Some musical artists can catch your attention immediately. There’s something there—the voice, the writing, and/or the production—that speaks to you on a deeper level. There are hundreds of musical artists that put out new music every week, but very few who make it big. Here are 8 artists that you absolutely need to know in 2016, and the qualities that make them stand out from the rest.
1. Gallant – The Astounding Vocalist. There’s a music industry term that came to mind upon hearing this R&B powerhouse vocalist. It’s called the “money note”—a note that is so stratospherically high that it can only be reached by a singer with considerable talent, and one that will give you goosebumps. It happens in Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” right as she belts the last chorus after a major key change. Gallant hits the “money note” in “Learn to Fly” (linked below) and also aims for the charts with his soaring R&B track, “Weight in Gold.” The catchy “Weight in Gold” coupled with the clear talent he exudes in “Learn to Fly” will surely help Gallant catch major coverage, with his debut album, Ology, which was just released last month.
2. Kiiara – The Soundscaper. If Kiiara’s standout single “Gold” were a painting, it would be featured in its own exhibit twenty years from now. Kiiara and producer Felix Snow have created a study in sound in “Gold”: it features staticy bass; vocals re-pitched, sampled, reversed, and cut up beyond recognition; and trappy percussive elements that push the song forward. At the end of the day, the Kiiara/Snow palette works incredibly well and shapes up to be something like the musical equivalent of Picasso’s cubism. “Gold” is already looking like an early contender for the indie hit of the summer—it hit number 2 on the Billboard Bubbling Under chart and is popping up on Shazam charts worldwide. Expect Kiiara’s recently released debut EP, low kii savage, to turn a lot of heads this year with its provoking but poppy compositions.
3. Chloe Angelides – The Pop Medium. Sometimes you just want to listen to an artist whose music reaches out and grabs you in a warm embrace. Chloe Angelides, who was featured on R. City’s bubbly “Make Up” last year, is poised to be that pop artist. Angelides has been singing backing vocals and writing hooks for superstar artists over the past 3 years and her writing has matured in a way that will undoubtedly make her debut album strong this coming year. Angelides’ latest—the heartwarming love track and “Dangerous Woman” standout, “Thinking Bout You” by Ariana Grande—feels like a total banger. Its syncopated lyric “I’ve been thin-kin’ bout you / been thin-kin’ bout you” is a stunning break from Grande’s usual fare that could hint at the gripping, confectionery pop that Angelides could bring to a debut album this year.
4. Coleman Hell – The Genre Bender. Coleman Hell is a singer-songwriter and producer with a deep respect for timeless classics and a desire to make something unique. His debut single “2 heads” starts out with the thought-provoking lyric, “There must be something in the water” over guitar chords and then proceeds to make a big EDM inspired drop – into a rambling banjo sample. The odd track has garnered over 60 million streams on Spotify and has set the native Canadian up to make a big debut on his full-length album, which comes out later this year. Hell’s alternative brand of folktronica, rock, and reggae fusion is sure to make him stand out this year as he prepares to release his full-length album. Check out “2 Heads” and the album lead, “Fireproof” below.
5. Stephen – The Visionary. Sincerely standout, “Crossfire,” transports us to a seemingly post-apocalyptic world of suffering. Within twenty-five seconds, Stephen berates us with the throb of a cardiac monitor, the ricochet of gunshots, the whirr of a helicopter, grating sobs, and a stomach-churning wobble. All of these anxious sounds are presented over a melodic piano line and a haunting classical orchestra sample that make us want to hear more—causing an uncomfortable conundrum between the music and its listener. As it continues, the song questions the balance between privilege and the very real suffering of violence across seas and at home (illustrated in the music video’s takedown of racially-motivated incarceration). Stephen’s full debut album Sincerely has a clear vision of a problematic future and offers a chance for renewal—if at the price of the listener’s comfort. Expect Stephen and the incredibly promising Sincerely to excite and unsettle listeners and critics alike.
6. Parson James – The Modern Baldwin. Parson James’ greatest strength comes from an exploration of his identity—James is interracial, gay, and from the deep south where he and his single mother often felt ostracized by the church and the wider community. Although his first major feature, Kygo’s “Stole the Show,” was a club banger which stormed international charts, James’ other music goes far beyond party fare. “Sinner Like You” starts with the confrontational lyrics “Mama, I sinned again, I went to bed with another man,” and his latest single “Temple” is modern James Baldwin, exploring the conflict between religion and induced shame. Parson James’ gospel-tinged pop music will be sure to excite and confound many this year. Take a listen to “Temple” from The Temple EP below in advance of Parson James’ full debut later this year.
7. Emily Warren – The Skilled Lyricist. You actually already know Emily Warren if you’ve heard “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Chainsmokers, which is their second Billboard Hot 100 top ten single (following “Roses”). Warren, who is signed to the publishing company Prescription Songs, is a songstress with skill for surprise and intrigue in her writing, but she is also an accomplished artist herself, having performed with FRENSHIP, Tritonal, and the Chainsmokers, who dubbed her one of the best songwriters and vocalists that they have ever worked with. Her lyricisms stretch from the exquisitely simple, such as the title lyric in “Don’t Let Me Down,” to the metaphorically complex; in “Capsize” by Frenship, she sings “Capsize, I’m first in the water /Too close to the bottom / I’m right back where I started” in a way that demands recognition for her skills in songcraft.
8. Bibi Bourelly – The Realness. Bibi Bourelly is the half-Morrocan, half-Haitian, Berliner who penned Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” and is aiming to make a huge splash in 2016. The 21-year-old released her debut EP, Feel the Real, Pt. #1 early this month. Bourelly is a captivating, soulful, and in-your-face artist whose explicit acoustic music will surely move you with its authentic musings. DEAL covered her background and the release of her debut EP in further detail here. Check out her first single, “Riot” below.
With a bit of luck, expect these artists all to get big over the next year. They certainly have the unique qualities needed to stand out and make it.