Each year the BBC collects a group of tastemakers, radio hosts, DJs and artists to vote on who they think is going to be a huge name in 2016. It seems like it’s basically taking a stab in the dark but for the most part they have been right. In the past they have tipped Adele, Ellie Goulding, Sam Smith and 50 Cent with each of them nabbing the prize. Last year they put their money on Years & Years, James Bay and Stormzy each of which have gone onto have great success in very different ways.
This year 144 people have voted on a shortlist of 15 which will be whittled down to five by early January. In an effort to stay even further ahead of those ahead of the curve we’ve placed all of them up against each other as if it was a sport to determine who we think we’ll take home the prize.
Let the battle begin!
Jack Garratt vs. Frances
This is the battle of the artists you’re most likely to give to your Mum for mothers day. Jack Garratt is a British multi-instrumentalist poised to be the next Ed Sheeran while Frances is a less bellowing Adele. Neither of these two are really bringing much new to the table but you’ve got to hand it to Garratt for at least delivering a phenomenal live show. His performance on Conan a few months back was impressive and is sure to incite plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” once the festival season rolls around. As for Frances, even a new single co-written by Disclosure’s Howard Lawrence Borrowed Time couldn’t liven her up.
WINNER: Jack Garratt
Dua Lipa vs. Mabel
Mabel is actually the daughter of Neneh Cherry so she already has a formidable mentor at hand even though their styles are polar opposites. Mabel is making minimal, spacious R&B driven by a beautifully smooth voice like on her current single My Boy My Town. Dripping in Palace and Adidas threads, she’s also likely to become a style icon for those reading things like i-D. On the other side of the ring we have another cool cat - Dua Lipa. She was originally picked up by Lana Del Rey’s management and is making gloriously euphoric pop music the best example being her most current single Be The One. She’s got an Instagram-ready aesthetic and also looks like the kind of girl you’d like to get giggly with after a few drinks. Both these girls are uber-cool but it’s hard to go past Lipa’s tunes. She’s bound to find a home in the charts over the next few months but may also win over the alt-snobs.
WINNER: Dua Lipa
J HUS vs. Section Boyz
It’s not a surprise that there are two grime acts featured in this year’s list given that it was much talked about in 2015 thanks to Skepta and Stormzy. Stormzy placed at third in last year’s list and it’s possible that both these artists could place. Statford rapper J Hus is the one most likely to do a Dizzee Rascal or Wiley and cross over into the mainstream while six piece group Section Boyz are the most likely to impress the critics. The latters 2015 record Don’t Panic was one of the best grime records of the year. Meanwhile, J Hus delivered Dem Boy Paigan combining African styles with Fetty Wap-inspired hooks. It’s a tough call but the public has not always been receptive to rap collectives. Given that J Hus is making music more skewed towards the commercial side, he’ll be the one to rise to the top here.
WINNER: J Hus
WSTRN vs. Loyle Carner
This is an interesting and different pair-up. Loyle Carner is a London rapper with a big social and political conscience while WSTRN are a London rap collective making radio-ready rap tunes. Loyle Carner is most likely to be the UK’s answer to Kendrick Lamar, rapping over funk and jazz-infused beats with a heavy message to deliver. He’s actually already gained the respect of Lamar who’s also a fan of Brit rapper Little Simz who has a similar style to Carner. WSTRN on the other hand already have a hit on their hands with In2 finding a space currently occupied by acts like R City and Krept and Konan. They’re charismatic guys that can rap and sing all while finding delicious melodies. The BBC always pick those on the edge of huge radio success so as good as Carner is, it’s hard to imagine him beating WSTRN.
Blossoms vs. Rat Boy
Battle of the guitars. These are the only two acts on the list that can even be vaguely linked to British rock ‘n roll. Manchester guitar band Blossoms are making psych-rock tunes with melodies that could easily find a home on Radio 1 in the UK. They don’t have the frenetic energy of the Arctic Monkeys but they definitely have a sort of Humbug vibe to them. Speaking of frenetic energy, Rat Boy might be the most energetic of the whole bunch. He’s combining The Streets-esque rap with Sex Pistols punk and destroying the joint on his way through. He’s a brat and he’s incredibly likeable, poised to inspire a whole generation of weed-smoking punks. If you listen to all fifteen of these acts, you’ll probably remember Rat Boy.
WINNER: Rat Boy
Izzy Bizu vs. Nao
Izzy Bizu and Nao are the two soul queens of the bunch. Bizu is channeling that Corinne Bailey Rae-style soul while still allowing house beats to creep into her songs. She’s shortlisted for a Brit Critics Choice Award (which has previously been won by Sam Smith and Adele) but it doesn’t feel like she’s quite found her number one single yet. Her voice is distinctive and rich but maybe it hasn’t found the right vessel yet. Nao’s, on the other hand, doesn’t feel like it wants to be number one. She’s already a critics darling with Pitchfork gushing over her and she was the best part of Disclosure’s Caracal record. She’s making future soul that sits somewhere between FKA twigs and Jail Paul production-wise. She’s consistently released fire this year and doesn’t even feel like a new artist. There’s no contest here.
Alessia Cara vs. Billie Marten
These are the two youngsters of the bunch. British folk singer Billie Marten is only 16 years-old and she’s making music that puts her in the league of singers like Birdy and Gabrielle Alpin. It’s sweet, delicate and sometimes heartbreaking but it’s really hard to imagine her making much of a splash before we have a whole record from her so we can really see her diversity. 18 year-old Def Jam-signee Alessia Cara has already nabbed a hit. Here has already made the top 20 in the US and will probably spread around the world over the next few months. Her album Know It All made the top 10 in the US and while it had some good songs it wasn’t as strong as Here. Here is a loner anthem that establishes Cara as one of the coolest singers around - one that’s capable of winning over critics and also gaining radio play. She’s got a long career ahead of her and seems like a sure bet to be shortlisted.
WINNER: Alessia Cara
At 19 years-old Mura Masa is also one of the youngest on this list but by no means is he inexperienced. He gets a bye on this round because he’s the only producer on the list and therefore is a little bit of an outkast. He’s made some brilliant music this capped off by his stunning collaboration with fellow Brit Shura on Love For That. Australian festivals and promoters would be foolish for not booking this guy right now - he’s about the blow-up.
Dua Lipa vs. Jack Garratt
Both these guys are likely to have a hit next year in the UK at least. Lipa is likely to become the girl everyone wants to be once she starts gracing magazine spreads while Garratt will be the go-to for people going to festivals looking for the more accessible acts. If we put Garratt’s latest track Breathe Life up against Lipa’s Be The One, it’s pretty obvious which one has more personality. Lipa’s is cool, fresh and energetic while Garratt’s feels like something we’ve heard too many times before. There’s every chance Garratt’s inoffensiveness will carry him to victory but we’ve got to stand with Lipa on this one, lest we spend 2016 asleep.
WINNER: Dua Lipa
Rat Boy vs. Nao
You couldn’t get two more different artists if you tried. These two will probably never even come close to sharing a stage together and that’s ok. Both are unlikely to nab a top 10 hit in the next six months but if it’s going to be anybody it will be Nao. Nao’s aesthetic is far more inline with what we’re seeing at the moment all around the globe while her desire to push the boundaries just a tad instrumentally makes all her tracks really interesting. Rat Boy could easily become a cult hero in the UK but we can’t see him changing the face of music in 2016.
J Hus vs. WSTRN
This is a fair contest. Both artists have a really good shot at shaping the sound of UK rap music in 2016. J Hus sits more on the rap-side but has just enough of a US influence to crossover if he wanted too while WSTRN could easily bag a worldwide hit with In2. J Hus will excited festival audiences more than WSTRN will but there’s something really infectious about WSTRN and they’re not very geographically-defined by sound. Whether you like it or not you won’t be able to escape In2 this summer in Australia.
Alessia Cara vs. Mura Masa
Here’s we’ve got two young guns doing very different things. Mura Masa is the type of artist who will become a poster boy for triple j electronic audiences like Cashmere Cat or Lido while Alessia Cara could become a commercial superstar. Mura Masa could actually really work with Cara’s voice and develop something really sonically interesting. Her album lacked the same effortless cool as her hit Here and maybe that will stunt her growth this year. Meanwhile, Mura Masa has put out an excellent EP in Someday Somewhere and will probably release the “cool,” genre-shifting album of 2016. Pop acts should jump on the young producer like Ariana Grande did with Cashmere Cat - he’s proved he works really well with vocalists and could be sitting on a goldmine
WINNER: Mura Masa
Dua Lipa vs. WSTRN
These two are both destined to hit the charts in a big way next year. WSTRN already have In2 which will continue to spread around the world over the next few months while Lipa has Be The One which will surely catch on as more and more tastemakers list her as one of the ones to watch in 2016. Lipa, however, has the upper-hand because she’s a solo act. Her effortless cool should mean people latch onto her as someone they want to hang out with/be because she’s a little bit alternative but not so much that she’s unable to crossover. If Lana Del Rey has proved anything, it’s that occasionally the mainstream is ready for something a little less glossy that what they’re used to. Lipa’s tunes are more accessible than Del Rey but you get the feeling she won’t be hopping in the studio with Max Martin anytime soon.
WINNER: Dua Lipa
Mura Masa vs. Nao
Mura Masa and Nao both worked with each other on the track Firefly which was brilliant so it’s pretty hard to put them up against each other and it would be nice if they could both win. Nao is going to have a great 2016 off the back of a debut album. Everything she’s put out so far has been impressive and she’s already a critical darling. Mura Masa is going into 2016 on the same level but his potential to grow into the mainstream is bigger than Nao’s. Annie Mac at Radio 1 is pushing Mura Masa hard while Diplo says he is “destroying the internet.” In electronic music particularly, each year you need someone who’s going to push the sound forward and Mura Masa is the man to do that. Nobody's making music as luscious and enthralling as he is right now.
WINNER: Mura Masa
Dua Lipa vs. Mura Masa
As good as Mura Masa is it’s hard to imagine the BBC choosing him to take home the prize. This is an award that’s been won by 50 Cent, Ellie Goulding and Adele - they want their bragging rights at the end of the year when the act sells a heap of records. Dua Lipa only has two songs and the BBC usually want to jump on somebody without much material behind them. They did it with HAIM, Years & Years and even Jessie J (God forbid). Lipa has the potential to have a really triumphant trajectory this year. As word catches on you’ll hear that she’s working with cool people and you can see her giving some upbeat, euphoric festival performances. From what we’ve seen so far she also looks like she’s got the personality to make people fall in love with her. If the BBC don’t choose to give the prize to an inoffensive white male, the prize will be Lipa’s.
WINNER: Dua Lipa!!
- Words and pictures by the interns' Sam Murphy and Bianca Bosso for Cool Accidents