On The Verge: 25 Artists To Watch In 2017
Grateful the glut of Year-End lists is over? Ready to Men In Black last year from your memory and dive into 2017? Well, here’s a little something to cleanse your pop palate! I’ve put together a list of 25 artists expected to make waves in the next 12 months. The goal isn’t so much to predict The Next Big Thing (although all of them are legitimate contenders) as to introduce you to a group of must-hear newcomers with big buzz and bright prospects.
As such, anyone with a massive hit in their discography was ruled ineligible for the round-up, which means no Emily Warren (“Capsize”) or Olivia O’Brien (“I Hate U, I Love U”). Instead, I’m focussing on artists on the verge of finding a much larger audience. Like Australian art-pop princess Montaigne or Swedish songwriting goddess Noonie Bao. It’s an eclectic list that reflects the diverse and slightly oddball state of pop music. Please note that artists are listed in alphabetical order.
The Aces (USA)
The world needs more all-girl bands! The Aces emerged from the ether early last year to plug the gap left by ’80s pop/rock outfits like The Go-Gos and The Bangles. What makes them so buzzworthy? Well, debut single “Stuck” captured the retro-synth magic of a bygone era with staggering ease. Fellow ’70s and ’80s obsessives live Haim and Tegan and Sara are the obvious comparisons, but there’s a grunginess to the Utah four-piece that sets them apart. With their debut EP scheduled to drop in early spring, expect the buzz to grow.
Avante Black (Sweden)
Avante Black, a four-piece collective fronted by Swede Ottilia Zimmerman Kjulsten, caught the internet’s attention when they casually dropped one of the best singles of 2016. An explosion of hazy synths and guitar licks, “Drug Money” sounds like a cross between Empire Of The Sun and Lykke Li. While the melancholy synth-production is noteworthy, the track’s real selling point is the lyrics, which ooze malaise and general complacency. The follow-up to “Drug Money” is due shortly via Different, the label responsible for Anna Of The North and Kllo.
Billie Eilish (USA)
Don’t trust a site that forgot to put Billie Eilish on their Ones To Watch list. The 14-year-old made waves with debut single “Ocean Eyes” in early 2016 and then confirmed she was the real deal with wonderfully morose ballad “Six Feet Under” in November. The teen’s velvety vocals, gloomy sensibility and ornate imagery has sparked comparisons with Lana Del Rey, but that’s a little lazy. There are similarities, but Billie has a more obvious pop sensibility and appeals to a younger demographic.
Bishop Briggs (USA)
I was sure Bishop Briggs was ineligible for this list. After all, “River” was blasting out of every car, store and shopping mall in Los Angeles over the summer. To my amazement, it didn’t crack the Billboard Hot 100, but it’s only a matter of time before she takes that leap given the quality of her self-titled debut EP and organic pop/rock sound. At this rate, her debut LP is shaping up to be one of the year’s most anticipated releases.
Scandinavia is the cradle of pop and there was no shortage of locals generating buzz in 2016. Tove Lo, Astrid S and MØ all made a huge impression, but the year’s best body of work belonged to Dagny — the Norwegian diva behind viral hit, “Backbeat.” From breezy, Partridge Family-pop to windows-down, road-trip rock anthems, her debut EP had a little bit of everything. Time will tell if the Tromsø diva can make the leap from blog darling to chart force, but she’s off to a very good start.
Era Istrefi (Albania)
It’s next to impossible to land a worldwide hit in a language other than English. K-pop god PSY pulled it off a couple of times, as have Latin superstars Shakira and Enrique Iglesias. However, Albania was completely unrepresented outside their borders until the arrival of Era Istrefi. The blond bombshell broke down all kinds of barriers with “Bon Bon” and earned a US record deal in the process. She’s now a top priority at RCA and busily working on English-language material. If it’s anywhere near as catchy as her breakthrough hit, the sky’s the limit.
Griffin Oskar (USA)
Griffin Oskar is an accidental pop star. The 21-year-old moved from Portland, OR to Los Angeles to write and produce songs for other artists — only to find himself with a massive viral hit when he randomly uploaded a work in progress under the pseudonym Småland. The remixed demo of “Hostage” racked up 6 million plays on SoundCloud and 7 million on Spotify. It was only a matter of time before a label came sniffing and the newcomer’s debut EP, also called Hostage, drops February 3. Keep an eye on him.
The Japanese House (UK)
The annual BBC Sound Of poll is a good indicator of pop star potential. (After all, previous winners include Adele, Ellie Goulding and Sam Smith). Nestled among other nominees on this year’s longlist is The Japanese House — or Amber Bain to family and friends. The 21-year-old has been steadily building buzz with a trio of ethereal, synth-pop EPs that falls somewhere between The XX and Imogen Heap. Her latest, Swim Against The Tide, demonstrates a slow but deliberate move towards pop. That bodes well for the Brit’s debut LP. If you haven’t discovered her music yet, I recommend starting with “Clean,” “Still” and “Face Like Thunder.”
Jesse Saint John (USA)
2017 is going to be the year of the singer/songwriter. Not in the traditional sense of Jewel or Joni Mitchell, but rather of artists following the Sia model of racking up songwriting credits, before dropping their own fire track. The latest songsmith to throw his hat into the pop ring is Jesse Saint John, who penned “Love Me Down” for Britney Spears and “Opulence” for Brooke Candy (among other bops). The 27-year-old, who is known for serving serious looks on Instagram, is now prepping his debut single, “Move” (due early this year). As for his sound? Think DNCE meets Die Antwoord.
Julia Michaels (USA)
Ok, this is cheating. Julia Michaels is as close to a sure bet as there is in the current music climate. After helping shape the sound of 2015/2016 with multiple credits on Britney Spears’ Glory, Selena Gomez’s Revival and Justin Bieber’s Purpose, the 23-year-old finally got around to penning a smash for herself and has the full weight of Republic Records behind her. “Issues” is exploding at pop radio and is perched just outside the top 100 on iTunes. It’s only a matter of time before this anthem starts its steady march to the top of the charts.
Lance Skiiiwalker (USA)
Lance Skiiiwalker has the coolest name in rap and the music to back it up. The Chicago rapper/producer seemingly came out of nowhere in 2015 with a couple of Jay Rock features. He then signed to Top Dawg Entertainment (and was co-signed by the entire roster including Kendrick Lamar) and impressed with debut LP, Introverted Intuition. The buzz around the newcomer is only going to get louder in 2017 as more fans discover his eclectic sound, which is equal parts digital distortion, futuristic bleeps and romantic soul. He’s still a work in progress but the raw talent is there.
Maggie Rogers (USA)
If you tabled every Next Big Thing post doing the rounds on the interwebs, I’d bet money that the most frequently mentioned name is Maggie Rogers. By now you’ve probably already fallen in love with “Alaska,” which went viral when it left Pharrell speechless during a Masterclass at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute, and equally impressive follow-up “Dog Years.” Both songs feature on the break-out stars debut EP, Now That The Light Is Fading, which drops February 17 via Capitol Records. If you love emotional lyrics and organic, multi-layered production, this is the artist for you.
While the path from songwriter to pop star is relatively well worn at this point, it’s also an increasingly popular career move for producers. As a member of The Monsters & The Strangerz, MarcLo has crafted hits for Nick Jonas, Bebe Rexha, Selena Gomez, Carly Rae Jepsen and Zara Larsson. He could well have one of his own in the not-too-distant future with debut single, “Swngn.” An ode to ’90s R&B, which interpolates Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” this is the retro party jam you’ve been waiting for. Expect more vintage R&B vibes on the hitmaker’s debut EP, Nostalgia.
Triple J’s Unearthed competition has an incredible track record of uncovering Australia’s best new talent (Washington, The Jezabels and Meg Mac). You can now add Sydney’s Montaigne to that list. Only, instead of diving head-first into the music industry, she decided to finish high school and perfect her craft — a decision that paid dividends when her debut LP, Glorious Heights, cracked the top 5 at home on the back of soaring, baroque pop songs like “Because I Love You” and “Till It Kills Me.” This is clever, quirky art-pop with serious international appeal.
Noonie Bao (Sweden)
Noonie Bao is pretty much untouchable as an electro-pop songwriter having penned Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me” and Charli XCX’s “Vroom Vroom.” The Swede released a steady trickle of her own music in 2016, blessing us with ethereal synth-pop gems “Reminds Me” and “Sorry Not Sorry.” Happily, there are signs that she might embrace the spotlight in 2017 (or at least dip in and out of it more often) with a third body of work on the way and a recent feature on EASYFUN’s “Monopoly.”
Otis English (USA)
Otis English quietly released one of the better debut singles of 2016 with “Young Kids, Old Love.” Starting with a simple piano melody, the soaring anthem soon takes a sharp turn into choppy electronica before finding an alt-pop middle ground. It’s all held together by a powerful vocal and good, old-fashioned singer/songwriter sincerity. He then followed it up with bluesy piano ballad, “Trigger.” I can’t help but feel he’s one sync away from really taking off. Someone call Apple or Grey’s Anatomy!
Rag N Bone Man (UK)
Well, this is something of a Cinderella story. Rag N Bone Man, otherwise known to friends and family as Rory Graham, has quietly been chipping away at a music career since the age of 15. His big break finally came at 31 when “Human” exploded in the UK (it peaked at number 2) and quickly conquered the rest of Europe and Australia. The powerful track is now finding love at HAC radio and should be well on the way to chart glory before his similarly-titled debut LP drops on February 10 via Columbia Records. As the winner of the prestigious Critics’ Choice at the BRITS, all eyes are on him.
You know an artist is hot when Charli XCX not only co-writes them a track but also agrees to direct their video. That’s the situation Raye found herself in with catchy “I, U, Us” — the highlight of her Second EP. If that wasn’t enough of a calling card, the 18-year-old landed two massive dance hits in 2016 as the featured vocalist on Jonas Blue’s “By Your Side” and Jax Jones’ “You Don’t Know Me.” The talented Brit has the look, sound and attitude to be one of the biggest break-out stars of 2017.
There are singer/songwriters and artist/producers, but few reach the same DIY heights as Atlanta rapper Russ. He wrote, produced, arranged, mixed and mastered breakthrough hit “What They Want” — a song that cracked the Billboard Hot 100 and reached the top 10 on rhythmic radio on the strength of organic, online support. In fact, his streaming numbers are scary for a (comparatively) new artist with his breakthrough track garnering 230 million streams on Spotify and 130 million cumulative YouTube views. That bodes extremely well for his debut project, which is due this year.
Sarah Hudson (USA)
2017 is all about rebirth and nobody embodies that better than Sarah Hudson. The witchy diva released her debut LP, Naked Truth, way back in 2005, before transitioning to hitmaker-for-hire with a string of smashes (Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow” and Justin Bieber’s “The Feeling”). Well, she comes full circle early this year with a new EP called Songs From The Sea. With music inspired by the ocean (Sarah is a self-proclaimed mermaid), expect the long-overdue opus to be a weird, wonderful and slightly metaphysical ride.
SHELLS completely won me over with her debut single. A serene slow jam with intricate, multi-layered production and exotic flourishes (the use of an African harp, for example), “Gold” sounded unlike anything else released last year. The Brit backed it up with a superb EP, Shapes, and is one lucky break away from finding a much larger audience. Or at least carving out a niche as music’s leading purveyor of spacey electro, alt-soul-influenced pop. Climb on the bandwagon while there’s still room.
I’m a sucker for a good backstory and they don’t get more intriguing than Skott’s. According to her bio, alt-pop’s new poster girl was raised in a forest commune comprised of outcast folk musicians. It sounds like an (unusually serene) episode of American Horror Story to me, but there’s an organic, woodsy sound that sets the “Porcelain” singer’s music apart. Falling somewhere between BANKS and AURORA on the dark-pop spectrum, Skott is already a master at creating an usual ambiance as Katy Perry so kindly noted on Twitter.
Sofi Tukker (USA)
Apologies for using Twitter talk on this lofty website, but Sofi Tukker’s “Drinkee” snatched me bald. Sounding like the FAS-afflicted lovechild of Chris Isaak and Kiiara, the catchy banger oozed originality. With its distorted vocals, exotic rhythms and acoustic flourishes, the song transports you to a completely different time and place. It’s hard to recreate this kind of madness, but there’s plenty more pop eccentricity where that came from. The New York-based duo recently teased their debut LP with new single “Johny” and it’s every bit as demented.
Sometimes all it takes is an incredible remix to launch an international pop career. That’s the situation Starley finds herself in. The dance dropped dropped her debut single, “Call On Me,” mid-last year to little fanfare. Melbourne DJ Ryan Riback then gave it a very on-trend overhaul and the song exploded on Spotify. Close to 150 million stream later and the track is starting to impact pop radio. While the Sydney singer only has one song in her discography, it has made more than enough noise to warrant a spot on this list.
Vera Blue (Australia)
I love a good reinvention and Celia Pavey did it better than most when she chose a new moniker and swapped her traditional folk sound for drowsy electro. Her first single as Vera Blue proved to be an immediate blog/alternative radio hit in Australia and she was already generating global buzz by the release of the equally-great follow-up, “Settle.” After making a commercial breakthrough at home with Illy collaboration, “Papercuts,” the rising diva has turned her attention to the US. With the support of Capitol Records behind her and co-signs from tastemakers like Maggie Rogers, expect to hear much more from her this year.