A big part of being a music fan is keeping up with the music of the moment; There’s a reason popular artists have gotten to where they are, after all. Another equally important aspect of being an informed consumer of music, though, is maintaining an awareness of the up-and-coming artists who are primed to shape the industry in their own ways.
That’s what Uproxx’s new Next Up series is all about.
Over the course of ten feature profiles, you’ll learn about artists currently laying the foundation for some major things to come, things that will both establish themselves as forces and influence those who come after them. Before those features start rolling in, keep reading for a rundown of who we decided needs to be a part of this conversation.
The pipeline from Disney Channel star to music icon has been fruitful over the years, as folks like Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, and Ariana Grande have started on the network and gone on to tremendous musical success (also Olivia Rodrigo if you count her High School Musical series on Disney+). Now it’s looking like Dove Cameron, whose lengthy acting resume includes the lead role in the Disney Channel series Liv And Maddie, could very well be next. Her debut EP, Bloodshot / Waste, arrived in 2019 and she just recently had her biggest hit yet in February with the dramatic single “Boyfriend,” which was her first, and likely not last, song to grace the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
With her recent signing to Dirty Hit, Canadian-Japanese singer-songwriter Saya Gray finds herself in great company: The label’s esteemed artists include The 1975, Beabadoobee, Wolf Alice, and Rina Sawayama. Her first album for the label, 19 Masters, is on the way in June and based on songs like the recent single “If There’s No Seat In The Sky (Will You Forgive Me???),” it’s easy to see why Dirty Hit brought the innovative young artist on board, who’s adept at switching genres not just between songs, but sometimes right in the middle of them.
TikTok has become a real proving ground for up-and-coming artists as the young generation gets exposed to a lot of new music on the platform. PinkPantheress managed to stand out above all the noise and earn herself a record deal with Parlophone. Her music definitely embraces the fast-paced nature of TikTok: Most of the songs on her 2021 debut mixtape To Hell With It are shorter than two minutes. That didn’t stop the multi-genre project from performing particularly well, as it landed in the top 20 of the charts in PinkPantheress’ native UK.
Speaking of TikTok, Atlanta rapper Kali also found success on the platform and now she’s breaking new ground beyond it. As Uproxx’s Aaron Williams notes, she’s moving into a space traditionally dominated by male rappers, one that is “marked by passive aggression, avoidant attachment, and audio gaslighting, with rappers and singers delighting in keeping their significant others guessing in the narratives of their songs.” Kali parlayed her breakout single “Mmm Mmm” into a debut EP, Toxic Chocolate. The Yung Bleu-featuring “UonU” is a highlight, on which she turns the tables and asserts dominance, rapping, “It’s a two-way street, we in the same lane / Play you ‘fore you play me, that’s just my mind-frame / But you still mine, babe.”
Odds are you’ve already heard Tobi Lou working with one of your favorites, as the Chicago-via-Nigeria rapper has collaborated with some of his biggest hometown peers, like Chance The Rapper, Dreezy, and Saba. He was on the ballot for the 2020 XXL Freshmen list and while he didn’t make the cut, he’s on to bigger and better things, like his recently released new album Non-Perishable, which mostly features Lou shining on his own but also alongside guests like T-Pain and Chika. All the name-drops are to illustrate that Lou has support from folks in high places, co-signs that show Lou is worth consideration.
A lot of things have been going right for the 24-year-old Nigerian afrobeats star lately. Since landing a record deal a couple years ago, Omah Lay’s ascent has been quick, as he had a social media hit with “Bad Influence,” dropped some EPs that landed on Apple Music’s charts in Nigeria, and caught the attention of Justin Bieber, with whom he recently released the collaborative single “Attention.” Furthermore, Lay’s status as an afrobeats favorite was cemented with the launch of Billboard’s new US Afrobeats Songs chart in March. On the inaugural ranks, he had two songs in the top 30, including “Attention,” which graced the top five. Basically, Lay’s on an upward trend, so if you haven’t been paying attention so far, now’s a good time to start.
Like many artists before him, Bakar got his start uploading songs on SoundCloud. That’s really one of the few ways the experimental UK indie rocker is like other artists, though. He gradually worked on his craft, forged a distinct aesthetic identity, and had himself a bit of a hit in 2019 with “Hell N Back,” which popped up on multiple rock and alternative Billboard charts, including a No. 1 placement on Adult Alternative Airplay. Things have only gotten better since then, as he had a feature on one of 2020’s most esteemed indie/pop albums in Benee’s Hey U X and released his debut album, Nobody’s Home, in February. He got some hometown love for that one, as it was a top-40 album in the UK. Now it feels like just a matter of time before the rest of the world catches up.
Chicago trio Horsegirl formed in 2019, when its members were all teens. While many teenage endeavors are best left forgotten, Horsegirl has built on their start in a major way. They’ve since signed to Matador Records and so far released two singles for the label: 2021’s “Billy” and this year’s “Anti-Glory.” As for the sound, the group falls somewhere between post-punk and shoegaze, a zone that has clearly worked for them given the aforementioned examples of their success. It’s the kind of music that begs to be heard live, so there’s good news there, as one of the year’s buzziest bands has a slew of tour dates set for this summer.
The 2019 EP Better was big for Caracara, as the rocking effort landed them on many people’s radars. That includes renowned producer Will Yip, who has worked with everybody from Lauryn Hill to Keane to The Wonder Years. He also linked up with Caracara on their recently released album New Preoccupations (As The Gods Descend), which is highlighted by the single “Colorglut,” which features Circa Survive’s Anthony Green. The company a band keeps can say a lot about them, and so far, a lot of top-tier folks have found their way to Caracara’s corner. Now that the new album is out and music fans have something fresh to sink their teeth into, the Caracara corner is about to get even more crowded.
As social media has become a primary method of fan interaction for celebrities, a lot of musicians have emerged as legitimately hilarious social media personalities. Then there’s Zack Fox, who’s approaching things from the opposite direction: He was a comedian first, but in recent years, he’s found some solid footing in hip-hop: His debut album, Shut The F*ck Up Talking To Me, came out last year and he’s touring with Freddie Gibbs this year. On top of all that, he’s still acting and has a recurring role in one of the most acclaimed comedies of the moment, Abbott Elementary. He’s even an accomplished visual artist, as he illustrated the album sleeve of Thundercat’s Drunk. Basically, Fox has done something you’d probably enjoy in just about every artistic medium, which is something very few people can say.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.