From orchestral rap via Lagos to South Africa’s answer to Ariana Grande, the new school of pop stars is here
The definition of pop music is ever-changing, from what it sounds like to what it looks like. Over the years, the genre has encapsulated everything from Britney Spears to Beyoncé, Bowie to Prince, ABBA to Chic. And while the road to global domination has long been paved with pop, the debate about whether it’s a dirty word has been bubbling for decades. In a post-millenium world, as the word ‘pop’ diverged more and more from its original meaning of ‘popular’, the genre has found unlucky associations with industry plants, chart chases, dodgy major label deals, and controlling invisible teams. In short, pop has had some bad PR.
But in recent years, the genre seems to be undergoing an exhilarating new revival. As social media and streaming platforms fill with young music fans, we’re beginning to see a seismic shift in who has the power to make or break songs, and more importantly artists: a digital democracy of sorts. And with it, the genre is becoming more diverse (sonically and otherwise), more individual and more political than ever before.
Enter the age of Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo, of Rina Sawayama and Bree Runway, of Doja Cat. With this resurgence, new talents and pathways to pop have been ignited – the future of the genre looks genuinely brighter because of it. Whether it’s being fused with other subcultures around the globe or presented in its most raw, unapologetic form or steeped in new purpose and perspective, we’ve collated a list of some of the most exciting pop prospects of the new generation, prepped and primed for their own moment in the sun.
Hailing from Lagos by way of Benin, Ayra Starr is one of the fastest-growing young African talents. At just 19 years of age and as a self-proclaimed child of the Disney Channel, Starr morphs her rich, velvety vocals over a whole host of different sounds with impressive versatility and imagination. Mastering everything on her debut album 19 & Dangerous (out August 6) from Nigerian subculture alté to straight up pop bangers, orchestra-filled rap tunes to romantic afrobeats serenades, there’s no telling what she’ll conquer next.
A heady blend of vibrating rock energy and instrumentation, catchy, electric hooks and uptempo witty but intimate lyricism, binki’s sound is a genre-blending soundtrack for the ‘good times’, whatever they might look like to you. Raised by Kenyan parents in Pennsylvania, binki’s original dream was acting but he found himself gravitating towards music since graduating. The rest is history, as they say. One of his first releases, “heybb!”, found huge success within the NYC scene he entered and even featured in an Apple advert last year. Since then, his songwriting talent has continued to deepen and his momentum shows no signs of letting up anytime soon, with his debut EP Motor Function due on August 13.
For fans of: Bloc Party, Channel Tres, Bakar
Idman is a new kid on the block. Raised by Somali parents between Toronto, Nairobi, and Portland, Idman has seen and navigated so many societies and spaces and her music is a product of that experience. Her debut single, “Down For It”, is a self-affirming meditation on purpose and transcending those who doubt you, twinned with an afrofuturistic visual that makes a convincing statement of intent. Though Idman is still at the start of her musical journey, she has a history with activism and racial justice work during her time as a student, founding the Portland Racial Justice Congress, and that will undoubtedly go on to inform her art in endless ways.
Josie Man is the fairy popmother you wish you had growing up. Hailing from Orpington, Kent, of Hong Kong and British descent, she’s an ambassador for her own personal brand of ‘identity pop’. Combining the melodic riffs of R&B with the distinctly British pop sensibilities of old school names like Kate Nash or Lily Allen and a technicoloured visual identity, her saccharine vocals cover topics of bullying, mental health, love, and growth with the tenderness of a close friend.
Featured on Dave’s “Mercury” and hotly tipped as the UK’s next king of bedroom pop, Kamal.’s name is shrouded in buzz. The Londoner’s breakthrough single “homebody” caught the attention of the industry and set him out the stalls as one of the most singular voices to emerge in some time, even garnering a few slightly lazy Billie Eilish comparisons (though the star has co-signed him). On his debut EP war outside, tinkering keys and warm guitars and strings cushion his searingly introspective confessionals. It’s a tender and stirring exploration of his joys, fears, weaknesses and lessons learnt, expressed through a mix of gentle melodies and spoken word. At just 19 years-old, it already feels like Kamal. has lived a lifetime, and the years that follow are sure to reach new heights for the teen crooner.
Nemahsis is a goosebump-inducing voice (and face) that you might recognise from your For You Page on TikTok. The Toronto-based singer and influencer has garnered a huge following online with her captivating close up covers ranging from Evanescence to Olivia Newton-John alongside her striking fashion and beauty routines. With a shapeshifting voice that can spark comparisons to Mariah Carey or Lana Del Rey depending on her mood, Nemahsis’ debut ballad “what if I took it off for you?” is a bare and vulnerable peek at one of the most exciting new talents to tackle issues of representation politics, exploitation, and a plain refusal to be tokenised, and she does so with total honesty and strength.
Walthamstow local Olivia Dean champions a refreshingly heart-on-sleeve approach to songwriting. Asking questions of all stages of love (and life): the head over heels kind, the insecure, doubtful kind, the kind that’s hard to let go of even when you should and the kind where you’re not sure you’ll ever feel that way again. From “The Hardest Part” detailing a couple that grow apart instead of together, through to “Be My Own Boyfriend” as a resolved, self-love mantra, Dean is chronicling the universal languages of love with candour and new perspective. Her diaristic songwriting, as evidenced on her just-released Growth EP, is delivered by her silken vocals draped over tender, soul-filled production in a way that could both break and mend hearts.
One of the most promising success stories to come out of TikTok so far, PinkPantheress has already begun enchanting a generation with her addictively calibrated productions. Skyrocketing to popularity with her own brand of music stamped ‘new nostalgia’, the viral enigma balances her delicate hyper-pitched verses atop archival-style electro beats spanning from garage to drum and bass to classic R&B and funk samples to create something stretched firmly across past, present and future – evoking images of everything from anime dreamscapes to goths dancing under a bridge somewhere in Camden. Amongst a generation already deep diving into the archives of Y2K and beyond for creative inspiration, a more perfect and timely sonic accompaniment doesn’t really exist.
For fans of: Coco & Clair Clair, Yaeji, Piri
Blending elements of R&B, dancehall and pop into an irresistibly sweet concoction, Stalk Ashley’s music feels as welcome as a summer breeze. Based in Kingston, Jamaica, Ashley grew up in a strictly religious household, but you would never know when listening to her music. She exudes a quiet confidence as she embraces her sexuality both implicitly and sometimes explicitly too. Fan favourite “Young” is an intoxicating anthem appreciating the beauty of youth and enjoyment. Flowing effortlessly in and out of patois, with a whole breadth of sounds across her catalogue so far, Stalk Ashley is bridging the gap between these traditional Jamaican soundscapes and sensibilities with an entirely new multicultural generation. With co-signs from the likes of Stormzy, it’s only a matter of time before her mission goes global.
For fans of: Alicai Harley, Bellah, Skillibeng
SA house is taking over and teen TikTok sensation Tyla is determined to help lead the charge. Born and raised in Johannesburg, the teen’s debut single “Getting Late” featuring Kooldrink pulled no punches in setting her up as the bridge between dance genres such as amapiano and global pop, with many dubbing her South Africa’s answer to Ariana Grande. However, her deadly combination of sirenesque vocals, earworm songwriting talent and infectiously South African charisma and choreography, make for her very own brand of international stardom at some point in the near future.
For fans of: Sho Madjozi, Sha Sha, Elaine
Arriving on the scene less than four months ago, Willow Kayne has already made an impression. Her irreverent lyricism and hip hop-infused beats and emo punk aesthetics make her a splash of cold water to the face as far as the pop landscape is concerned. Her debut single “Two Seater” was a two-minute braggadocious whirlwind of a tune, while her latest release “I Don’t Wanna Know” is a diss track aimed firmly at her internet trolls. It’s still early days for the Bristol-based adolescent but her clear ambition and antagonistic tendencies are bound to make it an interesting journey to witness.
For fans of: Benee, Miraa May, Audrey Nuna