

Only this: the Sound of… poll – as has been pointed out by cleverer writers than this one – has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, the publicity boost the winner receives propelling them to a different level of household namery. (Unless we're talking about the 2005 winners the Bravery. But let's not.)

Anyway, the point is this: ask music critics towards the end of one year who they think is going to be "big" the next, and the likelihood is they will all have the same acts on the tips of their tongues. Anyone who loves music and reads the right websites would come up with the same names in a matter of minutes. And if you don't believe that, try asking a football fan who they think the three most exciting young talents in the game are right now: odds are the same players would come up time and time again regardless of who you asked.

I should confess at this point that, as a person who reviews music regularly, I was approached by the people behind the BBC's poll towards the end of 2007 and asked to name the three acts I thought would make it the following year. I knew who they wanted me to say – it was the time Adele, Duffy, the Ting Tings and MGMT were all getting talked about by anyone with an interest in these things. I gave them the names of three up-and-coming Americana acts who no one had really heard of then or since. Needless to say none of my choices made the list and I was never asked again.

So, was last year's winner, Michael Kiwanuka, really the sound of 2012? And if so, couldn't he have taken one of those public performance slots from Emeli bloody Sandé?