Within popular music, being branded as ‘the next big thing’ has always been something of a curse. If you don’t become huge and successful, you’re seen universally as a failure for never quite reaching the potential you’ve been told is inside you for however long – but if you do become successful, it isn’t on your own merit, it’s because ‘the industry got behind you’ or because ‘you knew the right people’. It’s a difficult situation; you’re destined for greatness and criticism simultaneously. The X Factor is an annual search for this ‘next big thing’, and perhaps best summarises this situation.
Essentially, the entire industry is just like The X Factor – albeit with a slightly longer and tumultuous competitive process. Rather than singing one song for four people, you sing, tour, manage, strategise and present yourself constantly to millions of people, until someone with some money believes they’ve found a star and signs you up to a lucrative (or not) deal to carry on doing what you’re doing on a much larger scale. Most of the time, your success can hinge completely on who gets behind you. One such artist at the moment is singer/songwriter Jack Garratt.
Jack Garratt is in a strange place currently – a musical twilight zone, if you will. He is popular but has yet to have that huge hit that will cement him within the higher musical echelon. He was snapped up by Island Records in 2014, and has slowly developed a musical network that looks to provide stability and support whilst he attempts to convince the public they should listen to him.
So who’s exactly involved in this network? The BBC love the guy – he was named the winner of the BBC Music’s Sound of 2016 poll, and headlined their Introducing stage at Reading and Leeds in 2014. His single, Worry, was playlisted on Radio 1 too. He’s also received support from The Brits and MTV, picking up The Critic’s Choice award and making the Brand New shortlist of both, respectively.
His label have got him a gamut of high profile supporting slots with the likes of Mumford and Sons, as well as having him play the Apple Music Festival. This has all paid off, with his new album Phase making the top five in the album charts.
So what is there to actually like about this guy? He has that pseudo-indie look down perfectly, and is edgy enough to appear different but conservative enough to appeal to a wide audience. The beard, the hair, his clothes all fly this flag – even his name is nicely weird but normal. Of course, image is only ever really context in relation to the music.
Jack Garratt’s music has been described as indie-pop, trip-hop, PBR&B (I don’t know neither – think it means alternative R&B) and singer/songwriter (my least favourite generic term – so vague and pretentious). He does manage to set himself apart from the huge collection of other white guys with acoustic guitars by not actually brandishing a sole acoustic guitar; he uses the entire cavalry of musical weapons. Loop pedals, electric and acoustic guitars, drums, keyboard – the variety is genuinely quite impressive, further compounded by the fact that he actually plays most of them live at the same time.
This variety makes Phase quite the enjoyable listen – lots of indie-poppy-goodness to sink your teeth into, albeit plenty of melodrama, depressing lyrics and overdone sombreness to hate too. He’s probably the closest thing to a one-man band hovering around the charts at the moment. Live, though, his act comes across as very disjointed – I think he looks a bit silly smashing a loop pedal whilst playing guitar and keyboard; there’s no shame in a backing band, especially if your voice suffers because of it.
Speaking of his voice, there are already countless comparisons flying around with the OTHER ginger singer/songwriter (ginger/songwriter?), Ed Sheeran. Conveniently enough, Sheeran has vowed to take a year out to enjoy the world or something like that, meaning Garratt is primed to fill in the Sheeran-sized hole left in the charts. The brass ring is his to take.
So Jack Garratt is the supposed ‘next big thing’ if any of his latest career moves are anything to go by. He’s definitely in a position to make it – his brand of different same-y-ness in theory should resonate perfectly with today’s popular music audience. Musically, he probably has more development to be getting on with: whilst his album was decent as a whole, the individual songs failed to really stick out – maybe this is why his singles haven’t broken to top 40 just yet. Either way he finds himself in that in-between – will he become ‘the big thing’ or will he fade away like many others before him?