2011 has arguably been the most ballad heavy year chartwise since the late 90s. I'm quite pleased about this, I've always been a big fan of a great ballad and there have been plenty to choose from this year. There seem to be three major reasons that ballads have come back into vogue in a big way in the past 12 months. Firstly, Adele, the woman who is responsible for keeping the music industry alive during 2011. Her beautiful live performance of Someone Like You at the BRIT Awards captured the attention of the public and the song has gone on to sell well over a million copies, despite being from an album that has sold well over three million, and topped charts around the world, including the US where it became her second #1 single recently. As a response, piano ballads are suddenly fashionable again.
The second factor is the age old marketing trick of an effective advertising campaign. John Lewis kicked it off last year with Fyfe Dangerfield's cover of She's Always A Woman and Ellie Goulding's take on Your Song both going on to huge chart success. Since then we've had Charlene Soraia's cover of The Calling's Wherever You Will Go become a top three hit after featuring on an advert for Twinings tea. Now John Lewis are back with a third strike - Slow Moving Millie's take on Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want and even Matalan are getting in on the act - Cinnamon Girl stripping down N-Trance's rave anthem (and my all time favourite song!) Set You Free for their Christmas campaign!
The cult of the 'candlelight mix', a ballad or stripped down piano take on a dance, rock or indie song isn't a new phenomenon of course, DJ Sammy's Heaven, which turned the Bryan Adams rock song into a dance classic is arguably just as popular these days in its ballad form aka 'Yanou's Candlelight Mix' where vocalist Do sings with only a piano accompaniment. It brought a completely different dynamic to the track and seemed to kick start a mass influx of similar remixes with seemingly every dance song coming out since having a complimentary ballad version as a remix. Sometimes they work (Cascada - Everytime We Touch, DHT - Listen To Your Heart) and sometimes they don't (most of the others!). X Factor have got in on the act too now, with acts such as Craig and Janet stripping back everything that they do into ballad form regardless of the theme of the week.
The third factor of the ballad becoming more popular can surely be down to what can only be called 'club banger fatigue'. During 2010 and the first few months of 2011 the charts were absolutely saturated with what felt like 100 different versions of exactly the same song. Usually an American act combining a club beat with a catchy chorus or sample and a shoehorned in rap from either Pitbull or Flo Rida. Songs such as LMFAO's Party Rock Anthem, Pitbull's Give Me Everything, J.Lo's On The Floor and the like. At one point it seemed like everything in the top ten was from this genre and it obviously got a bit too much! Look at the current UK charts and these sorts of songs are barely represented now, instead there's a sea of balladry and MOR, some boybands and some female pop superstars. So will the renewed popularity of the ballad last for long? And when will we get some more original ballads?
As good as these covers might be, and lest we forget the 2011 queen of the ballad cover, 15 year old Birdy, there haven't actually been all that many original ballads around. We've had Someone Like You and Christina Perri's Jar Of Hearts, Lana Del Rey's stunning Video Games and at a stretch The A Team and Lego House by Ed Sheeran. Of course we also have the usual slew of winter ballad releases from the pop bands of the moment - One Direction's Gotta Be You, JLS' Take A Chance On Me and The Saturdays' My Heart Takes Over, but it's still incomparable to the likes of 1998 where two or three original and classic ballads seemed to join the charts each week - Angels, How Do I Live, I Don't Want To Miss A Thing, Truly Madly Deeply, Viva Forever, To You I Belong, Heartbeat, No Matter What, Finally Found and Frozen to name but a few! So whilst I'm pleased to see the return of the ballad, lets hope that we get less covers and more original compositions in time for 2012! Nobody will remember the covers in ten years from now but there's a high chance that the likes of Someone Like You, Jar Of Hearts and The A Team will all go on to become modern day classics!