Over the last few years, the music scene has been saturated with female singers: Adele, Ellie Goulding, Emilie Sandé and Rihanna to name a few. But 2014 has seen the male artists begin to claw their way back into the charts.
With the exception of Barbadian Rihanna, all the females listed above have been winners of the Brits Critics Choice Award, an award that originated in 2008 (first received by Adele) given by the industry to an artist whose star is on the rise. Until Tom Odell in 2013, this award had exclusively been presented to female singers.
But 2014’s male recipient Sam Smith has taken the industry by storm, winning over critics and the public alike with his dulcet tones that cover a range of both notes and emotion. He has now had a number one album in the UK, and also broken the US and broken a Grammy record by debuting at the awards with six nominations, including Best Newcomer and Artist of the Year.
In fact, the Brit boys are currently doing the UK proud overseas. Ed Sheeran has trod the path for Smith, with his second album X selling over three million copies worldwide and gathering a fistful of nominations at the Grammys. While his debut album + did do well, X’s reception has been phenomenal, laying the way for his 2014/2015 stadium tour, including selling out Madison Square Garden in New York.
Having seen Sheeran perform at London’s O2, it is quite a spectacle – being able to fill an arena with just one man’s voice, an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal with a minimal backing track takes great stage presence. His tours must be cheap in comparison to the likes of showgirls Katy Perry and Lady GaGa – no backing singers or band, no dancers or pyrotechnics – just some lights changing colour to set the mood for each song.
I also had the pleasure of seeing one of Britain’s up-and-coming male pop acts perform live – George Ezra. I have a definite soft spot for Ezra, with his deep, soulful crooning in a folksy manner and a blonde baby face that doesn’t match his low, manly voice.
While, like Sheeran and Smith, Ezra’s debut album has gone to number one in the UK, he is still finding his feet here and is yet to crack the US, though his 2015 American tour may change that. But really, Ezra has a way to go before he can compete with the likes of Sheeran – Ezra may have sold out his UK tour, but Brixton Academy is no patch on Madison Square Garden.
In a year when the likes of Sheeran and Smith weren’t storming the charts, Ezra may have had a shot at the Brit Award for Best Male. But alas, the competition will be tough in this category this year. He is also likely to be up against 2012 winner Ben Howard, who made a great comeback with his second album this year.
Perhaps Ezra could succeed in the Best Newcomer category? Unfortunately, I don’t think he will triumph here either, as Sam Smith had not entered the charts as a solo artist this time last year, though we had heard his vocal talents on Disclosure’s Latch. And then there’s another British male who’s creating some industry buzz – Hozier, whose single Take Me To Church has been overplayed on most radio stations – but is still loved by many – and debut album is just as hauntingly beautiful.
The British music industry is truly alive and well, and it’s nice to see that it’s not just reality television manufactured acts like One Direction representing the UK on the world music scene. Although, credit to those boys, they work hard for their millions and adoring fan girls.
Good luck to Sheeran, Smith and Ezra – it will be interesting to see who comes out on top the other side of awards season, especially on their home turf at the Brit Awards.