The BBC’s annual Sound of… poll is one of the music world’s most reliable barometers of critically beloved new talent; previous winners include then-little-known artists like Adele, Ellie Goulding and HAIM. When the BBC Sound of 2014 longlist was announced last month, familiar names like Chance The Rapper, Sam Smith and Sampha popped up… as did Chlöe Howl, an 18-year-old U.K. artist who has earned comparisons to Lily Allen due to intensely clever singles like “No Strings” and “Rumour.”
Four days after the longlist has unveiled, Howl was bestowed with another nomination: the Critics’ Choice Award for the 2014 BRIT Awards, rounding out a shortlist that also included Sam Smith and Ella Eyre (Smith was eventually named the winner). “It was kind of mental, because I followed those lists since I was young,” Howl tells Billboard. The BBC Sound of 2014 poll’s winner will be announced on Jan. 10, but Howl isn’t sweating the actual result. “I feel like I should feel pressure? But I’m actually like, ‘Oh, that’s nice!'”
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Howl’s inclusion in the longlist is not happenstance, however. Songs like “Paper Heart,” “Rumour” and “I Wish I Could Tell You” have been hailed by Pitchfork and NME, each racking up hundreds of thousands of YouTube views over the past year while showcasing Howl’s freckled face and uniform vocal strength. Howl has been working with Eg White, who produced songs like Adele’s “Chasing Pavements” and Florence & The Machine’s “What The Water Gave Me” before helming “No Strings,” a biting condemnation of hasty hook-ups punctuated by the hook, “Fuck your no strings/And your ‘Hey, I’ll ring’… The trouble with no strings is you can only fall.”
Howl wrote “No Strings” when she was “16 or 17,” after attending a terrible birthday party at a local hall that one of her friends’ parents had rented out. “I had this sobering moment where I stepped back and saw everyone desperately trying to get together at the end of the night,” explains Howl, “because they wouldn’t have felt like the night had been a success unless they had gone off with someone. I kind of wanted to take the myth out of it, really, and so ‘No Strings’ came from observing that weird culture.”
Howl posted “No Strings” as her debut single online in late 2012, after signing a deal with Columbia U.K. at the age of 16. She’s been imagining her musical debut ever since she was little, and although she is not attending college like most of her friends, Howl’s first batch of songs have focused on the normalcies — and problems — of teenage life.
“My next album’s not going to be about being a bored teenager, because I won’t be bored by that time,” she says with a laugh. “When I wrote ‘No Strings’ and ‘Rumour,’ I was still very much going to a lot of parties with people I went to school with, still dealing with gossip at school. And I don’t really have to deal with that anymore, so the next set of songs will be about another part of my life.”
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This set of songs will be wrapped up and released as Howl’s debut album in the early part of the summer, after her three-song debut EP, “Rumour,” was released last March. “It’s all done — just sitting there in my iTunes, hanging out, waiting for other people to hear it,” Howl says of her as-yet-untitled full-length. “Whereas ‘No Strings’ and ‘Rumor’ are very lyrical and storytelling-y, there are songs on the album that are more about the vibe. There are some really personal ones — I don’t really do massively personal songs, but there are a couple of big ol’ ballads that are quite personal. I like to think that there’s quite a variety.”
Until then, Howl will promote “Rumour” as her latest single and open for the BBC Sound of 2010 winner, Ellie Goulding, on the “Burn” singer’s European tour, beginning Jan. 28 in Germany and ending in early March. Howl previously opened for another rising British artist, John Newman, in Europe — and apparently, the “Love Me Again” singer was a bit of a prankster.
“It was just really crap [pranks],” says Howl. “Like, we’d be in our dressing room and he’d knock on our door and run away. And he did it for at least an hour, and didn’t get bored! Then, he’d be in his dressing room, and he’d launch M&M’s into mine. Then he’d walk into mine and go, ‘Why are there suddenly M&M’s on your floor?'” Howl sighs, and lets out a tiny laugh. “It was rubbish, really.”