Tomorrow never knows: why predicting 2017’s hottest acts is pointless

If this year’s taught us anything, it’s that the ‘experts’ know nothing. So any crystal ball-readings about next year’s breakout stars are almost certainly wrong

“Ones to watch” season is upon us, and over the next three to four weeks every music publication, style brand, search engine, internet service provider and supermarket chain will turn tastemaker and demand you pay attention to who they believe will be the most exciting musicians of 2017. Google Play Music began proceedings last week by being the first to upchuck its predictions on to the sticky internet floor, releasing a list of 10 acts “expected to be huge hits next year”.

The list forewent a panel of music experts, in favour of using streaming stats, YouTube subscribers, track performance within playlists and the instincts of some Google Play Music specialists. In fact, it’s less like tastemaking and more like an automated sales forecast curated by sexless algorithms. It features Sampha (who appeared on the BBC Sound Of… list three years ago), Georgia (who was a Guardian “one to watch” in 2015), and Bebe Rexha (who has already written with Eminem, Rihanna and David Guetta, and presented this year’s MTV Europe Music Awards), with pole-position going to major label-backed soul singer Rag’n’Bone Man. It is, in essence, as fresh as a petrol-station pasty.

But maybe the question shouldn’t be about the quality of these lists, and more about whether there is any point predicting what will be the huge hits of next year at all. This year felt like the dawning of a new era. Humanity has spent the last 12 months demonstrating through our fallible predictions that we have absolutely no idea what the hell is ever going to happen any more. Gone are the days of Mystic Meg forecasting the bonus ball and Paul the octopus telekinetically suckering Spain to World Cup success. We now live in a world of surprise Brexits and unexpected Trumps, marooned in an existential malaise of bad calls, incorrect polls, fake news stories, baffled journalists, social media echo chambers and confused public opinion.

This is an upside-down era; one in which Ed Balls is the greatest dancer in Britain, an offensive stereotype called Honey G gets the highest number of votes on a talent show by being as awful as possible, and James Bay and Rick Astley are two of the best-selling British males of the year. In this murky and deathly abyss, where nothing makes sense, it feels perverse for anyone or anything (I’m looking at you, sexless algorithms) to say they know exactly what is going to happen. Rag’n’Bone Man’s streaming figures may be rather impressive but, as far as we know, the hottest new act of 2017 could be a racist cat who plays East 17 covers on a bagpipe.


Joe Zadeh

The GuardianTramp

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