If current music musings on social media are any indication, the “sound of 2018” will be that of petty squabbling and pretentious ramblings. As the year draws to a close and the industry slowly shuts down ready to hibernate over Christmas, there comes the customary last hurrah of end-of-year lists and ones-to-watch for the year ahead. There’s always an element of one-upmanship in these proceedings every year, but this year in particular has been notable for the amount of unnecessary vitriol being thrown around. I’m hoping this year will be the straw that broke the camel’s back, rather than a sign of further pointless bickering to come.
The industry has been heading this way for a while now, the lists have just brought everything to the forefront, but where all this wretched arguing really started to catch my attention was with the announcement of several festival line-ups. The one that really ground my gears was the 2018 line-up announcement for the Neighbourhood Weekender, which rapidly descended into a matter of class divide as pretentious toffs were quick to deride the whole affair for meaningless hipster points. The line-up wasn’t quite my dream festival either, but for that particular scene, and for that scale of event, it was a top class line-up.
Criticising Neighbourhood, a Northern indie festival, for not catering for the tastes of Londoners would be like boycotting Download for not having any rappers on the main stage, or Cambridge Folk Festival for not hosting any progressive jazz-fusion acts. Obviously no festival should be beyond criticism, but needlessly shooting one down to look cool purely because it isn’t catered specifically to you is the kind of behaviour you expect from a spoiled brat.
I had hoped that this was an isolated incident, but as ‘list season’ approaches it seems like it was just a precursor of things to come. Before anyone even reads album lists, the very fact that they have been published before the end of the year is enough to instigate a veritable feeding frenzy of criticism. Granted, I agree, publications should hold back on publishing their lists. Little is truly gained by publishing your list before anyone else, and you run the risk of missing out on the few gems that get released in December such as last year’s stunning album from Childish Gambino. When however you have vastly more sources complaining about early lists than you have actual lists being published, it starts to become a bit ridiculous. It’s the music equivalent of right-wing rags like the Sun and the Mail patiently standing by for some hint of news that they can use to spin their own narrative with.
Things only get worse when you get into the nitty-gritty of the actual lists themselves. There’s always going to be a few calls of “how come you rated X so high?” or “why isn’t Z in the top ten, that’s my favourite!”. I’m guilty of these thoughts myself, but that’s all they are, thoughts. There are many publications whose lists I vastly disagree with but I recognise that many of them cater to different styles and genres. A bit of friendly discourse is fine, and even to be encouraged, but when it descends into people seemingly taking personal offence at other’s choices it all starts to get a bit out of hand. Take the BBC’s latest ‘Sound of 2018’ artists, from which this post takes its name. People were quick to question why some artists weren’t included in previous years, and cry out how they were fans long before the artist was popular, or again complain that the entire list doesn’t cater to their every musical whim.
The point of “album of the year” lists isn’t to show how cool you are, or to try to win at some misguided musical bingo to which everyone seems to be playing by a different set of rules; the point is to praise the great work of wonderful bands and artists. The point of “sound of 2018” lists isn’t to be seen as being ahead of the curve and scoring points for liking things before they were popular; the point is to spread the word about up-and-coming talents to help further their dreams, and to share music you love with a wider audience. Many music writers this year seem to have forgotten that they pursued this path as they loved music, and judging by some recent bile on social media some don’t even seem to like music. Belwood will be posting its lists at the end of the year with the sole intention of praising those whose outstanding work has made this year bearable, and have given us beautiful new art to love and cherish.