Brit of a let down: is Radio 1's Brit List a missed opportunity to promote new talent?

Brit of a let down: is Radio 1's Brit List a missed opportunity to promote new talent?

Last year, Anne-Marie released a pop song called Alarm, which peaked at No.16 and has sold 552,340 copies to date. It made Radio 1’s A-list, too. Not bad for a new artist.

The Essex singer also featured – alongside Sean Paul, who has seemingly re-emerged as a chart ever-present in recent months, whether anyone likes it or not – on Clean Bandit’s Rockabye, which spent nine weeks at No.1 and has now shifted 984,205 copies. 

Anne-Marie, who also has more than 2.5 million global single sales and upwards of 10m monthly listeners on Spotify, is one of six artists to feature on BBC Radio 1’s Brit List. Unveiled in January, that most fertile of periods for new music coverage, the project aims to provide long term playlist backing to new acts at “just the right tipping point in their early careers to truly capitalise on the sustained support” the Brit List can offer. 

The news felt positive and refreshing when it was announced last month, an antidote to the homogenised feel of the annual glut of tips lists. Here was Radio 1 committing to new music, and you won’t find many people against that idea. 

But now the station’s selections have had a few days to bed in, the mood has shifted somewhat.

Joining Anne-Marie on the list are Stormzy, The Amazons, Sampha, Declan McKenna and JP Cooper. Yes, that’s the same Stormzy who’s about to release one of the most anticipated records of 2017 and whose Big For Your Boots single is currently on the A-list at Radio 1 and was played 35 times on the station last week. The song currently has 73,542 sales, which is decent, as is the 225,186 figure for Know Me From, or 571,299 for Shut Up.

Island’s JP Cooper might not seem so ready to blow, but even he can point to 346,004 sales for last year’s single September Song. Hardly scrabbling together for money for a rehearsal space and gigs on a Tuesday at the Dog & Bucket.

Sampha, well hyped since he appeared on Valentine in 2012 with Jessie Ware, charted at No.7 earlier this month with debut album Process (8,482 sales).

Declan McKenna and The Amazons have fared less prominently in the charts, largely because they’re further back in their careers than their fellow nominees. Even so, both were heavily tipped at the start of the year (and performed at Radio 1’s Future Festival in January) and seem fairly well set to make an impact in 2017.

All of which prompts the feeling that Radio 1’s Brit List falls some way short of fulfilling its initial, cleansing promise. The whole thing just feels a bit safe, the opposite of the BBC sticking its neck out. Even the Future Festival, which also featured Nadia Rose, Jorja Smith, Dave and The Big Moon felt more daring than this.

Decca Records A&R Abbie Hollebone and PledgeMusic’s Mike Hemsley were among the dissenters when Music Week tweeted the news last week.

Hollebone posted, “Up and coming talent? What a joke! Most of these acts are already household names?!”. Hemsley broke down the labels each act is signed to: “Three major labels, one label owned by a major (so four majors), one indie and already one of the biggest rising artists in the country”.

“It’s no secret that the wider music industry, of which Radio 1 forms an important part, struggled to break any UK artists in 2016,” Chris Price, head of music at Radio 1 and 1Xtra, told us back in January. “This is about Radio 1 taking a leading role in trying to fix that issue. We should continue to play a part in breaking UK artists at home and on the world stage.”

That remains a commendable stance, but is it still an exciting one?

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