Friday, 31 May 2013

Is the Scottish Album of the Year Award in tune with popular taste?

On last night's STV Scotland Tonight, a panel including Ministry of Sound DJ Rebecca Vasmant; a member of the awards judging panel; the musician Aidan Moffat who, along with Bill Wells, won last year's Scottish Album of the Year award for Everything's Getting Older; and the Daily Record showbiz journalist Bev Lyons, discussed the announcement of The SAY Award shortlist.

The override theme of the 8 minute slot was the exclusion of two artists, Calvin Harris and Emeli Sande, and the idea the The SAY Award is out of tune with popular taste, a theme it must be said was mainly pushed by panelist Bev Lyons and to some extent directed in that way by the production team and host Rona Dougall.

I question why the faux uproar has arising now and who it is actually coming from?  It seems like an excuse for the media to focus on two acts they know rather than turn the spotlight onto ten lesser know acts.  The judges were in a difficult place regarding these two albums.  Inclusion leads to calls of selling out and pandering to commercial sales, exclusion leads to calls of musical snobbery and elitism, as so elegantly put by Bev Lyons. 
Rebecca Vasmant gave a very good explanation of what the judges were looking for to include an album in the shortlist, namely a record which acts as an album as a whole, for the tracks to work together as one score, and not a collection of singles.  It is then on that basis, not sales, hit records, weeks in the top 10, fans, global success or any other criteria, which undoubtedly Harris and Sande have excelled in, that the awards shortlist must be based.

What I would say is that other than the judges it's unlikely that anyone has actually sat down and listened to all twenty long listed albums, therefore their judgement is at least in context of all the competition on a musical basis and in the scope of an 'album' rather than collection of hits, which both Sande and Harris' albums undoubtedly are.

Answering the question is The SAY Awards in tune with popular taste is such a complex beast it is almost impossible to answer.  The easiest way to tackle it though is to point out that The SAY Awards recognises and rewards artists irrespective of popular taste and has never pretended to be a Scottish version of the Brits. 

What I noticed from the STV programme is that Bev Lyons never once gave a credible reason as to why Calvin Harris or Emeli Sande should be on the list.  She mentions their worldwide success, yet doesn't actually argue why the music is worthy or frame their albums in the context which Rebecca Vasmant had stated the judges were working.  There's one point where she states, "it's a given" that one of the two albums would be included.  Why?  Justify yourself please?  The fact you and millions others like it, doesn't automatically make it a better album that the ten that have been picked.  To her credit Vasmant does state why the judges didn't include either album, namely they were a collection of hit singles rather than a fully produced well flowing body of work.

Aidan Moffat makes the exact same point I made on the blog last week, regarding the fact that Harris and Sande, and by extension their labels, didn't show any interest whatsoever in the award, and that given their large fanbase, they could have easily walked off with the public vote.  You could argue in a way that The SAY Award organisers gave the public a vote to avoid accusations of industry snobbery, and that the two acts who would have undoubtedly scored best chose to snub that completely. 

Lyons, tries to argue that smaller bands rally together to get votes, as to why Harris and Sande's albums didn't win the public vote, although she does later concede that they didn't garner the support they should have without admitting that was generally because they didn't appear to care.  Let's put this into perspective here.  The Twilight Sad have just under 13,500 followers on Twitter.  Emeli Sande has approximately 900,000 and Calvin Harris has over 2.1 million.  You do the math.  The simple reason that Emeli Sande and Calvin Harris didn't win the public vote was because neither cared a jot to publicise their involvement.

Then comes the accusation of "elitism and inverse snobbery", which Lyons tried to assure us she doesn't want to accuse of happening, despite doing exactly that.  Have a look at the judges.  Tell me that there's not a diverse spectrum of tastes, experience, and culture in there.

"Should it not be changed to the Indie Music Album Of The Year?" quips Lyon.  No it shouldn't.  As Vasmant goes on to stress, again, it was based purely on the music.  Within the shortlist there is folk, electronica, pop, dance, hip-hop, traditional, indie, and rock influences.  The longlist again expands on that further.  By making this comment, Lyons herself, is exposed as possessing the kind of 'inverse snobbery' she accuses the judges of holding, by classing anything not 'mainstream' as indie or 'weird'. 

What annoyed me about this short programme, other than Lyon's air of entitlement and interruption of the other guests, was the fact that despite this being a celebration of 10 albums nominated for the title of Scottish Album of the Year for 2012, the focus rested on the people who needed it least.  So let's put a full stop at the end of this topic, and finish this post with a track from each of the shortlisted album.  A huge congratulations to each artist, and also to the ten artists who didn't make the shortlist, and I hope that the coming weeks brings increased attention, and sales, to their music.

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