DON'T MESS WITH BBC INTRODUCING YOU FOOLS
Plus! Brits stuff! Book recommendations! A picture of a useless but lovely-looking new Walkman!
Hello to you,
Well we’re halfway through the month they’re all calling January and I think at this stage we can all agree I’ve milked the opportunity to Take Some Time Off Over Christmas beyond any reasonable or acceptable level. Christmas feels so long ago now doesn’t it, like Brexit, or the threat of LMFAO as viable popstars.
So welcome back to the award-winning Popjustice Substack — which you should need no reminding was recently voted SUBSTACK OF THE MILLENNIUM.
This week I’m doing the usual news and New Music Friday roundups, along with some chat about the Brits, book recommendations and so on, and there’s also some discussion about the future of BBC Introducing, which includes a Q&A with popstar-turned-DJ-and-new-music-champion Tom Robinson, a man whose career spans six decades and who therefore knows a thing or two about music.
Cardi B is outraged over lettuce prices, and I don’t know if it’s Cardi’s outrage or the fact that it was reported in the Wall Street Journal that’s truly newsworthy here — maybe they both are. (Wall Street Journal)
Great interview with Flo. (The Guardian) Flo are a band who with each passing week seem like stronger and stronger evidence for the fact that pop music is all about getting it right on your first single. Remember that period in the late-2000s when people started deliberately hiding their best songs until three or four singles into their careers, by which point half the acts had been dropped meaning that nobody every got to actually hear the good stuff? Mad times.
Norway began its televised Eurovision selection thing this weekend and Allesandra Mele’s Queen of Kings is, quite rightly, through to the next round (ESCvideos)
Perrie from Little Mix is apparently on the verge of signing to Columbia. (That Grape Juice)
In 2022 HMV had its highest profits since 2019 which, well, maybe that’s not saying much given the whole pandemic thing, but there you go. (iNews)
Ray Cordeiro, the world’s longest-running DJ whose career spanned over half a century has died. (Sky News)
NEW MUSIC LAST FRIDAY
Miley’s Flowers is Actual Pop from an Actual Popstar, and once a full-on disco remix makes its way onto ‘DSPs’ 2023 can officially get going. (Sidenote: if you missed it at the start of the month, Miley and Dolly Parton’s Wrecking Ball performance is a proper moment, especially when it’s about to segue into another song and you can hear audience members twig what’s about to happen.)
But the main thing that struck me this week was how many new releases were strangely familiar. Songs inspiring a “this is good — HANG ON A MINUTE” response included:
James Arthur and Alok revisiting Shapeshifters’ Lola’s Theme (although as Mr Shapeshifter pointed out on Twitter this weekend, it’s simply the case of them using the same Johnnie Taylor sample)
Luude and Issy Cross building a song around Moby’s Porcelain
Switch Disco doing a vocal thing with Robert Miles’ Children
Young Marco presenting ‘a new take’ on that Imogen Heap song Jason Derulo did the definitive version of
It’s A Fine Day being wheeled out yet again by John Gibbons
Felix’s banger-for-the-ages Don’t You Want Me getting yet another new lease of life via PBH & Jack and Alex Hosking
Notes on this:
If you’re a thinking of doing this sort of thing, the Luude/Issy Cross approach is probably your best bet: Moby’s Porcelain is his biggest song on Spotify with more than twice as many streams as the closest competitor (Natural). It’s therefore a song we can see is Resonating In The Streaming Era, and is thus ripe for a ‘reimagining’. Champagne all round!
My general rule on sampling or interpolating stuff is this that if you’re the first person to do it: go ahead, fill your boots. Sadly, if you’re the second person to do it, you are creatively bankrupt and should issue a Notes app apology.
To balance out all the new people messing around with old things, Everything But The Girl are back this week with the first song from their first new album in 24 years, and it sounds fresher than most other stuff in this week’s new releases.
BOOK ALERT 1
I know a lot of this newsletter’s readers work in and around music so Touring and Mental Health: The Music Industry Manual feels like an appropriate recommendation.
It’s edited by psychotherapist (and former live industry person) Tamsin Embleton of the Music Industry Therapist Collective — a group of therapists, counsellors etc who work with musicians and people in the music industry, and the book features contributions from numerous MITC members covering various aspects of touring and the general experience of Being A Popstar. It even includes a chapter on dealing with the media written by an exciting new writer called Peter Robinson who you may know as the man behind THE SUBSTACK OF THE MILLENNIUM.
Living legend Siobhan Donaghy has likened the book to having a therapist in your back pocket, which sounds like a boundary issue to me, but anyway the book’s (technical publishing term) fucking massive, it’s out in March, and it’s up for pre-order now — there’s a 20% discount at checkout with the code 5KGX7W839H0Z.
BOOK ALERT 2
If you’ve bothered subscribing to this email then a) I thank you and b) I reckon Reach For The Stars by Michael Cragg — an oral history of pop music from 1996 until the internet ruined everything — will be a mandatory purchase.
Michael worked with me on Popjustice during that strange but beautiful sweet spot in the 2010s when pop fans, the music industry and advertisers were all under the collective delusion that Popjustice was A Big Thing, and there’s no better person to have written this book. I expect the release of this will involve Michael going on a book tour, and the campaign starts here to have him reading from the book, Corbyn-at-Glastonbury style, on the main stage at Mighty Hoopla. In the meantime you can pre-order Reach For the Stars on Amazon.
(Nice of S Club 7 to get back together in support of the book, too.)
(If anyone would like to recommend me any upcoming books that I haven’t either written bits of or happen to be friends with the authors of, my inbox is open!)
The Brits nominations announcement was a bit of a shitshow as the removal of gendered categories (good idea) ended up this year with one of the categories being full of blokes (bad outcome). I can’t really think of a realistic short term way to fix this (for next year, for instance) but Mark Savage wrote a fair summary of the situation for the BBC.
Anyway let’s talk about me because I basically just want to tell you who my chosen winners would be from the shortlisted artists in each category, and they are:
Artist of the Year: Stormzy
Best group: The 1975
Album of the Year: Fred Again, whose name I have made the decision to write properly moving forward because life’s complicated enough already without throwing in ellipses and lower-case letters — Actual Life 3 (Jan 1 - September 9 2022)
Best new artist: Rina Sawayama
Song of the Year: Ed Sheeran and Elton John — Merry Christmas
Best international artist: Beyoncé
Best international group: Blackpink
International song of the Year: David Guetta & Bebe Rexha — I'm Good (Blue)
Rising Star: Flo
Best alternative / rock: The 1975
Best dance: Fred Again
Best hip-hop / rap / grime: Dave
Pop / R&B: Charli XCX
IT LOOKS LIKE SOME PEOPLE ARE GOING TO MESS WITH BBC INTRODUCING AND THAT’S A BAD THING
Last year I was talking with a musician who’d been waiting a while for the spotlight to come his way. Years really — years of solo work that didn’t ever quite take off, and being in bands that didn’t get much attention, and in vans going to and from empty venues, and at weddings and functions in between.
It all sounded quite shit, and understandably there were times when he considered just sacking off the whole thing. But the problem, he said, was that every time those ‘proper job’ thoughts crossed his mind, the universe would throw him a little bit of encouragement. Nothing major, but just enough for him to feel like there was hope. Some of the encouragement he mentioned was from BBC Music Introducing, the network of radio shows on the BBC’s various regional radio stations whose discoveries (uploaded directly by artists) then feed in to national stations like Radio 1, 1Xtra and 6 Music, along with festival stages and events on the side.
Anyway that person was Sam Ryder who went on to nearly win Eurovision, got a Number One album just before Christmas, and received a Brit nomination last week. Multiple other Brits nominations this week also fell to artists who’ve been supported in one way or another by BBC Introducing, among them Ed Sheeran, The 1975, George Ezra and Becky Hill.
On Friday social media started to buzz with speculation over the future of BBC Introducing, with reports varying from “proposed changes” to one person suggesting that every BBC Introducing presenter has been put on redundancy notice. This would appear to be part of the bigger wave of nonsense that’s facing all local BBC radio stations, as the BBC attempts to make savings for reasons too infuriating to go into here.
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BBC Introducing has been running for fifteen years and, in the arts, it’s hard to think of a better example of the BBC doing what the BBC should be doing. Sure, plenty of other outlets support new music, but look closely at most outlets’ interpretation of ‘new’ and you’ll usually find artists with publicists, pluggers, lawyers, managers and label deals. There’s ‘new’ in the sense that most people haven’t heard of it yet, and then there’s ‘new’ in the sense that nobody has heard of it yet, and it’s celebrating the latter that makes BBC Introducing unique.
It’s true that the music industry isn’t always quite as impenetrable as it can sometimes seem, but it’s also true that for artists without parents who are rich or have music industry connections or both, the music industry feels as impenetrable as ever.
There are plenty of people who’ll happily take £500 of your money to get your music to radio stations; some will do a good job, others won’t, others take your cash knowing they won’t. But what if you don’t have £500? Creating a level playing field is one area where BBC Introducing has been so important. Another area is how it’s structured to deliberately cover music from Not London.
Tastemaking has moved on a lot since BBC Introducing launched in 2007 — Spotify is generally pretty astounding in surfacing new stuff, and then there’s TikTok. But that doesn’t mean there can’t or shouldn’t be a place for BBC Introducing. On a recent edition of BBC Music Introducing North East, they played a dance banger I quite liked; I listened through the artist’s other songs on Spotify and it was clearly the sound of someone finding their feet, but there was a spark there. What’ll this artist’s work be sounding like in twelve months? Don’t know. Is this the next Calvin Harris? Again, no idea. But it was pretty good.
The reason I haven’t mentioned the artist’s name is that it feels a bit unfair in light of what I’m about to say. But what I’m about to say is really important: when I visited their profile on Spotify they had a grand total of ten (10) monthly listeners. And here’s the point about BBC Introducing: when was the last time a tastemaker recommended you an artist with ten listeners?
ANYWAY over the weekend I got in touch with BBC Introducing champion and 6 Music DJ Tom Robinson, whose guestbook for those wishing to support BBC Introducing makes for moving reading. I asked him some questions, and after the picture of Tom you will see some of his answers.
You’ve been involved in music for six decades. How have you seen the challenges (and options for support) change in that time for new artists?
Back when I started home recording was almost unknown. Bands had to get past gatekeepers first to make a demo, then to get signed, then to get on radio, then to get into record shops. The bright spots were that at least NME, Sounds and Melody Maker were keen to find new and interesting music. And there was always the hope that John Peel would listen to your demo tape.
Since then the internet has changed all our lives for better and for worse. But the arrival of broadband and cheap laptops ushered in the MySpace era which was a game changer. Suddenly artists didn't need insider contacts, financial backing or a gatekeeper's permission to build an audience. For the first time ever, all you had to be was good - which is truer than ever today.
That's why I'm such a passionate believer in BBC Introducing. Artists can now make master-quality recordings on a blooming iPad, upload it to their local show, and if it's great, they'll play it. The reason this matters so much is that it puts creators directly in touch with consumers — just like TikTok.
I suppose the big question some people might ask is: what role does BBC Introducing have in the TikTok era?
What Introducing does have in common with TikTok is that thing of allowing unknowns to build an audience without jumping through the usual music industry hoops. But the big advantage of BBC Introducing over TikTok is that the audience you build is local. Airplay on your local show helps you get local gigs — and get people along to them. Those shows also provide local sessions, festival stages and outside broadcasts whenever possible. TikTok can't do that for you.
Perception of ‘new music’ is a bit of a weird one — most of the time the new artists we hear about already have a manager, or a publicist, or a lawyer, and often a record deal, and sometimes millions of streams already. How is BBC Introducing’s approach different?
Ha! Well some would disagree but for me the whole point of BBC Introducing is to support artists who don't have manager, or a publicist, or a lawyer, or a record deal. Just like John Peel listening to his demo tapes - no plugger required.
It's true that John ‘discovered’ everyone from Marc Bolan to The Undertones, PJ Harvey to The Strokes. But in truth they would all have made it anyway. It was supporting artists like Ivor Cutler, Misty In Roots, and Half Man Half Biscuit that made Peel a cultural titan. People forget that the actual listening figures for his shows were pitifully small by Radio 1 standards. Management regularly pushed him later into the night and cut down his airtime on the grounds that 95% of what he played never dented the Top 75.
Obviously it’d be fatuous to compare our little network of enthusiasts with arguably the greatest broadcaster who ever lived. But on its own local level their work does seem to arouse the same passions among musicians and listeners as that of the great man.
As witness, our appreciation page for those local shows attracted 2800 testimonials from listeners and musicians in the first 72 hours alone. The number's since gone up to 3000 overnight...
How would the UK music scene be different today if Introducing hadn’t been knocking around for the last 15 years?
Today's music scenes in Tyne & Wear, the East Midlands, Humberside and Oxford (to name but four) have been massively nurtured by the support of Dean Jackson, Alan Raw, Dave Gilyeat and Nick Roberts on their local radio stations.
Bigger areas like Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and London already had thriving music communities. But even there our local shows were directly responsible for bringing Yard Act, Working Men's Club, The Mysterines, Idles and Arlo Parks to a national audience by forwarding their music to the rest of the BBC.
I expect or at least hope that a proper publication will get a load of acts who’ve been supported by BBC Introducing to give quotes on why it’s important. But who’s your favourite BBC Introducing discovery from over the years?
Oh God that's impossible — I did the maths recently and worked out that my Introducing show played over twenty thousand different artists over the last 15 years and I've adored many hundreds of those. But from the last year, I'd pick the mysterious Bristol rapper B of Briz, the wildly inventive Hang Linton from Leeds, and Teesside's own maverick subversives Benefits who sell out grassroots tours countrywide while taking time off from their day jobs. That's the way to do it!
This was a long email, why was this email so long!!
I keep trying to do short ones but then they get big. :(
Is the Ava Max album, which is out this week, The Album Of The Year? Do I need to brace myself?
It could be the album of the year simply by containing the singles so far. Get a grip on yourself.
Is there anything good on the new Belle & Sebastian album?
Surprisingly, yes. Wuh-Oh, who you may remember made that quite good song Hypnotised with Sophie Ellis-Bextor last year, has full writing and production credits on I Don’t Know What You See In Me.
Any updates on the 2022 Popjustice Readers’ Poll?
You mean the poll in which this newsletter was voted SUBSTACK OF THE MILLENNIUM? Well yes actually — thanks go out to PJ reader Walter, who messaged me with an update on the Readers’ Poll category ‘Dance act or producer most likely to turn in a version of the White Lotus theme towards the end of January, nine weeks too late’. Voters thought Joel Corry, Kygo or David Guetta seemed likely, but it’s Tiësto who’s done the job. And a few weeks early, too. Good work Tiësto!
Are there any gadgets you’re interested in spending hundreds of pounds on despite not actually needing or even really wanting them?
Yes, Sony have invented a NEW WALKMAN that works with things like Spotify and YouTube. It’s another thing to keep charged! It’s another thing to make sure you’ve got with you!! It’d be in a drawer or on eBay within about six weeks!!! It’s about three hundred and fifty quid!!!! But look at this:
Even the picture of a guitar doesn’t diminish the beauty of this little fella. The best Walkman-but-not-a-‘Walkman’-Walkman I ever had was a Panasonic RQ-S15 which, somehow, was about the size of an actual cassette box. I think it was my first experience of a rechargeable battery in a portable device, as well as being my first experience of a remote control on the headphones, and it had touch-sensitive buttons as well. Using it felt like living in the future, at a point when I was in denial about cassettes being the worst music format ever invented. Mind you I was about 13 at the time and was having trouble confronting a lot of things, such as oh dear it looks like I’m about to run out of space in this email so let’s round things up.
Have you thought of a way to sign off your newsletters? Possibly something that is sort of the same but slightly different each week — like, you’ll have a format for the signoff, but each time there’s a slight variation?
2023 is the year. I can feel it.
On the topic of all songs sounding familiar, SZA’s album is full of them! The chorus of ‘Special’ sounds like Coldplay ‘The Scientist’. You’ve also got ‘Love Language’ which at 2:43 I am sure is Jem ‘They’.
I really needed to get this off of my chest. I am at peace now.
Great stuff Peter!