Pop in 2013 - Under the influence

What to listen out for this year.

These days, pop music appears to exist in three distinct worlds: young people’s, older people’s and the soul revival – a genre remarkable because a) it won’t go away and b) people download it for free and buy the CDs in just about equal measure. The ways in which we measure “big” in music today – and what that even means – are only just emerging. Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” was Spotify’s most-played song in 2012 (he’d have got about $0.009 each time) but the music press hardly touched him. Last January, the retro-soul singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka was named BBC’s Sound of 2012 by a group of industry heads but no one was talking about him by the end of the month. And we were all fed up with the concept of Lana Del Rey by the time the “physical” came out.

So grim are the results of showing too much too soon that new bands hide on the internet, generating heat by their lack of presence, racking up hundreds of thousands of hits before they’ve even got a press shot to supply. Savages and Palma Violets, two post-punk internet buzz bands yet to release their debut albums, courted anonymity in the early stages by ensuring that they hardly had anything on YouTube. The Glaswegian electro-pop trio Chvrches (one of an increasing number of young bands namechecking Prince as an influence) wrote one of the best songs of last year – “The Mother We Share” – and they’ll have an album out at some point but it remains to be seen whether people will be still excited when they’re signed.

Elton John has already been seen at a gig by the Strypes, a capable child band from Ireland who do a kind of rollicking, Cavern-era Beatles and early Stones show with two mouth organs – a redefinition of “R’n’B” for 14-year-olds.

As far as teens are concerned, there’s also Haim, three sisters from the San Fernando Valley in California who grew up in their parents’ rock band. They sing like more light-hearted versions of Florence Welch, look like Joan Jett and sound not a million miles from Eighties Fleetwood Mac. It’s kids’ music but there’s something really heartening about watching them attack old sounds as though no one’s ever been there before.

Last year, Emeli Sandé was a reasonably interesting proposition because she came from behind the scenes – she’d been part of the X Factor songwriting team. This year, A*M*E (aged 19, real name Aminata Kabba) is another antidote to the production-line methods of modern R’n’B. Her song “Beautiful Stranger” was a number-one hit for the South Korean girl group f(x); she’s signed to Gary Barlow’s label; she’s also co-written with Sandé – and while this is all just another way of saying she’s been hanging around the industry for a few years, it doesn’t matter because her music is tremendous fun: south London post-Gaga pop permeated with Pokémon aesthetics, like a Game Boy version of Rihanna or Azealia Banks, Gangnam-style.

In this postmodern age, the musicians who stand out are those manipulating multiple influences, not just pastiching one or two. The Toronto rapper the Weeknd is a well-finished concept, with his Jackson-airy voice and raw psychodramas – the critics’ll probably try to call him the new Frank Ocean.

And one of the most distinctive sounds comes from Laura Mvula, a “classically trained” singer-songwriter from a gospel background who laughs in the face of structure and draws from the well of Amy Winehouse, Jill Scott and Rodgers and Hammerstein. She did all her string arrangements on GarageBand, and then her producer dropped a real orchestra in. Young people today, and so on.

Last year was dominated by the rock veteran and it’s hard to imagine what more they can do now that Keith, Neil and Pete have done their autobiographies, the Stones have marked their half-century and Paul McCartney has done Kurt Cobain for a night. Aerosmith – the American Stones, who’ve been together for 40 years, with Steven Tyler, like Keith, still baffling people with his ability to perform despite years of well-documented self-pickling – will tour Europe in 2013 (a very rare event) and Bruce Springsteen will take his Wrecking Ball tour all over the world, minus sax solos.

Then there’s Björk, who will be performing her ingenious Biophilia album in a circus tent in Paris for six dates in February and March. It’s a show so magical and meaningful, its value will only increase over time.

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman’s pop critic

Björk will be performing her Biophilia album in a circus tent in Paris for six dates in February and March. Photograph: Getty Images

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 07 January 2013 issue of the New Statesman, 2013: the year the cuts finally bite

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Why is Britain falling out of love with Valentine’s Day?

Celebration of the “Hallmark holiday” is at an all-time low in the UK.

A recent YouGov poll found that only four in ten Britons will be celebrating Valentine’s Day this year. And – perhaps more tellingly, if, like me, you believe that Hollywood has a shrewd grip on the nuances of Britain’s collective attitude – this year’s Valentine’s Day romcom isn’t the usual boy-meets-girl love story, but a film about being single.

So are we falling out of love with Valentine’s Day? And why? It may be partially down to the financially independent self-proclaimed Bridget Jones generation. We’re living longer and doing it on our own; we’re all a bit more relaxed about the search for our significant other (and probably less inclined to say “significant other”).

Unmarried adults are now a majority for the first time, according to analysis of the 2011 census. In fact, the number of people living alone globally has increased by around 80 per cent in the 15 years leading up to 2011.

We’re marrying and having children later than we used to, divorcing with wild abandon and using apps to bring more efficiency to our dating lives. I’m 26, and I still feel panicky when someone chooses to take on any more responsibility than a Twitter account. But it was completely normal for my parents’ generation to be having babies at this age.

Our increasingly casual ways might just have rubbed off on our dating lives – in spite of apps supposedly making dating more accessible. An impressive 72 per cent of people would rather stay in and watch Netflix than go out, according to a recent study. OK, so that’s according to Netflix – but there’s no denying that we have been staying in and forgoing dating a lot more since that old recession.

One survey found that 59 per cent of men think Valentine’s Day is pointless. And of those remaining, one fifth think the most important aim of the day is to “get laid”. But men – and filmmakers – aren't the only ones to dislike the “Hallmark holiday”.

The burgeoning anti-Valentine’s movement – rebranding the day according to our beliefs – has the potential to kick more retailers to the curb than supermarkets’ enthusiasm for horsemeat (but more of that in my “Valentine’s gift guide for her” piece).

Bounce nightclub has run an anti-Valentine's party in London for the last three years, where the “bounce games gurus” dressed in their “love police” uniforms punish any “romance rebels” who don't abide by the strict anti-Valentine’s Day rules.

These rules include: no flowers, hearts, public displays of affection, emotional outbursts, pet names, sharing dessert, winking or whispering. And I’m assuming drugs are prohibited – no one wants to be tripping when they’re already in a room full of pretend police arresting people for unlawful eyelid movements.

But Bounce says its event has always sold out, and a spokesperson attributes its popularity to people increasingly preferring to socialise in groups, rather than in couples:

“Looking at sales this year, interest is far from dwindling. In general, there's been an increase in interest for group events as opposed to the traditional Valentine's event designed for couples.”

Another growing Valentine’s alternative is “Galentine’s Day”, which originated in 2010 from the show Parks and Recreation and is growing in popularity. The idea behind it is to celebrate the platonic love of female friendships in whatever way you and your gal pal wish.

This seems to be more positive rebrand of the single women’s Valentine’s boycott seen in the Friends episode of burning boyfriend memorabilia.

Last February, student Amelia Horgan helped to organise a very different anti-Valentine's Day party with her student union, as a fundraiser for her university’s local rape crisis centre. “The thinking behind it was that Valentine’s Day can be a really alienating experience for those of us who don’t, and don’t want to, match the standards of heteronormative romance,” she tells me. 

The party, she says, was “an alternative event that's much more fun than forgetting to book a reservation for dinner and sitting across from someone you've grown to silently resent, or sitting at home feeling worthless because you haven’t got a date”.

Perhaps a day celebrating traditional love is becoming more and more incongruous alongside an increasing openness towards discussing gender and sexuality.

We’re talking more about how sexuality transcends definition – a discussion that peaked in popular culture with model Cara Delevingne’s comments last year on the fluidity of sexuality. And then there’s Jayden Smith, who is becoming frontman for the increasingly blurred gender lines in fashion.

Valentine’s Day as we know it might be wilting, but I can’t help feeling more love for our willingness to replace it with something more fitting.