Who is Jacob Collier? Here's why some fans hate and some love the surprise Grammy 2021 Album of the Year nominee
A self-declared autodidact, he first gained recognition when he started posting multi-instrumental videos to YouTube in 2011
Jacob Collier is little known in the music fandom dominated by the likes of Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes but he has surpassed his other counterparts for three Grammy nods, including Album of the Year for 'Djesse Vol 3', R&B performance and Best Arrangement, Instrumental and Vocals. Counted among the one too many surprise nominations this year, not many people know he already has four Grammy Awards. In 2017, he won for 'Flintstones' and 'You and I' and in 2020, he clinched those trophies for 'All Night Long' and 'Moon River'.
Raised by his violinist single mother Susan Collier in north London with two younger sisters Sophie and Ella, he grew up learning new rhythms and tunes. His maternal grandfather, Derek Collier, was also a violinist and even taught at the Royal Academy. "We sing Bach chorales together as family – it's just so much fun," the YouTube sensation once said. At 8, he started taking singing lessons and attained the highest mark in the country for his Grade 8 singing when he was 14.
A self-declared autodidact, he first gained recognition when he started posting multi-instrumental videos to YouTube in 2011. When his clips caught the attention of Quincy Jones, he was flown to the Montreux Jazz Festival. Interestingly, he has made an appearance at Coachella as well — in 2017, he played alongside Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams. “The thing now is just to do more and more stuff, and things could go like this, or like this,” Collier said in a 2015 interview with Jazzwise. “I definitely don’t want to close any doors, I just want to keep opening them.”
What's surprising is that despite his success, many music lovers criticize him more than they love them. Wondering why is that the case, a Reddit thread sheds light on fans' opinion of Collier. Clarifying "I hope to not come off as accusatory or confrontational, I'm just genuinely curious," one Reddit fan asked, "It's one thing to just not like someone's music — I totally get that. But it seems that many people here have some issue with him personally, and the ways he thinks and talks about music. I've seen a few comments saying that the things he talks about aren't 'really theory'... If he is sharing his theories on music, that sounds like the definition of a music theory to me?"
Another music lover replied, "He's obviously skilled and I think as a teacher he probably has a lot to offer (although this is based mostly on assumption — the only time I've actually heard him talk about music is the video where he explains music to 5 different people of different levels of music education, and it seemed like he has a natural way of connecting with whoever he is teaching, which is a great skill to have as a teacher). That said, I've listened to several of his songs and none of them did anything for me... Similarly, his harmonic language is really uninteresting to me, perhaps because he just saturates everything with as much harmonic information as he possibly can. His sound is really not very unique in the things that I've heard. It sounds like a pastiche of all hipster jazz sensibilities being jammed into my ears."
However, another fan didn't agree with that notion. "He seems like a genuinely lovely guy, has a fantastic knack for teaching, and having seen him perform his one-man show in an intimate setting, can confirm that he’s an astonishingly skilled multi-instrumentalist. However, be it overzealous composition or otherwise, his pieces often tend to come off as academic curiosities as opposed to...I don’t know. It’s not even as though it’s braggadocio in a ‘look how much I can do!’ sense, it’s more just this burning, childlike wonder of ‘look how much can be done’ as he’s just got this incessant love and curiosity of music and how far it can be taken."
Sketching out why some people hate him, the Reddit user clarified: "In terms of ‘hating’ him, jealousy could be a factor on many levels — ability, decent-looking and an affluent background could all attribute to that." Another fan added, "Agreed, I think he’s a much better theorist than composer/performer." Calling his music "dense", one said, "Speaking from my personal experience, I can say that I genuinely enjoy the music. And not just from a technical perspective. A few of his songs have made me cry, and those that don't are very exciting to me."
Another fan broke down the theory about why he really is hated or loved. "At some deeper level, Jacob Collier has many people here shook and uncomfortable. Love or hate his music, the guy is clearly two things: 1) Young and 2) Ridiculously talented and creative. He's is proof that intense dedication pays off, and that natural ability (a spark of aptitude) might be a thing. This kid is opening for Herbie Hancock," the post read.
He continued, "To amateur musicians/theorists like most of us here...that's scary. We're only getting older, and Jacob Collier is light-years beyond in terms of musical ability, multi-instrumentalism, theory chops, and productivity. On one hand, that can be inspiring. On the other, it can be intimidating and uncomfortable, especially when you see how much adoration and respect he gets (from people like us, and legends like Hancock)."
What do you think about these arguments and which side are you on? Share your thoughts in the comments below.