On Sunday night (Jan. 28), the Grammys will honor the most well known, revered, and critically acclaimed acts of the past year. But in a tucked away room in the Ludlow House on New York’s Lower East Side on Friday night, Billboard wrapped its third consecutive industry night, a showcase of performances from artists who are still on their way up.
In a captivating opening, SYML played tracks off his latest EP, In My Body, which has only been out since Jan. 12. And while the Industry Showcases are to display widely unknown talent, SYML is actually the side project and current focus of Barcelona frontman Brian Fennell. The EP shows Fennell’s angelic voice in the same way his tracks with Barcelona do, but his latest work cuts out the synth dance music aspects of his last group. To a room of hypnotized guests he flaunted an effortless falsetto, playing “Body” and “Wildfire” off his new EP, and then a surprising broken down cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”
The night continued its easy-listening trajectory with Handsome Ghost, the indie-pop duo from Massachusetts. For Handsome Ghost, the night served as an impromptu listening party of sorts as well, as their debut album — ironically titled Welcome Back — was released the same day. Lead singer Tim Nayes proudly told the crowd, “Today is a big day for Handsome Ghost!” And in a beautiful introduction of what they have to offer, the group played about five songs off their debut, including a dazzling rendition of their song “Fool.”
After Handsome Ghost, the crowd and the vibe pivoted away from the broken down acoustic sets. In as close as you can get to a stage rush in the small and swanky Ludlow House room, the space in front of the stage filled almost instantaneously for Parson James. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because in 2016, Kygo released “Stole the Show” — a hit that currently sits on YouTube with over 275 million views — and the hauntingly beautiful vocals are from none other than James.
His set was filled with personal anecdotes, ranging from his previous night at a party with Cardi B, to his childhood growing up as bi-racial and gay in South Carolina. Of course the singer pleased with a performance of “The Show,” but Parsons also showed off his growth with songs like “Only You,” about a problematic, but meaningful relationship.
Later, in the most upbeat set of the night, there was the ever-cool Kimbra, whose hook and corresponding visuals on Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” have earned her two Grammys already. The singer’s set proved her staying power with cuts that included largely R&B verses, fused with techno-pop ballad choruses.
Kimbra surprised the crowd with previews from her upcoming album, Primal Heart, which isn’t due out until May. Before playing “Sweet Release,” one of the newer songs, she informed the crowd “It’s time to get you dancing now.” She followed it up with performances of “Human” and “Top of the World,” which she’ll be playing on Seth Meyers next week.
As calmly as the night had begun, Kimbra ushered out the last night of the Billboard Industry Sessions with an intimate dance party.