2011′s Best New Artists: Playing ‘Video Games’ With Foster the People, J. Cole, Civil Wars, and Lana Del Rey
Discovering new artists is like going on an endless series of blind dates, where we want to trust our eyes, but can't, quite. Is Lana Del Rey for real, or a manufactured product, the world wants to know? Fortunately, we don't have to wait till she excuses herself to go to the powder room to Google her and make our own determination.
Our list of the year's 10 most promising new artists runs the gamut from R&B/hip-hop (Frank Ocean, J. Cole) to rural Americana (Pistol Annies, Steel Magnolia) to whistling would-be gangsta rockers (Foster the People). Join us in celebrating the freshness of these frosh:
THE CIVIL WARS
Okay, so maybe there's something ironic about honoring the newness of a duo who sometimes sound like they really did just play the wrap party for the War Between the States. But the (non-husband-and-wife) team of Joy Williams and John Paul White captivated a lot of fans who normally wouldn't go in for all things (or any things) acoustic, thanks to effortlessly exquisite harmonies that represent the highest form of musical peace treaty. They got the Adele seal of approval—which meant a lot, obviously, in 2011—and Taylor Swift's, too, even though she didn't make a mission out of taking them on tour like Adele did.
Ocean is poised to be the next Nicki Minaj—not in terms of flamboyance, certainly, but as the artist who makes the leap from "featured guest" to featured attraction. He would have had a good year if he'd only been a member of the hip-hop group Odd Future, or only written "I Miss You" for Beyonce's album, or only been the Official Recurring Singing Voice of Watch the Throne. But his real triumph came in releasing a "mixtape" called nostalgia, ULTRA. And in the case of this collection of solid original material, the only reason for differentiating a mixtape from, you know, an "album" seemed to be his determination to circumvent the label and give it away for free. Here's betting there's some money to be made off his eclectic R&B yet.
LANA DEL REY
How dumb do you have to be to announce to the world that you're a "gangsta Nancy Sinatra"? But Del Rey appears to be dumb like a fox, in that way. And, also, a fox, if we must say so ourselves. Not everyone is crazy about her plumped-lip look in the video for "Video Games," but 12 million video views (and counting) later, she's doing something right. That shrewdness isn't just in her knack for self-marketing, but also the real craft heard in that knockout single, a funereal ballad which makes her lover's fondness for World of Warcraft sound like the stuff of very high tragedy. We'll have to wait till her full-length album comes out in January to find out if her boots were really made for walkin'.
FOSTER THE PEOPLE
How did a song as peculiar as "Pumped Up Kicks" make it to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, spend months on end in the iTunes top 5, and end up selling over 3 million downloads? Gotta be the whistling, right? Or maybe it's just that an ostensible rock & roll band can never go wrong turning down the guitars and turning up the dance beats and gauzy harmonies.