A thought occurred to me today as I was clipping my toenails and weeping over a Youtube clip of Sophie Griffin for the eight hundredth time. At first I thought the egg of Damocles was still hovering above my head but, upon closer inspection, the object appeared to me not as an egg but as a dimly flickering light bulb that posed an interesting question. Who signs the winner of The Voice?
Of course, having done at least some research before the series began, I knew it would be Universal. But that means very little in specific terms. Universal Music Group is something of a Hydra –a mythically powerful, muli-faceted beast that grows two new heads from every neck that is severed. There isn’t just a Universal Records like there used to be. There’s Interscope-Geffen-A&M, a label which (unsurprisingly) covers the subsidiary Interscope Records, Geffen Records and A&M Records. There’s Island Def Jam, which covers Island and Def Jam as well as Mercury and Motown. The list goes on.
So who signs up the winner of The Voice? The answer is Universal Republic, a label that boasts a roster featuring, among others, Amy Winehouse, Claire Maguire, Florence + The Machine, India Arie, Jack Johnson as well as rock favourites The Who and The Rolling Stones. It’s not all one-sided of course – Universal Republic also represent Taylor Swift, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, although the latter two are on the subsidiary Young Money label which is unlikely to be signing the winner of The Voice. The point is that Universal Republic seems to lean slightly on the adult side of pop – at least it does so in comparison to sibling labels like Interscope and Defjam.
Naturally, this information is irrelevant, right? Because The Voice is a competition in which the public vote for a fair-and-square winner based on unbiased allegiances. RIGHT? Hmm…
I should make something crystal clear, lest someone at The Beeb wheel the lawyers out at me, as Simon Cowell did in response to the BGT-Ronan Park fix fiasco (he supposedly called the police as well, the diva). I do not, in any way, claim to suspect the possibility that producers of TV music competitions have any kind of agenda or start a series with a winner in mind. That would be evil and the TV would never do that to me. Having said that, punters should always consider the dark alternatives, just to keep an open mind and safeguard their investments.
With X Factor it was relatively simple. Simon Cowell wore a hat of three corners that signified him as talent-show judge, TV executive and record label tyrant. If he wanted a particular performer for his Syco label, he didn’t need a spy behind the scenes or a rep on the judging panel to apply pressure. He was everywhere.
I think now is the time to start thinking about how this works for The Voice and its relationship with Universal Republic. It seems likely that the label will have required some assurance that the BBC would coax the public into selecting a winner worthy of Universal Republic’s roster. It seems unlikely that Universal Republic would be satisfied with a win by, say, Matt & Sueleen or Samuel Buttery. These people just don’t seem like money-spinners. Of course, this is all wild speculation and I don’t believe that anyone, ever, in the world would manipulate anything (ever) but the minute I scanned the U.R. roster, my first thought was “JAZ ELLINGTON AND RUTH BROWN” shortly followed by “AND DAVID JULIEN AND MAYBE EVEN A LITTLE BIT OF BECKY HILL”.
It seems increasingly clear that The Voice has dreams of creating the next Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight or Bob Dylan – rather than the next Rihanna or Justin Bieber. With that in mind, should punters be paying more attention to the labels that sign competition winners in order to predict producers’ intentions? I don’t know how useful this track of thinking will prove but it’s certainly worth a ponder.
Interestingly, Javier Colon (HA! COLON!), the winner of The Voice U.S. Season 1, is also signed to Universal Republic. And his particular brand of pop definitely leans more towards the soulful, adult market than the tween pool.
Am I barking up the wrong tree? Leading myself up the garden path? Getting my knickers in a twist? Let me know!