MTV Base Roundtable Takes No Prisoners With No-Holds-Barred 2019 Review
You might know a roundtable discussion in Nigeria as a generally unspectacular affair where you are likely to hear phrases like “not to put you on the spot…” “subjective judgment,” “shot in the dark” and “break for lunch.” Even a roundtable designed to navigate the minefield of ranking Nigerian music acts based on their past year’s performance rarely deviates from this prosaic style, not least because offering an honest opinion on the subject risks opening the opinion-haver to a storm of blog-fueled controversy and subtweets from disgruntled artists.
When I watched the MTV Base roundtable discussion ranking Nigeria’s top 20 artistes of 2019, I expected a laid-back discussion where half of the participants would defer to the louder voices and say nothing except “Oh yeah, she’s great!” “I love her!” “He had a great year!” “Shout out to him!”
The panel would be made up of people in and around the music business with a vested interest in not upsetting their friends in the industry, and there would be vast amounts of nothing said in as many words as possible, interspersed with nervous laughter and fidgeting.Instead, what I got was as far from that as can be imagined. The only similarity between the roundtable I expected and the one I got was that there was indeed a room of notable music industry insiders sitting around a table that was in fact, round.
It did have the sort of panel you would expect, with OAPs Moet Abebe, N6 and Awazi, hype man Shody and DJ Big N among others in the lineup. Universal Music Nigeria Marketing, Digital and Sales Manager Akinyemi Sholanke AKA Akinizzle and MTV Base Talent and Music Manager Alex Hughes provided the corporate voices on the panel, while VJ Ehiz reprised his role from previous editions as the moderator.
The similarities ended there, however, as it quickly became apparent that this was something new and unprecedented in the history of documenting Nigerian music. This time around, the business of ranking Nigeria’s top 20 music acts from the past year would be vocal, fact-driven, fearless and yet deliciously subjective and a whole lot of fun.
How do you rank successful music? Do you use stream and download counts as the sole metric? Do you measure the artist’s brand visibility and chart rankings? Do you count their performances and tours? Perhaps include their awards, collaborations and international achievements? How about all of the above?
The ranking was determined using a metric that took all of these things into account without reducing the conversation to a series of zeros and ones. While by no means minimising the underlying subjectivity, which makes it fun, the roundtable did a surprisingly scientific job of separating individual preferences and hype from objective judgment. For example, in what to me was perhaps the biggest surprise of the show, Zlatan was ranked in third place above Naira Marley, which seemed utterly counterintuitive to me until N6 and DJ Big N wheeled out the facts.
They pointed out that despite the viral Marlian phenomenon that has made him everyone’s favourite bad boy guilty pleasure, Naira Marley actually had fewer performances and endorsements, and lower industry impact in terms of streaming numbers than his good friend did in 2019. If I had been asked, I would instinctively have put Zlatan below our hero, but the evidence was undeniable. This was a pattern that repeated itself throughout the show, deciding several cliffhangers between artists that one might instinctively not be able to choose between.
In one notable faceoff between Teni and Patoranking (which I must say I personally found unconscionable, because Teni clearly had a better year in my blinkered, biased and unscientific eyes), the show even took the decision to the streets when it seemed as if the panel was deadlocked. In what should be headline news to nobody, the answer that came back from four of the five respondents was of course, Teni. Was it ever in doubt?
Shades, Subs and Savage Comments
The other major takeaway from the roundtable was how brutally honest the panelists were prepared to be. There was none of that “I can’t separate these two because they both had a fantastic year” stuff. This time around, even when the numbers failed to do the trick, the panelists were never shy to dig into the matter and express their opinions in all their gloriously salacious honesty.
The example of this that all but knocked me off my seat was during a ranking comparison came up between Yemi Alade and Niniola for 15th place (before eventually being bumped down to 17th), After comparing their numbers and metrics failed to separate them, Shody dropped a pearler: “Yes she dropped an album, but I will ask everybody at this table – can you sing two songs off that album?”
What was even more remarkable was that instead of the shocked Arctic silence you might ordinarily expect after that comment, the other panelists barely skipped a beat and responded immediately. This to me, was a sign that the Nigerian music industry is finally getting to a place where criticism (even of the eye-watering Shody variety) is now very much a thing, and apparently the artists involved do not take it personal – or at least are no longer expected to do so.
The closest thing I can liken the experience of watching the roundtable heartily praise and pan Nigerian artists in equal measure without any hard feelings is that of reading Pitchfork, the iconic online music magazine which recently slammed former One Direction band memberLiam Payne’s debut solo album with the following headline:
“One Direction was created because Simon Cowell didn’t have much faith in the boys’ potential as solo artists. Liam Payne’s debut proves him right.”On the balance of things, it is probably for the best that former P-Square member Rudeboy did well enough to get onto the ranking without being compared with his previous iteration. Goodness knows what Shody or Awazi would have said in response to this absolute corker from N6: “I don’t think Rudeboy sang the broke boyfriends’ anthem of the year for you guys to put him at 20.”
Ultimately, what the MTV Base Roundtable 2019 represents is an exciting departure from the norm in Nigeria’s entertainment space. It would seem as though a nascent tradition of strong but objective criticism spiced with deliciously snarky commentary of the Pitchfork variety now has a place in the industry. Hopefully the artistes will understand the importance of platforms like this and embrace the cheers and shades equally.
That, or the panel members should probably not go to the proverbial ‘mainland’ for a few months.