In the period before Christmas, when the flow of new music slows and our attentions seem to turn to compilations of songs by dead people, the industry and music press fills its time by furiously making lists. There is no shortage of reflection in the form of albums-of-the-year tables but the next big thing has become predicting who will be the next big thing – and then patting ourselves on the back when their LP shows up on the following year's albums-of-the-year list. It can get a little tiring.
Yesterday, the BBC revealed the 15 names vying for its "Sound of..." prize, now in its 10th year. It is voted on by music journalists, editors, bloggers and broadcasters, as well as DJs and producers, all labelled by the BBC as "tastemakers". Next month, the artist who receives the most votes will be named the Sound of 2012, as one of a top five.
If you haven't heard of these names, chances are you soon will – the longlist has produced a string of artist who have gone on to achieve fame and riches, including Adele and Keane – but a win is no guarantee. "In the first few years, the top five artists would go on to very big promotional success," says Paul Williams, an industry analyst for Music Week. "Three or four years ago, the top five would virtually all end up selling in the hundreds of thousands. But in the last two years, the winner does well but no one else."
As one of the 184 so-called tastemakers, I was asked to name up to three artists who have not had a UK Top 20 single or album by November, and are not well known in Britain.
I chose US indie pop group Friends and genre-bending singer-songwriter Frank Ocean, who made the list, and Grimes, who did not. Whether they'll have commercial success – which is the superficial assumption of the list – is far from assured.
Essentially a list such as this is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: those who voted will also be those playing them on the radio or writing about them on their blogs next year; that is, until they find something new to chase.
"Something else comes through that hasn't been on the list at all," Paul Williams says. "Ed Sheeran wasn't on the last list and – aside from Jessie J – his album has done better than any other new British act this year."
Sounds of 2012: Four for the future
The 24-year-old is a member of the much-talked about LA rap collective Odd Future, though he is on his way to eclipsing the other young members of the group who have achieved notoriety in the music press and beyond this year. Ocean released an R&B-inclined solo mix tape online this year called Nostalgia, Ultra. Its standout single is the stunning "Novacane". He also featured on two tracks from the Jay Z and Kanye West collaborative album Watch the Throne, released in the summer
Niki & Dove
The Swedish dance duo Gustaf Karlöf and Malin Dahlström have been getting attention since 2010 with electronic tracks such as "DJ, Ease My Mind" and the brilliant "Mother Project". The pair have released two EPs, The Fox and The Drummer, this year on the the Seattle label Sub Pop, traditionally more known for its alternative rock releases.
The Brooklyn five-piece are the only artists on the longlist actually signed to an independent record label – on the London-based Lucky Number, which released the band's single "I'm His Girl". The track has picked up a lot of glowing praise across the music press and received airplay on Radio 1 and 6 Music.
"I'm His Girl" is probably about as close to a perfect pop song that you will hear this year: it's all driven by a delicious bassline, which will stick in your head all day – and followed up with a great vocal.
A measure of the band's potential appeal can be seen on YouTube where the video for "I'm His Girl", co-directed by lead singer Samantha Urbani, has been viewed some 250,000 times.
The indie pop group are playing in Manchester on 7 February, and in London the next day. The latter gig swiftly sold out and another has been scheduled.
Recently named by the NME as the "coolest person on the planet", Banks is full of potential. The young Harlem-based rapper's reputation, thus far, rests largely on the back of one track, "212": her vocals drip with attitude as she spits filthy lyrics over scattergun electro beats. Banks has signed with Polydor UK and is making an album with producer Paul Epworth – known for his work with Florence + the Machine, Friendly Fires and Plan B.
Plus the others: Dot Rotten (grime MC); A$AP Rocky (rapper); Dry the River (alt-folk); Flux Pavilion (dubstep DJ); Jamie N Commons (blues); Lianne La Havas (soul); Michael Kiwanuka (soul); Ren Harvieu (soul); Skrillex (dubstep pop); Spector (nouveau Britpop); Stooshe ( ferocious female trio).
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