James Spearing and Tom Burrows looked at the BBC’s Sound of 2023 longlist, split the list in two, and evaluated half each.
James wasn’t overly impressed with his half last week. Will Tom be any more positive?
Let’s find out.
Listen along to the playlist on Spotify.
With my Ghanaian heritage, I feel I should amplify any positive representation that sub-Saharan Africa gets in the mainstream media – but I must confess that Afrobeats does very little for me as a genre of music. Sorry, family. I did enjoy Asake-collaborator Burna Boy’s African Giant album when I guested on the podcast back in 2019, but that was helped by the pop-fusion elements and political subtext that that record had running through it. The 4 Asake songs on this playlist seemed more about good vibes and party tunes which is nice, but they fail to strike a chord with me. A quick trawl through the Yoruba lyrics of ‘Joha’ and ‘Organise’ on Genius assures me that I’m not missing anything in the translation.
Both James and I scoffed at Biig Piig’s inclusion on this list, given we’d both heard songs by her as far back as 2018. What’s more, the song I heard was literally played on Annie Mac’s Radio 1 show. Situations like these dilute the value of lists like these in my opinion, but it’s arguable that Jessica Smyth won’t care if it projects her music to wider audiences. That half decade ago her music had a very lowkey, bedroom pop feel, with crackly vinyl effects on the songs, and softly sung vocals. On these newer songs, she’s retained those foundational qualities but expanded upon her sound. ‘Only One’ and ‘This Is What They Meant’ range into synthpop, while ‘Liquorice’ and ‘Kerosene’ have a distinct garage sound. It feels like her image has been refined to fit current trends, but I think it works. I’ve quite enjoyed this set of tunes and hope she finds success.
piri & tommy
Piri & Tommy are hyperpop by numbers. For those unfamiliar with the genre, this is your checklist. High bpm, sugary vocals, songs with lower case titles, ironic album titles, garish album artwork. Pop music on speed. The 3 songs from their froge.mp3 EP (it’s not an mp3 is it) sound almost identical, but they’re fine. Absolutely primed for an Urban Outfitters dressing room playlist. There’s also a cover of ‘Unlock It’ by Charli XCX, this genre’s superstar. This version flattens everything that makes the original sparkle, leaving us with a song that sounds like all the other piri & Tommy songs on the list. Take the innovation, make it bland and palatable, repeat.
I heard a bit of buzz about Rachel Chinouriri on The Needle Drop, and this is backed up by the song ‘All I Ever Asked’ which I like a lot. It’s breezy and catchy, and sounds as if she’s been doing this for years. I dare say that the ‘Sound of’ panel have got this one right (apart from the fact that they didn’t include her in the top 5). Time will tell if she can back this up with a decent longer release. I wasn’t blown away with the other singles on the playlist, but one proper hit from this small sample size is good going.
FLO absolutely scream ‘industry exec wet dream’. Seemingly conceived in a meeting where someone said “the optics are great on Y2K at the moment, let’s focus on that space this year”, they were destined to win this competition. Remember Sugababes? Or Mis-Teeq? Or Eternal? Or any other R&B-inflected girl group from the late 90s or early 00s? Well, that energy has all been synthesised and output here. My girlfriend heard me playing one of their songs and said it sounded like Mya of ‘Case of the Ex’ fame. I couldn’t disagree. The calculated aspect of their existence is gross to me.
But then I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find ‘Cardboard Box’ quite catchy by the second listen. So… job done? Well done team. Should be seeing some good metrics on this one this year.
James: Listening to this playlist is like listening to the radio in the year 2000. RnB, Trance, Garage-pop; they’re all there. It’s nostalgic and there’s something comforting in that. But the other side of hearing all these sounds again is that they all seem unoriginal. A watered-down and basic version of what was hardly cutting edge before.
Tom: What James said, basically. Most of this music sounds like a record exec digging out the 6 Now That’s What I Call Music! albums released in 2000 and 2001 and putting a big red circle around the bands with the biggest Y2K energy. I can’t really blame them; that millennium sound and look is trendy at the moment. But it’s telling that the more enjoyable music here comes from the artists that feel less like a calculated rehash of that old stuff. Hopefully the real sound of 2023 will be much more interesting.
Words by Tom Burrows and James Spearing