New year, who dis? A new batch of boundary-pushing rising artists determined to conquer 2018, that’s who. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be amping up our FACT Rated coverage of vital new acts you need to care about with lists and interviews introducing you to the most exciting newcomers set to storm the year ahead. Welcome to Rated Season.
From futurist neo-soul duo Oshun to Poppy, a pop singer performing as the ringleader of her own internet cult.
This year’s crop of pop and R&B up-and-comers have one big thing in common: sure, you can dub all of them “pop” or “R&B”, but they all play outside of the confines of their genre. From rising UK star Nilüfer Yanya and budding indie-soul superstars St. Beauty to freak folker Spelling and baroque pop experimenter Lauren Auder, these are the people who will make you swoon in 2018.
LA singer/songwriter BRIDGE closed out 2017 with his WRECK EP, a document of the physical and emotional damage that happened to him after a serious motorcycle crash. BRIDGE is blue-eyed soul at its most contemporary and already has fans in Pharrell and Schoolboy Q, who appeared on last year’s ‘Roll My Weed’.
Cologne pop singer Kim Petras broke out in 2017 with her track ‘I Don’t Want it At All’ – its video landed a Paris Hilton cameo – and a guest appearance on ‘Unlock It’ from Charli XCX’s technicolor mixtape Pop 2, but the 25-year-old singer has been writing catchy tunes for ages. At 17, she was already selling jingles to a laundry detergent and a cell phone company. Now she’s taking that ear for melody to the charts.
R&B doesn’t see many tape manipulators, but Brooklyn artist L’Rain is here to change that. The Brooklyn native has one of the most entrancing new musical visions, as evidenced by her self-titled LP, a potent meditation on grief that experiments with soul, electronic and shoegaze.
Written before and recorded after her mother’s death, L’Rain is “less about [my mother’s] life and more about me processing what it meant for her to not be there,” she told Bandcamp last year. “I was originally interested in grief in an abstract way. It took on a more literal meaning when she got sick.”
London-via-Watford singer/songwriter Lauren Auder is one of the latest plucky upstarts on True Panther Sounds. Originally part of France’s underground rap scene, Auder is now honing something more tender. You can hear it on his single ‘The Baptist’, which joins baroque pop with ambient and neo-classical piano, proving he has mastery over multiple genres. Did we mention he’s only 19?
When she’s not organizing art workshops for refugees in Greece as part of a charity initiative she runs with her sister, west London teen Nilüfer Yanya is writing stark, stirring vignettes about life, love and human behavior inspired, she says, by Amy Winehouse and Nina Simone. Her actual sound, evident on beautiful breakout tracks ‘Baby Luv’ and ‘Small Crimes’, is closer to ‘Daughter’ via the spacious guitars and sonic austerity of The xx. Her videos, meanwhile, paint her as a Cornish seaside town Lana Del Rey. Taught guitar by The Invisible’s Dave Okumu, she’s shared stages with Mitski and Broken Social Scene already, and is working at the moment on a debut album that promises to be something special.
Yoruba diety Oshun is the goddess of love and her powers are wielded undeniably well in the hands of this Brooklyn duo. If ’90s neo-soul is your bag, then OSHUN is the group for you. Inspired by the world around them, OSHUN’s music evokes nature but also ruminates on our world. Last year the two released ‘Not My President’ about the toxicity of US president Donald Trump and takes to task the society that got him into the White House in the first place.
Poppy was a YouTube oddity, producing minimalist, almost-Lynchian clips that built her an audience of not fans, but worshippers. With bubblegum singles and an ambient album under her belt (yes, both), last year she released poppy.computer on Mad Decent, a collection of cartoony pop that riotously doubles down on the mission of PC Music. Just take her track ‘My Style’, for example. “Macaroons, cartoons, Dr. Seuss / That’s my style,” she sings. “Bath salts, start a cult, I’m so adult / That’s my style”.
You may be scratching your head about why Jamila Woods, who had collaborated with Chance the Rapper and whose 2016 album HEAVN we rated in a Quarter Report, would be considered one to watch. And we hear you. This is last call for people who aren’t paying attention. Her music has the same playfulness and youthful joy of Chance’s but is more intricately political, both in its themes of race and womanhood. It’s an adept primer on the emotional depth that goes into identity — the power, the pain, the pride — but it has an earnestness about really living life. We can’t wait for her Jagjaguwar debut.
Oakland’s Spelling has an incredible touch, able to mix darkwave, indie rock, soul, ambient and so much more, she is one of the most exciting freak folk artists to come around in a long time. Her 2017 album Pantheon of Me is an oft-kilter kaleidoscope, a stunning example of how genre-melding can build an entire new world.
Atlanta duo St. Beauty have the ability to effortlessly blend indie and soul, it’s no wonder they’re mainstays on Janelle Monae’s Wondaland label. They’ll release their debut EP Running to the Sun later this month, but they’ve already hit some major milestones with an appearance on BOSCO’s ‘Castles’ last year and tracks (‘Borders’, ‘Caught’) featured on both season of HBO breakout Insecure.
Claire Lobenfeld is an editor at FACT.
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