Nominating a single artist to embody the musical stylings of an entire year never comes easily. My music taste constantly fluctuates throughout the course of even a year, and that certainly does not aid in the task of predicting a stark representative of 2014 before artists have even culminated January’s contribution to history. Thus, such a postulation only comes with last year’s evolution of music and my exposure to its evolution in mind. Many genres gained a lot of momentum in the last year alone, and I certainly believe 2013 to have been a fantastic year for music. Some clear examples arise from the multi-faceted success Daft Punk enjoyed, the impressive feat that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis achieved with their independent rise to glory, and the recognition of young artists such as Disclosure. Rather than reviewing the culmination of 2013’s contribution to the music community, we have chosen to predict and offer exposure to the lesser known “could-be’s” rather than these “have-beens*.”
My first live gig of last year was Annie Mac Presents at The Picture House in Edinburgh. When the DJ I was most curious about (Duke Dumont) kicked off the event, it set a very competitive curve for how I was to interpret the rest of the night. Despite his notable feature in “Need U (100%),” I only really knew MNEK from the minimal perusing I had taken upon myself only a few hours prior to his presence on the stage. Before the event, I saw some interesting work on his Soundcloud, identified an eccentric and young performer, and applied these attributes to his production and vocal contributions that he had already done with other artists. Basically, I had my doubts, but was hoping to be introduced to something special. “This MNEK kid is younger than us,” I said as I celebrated my 21st birthday,“I wonder how his live performance will be.” When he boldly grasped the microphone and offered his live vocals alongside Duke Dumont’s DJ set, I bit my tongue in hesitation. “He doesn’t even have an earpiece, how will he be able to match the pitch, set the harmony, and maintain the appropriate tone to these crazy house tunes,” said someone next to me in much simpler terms. The pleasant surprise of his powerful vocals that night gave me hope for his indoctrination into the list of that night’s powerful performances. My on-the-fence perception of an artist’s potential culminated in a hopeful joy for this “undiscovered” artist.
Fast forward a few months now (the show was in November), and he officially released his single alongside Gorgon City titled “Ready For Your Love” a few days ago**. In contrast to the rise to fame of Disclosure and Macklemore + Ryan Lewis, MNEK does not look to be making the climb alone. Having witnessed the backing of Annie Mac firsthand, as well as that of Duke Dumont both on-stage and in the studio, collaborating with artists seems to have treated MNEK’s path to glory very well. Of course, I don’t mean to discredit his musical ability or say that the duos behind Disclosure / M+RL did it any “better.” I simply wish to highlight that collaboration seems to be a way forward in gaining recognition, producing music that both achieves and, simply put, sounds better. This is not the first time an inspirationally young artists has shown his/her strength by producing with other creative minds. Benny Blanco also comes from a youthful generation of musical contributors, and he has helped craft an overwhelming number of “pop hits***.”
In another sense, MNEK also seems to possess the “it” factor – in whatever elusive manner I might be attempting to identify “it.” Sure, his facebook page only shows just over 10k likes, but when your news feed regularly sees “celeb selfies” with artists such as Sam Smith, Dan (from BASTILLE), etc not to mention his attendance alongside Duke Dumont, Lulu James, and others at the Grammy’s. The combination of his musical talent that comes in many forms – vocals, production, and taste – with his promising amount of exposure (behind the scenes) and his eccentric wardrobe seem to me to constitute a pretty promising package. A more abstract perception of his social media persona, internal interactions, and overall passion about music also contribute to my nomination of MNEK for the Sound of 2014.
Social media also grants artists a new medium for accessing not only their intended audience, but also keep in touch with other artists. Exposure, when approached effectively, can allow an artist to not only showcase his/her own work, but also praise other artists for music they enjoy(ed). MNEK’s SoundCloud activity entertains this; in addition to of his 24 personal creations, he constantly shares the work of other artists to facilitate their listens while allowing his followers to keep up to date with his inspirations and fluid creativity. The introduction of social media opened up an entirely new, unexplored platform for individuals (artists, in this case) to increase their “reach.” MNEK does a phenomenal job of harboring the power of social media in all of its glory. Social media clearly plays a pivotal role in the direction music (and, arguably, the entire world), but the point remains: MNEK’s online persona showcases an artist who respects, recognizes, and represents this ongoing development.
Approaching the brave task of nominating an artist to act as a prophet for a year of sound comes with its trepidations. Thus, the artist ought to fall alongside one’s own prediction about the musical stylings of the year in addition to possessing all of the aforementioned qualities. An important part of MNEK’s potential to succeed is, of course, his musical style. Tapping into nostalgia, as all great artists do, MNEK has released remixes of artists such as Michael Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, etc. His voice provides a great deal of his musical prowess, and by using that gift he can close the rift between past production and contemporary ambition. His work draws from the powerfully soulful influences of musicians such as “Jimmy Jam” and Terry Lewis. Harnessing the support of the powerful tag-team behind throwbacks like Boyz II Men, Mary J Blige, etc, MNEK accepts the gauntlet he has been given: to represent the Sound of 2014. Without attempting to amalgamate my musings on this year’s movements within the music industry, the oversimplified summary lies in the coming-of-age of a generation where young artists will come to represent our generation for the next decade onwards. Lorde: Christina Aguilera, Disclosure: Justin Timberlake, etc. Completely eskew similes aside, a select few out of every generation live on as icons. Lorde, Disclosure, MNEK, etc have set the tone for such crucial roles. With Lorde and Disclosure having cemented their place, MNEK now shall step up to the plate and lay the foundation for an incredible year of music in an incessantly changing mode of artistic expression.
*Beware: these artists have cemented their stake in the music industry, and don’t look to be falling from grace anywhere in the year 2014 yet alone the next decade.
**Having completed this article, (02/02/2014), the single debuted at #4 on the UK Singles Charts.
***I want to express that I don’t equate chart success by ANY means to musical ability, talent, or production capability.
Words: Austin Bell