2017 has been quite a year for music. It was the year Latin music made the breakthrough into the international charts it’s long deserved.
We might not have expected that breakthrough into the mainstream to come courtesy of a Canadian teen idol, but then Justin Bieber is often underestimated by the snootier elements of the music industry.
His collaboration with Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee on “Despacito” has been everywhere this year, and I’m not even tired of it yet. It was a phenomenal song before Justin Bieber got involved…but afterwards, it just lit up the charts.
As a long-term fan of Latin music, I hope we hear a lot more of it in the charts from now on.
But if “Despacito” was the breakthrough song of 2017, and Latin the breakthrough genre, who was the breakthrough act?
I’d give that award to Rory Graham, better known under his stage name of Rag ’n’ Bone Man. Although his single “Human” was released in late 2016, it was still one of the best-selling records of 2017.
That’s when you know you’ve crossed that divide between “flash in the pan” and “someone who’s made it”…when you’re still in the best-selling records listings a year after your song came out.
“Human” missed out on the Christmas Number One slot in 2016, peaking at Number Two, but went on to secure Gold, Platinum and then 2x Platinum status in the UK during the first half of 2017. It just kept selling and selling and selling.
In a music industry that’s got rather too many manufactured bands and become rather too corporate in its outlook, Rag ’n’ Bone Man is anything but manufactured and corporate.
He’s been slogging away for years, making music for an audience that might have included his mum and his best mate, but probably not too many other people. Not that his work was bad…far from it…just under-appreciated and not getting the traction he needed to reach a wider audience.
That said, “Human” is in a slightly different style to his earlier hip-hop output. What’s interesting about “Human” though is that, although it’s an entirely different style of song, you can still hear the hip-hop history in it.
Normally hip-hop is doffing its cap to earlier musical styles that have since been surpassed. With “Human”, Rag ’n’ Bone Man has somehow transcended hip-hop and is doffing his cap to the hip-hop tradition from somewhere far beyond it.
The style of “Human” is hard to pin down, but it’s definitely very soulful.
A lot of the soulfulness comes from Rag ’n’ Bone Man’s tremendous voice. It wouldn’t have seemed out of place making records for Motown in the 1960s. It comes from somewhere deep inside, like soul music should.
This is a serious song that deserves our serious consideration, not some transient, disposable piece of pop. Rag ’n’ Bone Man’s voice makes us sit up and pay attention.
I see this song as a commentary on the frailty of people and our strange willingness to invest faith in other human beings…which rarely works out well, it has to be said, especially in a year when so many “much-loved family men” have turned out to be appalling human beings who treated other people dreadfully just because they had the power their victims lacked.
No, 2017 hasn’t been a great year for humanity. We can…and should…be doing a lot better than that.
But, as much as “Human” is about the frailties of other humans, it’s also about our own frailties.
With some people their frailty is that they have far too high an opinion of themselves. With others, their frailty is that their opinion of themselves is far too low.
Take a look in the mirror
And what do you see
Do you see it clearer
Or are you deceived
In what you believe
But if “Human” is a song about not judging ourselves, it’s also a song about not judging others…or perhaps even more importantly, not being honest with ourselves or not letting other people be honest about us…
Don’t ask my opinion
Don’t ask me to lie
Then beg for forgiveness
For making you cry
And there you have the challenge of being human.
We aren’t good at making judgements about ourselves, and we’re not that great at making judgements about other people either. Nor are we all that great with accepting the sincere views of others, if we happen to disagree with them.
Once you accept that, it’s not difficult to see why the world is beset with challenges…in fact, it makes it even more of a miracle that anything good and positive ever happens at all.
Yet good and positive things do happen…and they happen millions of times around the world every day…in big ways and small ways…and despite our natural human tendencies to screw anything up if we possibly can.
Maybe that’s the message of “Human”. Despite all our (mainly self-inflicted) problems, the world has good and bad in it, like it always has.
On balance, in the medium to long term, good always wins.
But in the short-term, the world can…metaphorically…be going in at the half-time break in a football match 5 goals behind, before storming through the second half to win 7–5 by the final whistle.
It’s arguably a long way round, and the human race often makes things more difficult than they have to be, but maybe that’s what made these words resonate with so many people in the last year…
I’m only human
I make mistakes
I’m only human
That’s all it takes
To put the blame on me
Don’t put the blame on me
Rag ‘n’ Bone Man has had a fantastic 2017. I hope his well-deserved success continues into 2018. Songwriting skills like his, and those of co-writer Jamie Hartman, deserve a wider audience.
Here’s Rag ’n’ Bone Man with “Human”…
The video is below, but if you prefer to listen on Spotify, you can find today’s song here… https://open.spotify.com/track/58zsLZPvfflaiIbNWoA22O