It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been an entire year of living during a global pandemic. It’s a concept we’ve analyzed for months at this point as time as gone on, but it’s even weirder to comprehend as the world is on pause, artists on the up and up are continuing to hustle and pursue their dreams as musicians as hard as ever. While 2020 was obviously a shit year for billions of people, it is a nice thought to remember how many artists we’ve discovered in the confines of our bedrooms or on our daily walks in our neighborhoods. There’s a light at the end of the (long) tunnel, and I hope we can all hold on and get there together.
Below is a compilation of 21 artists we’re excited to see take on the new year—you can listen to their music extensively on this playlist. Enjoy!
In alphabetical order:
I feel like I’ve written about this sentiment thousands of times up until this point, but do you ever stumble upon a (relatively) undiscovered artist you’ve never heard of and just ~know~ in your bones that they’re destined to be a star? That’s exactly how I felt about Baby Queen when I first heard her debut single “Internet Religion” back in early summer 2020. Like I wrote in our Artist of The Month feature, Baby Queen has an undeniable ability of writing about what it’s like to live as a young woman in 2020 and our relationship with the internet. She takes the feeling of anxiety and dread combined with the “I need to show off my new shoes!” and combines it all into one narrative—one that is catchy, snarky, and self-deprecating all in one.
So far into her career, Baby Queen has released seven original songs and a handful of covers, gaining tons of press from well-respected culture shifters in the music industry as well hundreds of thousands of monthly listeners along the way. – Kristin
Do you ever DM your favorite artist or their team with hopes to connect after the show for a quick selfie? Well, that’s exactly what 21-year-old Beaux South did, and it landed him a record deal. While South was attending Reading Festival in 2019, he DM’d Dirty Hit Records label head Jamie Oborne after watching The 1975’s set. According to an interview in NME, South sent Oborne a link to his music and the rest is history.
Like the greats before him, Beaux dropped the last name after getting signed to Dirty Hit and releasing his first official EP in 2020. – Kristin
With an Artist Spotlight and a mention on “Our Most Anticipated Album Releases of 2021 — So Far” in the books, my affinity for Beach Riot is no secret. The UK-based quartet’s sound is twofold: fun and infectious.
The band announced their plans for a triumphant return to the live circuit in the summer of 2021, following their debut album release Subatomic Party Cool. Rory O’Connor emphasizes that this release will be laden with, “SEXY FUZZY LOUD ENERGETIC POP NOISE. With a couple of unexpected dreamy gems thrown in that you might not think we’d have in the collection” (Artist Spotlight, Chicago Haze). An Instagram post from February 13 suggests the band is hard at work, as they promise, “big things are coming that [they] cannot wait to share” (Beach Riot, Instagram).
Our stoke levels are off the charts. – Sean
I’ve discussed this extensively on my Instagram page and a few times in posts here and there, but I was (and quite honestly, still am) an American Idol stan. While I’ve fallen off the bandwagon of watching entire seasons, I do love watching the auditions, and there’s something so special and ridiculously overmanufactured about them, but boy do they GET me! Anyway, Briston Maroney was on American Idol back in the day (2014), and though he didn’t make it entirely to the end, he did make it fairly far, and has been releasing music ever since.
His debut album, Sunflower, is dropping in April, and will be paired with a film created by Maroney and longtime collaborator Joey Brodnax. Maroney’s singles thus far have been incredibly well-received, re-imagining “alt-Americana” with hints of rock and even punk-pop vocals. Sunflower was produced by John Congleton, Dan Wilson, Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, and more. – Kristin
The Brook & The Bluff
Do you like listening to four white guys from Birmingham sing soul-styled indie rock? The Brook & The Bluff’s bread and butter are close, warm harmonies, as displayed on the Nashville-via-Birmingham quartet’s 2019 debut album First Place. The band’s indie take on decades-old blues and soul sounds generates instant classics like “Halfway Up” and “Off the Lawn” that sound like something you’ve heard while grabbing a classy drink downtown. The covers on the band’s YouTube displays their eclectic influences: Childish Gambino, the Beach Boys, a viral boygenius cover, and, as one would expect from a band who wrote a song about Eleanor Rigby and Father Mackenzie’s star-crossed love, many Beatles covers.
A folkier version of Local Natives, the band’s indie take on threads of decades-old R&B, folk, and soul sounds generates instant classics like “Halfway Up” and “Off the Lawn” that sound like something you’ve heard while grabbing a classy drink downtown. Rumor has it that the band has been working on some new music, which I am impatiently waiting for. – Brittany
Along with Claud, Charlie Hickey is quickly becoming one of the key new players in the Phoebe Bridgers Cinematic Universe. At age 13, he became friends with a high school Bridgers who eventually introduced him to her drummer Marshall Vore, who produced Hickey’s debut EP Count the Stairs, due out February 26. Bridgers also contributes backing vocals to both of the singles Hickey has released so far, “No Good at Lying” and “Ten Feet Tall.” Hickey’s music combines a sonorous, ASMR version of The 1975 frontman Matty Healy’s voice with Phoebe Bridgers’ songwriting sensibilities. “I think I’ve seen this movie before / I’m gonna be the one who tries to push the pulling door,” he sings on “Ten Feet Tall.”
In another universe, we’d be watching Charlie Hickey open for a Phoebe Bridgers tour right now, but until then, we’ll eagerly wait for his debut EP. – Brittany
If Adele and Chicago Haze favorite LÉON had a love child, it would be Charlotte Cardin, the 26-year-old singer/songwriter from Ontario, Canada. It’s honestly incredibly confusing why Cardin’s music hasn’t exploded, considering how well-crafted her music is and just how stunning her vocal performance is. Her first release dropped back in 2016, and she’s been consistently dropping music since. Cardin’s debut album is set to release April 9, and she’s been sharing singles ahead of the project with “Daddy” (a song that took two years to release) and her most recent, “Meaningless.” If it takes a global pandemic for Cardin to get her moment, I’m looking forward to it. – Kristin
The longer I write about music and constantly investigate Spotify playlists, journalists’ artists to watch, and the depths of my For You Page on TikTok, the more I realize that I am no longer the target demographic of a lot of musicians releasing music, and it’s likely that artists I’ve never heard of have incredibly well-built followings of millions of people. That’s exactly what I realized when I combed through 20-year-old Christian Leave (real name Christian Akridge)’s social media pages.
The Oklahoma-native has over 200,000 YouTube subscribers, 500k on Insta, and apparently was one of the first Vine stars (RIP). Since the demise of 6-second-videos, Leave has been releasing music even more frequently (though he actually started pre-Vine in 2015) and just released a new EP, Heavy Hitting Hurts My Head. Leave describes his music as “shoegaze, alternative rock,” but I’d argue the sound is genre bending in an even bigger way. – Kristin
Fresh off her impressive EP Can You Hear Me Now, rising bedroom pop star Elio is one to watch. Under the guidance of electropop queen and proverbial cool girl Charli XCX, the Welsh-Canadian singer has proven herself an impressive addition to the DIY pop scene. While she has yet to announce any future EPs or full-length releases, fans are eagerly awaiting a remix of her 2021 track “CHARGER,” featuring Charli XCX. First teased by Charli on Twitter, the remix is set to release today (February 19).
It may be too soon to tell if Elio will rise to the ranks of Clairo, the ranking homemade pop star of the moment, but coming out the gate with such a strong debut EP—and Charli XCX in her corner– suggests you will hear her name again. – Emma O.
Every once in a while, a song title is so irresistible that you have to drop everything to indulge in it. When I was scrolling through twenty-year-old Eliza McLamb’s Spotify profile after stumbling across her TikTok, I knew I had to listen to “Porn Star Tits.” While I had no idea what to expect, what I heard was a biting takedown of the weightiness of the male gaze (Then they trade that shit like Pokemon cards/Swapping my body for somebody else’s/That’s metrically hotter than mine/How can I, a seven, compete with all these nines?).
From then on, I was sold. The other tracks on her “Memos” EP are equally stellar but are understated, raw repackagings of the complications of young love. She’s a songwriter with a lethal Phoebe Bridgers-like combination of moroseness and bite poised to skyrocket this year. – Emma M.
In early 2020, I heard “Wolves” by Jensen McRae, an artist whose music I had never heard of but whose music made me cry on the first listen. “Wolves” is a song about sexual assault, and initially inspired after McRae was in the studio with her producer, discussing the R.Kelly documentary. Since my first discovery of McRae, she’s released a handful of other songs, including a collaboration with Joy Oladokun and most recently, a song titled “Immune,” that was initially based off a tweet about how Phoebe Bridgers would write a post-pandemic lullaby. The tweet gained some impressive attention, leading to McRae recording the track and releasing soon after. “Immune” comes ahead of the debut, untitled album, slated to be released sometime in 2021. She also just released a collaboration with X Ambassadors that you can check out here. – Kristin
Though they planned to tour to promote their debut EP in 2020, Kid Sistr pivoted to TikTok to build an audience during the pandemic. But unlike many other viral Gen Z artists, Kid Sistr is a rock band in the truest sense. The young trio of New York natives released their debut EP in 2020, featuring the obviously sassy “Please Dump Him,” nostalgic “Little Sister Song,” and picture-perfect rock ballad “Dallas.”
Their music to date is an infectious mix of mainstream pop traditions, 2000s alternative production, and the confessionalism of great singer-songwriters. Fans of The Regrettes will love the whip-smart writing and classic rock loyalty. – Emma M.
One of the most underrated debut albums of 2020 belonged to Loyal Lobos, the Colombia-born and LA-based artist Andrea Silva. Everlasting is a hazy alt-pop record that honors her heritage with Spanish language lyrics and unpacks femininity, sexuality, and youth. With Latin artists like Rosalia and Bad Bunny reaching widespread popularity in the U.S., smaller acts like Loyal Lobos have an opportunity to provide indie alternatives to American listeners interested in exploring Spanish language music.
Though it’s unclear what plans Andrea has for 2021, her existing music has garnered a slow burn of critical attention since its release. – Loyal Lobos
After experiencing Beach Riot for the first time, I simply couldn’t settle. I needed more of the bass-laden bombastics I previously fell in love with. After scouring Spotify for similar vibes, LUNA AURA’s rebellious and groovy take on alternative indie fell into my lap. LUNA AURA acts as a singing, songwriting and producing triple-threat. Her creativity shines bright on each track as each clearly experiments with fresh instrumental takes and tempos.
LUNA AURA released her six-piece EP titled THREE CHEERS FOR THE AMERICAN BEAUTY in October of 2020. At the time of this article’s inception, future projects have not been teased; I can promise you that the artist’s socials will be carefully monitored during the coming months. The EP’s second track, HONEY, hit two-million spins on January 27, 2021 — a clear indication that LUNA AURA’s popularity is on the rise (LUNA AURA, Twitter). – Sean
Madeleine Mayi, our Artist of the Month for February, just independently released her debut full-length 2/14 on Valentine’s Day. The record explores the emotions Mayi’s past February 14ths have caused, moving from loss and denial to bereavement and then hope, ultimately exploring the stages of grief in ways that allow the listener to reflect upon their own experiences with bereavement.
The rising LA-based artist used more R&B and blues-inspired sounds on her EPs shy (2018) and Just the Six of Us (2017), but has evolved her sound to a slinky indie pop-rock on 2/14, combining elements from artists like Maggie Rogers, James Blake, Moses Sumney, and Bon Iver. Mayi’s been at work on more music, and though 2/14 just dropped, we’re interested to see where she goes next. – Brittany
Though she’s only twenty years old, Mallory Merk writes with the soft wisdom of someone beyond her years. Raised in Harlem and New Jersey and now a Venice Beach native, she became a model at a young age for brands like Pat McGrath, Gucci, Fenty, and Yeezy. Now, she sings about addiction, mental illness, and heartbreak accompanied by velvety R&B guitars.
Merk released her debut EP Strangers in the second half of 2020, and just dropped “North American Ride,” an ode to the loneliness of travel in the style of SZA. Fans of Kacy Hill will love her cloudy electronic sensibility and fans of artists like Samia and Phoebe Bridgers will find a home in her singer-songwriter style. – Emma M.
Columbia University philosophy major by day and indie-pop star by night, Maude Latour is poised to breakthrough into the mainstream in a major way. Her 2020 trio of singles (“Block Your Number,” “One More Weekend,” and “Furniture”) are lush, youthful breakup tracks dripping with Taylor Swift details and Lorde-like production. But Maude has her own distinct punky edge- an avid The Strokes fan, her tracks are often accented by thumping guitars. Her other secret weapon is her infectious online personality – she manages to be incredibly confident about her music but shell-shocked about her success. The first two months of 2021 have been her biggest months of Spotify yet, and with new music on the way, she’s on the cusp of something major this year.
Check out our interview with Maude from February 2020 here. – Emma M.
Like I wrote about in 2020, MICHELLE is “a fresh musical collective” bred in NYC featuring six musicians that collaborate in production, songwriting, and arrangements: basically every process of creating a song. The group’s debut album, HEATWAVE, was released in 2018, and highlights “snapshots of youth through a New York summer.” I was dead set on catching their set at South By Southwest last year, and am bummed it’s 2021 and I still haven’t had a chance to catch them live. MICHELLE recently released a new single, “FYO,” (fuck your opinions), a track that dives deep into the singer’s mixed-race identities and navigating the world. I hope to hear more from them in the near future! – Kristin
If Great Grandpa, Julien Baker, and Better Oblivion Community Center were one band, it would be Rat Tally. Rat Tally, the pseudonym of Chicago-based musician Addy Harris, self-released an excellent EP titled When You Wake Up in 2019. The EP is full of small moments of introspection: “While you’re out kissing anyone else I’m in another city / Reading bullshit websites on compatibility / As if the stars could help / With how desperately I want you around,” she sings on track “Laugh It Off.”
Off of the success of that EP, she recently signed to 6131 Records (Julien Baker, Touché Amoré, Luray) and released a new single, “Shrug.” She hasn’t announced a new project yet, but we look forward to seeing her musical and lyrical talent grow. – Brittany
An artist with an 11-year-old career may not really be considered one “to watch,” but I would like to get Samantha Crain on your radar. Thanks to my team member Brittany suggesting her music to me, I was instantly hooked after hearing Crain’s most recent single, “Bloomsday.” A two-time winner of the Native American Music Award, the Choctaw singer has an incredible fact for merging folk music with country and indie. She’s had success touring with artists like Neutral Milk Hotel, Brandi Carlile, and First Aid Kit.
“Bloomsday” comes ahead of Crain’s next album, set to drop on April 9 (among several other artists in this post)! While I may need more time uncovering the rest of her music, I’m certainly looking forward to the next album. – Kristin
If you’re looking for your next indie alt/dance project, this is it. New York based singer and producer duo Claire Chicha and David Marinelli have been releasing music under the name spill tab since Chicha left her position working assistant tour manager to Gus Dapperton. Her French-Korean background certainly influences spill tab’s sound, taking form in bilingual songs built from bedroom pop. spill tab’s debut EP “Oatmilk” dropped in the fall of 2020, finding success on a variety of online playlists and landing press on major publications like Dork, Ones To Watch and Paper Mag. – Kristin
Don’t forget to follow the playlist here!