James Bay has had a huge year. Winning the British Critic’s Choice Award, playing Glastonbury for the first time, and releasing a number 1 album in March, it would be fair to describe his rise as meteoric. With several famous faces claiming to be fans, it seems Bay is destined to continue onwards and upwards. But what makes this singer/songwriter so special?
When looking at Bay, he looks like a record label executive’s dream ticket. A wholesome, laid-back image, simple, poppy songs; his look is even instantly recognisable without being edgy enough to alienate or offend any potential audiences. But herein lies the problem. There’s nothing unique about him at all. He may as well be James Blunt without the hilarious Twitter activity.
His winning of the British Critic’s Choice Awards is confusing. Whilst his music isn’t horrible per se, it doesn’t exactly light the world on fire. By all accounts, debut album Chaos and the Calm was far more calm than chaos with neither of the two most well-known singles being particularly outstanding. Let it Go is a middle-of-the-road folk-pop ballad about a dysfunctional relationship, with an uneventful chorus and an uneven lyrical effort. Generic in nature but technically proficient, it pales in comparison to the much better Hold Back the River. Slightly more upbeat, it is again a solid yet unspectacular song, showcasing Bay’s technical ability and singing prowess. Bay, as both a performer and writer, lacks charisma. He lacks any sort of tangible ‘It’ factor, and seems to mainly be a product of what is currently popular rather than brandishing his own personality or refreshing ability.
Even his Glastonbury performance shed light on his lack of identity: skinny jeans, wide-brimmed hat and long messy hair does not a rockstar make, which he was clearly trying to be at the festival. His performance, again, wasn’t really bad, it just lacked any sort of spark. The stage seemed to swallow him, and his performance was littered with cheers for the One Direction members being shown on screen from the side of the stage. The light rain during his set hit the perfect tone – not something people enjoy but definitely tolerable given the right setting.
Yet, Bay has still succeeded and looks poised to continue to do so. His set at Glastonbury will have earned him many new fans, whilst the One Direction association will likely blossom into a fully-fledged fan base. The question is whether or not he will develop an actual artistic personality as his fame continues to grow, or if he’ll continue to make the same, paint-by-the-numbers folk pop that currently saturates the charts.