Image Credit: Pandora
With 2020 coming to a close, Pandora and their curators have analyzed music industry trends and data to predict who will break out in 2021.
Spanning many different genres from hip-hop to alt-rock, Pandora have got something for everyone with their Artists to Watch 2021 list, plus dedicated choices for Latin and country music.
Touting her musical styles as “no B.S. country music,” Ashland Craft storms onto the scene with adventurous, unapologetic lyrics and wildly infectious beats. Her new single, “Two Wildflowers and a Box of Wine” shows her playful, romantic side, while its follow up, “Trainwreck” packs a soulful punch. Discovering her honky-tonk spirit while cutting her teeth singing country and rock covers at a hometown bar in South Carolina, Craft buzzes under the influence of musical heroes ranging from Gretchen Wilson to Def Leppard.
As a songwriter with a penchant for uptempo love songs, Shy Carter has penned hits for Keith Urban, Charlie Puth, Rob Thomas, Kane Brown and many more. As a producer, his who’s who list of collaborators includes Jason Derulo, Meghan Trainor, Jamie Foxx, and Jennifer Lopez, to name a few. And as an artist, the Memphis native takes the mic to blend his gift for storytelling and love of organic instrumentation with his honeyed vocals – making his first mark in the country world with the euphoric single, “Good Love.”
BRELAND’s self-titled EP encapsulates his multifaceted talents and influences, bridging country, R&B and hip-hop as seamlessly as his “My Truck” collaborator, Sam Hunt. It also takes you to church with the sky-high vocal range of this New Jersey native, who grew up in a family of gospel singers. As a songwriter, BRELAND is as clever and imaginative as he is introspective. He followed the standout, feel-good EP with a poignant two-song compilation in honor of Juneteenth, Rage & Sorrow.
“He ain’t my blood, ain’t got my name / But if he did, I’d feel the same,” sings Elvie Shane in the autobiographical “My Boy,” a tear jerking ode to his stepson. The song was an instant streaming and social media success, thrusting the Gospel-born and Southern Rock-bred singer-songwriter into the country music spotlight. He’ll follow the tune in 2021 with more heart-on-his-sleeve tunes and others that show his fun-loving side – with all highlighting his knack for storytelling.
Unfiltered, unapologetic and unobjectionably talented, Priscilla Block makes every fan her BFF with her wildly relatable lyrics. She blew up social media with the equally humorous and empowering “Thick Thighs,” but it’s when she wears her heart on her songwriting sleeve in songs like “Just About Over You” that the North Carolina native proves her country staying power.
North Carolina native Kameron Marlowe was selling car parts when he got a call from a recruiter at “The Voice” telling him that his YouTube videos were so impressive that he was invited straight to the series’ live auditions. While he didn’t win, his stint on the show prompted a move to Nashville and the release of his debut single, “Giving You Up,” the ultimate silver lining to a real-life breakup.
Standing out as a southern guy in country music is one of the hardest feats in all of the music industry, and Alex Hall has done it with hard work and authenticity. His vocal stylings range from honeyed to graveled, and his musical style reflects a hodgepodge of influences from Elvis Presley to Keith Urban. His debut EP, Six Strings, introduces him to the scene with a cool concept: the songs are all collaborations with some of his guitar heroes, including Vince Gill, Brad Paisley and Tenille Townes.
Heath Sanders is an Arkansas oil-worker-turned-songwriter who puts his hard-working life experiences to music. A singer only by hobby at first, he never thought of music as a livelihood – which really shows his humility, as his Chris Stapleton-like vocals should’ve thrust him center stage a long time ago. Sanders’ upcoming EP is full of material that ranges from heartfelt love songs to defiant anthems, combining to make a project that blends otherworldly talent with guy-next-door charm.
Brittney Spencer moved center stage after years of singing background vocals for the likes of Carrie Underwood, and honing her songwriting craft with a lyrical style that blends country music’s recipe of “three chords and the truth” with a dash of clever imagination. The Baltimore native’s new EP, “Compassion,” has received rave reviews from music critics and fellow artists alike. Maren Morris beat Pandora to the punch, naming Spencer an artist to watch in her 2020 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award acceptance speech.
Virginia Beach native Alana Springsteen began writing songs at age nine and was still a teenager when she landed a publishing deal in Nashville. But there was no rush to score a record deal, as releasing music independently proved she didn’t have to. On the strength of catchy, whimsical songs like “Always Gonna Love You,” Springsteen has amassed millions of streams all on her own.
With a sound that reflects influences from country and pop to R&B and soul, Ryan Griffin has carved his own lane in country music – and it’s quickly becoming the fast lane. The Platinum-certified songwriter, who co-wrote Kelsea Ballerini’s No. 1 hit “Dibs,” put his name on the map as a recording artist with the anthemic “Right Here Right Now” and has since released his debut major label EP, Name On It.
Multi-instrumentalist Parker McCollum bridges the gap between his native Texas music scene and Nashville’s slick country stylings. His new EP, Hollywood Gold, is the highest-selling debut EP of 2020 and includes the Top 10 swoon-worthy hit, “Pretty Heart.”
A back-to-back CCMA Female Artist of the Year winner, Meghan Patrick makes the drive from her native Canada to the U.S. airwaves with “My First Car”- an infectious, country-rock tune that tells her life story in three captivating minutes. “Everything in that song comes straight out of my own experiences,” says Patrick. “I wanted it to be a way of telling my audience about who I really am, about how I was raised and the things that I carry in my heart.”
Chris Bandi came out of the gate sprinting with “Man Enough Now,” amassing millions of streams on his debut hit. It was a tough act to follow, but the St. Louis native has done it with songs that blend his influences from country to pop to reggae, including his tearjerking new single, “Would Have Loved Her” from his eponymous EP.
A proud native of Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, Kelsey Waldon writes music with her spellbinding live shows in mind. And if you’ve ever seen her play, you’ll get why she has a cult following on the road and the radio with her ruggedly country, incredibly catchy tunes. Waldon was personally invited by the late great John Prine to join Oh Boy Records, the label’s first signing in 15 years.
With her critically-acclaimed debut album, Expectations, Katie Pruitt proves as much of a powerhouse vocalist as a seasoned storyteller who could have a second career writing novels. The LP title is ironic, as the Georgia native themes her writing around letting go of others’ expectations. And when it comes to her musical style, Pruitt’s piano- and guitar-driven melodies never overpower her arresting vocals, as she channels the likes of Brandi Carlile and Bonnie Raitt.
Raised in the river-bottom fields of Southern Indiana, Sean Stemaly taught himself to sing over endless days in the cab of a tractor, channeling his inner George Strait and Alan Jackson. A move to Nashville merged his country-to-the-core roots with a youthful, country-soul sound – making for a sound that stands out on country radio, most notably with the charming earworm “Come Back to Bed.”
MacKenzie Porter’s eclectic new EP, DRINKIN’ SONGS: THE COLLECTION, both intoxicates and caffeinates with its fresh, upbeat country sound. A multiple CCMA and Juno Award nominee, Porter became the first female artist to have three back-to-back No. 1 singles at Canadian Country radio in 22 years with “About You,” “These Days” and “Seeing Other People” – following in the footsteps of fellow Canadian Shania Twain.
With harmonies that might make bands from the Eagles to the Jonas Brothers green with envy, Restless Road blend three distinct voices into a one-of-a-kind sound. Members Zach Beeken, Colton Pack and Garrett Nichols met on the set of “X Factor” as three solo artists, but quickly discovered that their different styles and influences made for the perfect country-pop collision. Their debut self-titled EP earned the band an opening slot on Kane Brown’s tour – and eventually a record deal with Brown’s new label.
After years of paying his dues – and seeing big success – as a songwriter (Florida Georgia Line’s “Colorado” is one of his many tunes), former honky tonk bar singer Drew Green is finally and rightfully making a name for himself as a recording artist. He saved what he says is his favorite song he ever wrote, the prayerful “Little More Be Alright” for himself, releasing it as his debut single. “Right Where I Be” followed, showing not only his more playful side – but also his skills at merging a touch of hip-hop into a song that’s still unmistakably country.