Spring 2022 brought war, rising energy costs and the end of the Kermode & Mayo Film Programme on BBC 5Live, which was first broadcast in 2001 around the time of NOW 50. 20 years before NOW 111 came out, Coldplay were beginning to have hits, Billie Eilish was a foetus in her mummy’s tummy and we couldn’t get Kylie Minogue out of our heads. There was also war in Afghanistan and high petrol prices. History just repeats itself over and over again.
You’ve got your Coldplay, your Eilish and your Kylie on NOW 111 but Disc One track one is notable as the song with the most vocalists to have ever been credited to any UK chart-topper. As well as the cast of Encanto, there are solos for Stephanie Beatriz (Mirabel), Carolina Gaitan aka La Gaita (Aunt Pepa), Mauro Castillo (Uncle Felix), Adassa (cousin Dolores), Rhenzy Feliz (cousin Camilo) and Diane Guerrero (sister Isabella). Incredibly, the song about anti-hero Bruno whom ‘we don’t talk about, no no no!’, was a bigger hit than the movie’s intro song The Family Madrigal and Surface Pressure, Jessica Darrow’s aria as sister Luisa.
All three were UK Top 10 hits and brought Disney back into the charts for the first time since The Greatest Showman had a lock on culture in 2018. Smart speakers being ordered to PLAY ENCANTO! were probably behind the popularity of the soundtrack. For anyone who hadn’t seen the film, which came to Disney+ over Christmas 2021, a Latin pop song outlining the mysterious nature of Bruno, who predicts the future whether it is good or bad, was a strange song to break out from the movie. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius was to tie together four vocal strands in an operatic style and, having triumphed on Broadway with Hamilton, his work finally hit the top of the UK charts too. There must be an Encanto sequel in the works.
Otherwise, winter 2021/22 was a familiar story. Ed Sheeran fought a court case while Shivers (Disc One track two) hung around after more or less replacing Bad Habits at number one. Justin Bieber (Ghost), Jax Jones & MNEK (the No Mercy homage Where Did You Go?) and Joel Corry & Mabel (the itchily addictive I Wish) kept up their hot hit streaks. Lost Frequencies got into the top five with Where Are You Now, a boring dance-pop tune about a girl who is like a dance-pop tune ‘going round and round my head’ sung by Calum Scott.
The Weeknd three-times on NOW 111, with his own hit Sacrifice, Post Malone collaboration One Right Now (for the streaming numbers rather than to make great art) and a vocal on Moth To A Flame, the comeback smash for Swedish House Mafia, who have houses to afford. Otherwise the blokes are back: fresh from a BRIT Award, Silk Sonic (aka Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak) are Smokin Out The Window; George Ezra’s perky first taster of his third album Anyone But You is the third track on Disc One; and Shawn Mendes laments his break-up with ballad It’ll Be Okay.
Liam Gallagher, who is 50 years old later in 2022, readies his third solo album Cmon You Know with a Dave Grohl co-write called Everything’s Electric. Liam backs up his old mate Richard Ashcroft from The Verve on a new version of Richard’s solo track C’mon People (We’re Making It Now), which was playlisted on Radio 2, as was the dull track Let Somebody Go by Coldplay and Selena Gomez, who were put together for the streaming numbers rather than to make great art.
The BBC’s home of Adult Contemporary music has also spun songs by Tears for Fears (Break The Man), Westlife (My Hero, their take on drill music…nope, it’s another ballad, written by Ed Sheeran), Michael Buble (I’ll Never Not Love You) and Elton John & Stevie Wonder, from Elton’s lockdown collaborations album (Finish Line). Elton turned 75 years old on March 25, while Stevie is 72 in May; as they ease into retirement, their legacy will only grow. We still hear Your Song and Superstition two generations after they were written, and we’ll hear them in 2070 too.
I reckon Yola has a chance of being played then; notionally a country act, the Bristol-born singer is now based in Nashville and has Radio 2 supporting her second album Stand For Myself, which features the wonderful single Dancing Away In Tears. If anyone hasn’t yet heard of Yola, they soon will as she’s in the Elvis biopic which finally gets a release this summer.
It seems unfair to ask if, in 2070, we will hear NOW 111 selections by Bastille (Shut Off The Lights), Ella Henderson (Brave), Foals (Wake Me Up) and Doja Cat (Woman), which are all key releases by major labels in Q1-Q2 2022. Summer Walker and SZA are paired up on the dull, beat-driven No Love while Craig David and MNEK join forces on the far more melodic Who You Are, which had regular rotation on Radio 2 even though MNEK is more usually found on Radio 1. I think they could put on a great show together and I would commission an album if I were an executive.
In the Faceless Dance Act section are Tiesto with The Motto, featuring the bored vocals of Ava Max, and Sigala with the song Melody. This is a bit of fluff with lyrics delivered by a nameless vocalist in the modern triplet-y cadence and it should really be called Nirvana because that seems to be the key word in the chorus. Alesso borrows Katy Perry from her gig hosting American Idol while raising a young baby on When I’m Gone, and Meduza ropes in Hozier on Tell It To My Heart, which is a waste of the talents of the Irish vocalist who was last heard on a version of the Maren Morris ballad The Bones.
Two club-friendly Top 10 hits are high up the tracklist. ACRAZE sample Cherish’s r’n’b number Do It To It, speed it up and stick a beat underneath it to have a hit, while Colin Hay’s vocal is set to a drum’n’bass loop by Luude to bring Down Under back into the charts. Irish dance duo Belters Only use the voice of Jazzy, who sidles up to a guy in the club and asks her to Make Me Feel Good. The song is two minutes too long.
There are certain pop songs from the start of 2022 that should have been much bigger hits. Charli XCX and Rina Sawayama combine on Beg For You, which peaked at 29, and Charlie Puth’s Light Switch (number 31!) is almost a present to his fans, who have been clamouring for him to put out the song that uses the switch sound as a hook. The man is a genius and he’ll make a lot of money, even as he may never again have a top 10 hit.
Since 1999, Muse have been doing what they do, guitar-saturated synthpop, to a core fanbase who buy their albums and fill stadia to see their spectacles. Those who are still interested will enjoy Won’t Stand Down, which is track 25 on Disc One. Track 23 is Enemy, by Imagine Dragons and JID, from the series Arcane League of Legends, proving that video games are helping bands sell concert tickets too. Interscope Records know where the wind is blowing.
Interscope also run the career of Billie Eilish, whose Bond theme No Time To Die finally makes it onto a NOW compilation. Aptly, there are songs from the young ladies who get major-label funding to make hay (and return on investment) where Eilish’s sun shines. There’s Lauren Spencer-Smith (Fingers Crossed), Mimi Webb (the pulsating House On Fire), Gayle (who had a number one with abc) and Tate McRae (the electro-pop rush of She’s All I Wanna Be); good luck telling them apart in a police line-up.
Britain’s answer to Eilish or to Olivia Rodrigo, who spent 2022 preparing for a world tour, is Holly Humberstone, whose song London Is Lonely is so close to Driver’s License that Olivia may take her to court. Willow Smith, recording as Willow, teams up with The Anxiety and Tyler Cole on the quirky, hook-laden Meet Me At Our Spot. I wouldn’t have put money on Will Smith’s daughter leading the pop-punk revival, but nothing is predictable about modern life any more.
The most interesting song by any of these young women is Go by Cat Burns, a kiss-off with an acoustic guitar bed. Cat is a dark-skinned black woman who came through the BRIT School with a strong voice and a big TikTok following who is, according to her online bio, ‘helping you get through shit one song at a time’. There’s a lot of swearing on Go, which is cleaned up on NOW 111, and Sony Music should throw money at Cat Burns to make her the same sort of superstar as Arlo Parks and Little Simz, who are critical darlings with the same sort of independent spirit.
The BBC Sound of 2022 is PinkPantheress, the daughter of a Kenyan carer and an English stats professor. Through a combination of Soundcloud and TikTok, the buzz behind her led to a record deal with Elektra Records. Just For Me, which sounds like 2022, makes it onto NOW 111, which does not contain any of these promising British rappers or rapper crews: Kojey Radical, Bad Boy Chiller Crew, Hazey, Central Cee, A1 & J1, Aitch, Dave, Stormzy or D-Block Europe. Representing them all is Brighton rapper ArrDee, whose song Flowers (Say My Name) samples the 2000 hit by Sweet Female Attitude which, significantly, purchasers of the compilation may know.
Years & Years, now an Olly Alexander solo project akin to Bon Iver or The Divine Comedy, team up with Galantis for the phenomenal sugar rush of Sweet Talker. The fact that it only got to number 26 is a travesty, but Olly can still sell out Wembley Arena. Olly himself two-times on NOW 111 with Hallucination, another hit from Kosovo’s top DJ Regard, while his mate Kylie in turn uses the talents of Jessie Ware on her disco-funk throwback Kiss of Life.
Kylie’s career stretches back to 1988, and she has outlasted the soap opera where she first came to prominence. Neighbours ends later in 2022 having not found a network to broadcast on. Maybe Netflix will pick it up…