As we plunge deep into the new year, there are a number of musicians already making waves and plenty of others which have yet to rise.
Unlike with Variance's FutureSounds column, the Now List isn't trying to predict the future or determine who might break from obscurity. In fact, several on the list are FutureSounds vets.
Instead, we're highlighting 20 acts who already have a musical stockpile, most of whom spent the past year intentionally laying the foundation for the next 12 months. Because of their recent efforts and achievements thus far, these will be the most relevant, most talked-about up-and-coming voices dominating the music conversation this year.
The British singer-songwriter has been making gains over the past year with songs like “Let It Go” and “Hold Back the River.” But with his debut album, Chaos and the Calm, due on March 23 via Republic Records, this is the year he stakes his claim and becomes a star. Be prepared to hear his name a lot in the coming months.
As one of our 2014 FutureSounds alums, this songstress stole our hearts last year with her standout single “Strange Enough.” Her buttery vocals fused with those shimmering synths. Thankfully, she’s working on a lot more for 2015, so you should certainly keep an eye on her as she soars.
Years & Years
This British trio has rocketed to the front of the music conversation in recent months, with their infectious, truly danceable gems. “Real” was an early favorite, but they’ve proved to have a knack for future hits. They recently signed with Interscope and should be releasing a full-length later this year.
She was one of last year’s surprise entries, but this singer-songwriter has been at it for years, finally earning acclaim with her pop-friendly “OctaHate,” co-written by Charli XCX, someone whose footsteps she may very well be following in the coming months. Having already worked with and garnered praise from the likes of Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, Benny Blanco and Cashmere Cat, she’s set to do really well.
The young Swedish vocalist began rising last summer with her single “Younger,” which received a captivating remix from Kygo and caught fire. She made her impressive live debut at CMJ back in October, instantly sealing her future as one to watch. With a debut record still to come, she should probably plan to spend plenty of time in the States this year.
The British crooner caught our attention last year with his single “Worry.” But when he dropped “The Love You’re Given” back in November, that changed the game. He earned some major kudos in the U.K. for supporting Ben Howard on tour. His Remnants EP is currently available and now that he’s signed with Interscope, expect much more from him in the coming months.
This 20-year-old Las Vegas singer-songwriter is XL Recordings’ (Adele’s label) latest artist to break. A little bit of dance, hip-hop and funk, his quirky sound has proved to be much more than a novelty. Songs like “On the Regular” and his lo-fi cover of Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” equally showcase the makings of a star.
With support from the likes of Kanye West and OutKast, this Atlanta native swiftly rose above the fray last year. He’s also signed with Columbia Records, with the aim of releasing a proper, major-label debut sometime this year. Keep an eye on this very talented lyricist, as he’ll only continue to rise.
His cover of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” caught fire, but the Austrailia-born, London-based vocalist (and Variance FutureSounds alum) is about to storm 2015 with incredible originals. Songs like “Open Season” and “Shoot and Run” confirm his infectious pop gems will soon be conquering the globe—and possibly your radio.
This British outfit spent most of last year quietly building an arsenal of intoxicating material (“Premonitions” is insanely addictive, beware). Newly signed to Republic Records, they kicked off the new year on a high note by supporting Paolo Nutini on tour. And as if that’s not enough, their track “One Last Night” will be featured on the soundtrack for one of the year’s most-anticipated films, Fifty Shades of Grey.
The New York singer has been making his case since 2013’s Grey Area mixtape. Standout cut “Danger” proved he wasn’t messing around, but when he released a new version in October featuring Fabolous, that was “a new high,” to quote the song’s lyrics. He’s now signed to RCA Records, and if songs like “Must Be” and “When I Get There” (or his cover of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble”) are any indication of what’s to come, we’re going to need more ASAP.
Sway Clarke II
In addition to a number of remixes, this Toronto singer-songwriter in 2013 released a breathtaking, under-the-radar cut titled “I Don’t Need Much,” followed by “Secret Garden,” which includes a blazing guest feature from rising star Tink. Now that he’s part of the Capitol Records family, a full album seems like a sure thing this year. And did we mention HAIM loves this guy so much he opened for them on tour? Because they do and he did.
Speaking of Tink, the Chicago rapper/songstress—whose Winter's Diary 2 mixtape was one of our Best of 2014—has been praised by the likes of Missy Elliott and Justin Timberlake, whose buddy Timbaland has been mentoring the MC. Her upcoming major-label debut, produced by Tim himself, is likely to arrive this summer on Epic Records.
The British singer-songwriter dropped a Labor Day gift for Americans last year with his repeat-worthy single “Hunger,” which certainly lived up to its title, because it’s been streamed more than half a million times on Spotify, suggesting thousands of others can’t stop listening. This rising star recently signed with London-based Black Butter Records (Rudimental, Gorgon City) as he plans to keep the music coming this year.
New York duo Lion Babe (comprised of vocalist Jillian Hervey and producer Lucas Goodman) is one of the year’s most promising acts. Yes, Harvey is the daughter of actress Vanessa Williams, but the pair’s music speaks for itself. Starting with their shimmering, funk-laced “Jump Hi,” featuring none other than Childish Gambino, there’s no denying these guys are on their way straight to the top.
Portland producer-vocalist Dan Vidmar (better known as Shy Girls) had a busy 2014, touring with such favorites as HAIM and Little Dragon. And performing at Lollapalooza. This brilliantly talented multi-hyphenate first won us over with his 2013 single “Second Heartbeat” and most recently with “Renegade.” But be on the look out this year, as he’s promised a lot more material, including a full-length album.
Deja Trimble (aka DeJ Loaf) is the latest MC shining a big spotlight on her hometown Detroit. She catapulted last year with her single “Try Me,” landing a deal with Columbia and following in the footsteps of fellow Motor City natives Big Sean and Danny Brown, with whom she also appears on Eminem’s “Detroit Vs. Everybody.” Expect a full-length to come, likely by the end of the year.
Los Angeles-based Garrett Borns (aka BØRNS) has so far released a perfectly pop confection in the form of his Candy EP. With standouts such as “10,000 Emerald Pools” and “Electric Love,” this future star is brewing a full-length for later this year, which will likely follow his upcoming tour supporting MisterWives.
The 19-year-old Toronto singer-songwriter/instrumentalist has been simmering for some time now, but he’s about to “shock the world,” says Timbaland. His wildly infectious single “Call” has earned praise from Justin Timberlake and his forthcoming debut album is partly produced by who else but Pharrell. Having joined Atlantic Records last year, he could very well be the label’s new artist to blow up à la Charli XCX.
The Detroit native solidified his place as one to watch with last year’s Boy Who Cried Thunder EP. The title track followed previous standout “Will You,” both showcasing a Sam-Smith-meets-James-Blake sound with hints of Motown soul. He’s scheduled to be at SXSW this year and we expect plenty more music to follow.