A grime rapper, a Brazilian drag queen activist, a global climate change hero and the new face of flamenco are among Time magazine’s “Next Generation Leaders.” The special issue pays homage to young activists, singers, actors and visionairies who are doing their part to make the world a better, safer, cleaner, more art-filled world.
Among the leaders is British grime superstar rapper (and cover star) Stormzy (born Michael Omari), 26, one of the breakouts in an urgent hip-hop genre that has been tagged “as disruptive and powerful as punk.” Among the accomplishments racked up by the rapper over the last two years: a No. 1 album, bragging rights as the first-ever British rapper to headline Glastonbury in June and a chart-topping duet with Ed Sheeran on “Take Me Back to London.”
“For the first time ever in my life, maybe in my career, I’ve achieved something and it’s given me perfect peace,” Stormzy says of his Glasto headlining set, which came six years after he started writing out his early lyrics on Post-It notes during a gig on a British oil rig. Now that he’s made it, Stormzy says he’s determined to shine a brighter light on the community of black musicians in England through his Merky Books publishing imprint with Penguin Random House and the Stormzy Scholarship, a partnership with Cambridge University that funds the tuition and living fees for two black students pursuing degrees. “There’s always been a kind of lack of spotlight and shine on the black British side of British culture,” he says. “[But] there’s a whole world of it … It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s coming of age right now.”
Brazilian drag activist Pabllo Vittar, 24, is using the power of pop hits, outrageous fashion week outifts and disruptive political statements to demand equality for LGBTQ communities in her home country and beyond. With half a billion Spotify streams, a billion YouTube views and spots dancing next to Charli XCX in “Flash Pose” and making out with Diplo in “Entao Vai,” Vittar has racked up 9 million Instagram followers while raising the profile of drag culture in her country.
“It’s so cool to see drag queen art and LGBTQ art going mainstreamand being introduced to people who haven’t even heard of what it is to be queer,” Vittar says. With such a massive platform, Vittar has marched in the World Pride Parade and Rio’s Carnival, as well as speaking out about the terrifying tide of violent LGBTQ deaths in Brazil and becoming one of the leaders of the El Nao movement against self-identified homophobic Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. The singer will raise her voice on her upcoming (Nov. 1) trilingual album and is not afraid to keep doing it. “If speaking out will put me in a risky spot, let us all die trying.”
Rosalía, 25, remembers falling in love with the sound of flamenco music as a teenager, mesmerzined by the “visceral” nature of the traditiona music, which was like nothing she’d ever heard. After a decade of study, she realized her vision for a modern version of the music that originated with the Romani communities in southern Spain on last year’s El Mal Querer album.
Her mix of pop, R&B and flamenco on Querer drew career-best reviews and was a radical departure from the acoustic sound of her 2017 debut, Los Angeles. “For me, music is about experimentation,” she says, ticking off incfluences including Frank Ocean and the Talking Heads’ David Byrne, as well as Kate Bush, Brazilian guitarist Caetano Veloso and Romani flamenco legend Camarón de la Isla on the album that pushed the boundaries of the traditional style. “I want every record I make to be different to the one before – even if I fail one day.”
And, the magazine says, she’s doing it all with a team that pushes against the music industry’s traditional failure to acknowledge women’s creative agency. In addition to writing, composing and producing her own songs, the singer has an almost all-female team, with her mother and sister serving as manager and creative director, respectively. “My generation is changing things,” she says. “More women are working behind the music. We’re fighting for the visibility we deserve.”
Black opera singer Davóne Tines, 32, is described by the magazine as one of the most “compelling classically trained singers” working in America today, well-versed in the classics, but more intestered in exploring contemporary works. His most recent accomplishment is the 70-minute The Black Clown, adapted from a Langston Hughes poem that recently became a phenomenon on Broadway.
“I really wanted to sing something that was soulful and whimsical and something that I deeply connected to,” Tines says of the seven-year journey to the stage. The next year will bring a raft of high-profile bookings, including a recital at Carnegie Hall and a combination of classical and new works that he says are his dream lineup. “I’m just doing what black people have always done, which is to see the resources around them, put them together and use them for moving forward.”
In addition to activists who’e launched apps to help stem the tide of suicide, are speaking out against Russian president Vladimir Putin, celebrating African art, fighting sexism in Morocco using comics, revolutionizing the fight against malaria in Uganda and battling gender bias in gaming the list also includes Swedish teen climate change warrior Greta Thunberg.
The 16-year-old who has inspired global climate walk outs and who famously excoriated the leaders in the U.N. earlier this month for not doing enough to stem the tide of climate change, came to the world’s attention last year when she started a one-person protest outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, kicking off her School Strike for Climate movement.
“I felt everything was meaningless and there was no point going to school if there was no future,” Thunberg tells the magazine, explaining that she decided to channel her frustration into action. “I promised myself I was going to do everything I could do to make a difference.” Inspired to walk out by the students-turned-gun-control-activists who survived the Parkland high school mass shooting in Florida, Thunberg’s Friday walk-outs have gone viral, blowing up her Twitter following 4,000% since she addressed the U.N. Climate Change conference in December.
So far the results are impressive, with organizers estimating that 1.6 million people in 133 countries participated in the March 15 global climate strike, with students continuing to walk out on Fridays every week aroung the globe. “I believe that once we start behaving as if we were in an existential crisis, then we can avoid a climate and ecological breakdown,” she says. “But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We have to start today.”