10 Rising Artists Under 21: Baby Ariel, Cuco & More
The 2018 class of Billboard's 21 Under 21 list was unveiled today (Oct. 12), counting teenaged music sensations including Billie Eilish and Lil Pump. And while these few may be at the forefront of the next generation of talent, there are many more impressive under-21 acts who could soon join their ranks.
Which up-and-comers are most likely to make an inaugural appearance on next year's list? Below, the 10 promising, buzz-worthy young artists who have a shot.
Baby Ariel (17)
The South Florida native (born Ariel Martin) got her start on the lip-synching video app formerly known as musical.ly. But she’s successfully turned her mega fanbase on the platform (where she once commanded 22 million followers) into a multi-faceted business, which now includes a book, lipstick line and starring role in Nickelodeon’s just-announced TV film Bixler High Private Eye. As she transitions into real-world singing, the 2016 Billboard cover star has released a handful of squeaky pop bops including her heart-eyed debut “Aww” in 2017 and the sticky pop groove “Perf” this past January. But it’s her third -- the lip-glossed, infectiously happy “Gucci On My Body,” released in June -- that has the teenaged influencer primed for mainstream crossover. The lyric video has already garnered close to 6 million views, and its addictive chorus works just as well for her school-aged fans as older audiences.
Last fall, on a whim, Clairo went on YouTube and uploaded a blurry video of herself in her bedroom singing original song “Pretty Girl,” a breezy pop tune about losing your identity whilst trying to please a crush. Her nonchalant attitude and subtle lyrical humor won the internet over: Today, that clip has surpassed 21.5 million views, and the Boston teen born Claire Cottrill has signed with Chance the Rapper’s manager; toured with Tyler, The Creator and Dua Lipa; and commanded her own sold-out headlining shows. In May, she dropped her diary 001 EP, which includes the woozy “Flaming Hot Cheetos,” and made her inaugural appearance on any Billboard chart in July when her funky SG Lewis collab “Better” launched at No. 31 on Hot Dance/Electronic Songs.
It’s about time to get acquainted with Omar Banos, the Los Angeles native and first-generation Mexican American who has taken his lo-fi Spanglish love songs to SXSW and Coachella, becoming a voice for the Latinx alt music community. After putting out a pair of mixtapes in 2016 and 2017, the independent singer (and recent Clairo collaborator) released his first proper EP, Chiquito, in May, which includes “CR-V,” a whirring ode to his Honda. Ahead of his anticipated debut album, out in 2019, he’ll perform at Mexico’s Festival Catrina alongside Maná and J Balvin in December, and you can find him tweeting on the regular to his cult 125,000 followers (or “Cuco Pebbles”) under the handle @icryduringsex. How is he processing his sudden rise? “I feel like I’m riding a wave,” he said.
King Princess (19)
Harry Styles shouted out King Princess on Twitter for her debut single “1950,” inspired by Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 lesbian romance novel The Price Of Salt, before the Brooklyn singer-songwriter born Mikaela Straus even had the chance to introduce herself. Now, her honeyed vocals and diaristic lyrics, which call out gender roles and indiscriminately use pronouns (she has said she identifies as genderqueer), have found an even broader audience. She’s the first signee to Mark Ronson’s label Zelig Recordings (though she’s said she turned down her first record deal at age 11), on which she released her self-produced debut EP Make My Bed in June. Her plans for the rest of 2018? “Finish this damn record,” she said of her anticipated debut album, “and put it out, hopefully within the year.”
Few artists can put millennial teenage woes into words better than Grace Shaw, the Australian singer/MC who performs under tongue-in-cheek moniker Mallrat. Her debut EP Uninvited arrived in July 2016, and made waves for its bubbly title track, which calls out fakery at parties in the vein of Alessia Cara’s “Here.” Telling it like it is has earned her an admirer in Post Malone, who invited her on a handful of his Down Under tour dates this year. “The most important thing for me when I’m songwriting is creating a feeling and being very honest and vulnerable, which I’ve pushed myself to do,” she told Billboard. In June, she followed up on Uninvited with her second EP In the Sky, which includes polished electro-pop hit “UFO” with Aussie rapper Allday.
Ravyn Lenae (19)
The Chicago R&B newcomer (née Ravyn Lenae Washington) has pumped out three EPs of groovy electronic soul in just two years with Atlantic Records, not to mention hitting the road with Noname and SZA on nationwide tours. Her latest project, the Steve Lacy-produced Crush EP (out this past May), served as the icing on her steadily-baking cake: preceded by the slinky single “Sticky,” the EP comes brimming with funk-laced ‘90s vibes, a tender feel and what Lenae described to Billboard as “more honest and mature” lyricism. After performing an October festival circuit that includes Austin City Limits and New Orleans’ Voodoo Music + Arts Festival, she’ll head on tour with fellow R&B singer Jorja Smith later this fall.
The Regrettes (17-21)
The four-piece Los Angeles punk rock troupe earned a spot on last year’s list of future contenders for Billboard’s 21 Under 21 following their debut Feel Your Feelings Fool!, where pink-haired frontwoman Lydia Night spewed razor-sharp lyrics about growing up as a young woman under the Trump administration. And while they’ve yet to join the big league list, the band has had yet another promising year: After unveiling their defiant, guitar-shredding second EP Attention Seeker in January, they contributed to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s popular #Hamildrop series and marked their first-ever Governors Ball performance this summer. Their rumbling, brand-new single “California Friends” is already making waves, with its lyric video racking up 22,000 views in its first week, and they’ll hit the road as part of Alt Nation’s Advanced Placement Tour next month.
Rex Orange County (20)
Rex Orange County, the moniker of English pop-soul singer Alex O’Connor, only celebrated his sold-out debut U.S. performance in Brooklyn nine months ago, but he’s well on his way to crossing over stateside. In 2017, he featured on Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy, opened for Frank Ocean and released his winsome, nostalgia-swept sophomore album Apricot Princess, and this year, he earned second place in BBC’s annual Sound of 2018 Poll alongside artists like Khalid and collaborated with Randy Newman on a new version of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” Inspired by Stevie Wonder as much as Mark Ronson, the eclectic singer-songwriter promises his follow-up album will touch on “subjects that I haven’t covered as much, [because] some of the best songs aren’t actually love songs.”
Stray Kids (17-20)
As K-pop continues its global domination, Stray Kids, the nine-member South Korean boy band formed through the 2017 reality show of the same name, shows promise. The group is already one EP and two albums in to their career, with impressive results. Their “pre-debut” EP Mixtape stormed in at No. 2 on the World Albums chart in January, and appeared in the top 15 of the US iTunes album chart within a day of release. Two albums of electronic and trap-influenced hip-hop beats followed this year: I am NOT and I am WHO, both featuring lyrics that alternate between English and Korean. The band performed at KCON Japan in April, and are currently teasing a new album to complete the trilogy, I am YOU.
Los Angeles upstart Zhavia may be an R&B newbie by charts standards, but she likely won’t be for long. Daughter of metal singer Bobbi Jo Black, the former contestant of Fox’s The Four landed a recording contract with Sony Music joint venture RECORDS in May. It’s been full-steam-ahead since: She notched her first Hot 100 chart entry this summer with a feature on Diplo, French Montana and Lil Pump’s brooding Deadpool soundtrack tune “Welcome to the Party” in June, and turned heads with her first proper single, the simmering, finger-snapping “Candlelight,” in July. Follow-up single “Deep Down,” a funky anthem about following your instincts that she put out in August, earned Twitter shout-outs from TLC and Fergie.