This year, several noteworthy new artists have been pushing boundaries and creating groundbreaking music that has often defied genre classification. While breakout star Sam Smith has been on everyone’s lips and leads our list, we dug a little deeper to find 10 other exciting rising artists that are poised for imminent stardom.
"BBC Sound of 2014" poll winner Smith exploded onto the Stateside scene after a starmaking appearance on Saturday Night Live this past March. By the end of the year, his full-length debut, In the Lonely Hour, had become the second-biggest-selling album released 2014, behind only Taylor Swift’s 1989. Now the 22-year-old is up for six Grammys. But Smith is worth all the hype. With a gorgeous voice like his, there’s a reason he’s been heralded as “the male Adele.”
If you’ve listened to the radio in the past few months, chances are you’ve heard Hozier’s breakout hit, Grammy Song of the Year nominee “Take Me to Church,” a gorgeously crafted tune that bravely critiques organized religion and showcases his rich, tuneful voice (think Elton John with an edge). Thankfully, the soulful Irish singer has the goods to back it up, and his debut self-titled album features an abundance of riches beyond just the single, including soulful, bluesy numbers and moody, contemplative tracks that belie his youth.
A former professional dancer who reportedly earned her stage name because of how loudly she could crack her bones, the artist born Tahliah Barnett has been enchanting fans and critics with her ethereal R&B electronica since she released a pair of EPs in 2013. FKA Twigs’ 2014 debut full-length sees her candidly singing about sexuality and pain and collaborating with renowned producers including Paul Epworth and Dev Hynes. The album handily proved what many already suspected: She’s far more substance than style and can push boundaries just far enough to make you squirm, but she keeps you coming back for more.
Don’t get distracted by their ringlet perms and shaggy haircuts; Temples have some serious chops. The English rockers have been dubbed the best new band in Britain by the likes of Oasis’s Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr, and although they’re not exactly breaking new ground with their trippy, kaleidoscope rock, they’re so darn good it doesn’t matter.
Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy has had quite a year. His ukulele-driven, confessional tune, “Riptide,” topped charts around the world and caught the attention of none other than Taylor Swift, who performed a stripped-down cover of the song on U.K. radio and invited him to open for her on her upcoming world tour. Interestingly, Joy left behind a career as a professional football player and his law studies to pursue a career in music. Looks like he made the right choice.
Chet Faker’s lumberjack appearance masks the heart of an R&B crooner and a beatmaker so skilled that he’s been known to create new songs at live shows on the fly, just him and his sequencers. The artist born Nick Murphy is huge in his native Australia, and is quickly building an avid following Stateside with his music that takes cues from American R&B singers and melds smooth, neo-soul stylings with electronic elements to create addictive, sultry tunes.
Kan Wakan’s soulful stylings can’t be easily classified into one particular genre, and that’s a good thing. Cinematic in scope and grand in stature, the LA-based outfit comprising producer/composer Crooked Waters and guitarist/co-producer Peter Potyondy, have ben collaborating with vocalist Kristianne Bautista to round out the band’s sound. This year Kan Wakan released a mesmerizing debut album, Moving On, and its songs garnered regular rotation on tastemaking Los Angeles radio station KCRW and prominent television placements, giving the band a wider audience and proving that their star is undoubtedly on the rise.
Denitia and Sene.
Taking a page from the book of trip-hop greats like Massive Attack and Morcheeba, this Brooklyn-based duo adeptly combines elements of electronica, pop, and modern R&B. Their independently released debut album, His and Hers, showcases Denitia Odigie’s sultry vocals, which sit comfortably atop rapper/producer Sene’s distinctive, down-tempo beats and electronic loops to create tunes that effortlessly straddle the line between the bedroom and the dance floor.
This North Carolina duo proves that in order for electronic music to resonate on a deeper level, there needs to be a strong, human heart beating at the center of it. For Sylvan Esso, this heart comes in the form of Amelia Meath’s warm, honey-tinged vocals. While there’s no doubt that producer Nick Sanborn’s electronic stylings lay a strong foundation, Meath’s gorgeous voice takes Sylvan Esso’s music into the stratosphere.
This Glasgow outfit’s sumptuous rock music sounds like it could have come out of CBGBs in the late ’70s. Singer Sam Smith [no relation to the aforementioned “Stay With Me” singer] delivers his tongue-in-cheek lyrics with earnestness while still sounding dangerous and sexy. Paired with the four-piece’s jubilant live performances, it makes for a winning formula that had critics buzzing at South By Southwest earlier this year. The Guardian declared them the “best Scottish indie band since Franz Ferdinand,” and that wasn’t far off.
Haerts’ glossy synthpop could almost be classified as a guilty pleasure, but it has substance to back it up. The Brooklyn-based outfit, led by frontwoman Nini Fabi, recently released its debut self-titled full-length, which was produced by fellow Brooklyn electronic act St. Lucia, and is filled with shimmering, summery tunes that can brighten even the darkest days of winter.