Every genre of music launched promising new stars in 2018, from silky-smooth soul stylists (H.E.R., Ella Mai, Jorja Smith) to rawk rabblerousers (Dream Wife, Shame), from LGBTQ trailblazers (Shea Diamond, MNEK, Teddy<3) to fearless female rule-breakers (Starcrawler, Billie Eilish).
Below, the 15 artists who made the wildly diverse year’s best first impression:
This year, the Pharrell-championed alternative hip-hop collective built on the buzz of their 2016 mixtape All-American Trash and 2017 Saturation trilogy with their first full-length release for RCA, Iridescence — and the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart — edging Josh Groban down into the No. 2 spot. For a rap group featuring a prominent openly gay member (Kevin Abstract) to land a $15 million major-label deal and have the No. 1 album in America — and to achieve that entirely through streaming and touring, with zero support from traditional radio — felt like nothing less than a revolution in 2018.
This trans R&B singer has a backstory that really should be made into an Oscar-winning biopic. After robbing a convenience store to try to fund her gender-affirming surgery and spending a decade in various men’s correctional facilities as a result, the now-40-year-old Diamond found her voice behind bars. After her release from prison, she impressed hit songwriter Justin Tranter with a video of her a cappella at a Trans Lives Matter event; Tranter reached out and eventually executive-produced Diamond’s supremely soulful and aptly titled debut EP, Seen It All. The record is funky AF but brims with the pain and passion that can only come from hard life experience.
This trio of Icelandic and British grrls started a riot in 2018 with their angular and abrasive yet undeniably tuneful punk-pop, channeling everyone from Gang of Four and the Slits to Babes in Toyland and Bikini Kill on the gleefully screeching mating call “Let’s Make Out” and feminist rallying cry “Somebody.”
“There comes a time when a youngster stops buying into the pop bulls*** the corporate demographic people are dishing out, and starts to connect with music that is being expressed from someone’s unique and mysterious heart. Billie Eilish is that mysterious heart. … I’m totally down for Billie Eilish, the girl is for real,” the Red Hot Chili Peppers rock icon Flea posted on Instagram after attending an L.A. Eilish concert that also attracted outspoken fans Julia Roberts, Amanda de Cadenet, and the Strokes’ Nick Valensi. With an endorsement like that, it’s clear that this cobalt-haired, 17-year-old maverick and Forbes “30 Under 30” honoree is the future face of pop. With her rampantly creative viral videos, bold song titles like “You Should See Me in a Crown” and tomboy persona, Eilish is a role model for young girls everywhere — including Flea’s daughter, Sunny, and Dave Grohl’s daughter, Violet, who covered Eilish’s “idon’twannabeyouanymore.”
Greta Van Fleet
The hard-rock, Zeppelin-aping revivalists certainly had their detractors in 2018, most notably the vicious editorial staff at Pitchfork. But Elton John declared them the best rock band of the past 20 years, and their debut album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, debuted at No. 1. And if these guys, who are all barely out of high school, can inspire some teens to pick up guitars or dig out some of their parents’ old Led Zep albums — or if GVF’s success inspires some A&R reps to sign a few more rock bands — that can’t be a bad thing.
In a social-media-driven era of oversaturation and overexposure, it’s a minor miracle that up until recently, the true identity of this 21-year-old R&B singer/multi-instrumentalist — who, like Sia, tends to cover her face onstage and in photos — was a mystery. (Her real name is Gabi Wilson.) Instead, she let her atmospheric mood music speak for itself, and fans certainly took notice. And so did the Recording Academy, which just nominated H.E.R. for an incredible five Grammys, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist.
Mai’s silky, sexy “Boo’d Up,” which is up for Song of the Year and Best R&B Song at the upcoming Grammy Awards, was one of 2018’s biggest R&B hits, but the chillout ballad could have been released in 1978. The 24-year-old, jazzy London soul singer has a timeless sound that ensures she’ll have a long career, and probably many Grammys, in her future.
The British pop prodigy MNEK (real name: Uzoechi Osisioma Emenike) isn’t technically a newcomer — he landed his first publishing deal at age 14 after being discovered on Myspace and has forged his own unique career path ever since, working with A-listers like Madonna, Kylie Minogue, and Beyoncé. This year, at age 23, he finally released his full-length solo debut, Language, which not only was one of the most vivacious and imaginative pop records of 2018 but also established him as a proud black gay role model, when he boldly cast a male love interest in his sexy music video for “Tongue.”
This Mancunian, Robert Smith-endorsed, neo-Goth quartet — who were handpicked to play the Cure’s 40th-anniversary concert festival in Hyde Park this summer alongside shoegaze heroes Slowdive and Ride — conjured a captivating spell on their swooning, swooping, shimmering debut album, My Mind Makes Noises. Pale Waves even managed to transform Taylor Swift’s “22” into a wintry dream-pop masterpiece.
This androgynous electropop alien wowed critics with the ethereal instrumentals, sensitive confessionals and ghostly vocals of her ambitious debut album, Alien. And thanks to her architectural sartorial choices and stunning photo shoots and music videos, she became a fashion “it” girl as well. It’s no wonder Saint was named one of Paper magazine’s “100 Revolutionary Women in Pop.”
On their ferociously punky debut album, Songs of Praise, this attitudinal South London gang of shirtless, snot-nosed rabble-rousers paired surprisingly perfect pop sensibilities with manic guitars and snarling, terrace-chanty vocals. And on tour, they electrified every stage they set their engineer-booted feet upon. Shame on you if you slept on Shame in 2018.
Following a great 2017 that included a collaboration with Drake and a tour opening for Bruno Mars, this elegant British singer-songwriter — who has earned comparisons to Lauryn Hill and Amy Winehouse — started 2018 as the first independent artist to receive (or even be nominated for) the prestigious Brit Critics’ Choice Award. Her debut LP, Lost & Found, was then up for the U.K.’s Mercury Music Prize, and she wrapped up 2018 with a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, and she also co-wrote and performed the song “I Am” on Kendrick Lamar’s eight-times-Grammy-nominated Black Panther soundtrack.
Arrow de Wilde, the insectile, fearsome, and fearless frontwoman of this gang of L.A. garage-glam misfits, is the most fascinating and frightening new rock star on the scene. During Starcrawler’s confrontational concerts, the 19-year-old Arrow, spawn of indie musician Aaron Sperske (Beachwood Sparks, Ariel Pink) and renowned photographer Autumn de Wilde, prowls in her stained, too-tight corsets and mental-patient hospital gowns — twitching, climbing the scaffolding, dry-humping the stage, and even coughing up fake blood. (Imagine if the prom scene in Carrie starred Cherie Currie of the Runaways, and you get the idea.) Starcrawler may not be for everyone, but they’re bringing back a much-needed element of danger to the tired rock genre.
Teddy<3 started off as Teddy Geiger — a teen boy heartthrob with a string of decent-sized mid-2000s pop hits and appearances on TV shows like Love Monkey and In Search of the Partridge Family — before becoming a hit songwriter for the likes of Shawn Mendes and One Direction. In October 2017, she bravely came out as trans on Instagram, and in 2018 she quietly self-released her first album under her new name, LillyAnna. The album’s raw, piano-percussive garage-pop track, “I Was in a Cult,” was one of the catchiest and coolest singles of the year.
Wallows evoke buzz bands of the last golden age of alt-rock, the early 2000s — think Spoon, Vampire Weekend, and especially the Strokes — as well as classic ’80s college rock. (Wallows lovingly cover the Smiths’ “This Charming Man” in concert.) That’s interesting, considering that the band members — among them actors Dylan Minnette (13 Reasons Why) and Braeden Lemasters (Men of a Certain Age, Betrayal) — were born in the late ’90s. These charming men have clearly studied the past. But, thanks to their youthful approach, they’ve managed to create some of the jangliest, earwormiest, and freshest-sounding indie rock of the year.
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
- The best albums of 2018: Yahoo Entertainment staff picks
- The best music videos of 2018
- Everybody say love! How ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ took over the planet in 2018
- The 25 best movies of 2018
- Television’s highs and lows of 2018