FKA twigs, @FKAtwigs
Genre: Alternative Pop/R&B
Some of 2013's most enticing left-of-the-dial pop sounds come from FKA twigs, who's still riding high off the buzzworthy success of her "EP2," a sensuous brew of trip-hop and R&B released via Young Turks, and self-produced along with "Yeezus" collaborator Arca. Twigs is trained in ballet (she served as a backup dancer in Jessie J's "Do It Like a Dude" video) and though her focus is on music now, her overall artistic eye has led to thought-provoking music videos, stunning magazine covers, and a refreshing, Grimes-like outsider perspective to her music. Signed to Young Turks, the forward-thinking British label of The xx and Sampha, expect more from this shape-shifter in the coming months.
On Feb. 25, electro-soul artist Matthew Hemerlein will release "Blue Film," his provocative debut full-length under the pseudonym Lo-Fang, through indie mainstay 4AD. Lo-Fang's chilly re-imagining of soul music has invited James Blake comparisons, and has already found a famous fan in Lorde -- the "Royals" star connected with Hemerlein in Los Angeles in December, and invited the Maryland native to open for her on her upcoming headlining tour. As Lo-Fang prepares to entertain audiences at 4,000-capacity venues, look for the daring "Blue Film" to earn raves within the indie community.
Holychild's Liz Nistico and Louie Diller have managed to garner hundreds of thousands of YouTube views and Soundcloud plays for songs like "Watching Waiting" and "Happy With Me" over the past year. Although being hailed by the Fader and blogs like Pretty Much Amazing helped matters, the quality of the Los Angeles duo's brightly colored, sometimes-sarcastic indie-pop songs speaks for itself. "Hopefully we'll get out our [debut] EP as soon as possible," says Nistico. And with a label deal imminent, fans will likely be hearing more material from this new act in the coming months.
With artists like AlunaGeorge and Jessie Ware crafting stunning debuts in recent years, the music world is full of forward-thinking up-and-comers in R&B. Enter Jillian Banks--known onstage simply by her surname--who evokes the smoky vocals of Lana Del Rey paired with the ominous soundscapes of the Weeknd, whom she's already toured with. Standout tracks "This Is What It Feels Like" and "Waiting Game" (produced by fellow 2014 Artist to Watch Sohn) have already topped a million spins on Soundcloud, building anticipation for a more substantial release in 2014.
Genre: Alternative Pop
Just one EP into their careers, HAERTS are living the dream: Columbia signed them on the strength of their debut single (the blissful synthpop cut "Wings") and with only four tracks to their name the quintet is already headlining concerts, stirring up anticipation for their so-far untitled debut album, which features production from St. Lucia's Jean-Philip Grobler. Fans of CHVRCHES and Jagwar Ma should latch onto the Brooklyn-based act, led by the evocative vocals of Nini Fabi.
Sam Smith, @SamSmithworld
London's new crop of stunning singers is led by one man: Sam Smith. The UK singer’s rise to fame occurred in October 2012, when featured on Disclosure’s single, “Latch.” After acquiring praise for Naughty Boy’s “La La La,” which also features him, Sam Smith released an acoustic performance of his lead single, “Lay Me Down,” which blew people away with his vocal prowess. After releasing his EP, “Nirvana,” in October 2013, Smith teased his upcoming album, “In the Lonely Hour” (May 2014) with its upbeat debut single, “Money On My Mind.”
Ella Eyre, @ThisIsElla
At 19, Ella Eyre is turning heads. The London-bred singer was first introduced to the world through collaborations with UK band, Rudimental ("Waiting All Night"), Naughty Boy and Wiz Khalifa ("Think About It"). Eyre continues to thrill, recently releasing her first solo EP, "Deeper," (December 15, Virgin Records) and prepping her debut single for March 2014.
Rich Homie Quan, @RichHomieQuan
While it seems like Rich Homie Quan appeared on the rap scene last year, the Atlanta rapper has been hustling since 2012. His “Still Goin In” single, “Differences caught the attention of the streets, but it was his breakthrough single, “Type of Way,” off his third mixtape, “Still Going In (Reloaded)” (2013), that garnered praise as it rocketed onto the charts. Since then, Rich Homie Quan has been seen working with notable rappers, and featured on numerous hits, including YG's "My Ni—a." He's currently working on his debut album, which he told XXL he’s 30% done with.
EXO looks positioned to be K-pop's next crossover phenom with an American fanbase brewing for the 12-member boy band. The video for Southern hip-hop-inspired "Growl" was 2013's third most viewed K-pop music video in the U.S., after the internationally-recognized PSY and Girls' Generation. They also snagged the fifth and ninth biggest-selling K-pop tracks in America last year for "Growl" and dubstep-inspired "Wolf," respectively.
Hot Since 82, @HotSince82
As dance music starts to shift away from sledgehammer "EDM" to soul-infused house (see: Disclosure, Duke Dumont), Hot Since 82 becomes more inevitable. The moniker of Leeds-based producer Daley Padley specializes in fat-bottomed grooves that are nonetheless propulsive, adding one to Green Velvet's snarky "Bigger Than Prince" that resulted in one of the most memorable remixes of last year. Plus, he's prolific: First long-form release "Little Black Book" contained 13 originals and remixes, including hands-in-air dance floor jam "Hot's Groove." Bagging bigger and bigger gigs, including a just-announced slot at Coachella, expect Padley to help champion a new idea of Main Stage music in 2014.
Thoughtful singer-songwriters don’t come often. So when Sampha, 24, released his “Dual” EP in July 2013, those in the blogosphere looking for more than just a rump-shaker jam or an empty sad song took notice. The man’s full of well-considered metaphors, like on the set’s “Beneath the Tree” where he’s battling inner demons. He wrapped 2013 strong—first with an excellent feature on Drake’s piano-driven “Too Much,” which earned him more ears. Then with his own “Happens,” a gloomy cut about someone fresh off a breakup that’s fearful of starting again. The Young Turks artist is readying a fresh batch of material for release this year. Feels like he’s likely to have a huge 2014.
Back in spring 2013, SZA dropped her “S” EP and spent all of 2013 riding its alt-R&B waves. Eventually, the New Jersey native landed at Top Dawg Entertainment, the record label housing rappers Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and their Black Hippy crew. She’ll be their First Lady and this year SZA plans to release follow-up EP, “Z.” She has the vote of many on her side.
Sohn is already a key figure in the new electronic soul underground, producing the elegantly destroyed “Waiting Game” for Banks and remixing acts like Rhye, Haim, and Angel Haze. Those few tracks struck such a chord that super-cool folks like Lorde and Miguel have already shouted him out, and he boasts nearly 780,000 Soundcloud followers. But the London-born, Vienna-based artist (real name: still unknown) could break through solo this June, when he drops his debut album on the legendary 4AD label, featuring his own ghostly voice. If early tracks like “Lessons” are any indication, it will be a sexy haunting indeed.