Love them or hate them, the Brit Awards offer a chance to reflect on the state of popular music within our shores. Ahead of this year’s show, our writers have chosen their favourite artists within four of the ceremony’s homegrown categories…
British Male: James Blake – Roxana Şoica
Mercury prizewinner James Blake has grown to be a prominent name on the electronic music scene, juggling dubstep beats, soulful gospel, R&B and heavy, emotionally charged lyrics. His second album, Overgrown, has received universal critical acclaim and is one of the most intricate, engaging and heart-wrenching 40-minute musical experiences of 2013. Yes, it’s a heavy listen and yes, it may not be the sort of thing you would listen to on the go, but then so is the music of other artists he’s been compared to, such as Thom Yorke or Karin Dreijer.
I would say it’s Blake’s classical training that puts him ahead of his contemporaries, and it’s his work as producer that makes him a better singer-songwriter. The 24-year-old Londoner doesn’t shy away from going off-road, pushing genre boundaries, and making his work greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not only about the wide range of genres he plays with, but also the sense of intimacy he infuses into every piece, from gritty, auto-tuned openers like ‘Unluck’ to tangy, memorable collaborations with RZA and Chance the Rapper.
British Female: Laura Marling – Sam Hardy
The Brit Awards have always been an unashamed celebration of popular music – a salute to the fashionable and the trending. Laura Marling, while a fitting nominee in a category of predictably pop-centric artists, undoubtedly surpasses the expectations of commercial music.
Marling revives the folk tradition while judiciously avoiding the calculable tedium of Mumford-esque folkpop. Her latest album Once I Was An Eagle combines avant-garde-meets-Dylan lyricism and elegiac didacticism. It confirms the ingenuity that deserves to be heralded as a standard by which future commercial artists might be judged, measured and criticised.
A victory for Laura Marling would not only mean success for her as an artist, but also for us as a media-consuming public, for what we want to be represented as the best, what we want to be revered and what we want to excel. Let us allow achievement to lie with art that champions innovation.
British Group: Arctic Monkeys – Esther Davies
In the wake of their recent first ever No. 1 in the US Billboard Alternative Chart with ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ it seems there’s no stopping the Arctic Monkeys. Starting with their spectacular headlining gig at Glastonbury last year and then continuing with the release of their stunning fifth studio album AM, it’s undeniable that they dominated 2013. What’s more, despite having publicly mocked the BRIT Awards in recent years, they have agreed to perform at the event this year.
This new-fangled maturity and acceptance of their position as the greatest British rock band of the moment is paralleled in their new album AM. Their blend of sophisticated rock and sensual American hip-hop influences grabs the listener from the very first note. This would be their third win for Best British Group, and deservedly so, as there is currently no other group that is so quintessentially British while managing to win over the rest of the world.
Breakthrough Act: Laura Mvula – Miranda Wilkie
Laura Mvula has had a fairly muted breakthrough compared to the ubiquity of fellow nominees Bastille and London Grammar. Even so, her debut album Sing To The Moon was one of the highlights of 2013. She has slowly been making an impact nationwide, appearing on television shows such as Jools Holland’s Later Live and The Graham Norton Show. These have showcased her soulful vocals and sparse orchestral soundscapes to a wider audience.
Starting off from humble roots as a secondary school teacher in Birmingham and conducting a gospel choir in her spare time, Mvula began recording songs on her laptop. It’s this humble, home-grown recording process that makes her so important as a breakthrough act.
In the process, she has coined the new term “gospeldelia” to describe her dreamy, jazz-tinged music, as well as breathing new life into the soul scene as a whole. She has become one of the most exciting female artists (a category for which she is also nominated) around at the moment, and it’s high time she gets the recognition she truly deserves.