As Brexit battles continue to rage across the media and in the Cabinet, with new claims daily about the risks or opportunities for the UK outside the EU, for the UK outside the EU, one thing is obvious: our country will need to play to its strengths as it forges a new position in the world.
The creative industries are one of the UK’s biggest trade success stories; accounting for £92 billion of value added and growing at twice the speed of the rest of the economy. Music is one area in which Britain really punches above its weight – it’s the largest exporter of recorded music in the world after the US, accounting for one in every eight albums purchased globally. In eight of the past 12 years the world’s best-selling artist album has come from a British artist. As the music played at the Winter Olympics shows, everywhere you go in the world, people know our songs.
Britain’s recorded music business returned to solid growth in 2017 after a long period of uncertainty and digital transition. It still faces challenges, in particular the need for certain digital platforms like YouTube to pay a fair rate for music, but if given the right conditions by Government, the UK music industry can prove one of the UK’s export champions. Music is a powerful force for social mobility and it’s exciting to see that 2017’s success embraces the full breadth of Britain’s diverse talent, from original new female voices to the growing diversity of genres, not least grime, hitting the music mainstream.
In early February Rag’n’Bone Man released Human, which went on to be not just the biggest debut of the year but the second-biggest album overall, topping the million sales mark. Two weeks later Stormzy released his hotly anticipated Gang Signs & Prayer, giving him both a No.1 and, later, a place in the year-end top 10 best-sellers chart. Then, in March, came Divide. Few superlatives remain unused regarding the success of Ed Sheeran’s third album but, undoubtedly, it confirmed him as a global superstar with the power to reach audiences at a scale that few manage in this fragmented day and age.
In the week of release, Divide achieved the now-unrepeatable feat of nine tracks in the Official Singles Chart Top 10. But there were plenty of other interesting stories to report, including Sam Smith’s hugely successful sophomore release The Thrill of It All, Harry Styles’ solo foray into classic Rock stylings, a Hyundai Mercury Prize win for the supremely talented Sampha and a first solo outing for Liam Gallagher that became one of the fastest-selling releases of the year. Add into the narrative a Gold-selling breakthrough for the melting pot of genres that was J Hus’s Common Sense and it’s clear that 2017 was a really strong year for male solo artists.
However, whilst the sometimes cyclical nature of recorded music meant that the release slate had a more discernible male accent last year, and British female solo artists did not fare quite as strongly as in recent years – when we witnessed the global dominance of Adele as well as the notable success of artists such as Emeli Sandé, Leona Lewis, Duffy and, of course, Amy Winehouse – it’s fair to say that the new generation of female talent is very exciting.
The biggest pop breakthrough of the year was Dua Lipa, the first female act to receive five nominations for the Brit Awards in a single year. All three of the nominees for the Brits Critics’ Choice Awards are women who look set to achieve long-term success: Mabel, Stefflon Don and, of course, the eventual winner Jorja Smith, who has also been announced as one of the performers at this year’s Brits. Add to this Sigrid winning the BBC’s Sound Of 2018 poll, and it’s clear that female artists are strongly positioned for success in 2018 and well beyond. The Critic’s Choice Award is voted for by the media and since its inception 58% of all the nominees and 55% of all the recipients have been women.
With Jessie Ware already having kicked off another brilliant Brits Week line-up, excitement is building for the industry’s big music showcase, The BRITs on 21st February. Huge international stars including Justin Timberlake and Foo Fighters will be joining Stormzy, Jorja Smith, Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, Rag’n’Bone Man, Rita Ora and Sam Smith, on stage at the BRIT awards that will be watched by millions on TV and online. This isn’t just great entertainment, The BRITs are also a major charity fundraiser. The show has raised over £15m for The BRIT Trust to donate to music charities including The Brit School, Nordoff Robbins music therapy and War Child. Most of all The Brits are a compelling reminder that the diversity and reach of British music will be one of the UK’s strongest calling cards as it sells itself to the world.