Pop music has no boundaries.
In the past five years, the genre has had some kind of indie rock-like revolution: There is music you can define as pop because it is popular, but there are also artists delivering a wealth of work that is varied enough from each other but all possesses the same kind of infectious thread.
In 2015, we saw PC Music evolve from SoundCloud sweethearts to Columbia Records signees; Carly Rae Jepsen ditched her ‘Call Me Maybe’ one hit wonder status and became a beloved critical darling; Miley Cyrus became Grimes and Grimes became Miley. This year is already beaming with promise – we’re expecting to receive LPs from Rihanna, Charli XCX, and Sky Ferreira.
However, as exciting as it is to see some pop favorites return, there are still a wealth of artists who have been bubbling under that should see a boost in the next twelve months.
From pop-rock led by a former boy band heartthrob and soulful sweetness crafted, respectively, by the daughters of huge pop icons to wistful piano balladry and hyperactive gritty-pop, these are the 10 pop acts to watch in 2016.
New York-via-Toronto multimedia artist Annika Zee opens ‘Crazy’, the lead single from her upcoming debut Aging Aesthetics, with the lyrics, “It’s not so easy being normal / It’s not so normal being open”. It is the perfect mission statement for her work. Entirely self-produced and performed — save for the piano parts, which she still composed — Zee’s output is a mix of sultry experiments that tilt from enormous sound collages to moody balladry. Plus, she has a song called ‘Fake Boobs That Have Lost All Feeling’ — why wouldn’t you want to watch?
Chicago duo Celine Neon is the product of 10 years of friendship and unfulfilling collaborations with others. But together, the group comprised of Emily Nejad and Maggie Kubley create a fierce technicolor fantasy world that beams with fun at every turn. They channel Gloria Estefan on their single ‘Getcha Good’ but elsewhere get much grittier, like on ‘DEPRESH’, the video for which asks the question: “Is brunch the meal of Satan?” (The answer to that is: “Yes.”)
But Neon is for more than just your headphones — their performance and costuming play into what make them so compelling, making them ones to watch not only because their quirks should take them far, but because they’re a visual spectacle you cannot turn away from.
French singer Héloïse Letissier launched her career in 2012, but it wasn’t until she was picked up by Neon Gold and her self-titled album was reissued Stateside in February of last year that her stunning live prowess became more than just a word-of-mouth phenomenon.
Opening for Marina and the Diamonds, Letissier’s project was able to stand on its own legs and she gained an even wider audience for her brooding pop after an arresting appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. And while her own music stands by itself, her ability to make pain transformative comes across best on her Franglish interpretation of Kanye West’s ‘Heartless’, which she renders utterly devastating. No one woman should have all that power.
Perhaps including a band that features Joe Jonas of the eponymous Brothers is a little too on-the-nose for FACT’s “ones to watch” column. But after his younger brother Nick scored a landmark year in 2014 by completely de-throning Robin Thicke as the quintessential R&B white boy, while eldest brother Kevin became a building contract, the game What Will Each Jonas Brother Do Next? has actually become quite fun.
While DNCE’s debut single ‘Cake By the Ocean’ teeters into intolerable Walk the Moon by-way-of Maroon 5 territory, the rest of their Sway EP promises to be way more slick, taking the pop-rock of the JoBros and smoothing it out with a little bit more soul.
London teen Dua Lipa may have gotten her look from a collection of YouTube covers — including a thicker, moody refit of Jamie xx’s ‘Good Times’ — but it was the perfect way to display her malleability. Debuting back in August with ‘New Love’, co-written by Emily Hayne and Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt, she’s proving that with the right collaborators, she can elevate her brooding power.
The 19-year old singer also has one of the most powerful voices of up-and-coming talents, smoky but resonate, emotional but tough. And while there is still not much of a pool of original work to dive into, hers is a star that will rise quickly through the rest of the year.
Lapsley first dazzled with her self-released SoundCloud EP Monday in 2013 and nabbing a space on the Glastonbury BBC Introducing stage the following year, it’s no wondering XL scooped out this York singer-songwriter for their roster. While much of her work is wistful, replete with forlorn piano, muted electronic and yearning vocals, she is unafraid to experiment with sound and mutilating her voice. A new entry into the Sad Girls Club, but one of the most thoughtful. Expect her debut full-length later this year.
Léon’s sound recalls Major Lazer and MØ’s ‘Lean On’ if it were slowed to a cruising pace. But despite their speed, her beats are still intricate and endearing and the power behind her vocals are perfectly primed for her message of being fed up and not taking it anymore.
The Swedish singer debuted her first EP Treasure last fall and its lead single ‘Tired of Talking’ landed her immediately in Spotify’s Global Viral Top 10. There’s still more music for her to roll out from the collection and we’d deign that as Cuffing Season starts to come to a close, her power anthems will find new listeners.
Lion Babe have been in the mix since 2012, creating bigger waves in 2015 after gaining a ton of traction on Twitter and a guest appearance on Disclosure’s Caracal. But with the upcoming February release of their debut full-length Begin, the NYC duo of singer Jillian Hervey (who is also Vanessa Williams’ daughter) and musician Lucas Goodman stand elevate their neo-soul-indebted sound to a wider audience.
With production credits from Mark Ronson and Pharrell on the record, as well as a feature from Childish Gambino, they already have friends in the right places.
The daughter of Neneh Cherry and Massive Attack and Portishead producer Cameron McVey could have been on this list from birth, but Mabel’s so-far-small output earns her a place without her lineage in music royalty. Somehow, creating her own music wasn’t in her initial plans. It wasn’t until she was 16 and studying music production at a school in Stockholm that she really honed a sound and felt comfortable getting into the family business.
This sound, though, is all her own. While her 2015 singles ‘Know Me Better’ and ‘My Boy My Town’ are subtly indebted to Sade, Mabel makes subdued anthems for the soft-hearted tough girl—a lane she can occupy alone as pop music continues to veer toward kooky.
New York-via-Orange County singer songwriter Vérité may not have announced new music for 2016, but her festival appearances and stint opening for alt-pop stars MS MR have her primed to convert her Hype Machine chart-topping into Billboard success.
She got her start singing in punk bands and though her sound is far removed from her roots, her aura is still sweetly savage and she possesses a propensity for similarly catchy hooks from both genres.