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