The Should-Be-Bigger Bracket: The Elite Eight

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Charli XCX vs. Sky Ferreira, Carly Rae Jepsen vs. Vince Staples, and more match-ups to help decide pop's most underappreciated artist.

Last week (Mar. 16), we kicked off the Should-Be-Bigger Bracket, our March Madness-style tournament between 32 artists who we feel have gone overlooked, to some degree, in the mainstream -- artists who, in our entirely subjective opinion, should have better sales, higher festival placement and radio play commiserate with their Internet adulation. We're going to use the next few weeks to determine which of them is the most underappreciated pop star of them all.

We narrowed our field of 32 to 16 last week, and yesterday (Mar. 23) we got down to the Elite Eight, with Sky Ferreira just squeaking by JoJo, and sixth-seeded Hey Violet continuing their Cinderella run with a victory over second-seeded Kacey Musgraves. Today (Mar. 23), read on to find out who our edit team determined as the winners of our eight Elite Eight matchups.

(1) TINASHE VS. (3) BETTY WHO

Jason Lipshutz: A very shameful admission: I think Betty Who’s “Somebody Loves You” is better than Tinashe’s “2 On.” The blogs won’t be kind to me for that opinion, but history will. VERDICT: BETTY WHO

Xander Zellner: I’ll admit, I didn’t vote for these artists early on, and boy what a mistake that was. Betty Who has a fair share of great dance songs, but there’s no denying that Tinashe can do it all. She sings, raps and dances like no other up-and-coming artist, and it’s no wonder some people call her the next Janet Jackson. With her third studio album Joyride set for release this spring, it’s only a matter of time before she’s headlining festivals. VERDICT: TINASHE

Andrew Unterberger: Feels wrong to vote against Betty Who on her album release day – or, y’know at all -- but while both Betty’s Take Me When You Go and Tinashe’s Aquarius ranked among 2014’s best pop full-lengths, Tinashe has continued to challenge and delight with her ensuing releases, while Betty just hasn’t quite hit the same heights since. Perhaps The Valley will prove a grower and “Flame” will push Tinahse so close to pop’s center that she’ll lose the edginess that made her so interesting in the first place, but as of right now… VERDICT: TINASHE

Taylor Weatherby: Honestly, both of these girls are capable of creating earworms that simply make you smile, also doing so with their lovably bubbly and genuine personalities. But while Betty Who has dished one pop gem after the next, what Tinashe has done with the material she's released so far (see how many years it's been) is proved that she can craft an irresistible Top 40-worthy jam and simultaneously delivering slower, smoother R&B vibes on other tracks. Love what you do, Betty, but until you master two genres, Tinashe's got you beat. VERDICT: TINASHE

Dan Rys: As with most of the artists who have made it this far in this bracket, it's a little confounding that Tinashe, with all the momentum and infrastructure around her, hasn't ever truly taken off after the success of her single "2 On" featuring ScHoolboy Q. Maybe it seems even more incongruous because from the outside looking in, she appears to have it all; she can sing, is a great dancer, is a tireless performer, has high-profile singles with fellow RCA signees A$AP Rocky, Chris Brown, Kid Ink and Britney Spears... and yet, none became hits. She leaves you conflicted between feeling like it's only a matter of time and feeling like she might've missed the boat already. But people know who the hell she is, which is more than I can comfortably say about Betty... Who? (Sorry.) VERDICT: TINASHE

 

WINNER: TINASHE

 

(1) CHARLI XCX VS. (3) SKY FERREIRA

Jason Lipshutz: A torturous decision — how can one rationally pick against either the creator of “Nuclear Seasons” or the artist behind “Everything Is Embarrassing”? Yet Charli notches the victory here simply because she has more enthralling pop material (two albums and a new mixtape) than Sky (one album and an EP). When things are this close, quantity rules. VERDICT: CHARLI XCX

Xander Zellner: This is, far and away, the toughest matchup yet—mostly because each of these singers are hugely underrated talents in their own right. On one hand, you have a terrific, well-known pop star who’s already made a dent on Top 40 charts (and don’t forget about her SNL musical guest spot in 2014). On the other hand, you have another underrated talent with multiple songs that should be huge hits (see: “You’re Not The One,” “24 Hours” and “Everything Is Embarrassing”), but she hasn’t been given a chance to flourish on Top 40. In terms of “who should be bigger,” I have to go with the latter. VERDICT: SKY FERREIRA

Joe Lynch: Both Sky and Charli are risk-taking pop singers, but Sky Ferreira is a fearless lyricist and sonic experimenter, so she ekes out a victory here. VERDICT: SKY FERREIRA

Andrew Unterberger: If it was a question of who most wants to be bigger, this would be a lot easier: Charli expended more energy grabbing at pop iconicity in one TV performance than Sky may have in her entire career. Sky’s sulking avoidance of the spotlight might hold more natural allure than Charli’s two-handed grasp at it, but the latter is ultimately no less noble – especially because Charli has the songs, the style and versatility to be every bit as big as should could ever dream. And even if she never gets there, her vision of her own imagined superstardom will likely continue to be more interesting than the reality of most of our IRL superstars. VERDICT: CHARLI XCX

Katie Atkinson: Honestly, these two cool girls should just get together and make a hit duet. Their catalogs are both filled with similar throwback-pop gems that deserve more radio love, but gun to my head, I think Charli XCX's tastes of the big leagues with "Fancy," "Boom Clap" and "I Love It" are just too promising to ignore. She's just one more hit away from that next level. VERDICT: CHARLI XCX

 

WINNER: CHARLI XCX

 

(1) CARLY RAE JEPSEN VS. (2) VINCE STAPLES

Adelle Platon: Vince Staples' gritty West Coast rap paints vivid street tales as heard on his 2015 debut Summertime '06 and his subsequent Prima Donna EP. His latest release, the edgy and politically charged "BagBak" also signals greater things to come. VERDICT: VINCE STAPLES

Chris Payne: It’s Elite 8 time, so no one said this would be easy. If you’re trying to trying to judge the unheralded-ness of E•MO•TION vs. Summertime ’06, it’s pretty much a wash. Both artists absolutely should be much bigger, so for me it comes down to a matter of who wants it more, or even more importantly, who needs it more. Carly Rae’s pushed for multi-faceted pop stardom (she endured Canadian Idol, starred on friggin’ Broadway) but landed in a world of online acclaim and cult hero status. That’s not too different from where Staples resides, but the hip-hop world is at least more accommodating for this lane. VERDICT: CARLY RAE JEPSEN

Lyndsey Havens: Vince Staples’ music is far more timely and necessary than Carly Rae Jepsen’s. Sure, she may have delivered an acclaimed pop album rich in emotion (as her 2015 album title suggests), but when Staples raps, he holds up a mirror to the current cultural climate as he goes in on race, violence and police -- topics that are indeed much bigger than Boy Problems, and as such, prop Staples up as the artist that should indeed be bigger. VERDICT: VINCE STAPLES

Katie Atkinson: Does Vince Staples even want to be any bigger? His music and his persona seem to thrive in the underground, whereas no one has angled for the pop spotlight more overtly than Carly Rae Jepsen, starting with the viral video of Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and other pop stars lip-syncing her breakthrough hit "Call Me Maybe." That signaled the company she expected to keep, and she still deserves a seat at that table. VERDICT: CARLY RAE JEPSEN

Andrew Unterberger: Is Carly Rae Jepsen really the shooting star of pop perfection that so many pop fans claim her to be? She’s close, certainly, but personally, the larger-than-life projection of Carly Rae that the Pop Internet broadcasts never quite matched the actual songs and performance; she’s great, but I don’t know if she’s irreplaceable. Vince, on the other hand, is a true one of a kind; a rapper capable of both being more sobering than the news and funnier than Twitter’s reaction to it, whose best music still seems well ahead of him. I know which one I’d miss more. VERDICT: VINCE STAPLES

 

WINNER: VINCE STAPLES

 

(1) LITTLE MIX VS. (6) HEY VIOLET

Joe Lynch: Hey Violet's future is bright, but Little Mix has a deeper catalog of pop gems that have been playing on repeat in our heads for a minute now. VERDICT: LITTLE MIX

Andrew Unterberger: Hey Violet feel like a key part of a rock-bred generation who probably won’t be able to quite keep rock in the mainstream, but will at least figure out the way to ensure the best, most vital parts of it aren’t completely lost to popular music. Meanwhile, Little Mix have had over a half-decade. If they still can’t get higher than No. 67 on the pop charts, then maybe that’s sorta where they belong. VERDICT: HEY VIOLET

Lyndsey Havens: Little Mix have proven capable of crafting catchy pop tunes, but as a whole appear as more of a one-trick pony. Conversely, Hey Violet’s still-evolving sound fuses together aspects of alternative, pop and rock -- they may simply have more to offer. VERDICT: HEY VIOLET 

Taylor Weatherby: If this "tournament" involved a belt-off, each of these groups would actually be able to hold their own pretty well. Although Little Mix is certainly the one you'd anticipate to win with their empowering diva anthems, Hey Violet's frontwoman Rena Lovelis has more pipes than you'd expect after hearing the band's low-toned hit "Guys My Age." But while Lovelis can belt with the best of 'em, she may be the only one of her five-piece group who can do so - all four Little Mix members, on the other hand, Well, they could out-sing each other. VERDICT: LITTLE MIX

Chris Payne: Hasn’t Little Mix been at this for a while now? When you came out of X Factor six years ago and you’ve been with Simon Cowell’s label from the jump, there comes a time when “should be bigger” turns into “should've been bigger, but hey, that’s life, man.” Hey Violet’s potential heat right now is just undeniable as the L.A. quintet pushes towards its debut album. They’re an instrument-wielding, co-ed squad that performs like a rock band while taking on radio-ready pop and dance trends without breaking a sweat. The odds are against a band like them, but if they don’t break out in 2017, pop honestly just deserves more secondhand trop house. VERDICT: HEY VIOLET

 

WINNER: HEY VIOLET

 

Check back next week as our Final Four square off and a Should-Be-Bigger Bracket champion is determined!

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