It’s no secret that for the past several years, the most adventurous and innovative music in the rock and alternative spaces has largely been made by female artists — something that is reflected in the Grammy nominees for those categories this year, particularly the all-female Best Rock Performance category, which comprises Fiona Apple, Big Thief, Haim, Brittany Howard, Grace Potter and this week’s Variety cover star, Phoebe Bridgers.
And there’s a class of ready to join them at the top this year. Here are five of our favorite up-and-coming women in indie music to watch in 2021.
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girl in red (Oslo, Norway)
A bedroom-pop mainstay for queer teens since the release of her first single “i wanna be your girlfriend” in 2018, Norweigan songwriter Marie Ulven, AKA girl in red, is ready to become a worldwide force in pop with her debut album, “if i could make it go quiet,” out April 30th. “I feel like people should expect the unexpected [with the album],” she notes. Releasing her work via AWAL, which she says is the “best decision [she’s] made,” girl in red’s discography is the product of near-total control of the writing process. “It’s crucial for me to have that feeling of being independent.”
Deb Never (Los Angeles)
Originally from Washington, Deb Never’s music is a descendent of the 1990s alt-rock the region is known for. Pairing lo-fi beats with hazy guitars and a “sense of nostalgia and darkness,” as she puts it, Deb Never has become an indie darling, already collaborating with talents like Kenny Beats, Shlomo, and Tommy Genesis. But this past year proved to be a turning point for her work. After experiencing a “dark moment” of writer’s block, she relocated to London, where the change of scenery inspired her to write a slew of new songs, the first of which (“Somebody Else”) is out now.
Arlo Parks (London)
Poet and songwriter Arlo Parks always knew she wanted to stay independent. “It was the most important thing [to me],” she explains. Though the Londoner can already be heard on alternative and college radio with her single “Black Dog,” she has only just released her first album “Collapsed in Sunbeams” at the beginning of 2021 — which has already racked up dozens of rave reviews, including from Variety. With a flair for sunny production and writing proper nouns into her lyrics, Parks’ music feels as familiar as chatting with a good friend. Now that her album is out, she already has a “burning desire to create something new” and hopes to release more music this year.
Skullcrusher (Los Angeles)
Though she releases ambient folk music under the ironic moniker “Skullcrusher,” Helen Ballentine assures “there’s not much separation between the music [she] makes and the person [she is].” A trained visual artist, living among the Silverlake scene, she spent a while relegated to the audiences of friends’ shows, nervous to reveal her own songwriting. “It felt safer existing in private,” Ballentine shares. This anxiety led her to write “Places/Plans,” a subtle, unflinching ballad released in mid 2020. Since penning the single, Skullcrusher’s work has earned critical acclaim and a deal with indie hitmaker Secretly Canadian.
Faye Webster (Atlanta)
Faye Webster’s music is a portrait of her hometown, Atlanta, Georgia: it’s diverse, friendly, rooted and undeniably southern. In her 2019 breakout “Atlanta Millionaires Club,” a pedal steel-laced folk-pop record, she tells stories with the blunt self-awareness of an artist who is talented at framing subjects into succinct snapshots. Along with her music, Webster has become a well-known photographer for local rap acts. It’s this penchant for creating compelling images (both in her photography and in her writing) that makes Webster one of the most nuanced independent artists today.
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