This year has already been a fantastic one for pop music, from the radio returns of artists like Lorde, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez to the arrival of newcomers like Khalid, Harry Styles and Julia Michaels. Admit it, though: with all the great music dominating Top 40, you’ve probably missed some great under-the-radar tunes over the past six months. We’re here to help you catch up if that’s the case!
From Sweden to Australia to Los Angeles to… er, back to Sweden, these 20 artists have filled the first half of the year with songs ripe for any pop playlist. Take a listen and embrace the underrated.
Grace Mitchell, “Now”
The Portland native was behind one of the most inventive singles of 2015 in “Jitter,” and while “Kids (Ain’t All Right)” is also a must-listen from 2017, “Now” showcases Mitchell’s versatility the most effectively, hopscotching from balladry to power-pop with ease.
Austra, “I Love You More Than You Love Yourself”
This five-minute masterpiece combines Austra’s classically trained voice with an extraordinary assortment of rhythms. Great for any indie-leaning playlist, or when you want to have a solo dance party in your empty apartment.
MUNA, “Around U”
The entirety of MUNA’s February debut About U is worth perusing, but “Around U” sums up the group’s strongest qualities: warm, empathetic pop deployed through a fat hook that often slides into an emotionally devastating bridge. “Around U” is especially understated and beautiful.
Billie Eilish, “Bellyache”
Three things we know for certain about Billie Eilish: she is 15 years old, she absolutely hates smiling in her Instagram photos, and she’s truly a gifted songwriter. “Ocean Eyes” deserves to be heard, while follow-up “Bellyache” is twice as twisted but just as beguiling.
Sälen, “Heartbreak Diet”
“I used to dream of dying, so you would cry at my funeral,” sings Ellie Kamio of Sälen on this charming kiss-off. Want some harsh truth with your heartache? This London trio has the recipe for you.
Dagny, “Wearing Nothing”
More Scandinavian sweetness: Dagny’s “Wearing Nothing” sees nudity as the ultimate form of vulnerability, and aims for something more subtle instead of sexy. Bonus points for a giddily choreographed video.
Declan McKenna, “The Kids Don’t Wanna come Home”
At 18, Declan McKenna has already been kicking around the U.K. alt-rock scene and festival circuit for a few years — and with the spunky, greased-up single “The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home,” he’s stumbled upon his ragged anthem.
Sigrid, “Plot Twist”
As if “Don’t Kill My Vibe” wasn’t enough to make this Norwegian newcomer one of 2017’s most promising breakouts, follow-up single “Plot Twist” has hooks stacked on hooks, with Sigrid confidently navigating each vocal run and jittery yelp.
Computer Games, “Every Single Night”
We all knew Darren Criss, better known as the main Blaine on Glee, was capable of pop wizardry, but few could have predicted how vital his brother Chuck apparently was in expediting that magic. “Every Single Night” is Bar Mitzvah dance floor catnip, and should have blown up.
Tove Styrke, “Say My Name”
Tove Styrke is still known in the States as The Other Tove, but the Swedish star made a convincing argument against this classification by returning with a bold new sound. “Say My Name” possesses the type of ambition that always impresses, even when it doesn’t fire on all cylinders.
“xx” stands for “kiss kiss” here, and on this exhilarating new track, Morgxn springs forward with a combination of country impulses, indie vocals and ‘60s melodies that feels a passionate embrace. After a few promising singles, the L.A. artist hits his stride here.
Bleachers, “Don’t Take The Money”
Imagine if a music superstar — Katy Perry or Miley Cyrus or Jack Antonoff BFF Taylor Swift, even — had taken a run at Bleachers’ riveting “Don’t Take The Money.” How big would it have been? We’ll never know, but once again, Antonoff flexes his pop songwriting muscle and
Erik Hassle, “Missing You”
When oh when will bleeding-heart auteur Erik Hassle take hold in the States? “Missing You” is another win from the understated Swede, nodding to early-00’s R&B with its chorus and modern hip-hop with its production.
Betty Who, “Wanna Be”
Betty Who’s sophomore LP The Valley has some hidden treasures on its track list, most notably “Wanna Be” — no, not a Spice Girls interpolation, but a snapshot of longing with heavy drums and a sense of melancholy that recalls Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.”
Michelle Branch, “Fault Line”
Michelle Branch’s long-awaited comeback album Hopeless Romantic, produced by now-fiancée Patrick Carney of the Black Keys, will go down as hopelessly overlooked. “Fault Line,” swaying smoothly away from romantic disaster, is the most essential piece of a must-listen.
Allie X, “Paper Love”
Allie X is always going to push pop music toward its most conceptual edges, but “Paper Love,” from new album CollXtion II, can be appreciated outside of the full-length context, thanks to a fluent guitar line and a restrained vocal take.
Kacy Hill, “Hard To Love”
Kacy Hill has described “Hard To Love” as “the most emotional song I’ve ever written,” and you can hear the care within each line of this soaring credo on frustrated romance. Hill’s voice is like porcelain; when paired with a driving arrangement, its power is realized.
Raye, “The Line”
Charli XCX pal Raye salutes the real heroes of Saturday night — the ladies waiting outside the club in ill-fitting dresses and high heels, trying to have a good time while getting annoyed that the guys can breeze by in casual wear.
Hey Violet, “Break My Heart”
“Guys My Age” delivered Hey Violet to the Billboard Hot 100 at long last, but “Break My Heart” is the type of pop-rock candy that understands how to incorporate an EDM drop without overstepping. A standout track from a group with a highly promising future.
Amy Shark, “Adore”
If the bruised, brawny “Adore” from Australian singer-songwriter Shark had been released two decades earlier, it would have occupied the same rarefied area of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” or Alanis Morissette’s “Head Over Feet.” As it stands, it’s a hit Down Under — and we in the U.S. should be welcoming it with open arms.