Intro by Shannon Carlin
In 2013, everyone and their mother was singing along to Lorde’s anti-consumerist anthem “Royals,” which ended up earning her the title of the youngest artist to top the Hot 100 since Tiffany in 1987 and four GRAMMY nominations, including Song of The Year, Record of the Year and Pop Solo Performance of the Year. Not to mention, Radio.com’s Rookie of the Year.
But the New Zealand teen wasn’t the only new kid on the block who got us excited.
In the past 12 months, the brothers of Disclosure changed the way we look at EDM and the sisters of HAIM helped encourage a few little girls to pick up a guitar. Charli XCX proved there is more than one type of pop princess. Songwriter Brandy Clark made country even more personal with her debut, 12 Stories. And A$AP Ferg made his dad and the rest of Harlem proud with his gritty style, while Jhené Aiko made a name for herself with a little help from Drake.
So as 2013 comes to a close, we’ve decided to highlight these six as the best new artists of the year. Keep reading to find out exactly what makes these guys and girls so special.
Brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence were brought up on ’80s pop, from Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson, and credit that era with having a massive influence on them. That influence is especially evident in the vocal work featured on many of their songs, including the hellfire-and-damnation-inspired single that kicks all the album, “When A Fire Starts To Burn.”
“The guy who we sampled for that song, the guy singing ‘when a fire starts to burn,’ he’s a motivational speaker from New York actually,” Guy said. “He does massive speeches on business strategy and how to live your life and all this preacher-type stuff. We really wanted to get a rapper on the album, but it just didn’t work out. We couldn’t find the time to work with anyone, so we sampled him talking instead and thought it might sound a bit like rapping.”
But their influences run deeper than that, which is a big part of what makes Settle such music-dork bait. Guy told us that D’Angelo’s Voodoo is their favorite album of all time. He also said that, if they could time-travel back to see anyone, they’d go see Slum Village in Detroit in 1998 (with the caveat that they “not get killed”) and to see garage hero DJ EZ spin vinyl in 1992. Additional influences can be found in the music they sample, which includes Kelis and J. Dilla.
Disclosure, in other words, does not create just run-of-the-mill club tracks. They’re intelligently aware of the house sounds that preceded them, as well as the soul music that informs what they do. The music they make is effortlessly radio-friendly without being too pop for the dance floor. -Courtney E. Smith
Sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim—better known as HAIM—have a hard time believing they actually have fans. “We think it’s our mom buying all the tickets to our shows,” Este, the eldest, said. “And then distributing them to all our friends.”
But alas, it’s not Mama Haim who’s helping them sell out venues all over the world. These ladies managed to drum-up interest in their band all on their own the good ol’ fashioned way: opening up for over 20 different bands including Mumford and Sons, Florence + the Machine and Rihanna.
Though their rigorous touring schedule caused them to delay the release of their debut, Days Are Gone—which finally came out in September—it ended up earning them a fan in Jay Z, who added them to the Roc Nation roster.
Ask the Haim sisters how they got the news about being signed to Hov’s label and they’ll joke that they got a call on their magical bedazzled Jay Z phone. “The ringtone is ‘Brush Your Shoulders Off,'” Alana said. In reality their manager was signed to Roc Nation and they followed him over. But the man they just call Jay was more than happy to have them.
“We honestly didn’t expect him to even know the first syllable of our band name,” Alana said about the first time she met her boss. “But he was just so nice. He just said like, ‘You guys just know what you’re doing. We’re just really excited that you want to be a part of the company.'” -Shannon Carlin
Born and raised about two hours south of Seattle in the small logging community of Morton, Washington, Brandy Clark was weaned on an eclectic musical diet that included everything from Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood to Nirvana and Fleetwood Mac. But it was the Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn biopics Sweet Dreams and Coal Miner’s Daughter that inspired the nine-year-old to pick up a guitar and pen her first heartbreak ballads. “I don’t remember the title of it,” she says of her first song, “but I remember it being about things I knew nothing about at the time.”
Decades later, Clark still turns to movies and TV shows for inspiration — 12 Stories opener “Pray to Jesus” owes its existence to a Weeds one-liner — but more so, her alto’s become like a projector. She sings glassy and cool enough to seem removed, an apparatus almost, but exhales the end of her lines in a warm, hushed twang that softens the gravest details, which set on you the way your skin folds and creases in front of Dorothea Lange’s migrant mothers.
Beyond film, TV and books, Clark’s strongest source material for her characters turns out to be former friends or acquaintances, or, as is often the case, they’re composites of several people she’s met throughout her life. The bored, stoned housewife in “Get High” was about a girl she went to high school with; and she says she, McAnally and co-writer Mark Sanders all knew different versions of the woman going through the motions in “The Day She Got Divorced.” That can be a fragile, tricky line to walk, but Clark mentions that she often has people tell her, with pride, that they think a song like “Get High” is about them. Even when it’s not. -Jon Blistein
Long before A$AP Ferg’s debut album was being broadcast to millions, he was set on just getting into the music business, or at least out of Harlem, away from his childhood home of 143rd and Amsterdam—purportedly across from where Kelis grew up—and getting a head start into the music industry. Something his father had a hand in.
“My father was a designer and graphic designer,” Ferg explained. “He did clothes and logos for record labels. He did Heavy D’s logo, he did Andre Harrell’s logo, and Puffy’s logo. He worked with everybody from Loon to Ruff Ryders…everybody in the hip-hop game. Teddy Riley, everybody.”
As a little kid, Ferg’s father took him to galas and events surrounded by the rap moguls at the time.
“I met Puffy a few times, I met Heavy D once at this Thanksgiving drive thing where he was giving away turkeys,” he said. “I didn’t even know who Puffy was at the time, he just had a big mink coat on with glasses. To me, he was just like a furry monster. And I was just a kid, and my pops was like ‘You don’t know who this is?!'”
As he got older, Ferg wanted to prove to his block that he could get out of those kind of situations that he talks about in the surrealist “Cocaine Castle.” There were a lot of people he saw that didn’t get out, or worse, but Ferg wanted to prove to himself and the people around him that he could make more of his life. -Jeremy D. Larson
Her music has been described as synth-pop, dark wave, new wave, tumblrwave, indietronic, gothtronic and post-apocalyptic pop. Regardless of genre, one thing is certain: Charli XCX’s style is anything but ordinary.
The British singer-songwriter and former art school student describes herself as “Wednesday Addams meets Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice meets Baby Spice.” Having thrown teddy bears into crowds, licked photographers’ lenses, or writhed across boardroom tables, she‘s equal parts musician and showman.
Now 20 years old, Charli XCX (real name: Charlotte Aitchison) was just 14 when she recorded her first two songs in her bedroom. After posting them online, the tracks caught the attention of local club promoters, who requested she perform live at their venues.
Growing up as any impressionable teen girl during Britney Spears’ most formidable years, Charli looked up to the pop princess and even set her sights on emulating her career. But as time went on and Charli’s style matured, so did her tastes. Despite leaving her fondness for Spears to her youth, Charli still respects the pop star’s production, heralding songs like “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”
“I guess I just realized that I wanted to make my weird pop album and write the Britney sh** for other people,” she said. -Jay Tilles
She not only sings (and wrote) the hook on Drizzy’s Nothing Was The Same track “From Time,” she’s shown up on his recent Would You Like a Tour? to represent her part (and would like to work with him again). But Drake’s not the only rapper who’s an Aiko fan.
Her new EP, Sail Out sees her teaming up again with Kendrick Lamar on the track “Stay Ready (What a Life),” following their 2010 collab on his early song “Growing Up.” “As a lyricist, I’m always impressed by how much he can fit in a verse,” she said of the Compton rapper, adding that after hearing his rap for “Stay Ready,” a slinky song that has Kendrick spitting about monogamy, she decided to change her own lyrics up a bit.
Aiko likens her songs to diary entries, and everything in her own life is fair game. Her latest single “The Worst”—which has her repeating the lines, “I don’t want you/But I need you,” over and over—was inspired indeed by a real relationship. The video, which features Aiko nonchalantly traipsing around her home as the police come to bust her for murder, is a metaphor for her “killing those feelings” she had for him. –Shannon Carlin