With a lack of touring and physical promotion, 2021 has proved a difficult year to be a new artist. And yet, it's given way to some of the the most promising new artists we've had in a while, each chewing up traditional genres and spitting out new ones. Here are our favourite new artists from the year.
Wet Leg debuted this year with Chaise Lounge and quickly caught the attention of everybody. The duo's provocative debut reignited indie rock with humorous and wild lyrics paired with fuzzy instrumentals. Lyrics like, "I went to school and got the big D," are delivered with a dry smile like Phoebe Waller-Bridges giving a monologue in Fleabag. A debut album is set to arrive next year and they will also be in Australia for Splendour In The Grass.
Outside of the Disney community, Olivia Rodrigo was a virtual unknown going into 2021. And then came Driver's License. It may go down as one of the greatest debut singles of all time. A sweeping, vulnerable ballad that caught fire in a week. Within mere months, Rodrigo had shed any fears of One Hit Wonder syndrome, firing out a debut album full of hits. SOUR is one of the biggest records of the year - a furious, sad, and emotional display of songwriting genius. Rodrigo is an artist almost certain to be defining pop music for the next decade.
If someone had said a TikTok sensation making songs less than two minutes would be one of the most engaging artists of 2021 we'd have laughed. And yet, here we are. PinkPantheress packages a lot into two minutes. On her debut album To Hell With It, she presents fragments of her diary alongside soundbites of British dance music. It's so unfiltered that many of the songs sound like demos and yet to polish them any further would blur the heart that lies within each of them.
Australia is finally becoming a pop powerhouse and it's because of artists like Charley that it's happening. Hard For Me was one of the most instantly likeable debuts of the year. It's a horny, charismatic pop song that demanded repeat listens. Charley's personality was laid out from the get-go and she's expanded on that with the more vulnerable follow-up Arizona. She's multi-faceted, engaging and a lot of fun.
Remi Wolf is one of the few artists this year that seemed completely unconcerned by what anyone else was doing. Her debut album Juno is a loud, colourful trip that takes pop's rule book and turns it into confetti. She's a natural performer, engaging on tape and on film with boisterous vocals and lyrics that are somehow nonsensical and heartening.
Jenevieve's debut album Division is one that feels like it's still got a lot of growing to do. Everybody who has come across the album has been completely charmed by it and word of mouth is casting her web wider and wider. She nabbed an unlikely hit in 2020 with Midnight Charm and Division expands on that laid-back soul sound tapping into dusk with silky vocals and patient instrumentals.
Magdalena Bay have emerged as one of the most boundary-pushing pop acts of the year. Take fragments of their debut album Mercurial World and it may seem like you're listening to a different band but hear it in full and they somehow piece it together. They build bridges between electro-pop, indie rock and experimental dance, tying it together with expert melodies.
Mustafa took grief and turned it into beautiful musings on life and loss on his debut record When Smoke Rises. He has one of those voices that instantly pierces the heart and he escalates that with bare, vulnerable songwriting. James Blake, Frank Dukes, Jamie xx and more helped with the instrumental bedding but it's Mustafa's voice that always takes centrestage.
With a Taylor Swift co-sign in hand, it's almost certain that Griff is the next pop superstar. The Brit does everything - writes, produces, directs, designs - and it's all meticulous. It's the songs that really matter though and they are top tier. From the pulsating Black Hole to the neon-lit One Night, she's had a spectacular year.
ELIO has been on a roll this year. Beginning with her excellent EP Can You Hear Me? she continued to carve a lane for herself as a gripping pop artist, sprinkling new sounds in with each release. Charger, which later got a remix from Charli XCX, is one of the year's finest pop displays and a showcase of ELIO's natural melodic instincts.
Budjerah has already collected an ARIA Award so it should come as no surprise that he features on this list. He only started officially releasing music last year but his soulful voice and warm lyrics have already made him a triple j mainstay. Recent singles Talk and Wash My Sorrows Away suggest that he's hit his creative stride and we can't wait to see where it goes next year.
flowerkid's music feels like a release, like it had no other choice but to come out. His debut EP everyone has a breaking point is a chillingly honest outpouring that hits you from the first listen. Few new artists this year have made a connection so quickly but there's something so present and bold about flowerkid's music that you can't help but engage immediately.
Nigeria's Tems has had the sort of year that new artists dream of. She was featured on Wizkid's global megahit Essence and then collected a spot on Drake's Certified Lover Boy. It's neither of those moment, however, that define her musical contribution this year. Her EP If Orange Was A Place is a masterstroke, delivering some of the slickest melodies and runs of the year. It sounds like the work of a budding superstar.