7 emerging artists making new pop music to get excited about in 2021.
Last year commercial pop music went full disco with icons like Dua Lipa putting out joyful, party-ready anthems. What will be this year’s trend? From mainstream bops to creative indie-pop, check out these seven new pop music artists primed for the big leagues in 2021.
Blending RnB and pop with Afro-fusion, Nigerian artist Oxlade generated a buzz last year with breakout single ‘Away’. He’s already won Drake as a fan, and 2021 will see him expand both his bright, innovative sound and his international reach.
Atmospheric pop with a dark edge reminiscent of Lorde, inviting you in to listen but pushing away at the same time. Signed to Atlantic Records, in 2021 Fraser will be looking to build on the strength of his EP The Storm which featured singles ‘Vipers’ and ‘Face Tattoo’.
Despite hailing from a little market town in Somerset, UK, Askew’s music is a melting pot with elements of indie-pop, hip-hop and RnB. He just dropped his debut EP, so look out for the waves generated by that release.
19-year-old Valentina has put in the work to set herself up as a perfectly-packaged popstar– see ‘4:15’ with its TikTok-ready music video and big, supremely catchy chorus. She sounds like Rosalía, despite coming from the island of Guernsey. 2021 might well see her complete her rise to the top.
Keep Dancing Inc.
Keep Dancing Inc. have a knack for making music to get you
moving – as the name suggests. The band make Parisian electro-pop with an indie
sheen, set to make you bounce your way through 2021.
Australian songwriter Tulliah lends her rich, shivering voice to melodic, sincere indie-pop tracks. Keep an eye out for the release of the 19-year-old’s debut EP Fresh Hugs.
We’re at least starting the year reluctantly accustomed to dancing to tracks aimed at the club inside our own houses instead. There’s plenty of new thoughtful alternative pop on the cards as well, to sway along to if working from home. And if you’ve got a pop banger in the pipeline for 2021 remember RouteNote can get it out to the waiting world, for free.
Keep an eye on these new artists refreshing the indie rock scene in 2021.
At the moment it feels like guitar bands are emerging onto the main music scene from a long hibernation since the indie glory days of the mid-noughties. Here are eight indie rock bands set for big things in 2021.
Squid make confident, intriguing art-rock with chugging basslines reminiscent of Talking Heads. The band spent the past year holed up working on their debut album, which may well surface in 2021 and is set to take them in a different direction.
After releasing her self-titled debut album last year, Billy Nomates storms into 2021 with new EP Emergency Telephone due out in March. Sleaford Mods and Iggy Pop are huge fans of the artists’ social commentary. New release ‘Heels’ is a determinedly furious electronic punk track with rousing harmonies.
Manchester band Blanketman have been racking up views on Spotify with their bright, catchy Joy Division-esque indie rock and are primed for a mass audience. Their debut EP National Trust is out in March.
The London-based band touch on Americana, grunge and shoegaze. ‘The Rift’ mixes yearning guitars with Oasis-style vocals. Keep an eye out for more records in the pipeline.
Since forming in 2019 these Glaswegian teenagers have been putting out riff-heavy rock anthems with sing-along choruses. Still a young band, they’re super-talented and primed for big things.
Grouchy, politically-pointed post-punk that feels fresh. TV Priest
are newly signed to Sub Pop, and debut album Uppers is out at the
beginning of May.
Britpop lives on in Oscar Lang. His latest EP Antidote to Being Boredmixes grizzly psychedelic rock with sunny pop melodies. Having spent 2020 releasing tracks that travel through genres and sounds, this year will hopefully see Lang released onto a stage.
Whether they’re discovering new bands who are setting out with debut records, or watching eagerly as their favourite rising artists head in fresh new directions, indie rock fans have much to look forward to in 2021. And if you’re in an indie band yourself, let RouteNote know and we’ll get to work distributing your tracks.
These new artists are on the rise through the dance and electronic music scene this year.
Dance music currently has an obvious problem – clubs are empty. Savvy DJs and producers have instead been using the temporary hiatus to lay down new tracks and explore new directions for the future. Take a glance at these eight artists to watch in dance and electronic music for 2021.
Relentlessly creative, Ali put out six albums in 2020 alone. A trumpet player who studied jazz in New York, his creations combine deep house with techno and jazz, with strong elements of political commentary, Afrofuturism and beyond. He runs non-profit label CosmoFlux, giving young Black artists a platform to make music and share ideas and skills.
23-year-old Shane Codd adores the house and trance bangers of the ‘90s and ‘00s. Newly signed by Polydor, in 2021 the Irish DJ will be looking to build on the success of his Top 10 track ‘Get Out My Head’, which he created as a joyful escape from the stresses of lockdown.
The fun debut mixtape Breakfastfrom Manchester band Porij has stylistic touchstones that ping from electro-pop to funk, indie to trance, and back again. Hopefully 2021 unleashes them like 2020 was supposed to, spreading grins around a dancefloor.
Partial to a slice of bass-heavy UK-rave, London DJ Tailor Jae has refused to stagnate over the year of lockdowns, mixing away. With an instinctive ear she plays whatever she likes, not worrying about trends; blending ‘90s dance anthems, drill, jungle beats. 2021 will see her continue to stretch her abilities, braced for international success.
Bratři means ‘brethren’ in Czech. The twins formed an electronic duo in 2016 and are now one of Prague’s most popular live acts. Both drummers, they combine electronic dance, techno and ambient house with live drums. Currently working on a debut album, expect to hear more of their energetic sound this year.
The Indonesian producer has been a rising star on the house music scene for several years, releasing energetic beats with catchy vocal cuts. Ingeniously playing with genre and bringing a new freshness to house, Bleu Clair is ready for mainstream recognition in 2021.
A producer, singer and visual artist, Nia Archives’ honeyed vocals weave around her flowing drum and bass and jungle beats. Singles ‘Sober Feels’ and ‘Don’t Kid Urself’ offer a tantalising glimpse at what she might have in store next. London-based but shaped by the Manchester scene, her side project HIJINXX is currently in the works, showcasing DIY UK youth culture.
Debut EP Up De Flatsis an experimental celebration of working-class life growing up in Dublin, with each track inspired by a different character. With a love of pop and club music and atmospheric electronica, pinned by her casual, soulful voice, Dunleavy has a clear vision and you can see it taking her anywhere, but always pinned by her love for her roots.
Luckily for classical music there’s an abundance of new talent, as well as distinguished figures, who are bringing much-needed diversity to the often closed-off industry and keeping the beloved corner of the music world from going stale in modern times. Whether you’re a classical aficionado or like to listen to unwind, check out these classical musicians at the top of their game in 2021.
Based in Manchester, Smickersgill was nominated for the Ivor Novello Rising Star award in 2020. An innovative classical composer who also takes inspiration from jazz and electronic pop music, playing with the band Bunny Hoova. Passionate about collaborations and music as an art form, Smickersgill is currently under the mentorship of Anna Meredith and her career looks set to go in ever-more interesting directions.
Brandon Patrick George
The immensely talented New York City-based flautist’s impressive solo album came out in autumn 2020, walking us through 300 years of music history. New ventures for George in 2021 include the new album Bruits from the GRAMMY-nominated wind quintet Imani Winds which he joined in 2018.
The Kanneh-Mason family
You can’t talk about modern classical music without mentioning the Kanneh-Masons. 22-year-old Sheku Kanneh-Mason performed cello at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, and his six siblings are just as talented. Pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason is signed to Decca Classics along with Sheku. Expert violinist Braimah performs with Chineke! Orchestra. Jeneba, keyboard finalist of the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2018, studies at the Royal College of Music whilst Konya studies at Royal Academy of Music. Aminata and Mariatu are both still at school, but Aminata has Grade 8 Distinction on violin and piano and performs with her siblings in concert, whilst Mariatu has already achieved Grade 8 Distinction in cello. Releasing a family album on Decca Classics together in November 2020, the siblings are all individually set to continue to make incredible music.
Newly signed to Warp records,
this extraordinary London duo experiment with retro sonic creations, mixing
classical music with romantic pop tunes and harsh, electronic sounds. Newly
graduated, they met at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, forming the band in
2017. A peculiar and fascinating workout for the ears.
Resourceful, lively and open, Gillam has a knack for spreading joy and a remarkable gift with the classical saxophone. Over lockdown Gillam founded the Virtual Scratch Orchestra, resulting in 2,000 musicians from 30 countries playing every instrument imaginable in an online orchestra. The first saxophonist to be signed to Decca Classics, both of her genre-spanning albums, RISE and TIME, reached number one in the Official UK Classical Charts. An established radio and podcast presenter, Gillam is already a key figure of the UK classical music scene at the age of 22.
Dubai-born, British-Iranian classical and jazz pianist Kaviani is a virtuoso whose star continues to rise. In concert he regularly improvises over themes from the audience – something he’s tried to replicate remotely over the last year. Passionate about explaining classical composition to the uninitiated, Kaviani’s charisma makes him an inspiring figure in the classical music world.
Gifted, relentlessly dedicated and passionate about the things that matter, Jarman-Pinto’s previous projects include a post as Composer in Residence with Streetwise Opera, working with homeless people to put on operas and concerts in UK cities. A dab hand at writing scores for film and TV, last summer the Cumbria-based composer launched Apple and Spotify podcast Beyond the Chameleon, talking to industry professionals about improving inclusivity on both sides of the screen.
Nicolas van Poucke
The Dutch pianist’s critically acclaimed third album,Schumann Collection Volume 1, released in November. After being unable to perform due to lockdowns, van Poucke made his debut in London in October 2020 with a socially distanced performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with Chineke! Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. His beautiful tone and thoughtful approach to the music sets the bar high for the future.
An award-winning and fiendishly talented guitar player from Manchester, Whittingham’s first album releases in April 2021 via Delphian Records and explores her own personal journey discovering 19th-century guitar works. Her use of social media, including engaging and inclusive YouTube tutorials that have snared views up in the tens of millions, is the ultimate standard for up-and-coming classical musicians seeking new audiences and looking to revitalise the field.
Inspiring figures in the classical music world prove themselves willing to be adaptable and inclusive in the fight against the ingrained habits and institutional prejudices of the field. There’s always more to be done, and these musicians and composers will continue to keep the genre fresh and forward-looking in 2021 and beyond.
Discover emerging musicians from across the whole spectrum of the jazz music world in 2021.
No group of musicians has felt the isolation of the past year harder than the jazz community. Jazz is built upon live performance and interaction between players. But the genre also has deep foundations of improvisation and reinvention, and jazz musicians will be just as tenacious and creative over the next few months as they have been all along. Here are eight jazz artists to explore as they launch new projects in 2021.
A newly-emerged German jazz violinist, vocalist and composer based in London, Burnheart was the first jazz violin undergraduate student at Guildhall School of Music and Drama when she enrolled there in 2013. Her work on debut album Burnheartmashes together the inspirations of modal jazz and Berlin techno, taking the violin to new mind-bendingly experimental places.
Charlotte Dos Santos
EP Harvest Timeis out now from the Brazilian-Norweigan singer, a mystical mix of jazz and neo-soul. Latin-American rhythms playful lie over the RnB beat of ‘Helio’ and in the flamenco flutterings of ‘Padre’, and Dos Santos’ jazz vocal soars above them all.
Cutting a solitary figure, Puma Blue’s smooth voice croons soulfully over crisply produced lazy guitar, electronic beats and tinkering piano. After slowly circling the edge of the London Jazz scene for a few years, his debut album due for release in February 2021 will no doubt introduce him to a wider audience.
ARTEMIS is an international jazz supergroup of seven women at the top of their musical game: pianist and founder Renee Rosnes, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, drummer Allison Miller, vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, clarinetist Anat Cohen and bassist Noriko Ueda. Spanning generations and nationalities, they released their self-titled debut last year, a collection of covers and originals that features their individual sounds complimenting each other with astonishing ease. It would be a headache logistically for the group to arrange a live tour at the best of times, but just imagine the awe-inspiring outcome.
Nominated for Jazz FM’s Vocalist of the Year 2020.
Cecile’s debut album releases this year, and track ‘Always Be Right For Me’ shows
an assured, confident jazz star on the rise.
GeeJay are powerful vocalist and songwriter Gina Jane and talented producer, saxophonist and keyboard player Jacob Lobo, putting out neo-soul jazz grooves. After Covid left them unemployed they moved out of London and took jobs helping elderly and vulnerable people across the UK, leading them to contribute the poignant ‘Lose My Mind’ to Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place compilation. Keep an eye out for whatever fresh sounds they have in store for us in 2021.
UK-based Coldcut, creators of the Ninja Tune record label, partnered with South African musicians to make a record for the In Place of War charity, and Keleketla! is the result. A dizzying array of styles, gqom beats and Afrobeat drums, built up from a jazz foundation. Use this album as a jumping-off point to discover the treasure trove of artists who gathered to create it.
Drummer Moses Boyd’s Mercury Prize-nominated debut album saw him cement his place firmly at the top of the London jazz scene. This year Boyd will continue to create and collaborate and when the world allows him to perform Dark Matter, a stand-out album of 2020 and a masterful combination of electronic jazz and Afrobeat, it will be well worth the wait.
A year is a long time, and hopefully live jazz will return before long, with performers back in their rightful place interacting with bandmates and enthralled audiences. Look out for virtual shows and new music from these jazz musicians in the meantime.
Looking for emerging soul artists to listen to in 2021? These 9 musicians are on the rise.
Led by artists like Celeste, modern soul music is riding a wave which looks set to continue in 2021. Experimental, jazz and RnB influenced neo-soul artists are headed in increasingly interesting directions. Featuring big voices and tender voices that all implore to be witnessed live, this is a wide-ranging list of ones to watch in soul music in 2021.
Amahla’s sensitive songwriting, gorgeous vocals and skill with the guitar gained her a nomination for the Ivor Novello Rising Star award in 2020. As a result she won a year’s mentoring with Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers who said she ‘writes from her soul.’ The lyrics of captivating ‘Apathy’, showcasing Amahla’s shivering voice, take on a whole new level of meaning when viewed through the lens of these turbulent times.
Experimental socio-political neo-soul with a sound encompassing jazz, RnB and pop, Ajudha’s smooth voice soars like Jill Scott. Her reworking of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Watermelon Man’ featured on the BlueNote Re:imagined album, and the coming months are sure to see her continue to collaborate with other rising stars from the UK soul and jazz scene.
The Gospel-influenced LA group, made up of singer Jacob Lusk and producers Ari Balouzian and Ryan Hope, have been slowly teasing out singles since 2018. They broke their silence by releasing a debut EP, Love and Hate at A Different Time, at the tail end of last year. The stomping title track with its looping piano and strings, deep choir voicings and harrowing call to action against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, encourages you to dance but quickly makes you pause and think.
Neo-soul and pop beats laced with nostalgia from this Scottish talent who wound up on the BBC Sound of 2020 list. His wavering voice on Loyle Carner-featuring ‘I Wonder Why’ beautifully laments the inability to move on from losing someone. All being well, the UK tour booked for May this year will suit the sunny horns of ‘Does It Make You Feel Good?’ perfectly and introduce him to a host of new fans.
In the middle of the madness of 2020 East Londoner Tiana Major9 released her debut album. Aptly-named At Sixes And Sevens is jazz-inspired but with callbacks to her Jamaican roots and to classic turn-of-the-century RnB. Her versatile voice, reminiscent of Lianne La Havas, and clever songwriting has won her fans including Adele, who raved about ‘Same Space?’ on Instagram. A recent performance for NPR Tiny Desk showcased her stunning crystal-clear vocal and elastic approach to genre. Major9 is seemingly poised to ascend to another level in 2021.
2020 saw Giveon reach viral fame by lending his angelic voice to Drake’s single ‘Chicago Freestyle’, which has been streamed on Spotify 220m times. A singer with a searching voice with impressive range and depth, his four-track EP arrived in October. Expect him to continue to rise in popularity in 2021.
This Arizona-born independent artist has a rich, powerful voice that gifts us soulful pop melodies. Recently ‘If You Got A Problem’ showed her to be the hopeful voice we need as we head into the new year, and latest release ‘Mighty Die Young’ is a call to carry on, with bluesy guitar and uplifting chord sequences.
Creating a compelling mix of modern RnB and retro soul, Huron’s music is beautifully arranged, atmospheric electronic beats and other tracks led by simple, gentle guitar. As song ‘Loving You Is A Mountain’ heads for 4 million streams on Spotify, Huron’s other work, including his 2020 album Libbie, deserves to reach an even wider audience.
Ego Ella May
Ego Ella May released her debut album ‘Honey For Wounds’ in June last year to a rapturous response. With her beautiful, woozy voice she reflects on mental health, love, independence, and the social state of the globe on songs like ‘How Long ‘Til We’re Home’ and ‘Girls Don’t Always Sing About Boys’. Musically grounded primarily in a bubbly soulful RnB zone, her jazz inspirations come through on tracks ‘Table For One’ and ‘Alright’. The South London artist will continue to rise in 2021.
Whether it’s established artists causing a new buzz or new musicians on the come up, the soul music scene in 2021 seems to be in good shape.
Add these bedroom pop music artists to your ‘ones to watch’ list this year.
The DIY genre of bedroom pop is having a moment. But… what actually is it? Music lumped into the category has a certain aesthetic, rather than literally being recorded next to an artist’s duvet and pillows. Bedroom pop is dreamy lo-fi soundscapes from young artists who’ve often orchestrated their own rise via social media and streaming. Whilst appearing whimsical, the tracks regularly feature provocative lyrics exploring mental health struggles and the harsh realities of youthful romance. It’s a far more interesting genre than the sneering way it’s often referred to suggests. These 10 bedroom pop musicians are on the cusp of breaking out in a big way in 2021.
Releasing their first single back in 2018, Claud was the first artist to be signed to Phoebe Bridger’s new label, Saddest Factory Records. Singles ‘Gold’ and ‘Soft Spot’ teem with sweet melodies, bubbling loops and their characteristic gracefully-layered guitar sound. The interest around Bridger’s CEO role combined with Claud’s debut album dropping on February 12th should generate enough buzz to propel them to the next level.
This 15-year-old Irish guitar player writes and self-produces Radiohead-inspired beats. Quiet without being serene, Lalor’s sonic experiments on her This is How We Connect, While You Stand So TallEP have a lurking, ominous quality. If this is how artistic and polished she sounds in lockdown with a production team consisting of her mother and sister, imagine the potential.
Bangladeshi artist Dameer’s sound takes a lead from the jazz beats of Tom Misch. ‘Believe’ is the tale of a breakup set to a bright, ‘80s inspired beat, exploring the irrationality of lingering feelings from a past relationship with a knowing wink. Other lyrical inspiration comes from politics and the disparities between generations. Newly graduated from high school, keep an eye on Dameer in the future.
Used to baring all online in a typically Gen-Z manner, 18-year-old chloe moriondo found self-made success through YouTube, beginning by writing songs on her ukulele. Now she has 13.3 million subscribers. She’s broken free of her lo-fi origins lately, with her latest release ‘Girl on TV’ sounding like early-noughties Avril Lavigne. When the world allows live gigs again, performing with a band will shift moriondo’s sound yet again and open up an exciting new chapter.
A sociable, self-taught producer with a dedicated community of fans. After signing with Sire Records, Cavetown’s debut Sleepyhead released last year and included a collaboration with chloe moriondo. The record features sing-song melodies alongside indie-rock leanings in the soaring ‘For You’ and stripped-back alt-pop tracks like ‘Empty Bed’. His army of followers with a deep love for his comforting songs grows by the day.
East London music and visual artist who really does make all his music in his bedroom, creating synth-heavy, dreamy pop. Super-catchy ‘ITYK’ explores our relationship to technology in lockdown – shot on FaceTime, it perfectly demonstrates his DIY artistry. It’s easy to see creative and commercial potential for the future.
The Californian 20-year-old’s latest single ‘No Emotion’ lays down witty lyrics with raw feelings at their heart, as the scuzzy vocals blend into a sloppy beat. Meanwhile ‘Can Ghosts Be Gay?’, released last September, is an unapologetically queer, acoustic-emo reflection on Gen-Z culture and self-acceptance. Flitting between styles, Carpetgarden is newly signed to the House Anxiety label and their new EP is due out in February.
girl in red
Honest and relatable indie-pop, spinning sincere tales of romance and self-love. The Christmas single ‘Two Queens in a King-sized bed’ has been on heavy rotation across radio stations since its release. With hordes of followers on TikTok and Instagram and YouTube videos racking up millions of views, here’s hoping 2021 will bring continued success for the Norwegian singer.
Irish 18-year-old bedroom indie-pop musician and producer Smoothboi Ezra has been putting out sweet, warm music with insightful lyrics since 2018. ‘My Own Person’, their latest release, is simply but beautifully arranged, the charming melody addressing anyone struggling with identity.
Starting out busking with his guitar on the streets of Reading, Tayo Sound has graduated to smooth, polished tracks with an alt-RnB groove. His songs incorporate Nigerian-inspired rhythms from his father’s heritage and folk leanings from his mother’s Scottish background. The choruses of ‘Someone New’ and ‘Gone’ are instantly catchy. Signed to Black Butter Records, he’s already primed for mainstream success.
Eager to add your own sound to the bedroom pop landscape? RouteNote can get your music out to the people who need to hear it, simply and for free.
All we want in 2021 is live gigs – but until then at least there’s new music to discover. Here are a few emerging artists generating a buzz at the beginning of the year.
‘Ones to watch’ predictions put a whole lot of pressure on emerging artists who find themselves included at the beginning of a new year. In a way in January 2021 the current disrupted world allows breathing space; time for plans to be made and music to be released; time to make creative decisions about how best to connect with the fans they can’t see in real life. We’ll see what smart moves are made during lockdowns and beyond to boost the profiles of these new music acts.
There’s little question that Griff will become a household name. Her savvy bedroom pop sound saw her nominated for the Ivor Novello Rising Star award in 2020, and she begins the new year on the BBC Sound of 2021 shortlist.
Smart rock with the sharp teeth of satire biting down throughout. Only getting the chance to play three gigs before the first lockdown hit, when the world opens up again in 2021 Yard Act will be ready to take aim at society’s injustices with their unique brand of witty post-punk.
Just 15, Glaive only began creating music at the start of 2020. The teen explores the frantic beats and glitches of the rising genre of hyperpop in a thoughtful way.
Second on the BBC Sound of 2021 shortlist, and already big in the US, where she’s performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Humberstone’s polished and dark indie pop is sure to be heard everywhere in 2021.
Tuneful, scuzzy slacker rock. The indie band released a six-track mini-album in 2020 and have confident plans for the future.
The multi-instrumentalist pop singer-songwriter is on everyone’s one to watch list this year, from theGuardian to MTV Push. His rise seems inevitable.
Last year the young classical string quartet won the Grammy for ‘Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance’ for their work with Pulitzer prize-winner Caroline Shaw. This year? 2021 should hold more in store for the group, who play the work of composers old and new with a fresh versatility.
Pa Salieu’s Afrobeat-referencing Gambian grime comes via Coventry. His fresh sound and sharp, perceptive lyrics earned him the top spot on the BBC Sound of 2021 list, and his debut album Send Them To Coventry oozes confidence.
Franc Moody make effortless disco funk. They released their debut album in February of last year, with a record deserving of dancefloors but suiting lino kitchen floors just fine. Here’s hoping that 2021 gives us the chance to pull some shapes under a glitterball with this live onstage.
A neo-soul singer with a beautiful voice, the BRIT Award Rising Star and BBC Sound of 2020 winner made stop-start progress through what should have been her year. Finally reaching the public consciousness through the medium of the John Lewis Christmas advert at the end of 2020, hopefully that momentum carries through to her debut album, due to be released next month.
Optimism shines out through Jany Green’s unique blend of hip hop, jazzy indie and RnB, with horns and positive vibes.
Emotional sonic explorations from roaring metalcore to soaring, if still menacing, vocal melodies. Racking up the views online, Spiritbox’s debut album is due to be released this year.
Deserved winner of the new Rising Star Award at the Ivor Novellos 2020, Mysie uses her rich voice to make soulful pop and RnB with colossal choruses.
Meet Me @ The Altar
Big hooks from this Florida pop punk trio. Newly signed to the Fuelled By Ramen label, the band take the angst out of the genre and replace it with boundless positive energy.
Berwyn’s soulful rap has seen him top ‘Ones to Watch’ lists the internet over. Following a haunting performance for Later With Jools Holland, he came third on the BBC Sound of 2021 list. Last year’s ‘BBC Sound of…’ listees included Yungblud, who released his debut album at the tail end of 2020.
Neo-soul RnB with elements of hip-hop, dub and reggae. Before making the BBC Sound of 2021 list, Greentea Peng appeared on The Streets’ latest album, and her own record is on the horizon.
These indie-rockers have a whiff of Arctic Monkeys about them, with spinning guitars and constantly energetic vocals that just beg to rattle a festival stage this summer.
Multi-talented jazz musician and producer Thackray makes intriguing jazz electronica grooves. 2020 saw a feature on the Blue Note Re:Imaginedalbum.
After one of her songs found uncredited viral success through TikTok, alt-soul singer Fousheé was one of 70 artists to be signed through the platform last year. 2021 will see her broaden her sound, including an upcoming collab with James Blake.
A rapper who dabbles in electronica, RnB, soul and funk with electrifying results. Debut album Smiling With No Teeth is out March 2021.
With vaccines rolling out, by the end of the year some sense of normalcy will give these newcomers the chance to fully show what they’re made of. And who knows what surprises established musicians will have for us in 2021? 2020 saw unexpected album drops from artists like Taylor Swift, and collaborations and remixes gave music stars new motivation to be creative. Will Rihanna finally release her long-awaited album? Prediction: Whatever else may happen over the next 12 months, new music will be an escape, whether we can enjoy it live or not.
Now that the finish line of 2020 is in sight, at RouteNote we’re looking back over this endless year and pulling together some of the highlights from the music world. Here’s a selection of the best songs from the past 12 months.
In this year of turmoil and activism, music has been constant throughout, pulling us along, a distraction and a comfort. Songs that were never meant to reference the year have hit a new nerve, and music written in response to current events made us feel less overwhelmed. Across the genres, here are some of the most popular and intriguing music releases we heard in 2020.
Yazmin Lacey – Morning Matters
Lacey’s hazy vocal is backed by Ezra Collective’s drummer Femi Koleoso and the smooth jazzy horn of trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi. Soulful lines to help push us out of bed in the morning, ‘even when it’s miserable’, to face whatever’s going on out in the world with a wry smile.
Run the Jewels – Ooh La La
El-P and Killer Mike lewdly rap about the unequal distribution of wealth, and imagine a future with no money-lines drawn in the sand. Lyrics are spat out about lying in the dirt, looking up and preferring it to the grimy, moneyed corruption up above: ‘I used to love Bruce/But living my vida loca/Helped me understand I’m probably more of a Joker.’
The Weeknd – Blinding Lights
The catchiest song of the year, ‘Blinding Lights’ is an exuberant synth-pop track with a relentless rushing beat. It’s currently been streamed 1.8 billion times on Spotify.
Beyoncé – Black Parade
Dropped on Juneteenth, the US holiday marking the end of slavery, this surprise release saw Bey opening her arms, gathering her people into her ‘hive’, and then ushering them out onto the streets. ‘Being black is your activism’, she posted alongside, stating that money raised would be donated to Black-owned businesses. With a call to Black self-expressionism, African references are peppered throughout, over a cyclical beat.
beabadoobee – Charlie Brown
beabadoobee channels her emotions through a new kind of grunge. Opening with chunky guitar and a sweet vocal line, a smart shift of dynamics and the simple, stomping chorus of ‘Charlie Brown’ rushes in, all cymbals and caterwauling. Bedroom pop mixed with new-emo through a ‘90s movie soundtrack, the lyrics reference mental health struggles without wallowing in sadness.
Kokoroko – Carry Me Home
Mixing Nigerian rhythms with jazz. The
track ripples along at a pace but also lays back on the beat, the bassline and
drums popping whilst simple harmonised vocals and trumpet line float dreamily
Yves Tumor – Gospel for A New Century
Enigmatic performer Yves Tumor slides through genres on this, the title track of their fourth album. There’s a great use of space in this track – snatches of silence before the next drop of drawling vocal over heavy brass and growling bass.
Slowthai – nhs
In a year that has seen the NHS needed in the UK like never before, Slowthai casts a critical eye over British society in this track, calling for empathy over gentle piano phrases. ‘It took a disaster to make people appreciate the NHS,’ the rapper said. ‘Clapping, how is that helping anyone?’ His second album TYRON will be released in February 2021.
SAULT – Wildfires
Defiant neo-soul from the anonymous collective. ‘Take off your badge,’ the vocal urges crooked police officers, ‘We all know it was murder’. The track stares down the ghouls of corruption with a steady gaze, stating ‘we will never show fear’ through a memorable melody.
Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion – WAP
The female rapper renaissance continues and combining the talent of two idols equals viral perfection. There’s no room for doubt here – it’s a defining moment for Black female empowerment as the two heavyweights join forces, laying out exactly what they want, with no need to offer an explanation as to why they deserve it.
Arlo Parks – Hurt
Over the lurking burr of saxophone and a chomping drumbeat, the calm vocal addresses the character of Charlie in the song and also the listener, beckoning out hope. A deft storyteller, you can hear the poetry in Parks’ songs. A debut album is due to be released in 2021.
24KGoldn – Mood feat. Iann Dior
A cheery, harmless pop-rap earworm, the TikTok success story
topped the UK and Billboard charts for weeks. Simple, well-produced and
effortlessly catchy, it was just what the public wanted to hear.
Roísín Murphy – Murphy’s Law
The Irish singer tells a wry tale of the law of sod in this strutting
disco-funk track. An unexpected earworm, too.
Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé – Savage Remix
In defiance of any haters who might try to pit them against each other, the remix of Stallion’s 2019 hit sees the pair unite effortlessly, shouting out themselves. Beyoncé’s verses are straight in with fiery self-love, playfully referencing the original song’s massive TikTok success as Stallion’s trademark ‘Ah!’s back her up. Two Houston women leading the pack with a shrugged ‘so what?’.
Cakes Da Killa x Proper Villains – Don Dada
Azaelia Banks vibes here, but made their own from a creative
rapper who’s been on the rise for years. Cakes raps feverishly over a bouncing
beat, a pulsing ball of energy.
Joel Corry x MNEK – Head & Heart
As close to a song of the summer we were going to get in
2020. Joyfully, stubbornly upbeat in what often felt like a grey year.
Now all that’s left to do is look forward to when we can finally hear some of those tracks played live. And if you’ve written a song you can picture appearing on a 2021 ‘best of’ list, RouteNote is here to help.