music / Columns

Hype Check: The Best New Bands Of 2020

January 22, 2020 | Posted by David Hayter
Ashnikko

Not to blow our own trumpet, but 411’s Best New Acts of 2019 was surprisingly accurate: Billie Eilish, Black Pink, King Princess, Octavian, Amyl & The Sniffers, Chai, Nulifer Yanya, Fever 333 and Slowthai all went on to have big years, while Shake 070 and Grace Carter built the foundation for future success.

We’re certainly not promising a repeat performance in 2020, but 411 will do its level best to give you a cheat sheet on the hotly tipped artists and sneakily exciting new sounds set to dominate the coming 12 months.

Beabadoobee 

Genre: Indie/Folk

Who Is She: London based, Philippines bor  star-in-the-making Beabadoobee has had her name on all the right lips in 2019 and is set to blow up in the new year as she joins The 1975 on their hotly anticipated arena tour. Her bedroom ballads that drift delectably between the dreamy and dreary have already racked up millions of streams and all that remains for Beabadoobee to do is drop a killer debut album. With six EPs under her belt it’s clear that she will not release a full-length project until the conditions and material are perfect. 

The Verdict: With a voice that is slight enough for bedroom longing, but rich and infectious enough to have packed crowds singing along, Beabadoobee is set to be this generation’s great ennui-battling, understated romantic. She certainly has the charm, but can she muster the hits?

Where To Start: “If You Want To”,  “I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus”, “She Plays Bass”

Koffee

Genre: Dancehall

Who is She: When you have 97 million views on YouTube can you really be considered a rising star? Spanish Town, Jamaica’s superstar singer, songwriter, DJ and guitarist may have already captured the world’s imagination, but she’s yet to drop her debut album. Blending socially aware lyricism with winding vocals fit for the dancehall, Koffee sits astride the art-house and the mainstream. Her hit maker reputation will see her attract the attention of money grabbing guests, but she seems to have her head screwed on straight and most definitely has her heart in the right place.

The Verdict: “Toast” is already a certifiable banger, but pretty much everything Koffee touches sounds essential and comes complete with thoughtful eye-catching visuals. Whenever her sound is threatened by too much mainstream gloss there’s a glorious traditional reggae reference (“Throne”) or a dose of DIY scuzz. Koffee is a star who oozes self-confidence, who somehow makes societal sorrow dancable.

Where To Start: “Toast”, “Throne”, “W”

Super M 

Genre: K-POP

Who Are They: The ascent of K-Pop is officially frightening. One major single combined with an attention grabbing EP are enough to send SuperM travelling across the globe to headline arenas. Granted, SuperM are a seven-piece supergroup formed from the members of Exo, NCT 127 and WayV respectively, but it’s amazing that an act with such little original material will be playing to 20,000 fans in the London alone.

The Verdict: Ultra-slick, incredibly glossy and perfectly harmonized, SuperM arrive with distinct looks and plenty of TikTok friendly dance moves. They should be a sure fire success story. They also engage in some of the most dated and unimaginative production and cringeworthy rapping imaginable, but to their credit SuperM’s balladry can be both charming and thoughtful.

Where To Start: “Jopping”, “No Manners”, “2 Fast”

Girl In Red

Genre: Indie

Who Is She: Beabadoobee might well have competition when it comes to winning youthful indie hearts and minds in 2020. Norwegian superstar in the making Girl in Red, aka Marie Ulven Ringheim, is delivering the kind of delicate, shimmering, web-like indie love songs that are destined to inspire a generation of bedroom romanatics. 

The Verdict: She already been labelled a “Queer Icon” by Paper magazine and it’s easy to see why, as she confesses her love and sexuality in straight unflinching terms. There isn’t a hint of gimmickry to be found on Girl In Red’s records. They are lowkey in both tone and texture, but iridescent in spirit. Straight ahead indie pop has been dying a death in recent years, so there’s no guaranteeing her success, but she’s certainly has crossover potential. 

Where To Start: “Girls”, “We Fell In Love In October”, “Bad Idea”

Celeste

Genre: Soul/Singer-Songwriter

Who is She: Celeste is the winner of the BBC’s much coveted, but occasionally misguided, Sound Of 2020 poll. It’s easy to see why she won, the Brighton singer might not make many concessions to the mainstream, but she hardly needs to when she possess one of the most beautiful and heart wrenching vocals imaginable. She has a classic air, less saucy than Amy Winehouse, but more hard-edged than Adele.

The Verdict: With so few songs to work with it’s hard to avoid just being blown away by a vocal that sucks the air out of the room. Celeste isn’t leaning into bad girl or broken-hearted narratives that tend to play well on the pop charts, instead she’s seductively stewing on her life and loves. In other words she’s in her feelings, but more so her thoughts. She’s analytical with an effortlessly emotional vocal. Even is Celeste fails find runaway success; she will undoubtedly prove essential live.

Where To Start: “Strange”, “Coco Blood”, “Lately”

2kBaby

Genre:  R&B

Who Is He:  Louisville, Kentucky’s hottest up-and-comer, 2kBaby stands out from the latest wave of post-trap rappers by blending narrative driven songwriting with old fashion silky hooks. He’s been co-signed by DaBaby and has already proven a thoughtful and high quality live performer.

The Verdict: Look it’s impossible to predict rap trends, the scene changes so fast and in so many unpredictable ways, but by all rights 2kBaby should be a sure fire hit. His soft high vocal is distinctive and melodic, he knows how to blend a hook seamlessly into verse and he’s starting to pull together an aesthetic vision. And yet, in the world of 21st Century hip hop, you are either cool or you are not: only time will tell if fans flock to 2kBaby. 

Where To Start: “Old Streets”, “Dreamin”, “Betta”

Inhaler

Genre:  Indie

Who Are They: Dublin might have become the world’s post-punk epicentre thanks to Fountaines D.C. and The Murder Capital, but there’s still a place for traditional indie pop dreamers. Inhaler are led by frontman Elijah Hewson (FYI he’s Bono’s son) and have already earned the backing of Noel Gallagher. Inhaler landed on both the BBC and NME’s radar and they are being tipped as saviours of traditional indie rock and roll.

The Verdict: Elijah certainly possess his father’s open-hearted expansiveness (“I can look good in a certain light/So honey don’t look at me too close tonight”) and Inhaler supply tight and dreamy arrangements, but there’s no denying that this indie sound feels at least two decades old. Perhaps the time has come for a revival and if guitar driven indie is set to make an arena conquering return, then Inhaler possess both the ambition and the aesthetic.

Where To Start: “It Won’t Always Be Like This”, “My Honest Face”, Ice Cream Sundae”

Normani 

Genre: R&B

Who Is She: Thanks to “Motivation” Normani is already a breakout superstar capable of rivalling Camilla Cabello for the best post-Fifth Harmony career. 80 million streams were well deserved for her buoyant banger, but can the singer/dancer convert her budding success into full-fledged superstardom?

The Verdict: Predicting Normani’s career trajectory is tricky because she isn’t following in Cabello’s tabloid baiting, mainstream pop direction. Normani seems to be releasing deep, sensual modern R&B (“Waves”). The type of music that can either thrive on the cooler-than-cool cutting edge or get lost in the shuffle. Whatever the case may be, she’s off to a good start.

Where To Start: “Motivation”, “Waves”, “Birds Of Prey”

Milet

Genre: Pop

Who is She: Well this a touch tricky, because while I can manage some passable conversational Japanese, I most certainly cannot read the language. So here’s what I do know: Milet is a Japanese starlet, who spent her formative years in Canada before returning to Japan where she launched her music career. She is four EPs and millions of YouTube views to the good and ready and waiting to drop her debut album in 2020.

The Verdict:  Milet certainly stands out from the J-Pop ranks. Blending strings and studio manipulations into a sound that blends husky pop with arena-ready indie rock flourishes. Singing in both English and Japanese, she slips between soulful warbling and MOR universalism. Her sound is big, bold, romantic and earnest. Milet has already taken Tokyo by storm, perhaps world domination is the next step.

Where To Start: “Inside You”, “Us”, “Drown”

Umi 

Genre:  R&B

Who Is She: With any luck, Umi will be the next DIY R&B superstar. She has a charming, heartfelt and relatable aesthetic and a heavenly vocal. This LA based, Seattle born songstress drifts between the sumptuous sounds of classic soul and the scuzzy, lo-fi, half-submerged world of 21st century understatement.

The Verdict: Umi should be a star, if not in the mainstream, at least on the underground. She exudes a vulnerable-yet-loveable realness. Her music is beautiful sung, but underwritten by the uncertainty of nervousness and confusion, Umi is trying to come to terms with herself before she makes any grand statements. Her vocal is towering in its tenderness and Umi is a considered and utterly endearing songwriter. With any luck she’ll be a rival for, not only Jorja Smith, Noname and SZA, but Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail too.

Where To Start: “Butterfly”, “Remember Me”, “Love Affair”

No Rome

Genre: Pop/R&B

Who is He: No Rome is the second London based, Philippines born, star-in-the-making to feature on this countdown. Eerily, just like Beabadoobee, No Rome has bright blue hair and comes with a strong co-sign from The 1975. That is where the similarities end. No Rome is a full-fledged modernist: complete with hybrid synth, chillwave, K-Pop, 90s boy bands and modern romantic influences.

The Verdict: Heavily influenced by The 1975’s generation defining confessional songwriting style, No Rome laces open-hearted pop into a subtle indie-influenced palette. There’s no denying that No Rome is very good at what he does, but at this moment it’s hard to tell whether these tender-yet-iconoclastic verses represent the crest of a wave or a fast-passing fad.

Where To Start: “Narcissist”, “Trust3000”, “Pink”

Deb Never

Genre: Pop/R&B/Indie

Who is She: Understated, unenthused and doomed, Deb Never is a serenely sorrowful bedroom songwriter. The Miami based star-in-the-making knows how to linger and get lost within her longing. Blending beautiful balladry with rock guitars and R&B beats, her music is like one gloriously awkward pregnant pause. Its no wonder Brockhampton took notice.

The Verdict: Deb Never is entering a crowded scene, but her dreary-yet-dreamy sound should find a considerable audience, because she is the rare artist who has arrived at an aesthetic without giving off a try hard vibe. She seems believably disenchanted, precisely because her failures are born out of true romantic desires. Braggadocio might be the order of the day in the post-Eilish world, but Deb Never has something better than any day-glo distraction: authenticity.

Where To Start: “Mr Nobody”, “Swimming”, “Ugly”

Ashnikko

Genre: Pop

Who is She: Aston Nicole Casey, aka Ashnikko, is a rapper, popstar, songwriter and producer who has already blown up on the only platform that matters when it comes to garnering a teenage following: TikTok. She’s been blighted by Billie Eilish comparisons, somewhat justifiably, but it’s more based on her attitude than her wilfully over the top and riotously enjoyable music.

The Verdict: She’s certainly got the style and the bravado to standout in scene full-to-overflowing with charismatic female stars. Ashnikko’s music is a lot of fun, but her rapping is mediocre and her tracks, while catchy and quirky, feel underdeveloped. Better for TikTok than Spotify.

Where To Start: “Special” “Hi, It’s Me”, “Working Bitch”

Nova Twins 

Genre: Rock

Who are They: Amy Love and Georgia South might not want to have their sound defined, but they do perfectly represent the sound of a youth obsessed with OTT, snotty, fusion sounds. Mixing the bratty, no-shits-given, irony-laden, 90s influenced vocals of the 1990s with rip snorting guitars designed to set fields aflame, the Nova Twins certainly know how to make an impact. Imagine M.I.A. and Charli XCX’s offspring fronting an old-fashioned rock and roll band.

The Verdict: The ultra-spunky and stylized vocals may well grate, but that’s partly the point – Nova Twins want to rub you up the wrong way even as their booming bass grooves demand that you slam dance. Nova Twins find themselves in a strange position, they might just slip between the cracks and fail to find a scene, but that would be a shame, because everything they release is insanely immediate. The Festival season will be their best friend: this is a sound fit for winning over sceptical crowds.

Where To Start: “Thelma & Louise”, “Bassline Bitch”, “Mood Swings”

Rema

Genre: Afrobeat

Who is He: Nigeria’s finest export who already has a co-sign from Barrack Obama of all people. Racking up millions no of views on YouTube, Rema has yet to release his debut album, but pretty much every single he’s dropped instantly becomes a dancefloor classic.

The Verdict: Blending the smoothest of vocals with scratchy, stop-start rhythms, Rema’s music feels irresistible. He glides and he glitches, he can play free-flowing wordsmith or tender loverman. The language barrier might stop him from ascending the highest heights in Europe or the US, but expect his bangers to be dropped in the mix alongside Drake and Stormzy on either side of the Atlantic.

Where To Start: “Iron Man”, “Dumebi”, “Lady”

Tyla Yaweh

Genre: R&B/Hip Hop

Who Is He: Floridan superstar in the making Tyla Yaweh already has a viral hit to his name (“High Right Now”) and has been on tour Post Malone. Tyla might not have Post Malone’s midas touch, but Tyla possess one of the silkiest vocals in modern hip hop and it’s hard to imagine a world where he isn’t 2020’s most in demand feature.

The Verdict: Tyla Yaweh clearly has phenomenal crossover potential. He knows his way around a hook and has a perfect tone for chart topping hooks or guest vocals on club dominating rap jams. Still there is danger, Tyla could rush release a lightweight and tacky debut album: his rapping is underdeveloped to say the least and it’s easy to imagine a record label talking him into churning out a cash-in debut.

Where To Start:  “Who Shot Johnny?”, “I Think I Luv Her”, “High Right Now”

The Hu

Genre: Rock

Who are They: Coming straight out of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, The Hu have already made major waves with their blend of throat singing, traditional instrumentation, folk stomp and rock intensity. The band possesses this primal ability to summon great marching grooves and rhythms that hold the listener in lock step and demand that they headbang.

The Verdict: Well this is genuinely hard to say. The Hu are by definition new, but their inherent alien strangeness is both a huge advantage and a potential weakness. They could end up trapped in the exotica box, but I suspect that these ferocious chant-along rhythms will conquer festival fields: Download, Glastonbury and Coachella will succumb to The Hu.

Where To Start: “Wolf Totem”, “Yuve Yuve Yu”, “The Great Chinggis Khaan”

Sinead O’Brien

Genre:  Post-Punk/Poetry

Who is She: Sinead O’Brien is poet and a rock star with a name that’s destined to infuriate fans with accidental autocompletes for a certain miss O’Connor. Not that she’ll care in the slightest, Sinead deals in ingenuity, change and evolution: her poetry is charged by uncertainty, but she is not rock’s answer to the scathing societal critiques of Kate Tempest. Sinead is a groovier and more introspective proposition (“feeling everything I’m told, tenfold”) – she is swimming in a sea of introspection and observation.

The Verdict: Sinead O’Brien’s early singles are genuinely intriguing proposition. She is not spitting bars; she is a poet who revels in form, shape and the glorious sound of words on the tongue. Her verses have a seductive rhythm of their own, its intoxicating stuff, the question is simple: can she deliver a satisfying start-to-finish LP? She certainly has the charisma and sound to break through.

Where to Start: “Limbo”, “Taking On Time”, “A Thing You Call Joy”

Easy Life

Genre: Alternative Hip Hop/Pop 

Who are They: Leicester’s Easy Life have just sneaked out their debut album and look set to capture the imagination of Europe’s love-struck and iconoclastic teens.  Nominally a five-piece band, Easy Life hardly rock, instead they offer a hybrid of woozy pop, lingering R&B, spoken word raps and skittish understated indie – i.e. the first wave of post-Brockhampton stars. “Nightmares” has already racked up six million views on YouTube and their upcoming tour should secure their hottest young band status while frontman Murray Matravers is quickly becoming one of the UK’s strangest heartthrobs.

The Verdict: Dreamy, self-aware and lost in a very mundane existence, Easy Life speak to the times with their fusion sound, even if they are perhaps little too cute for their own good. They know their way around a drifting melody and Murray will no doubt have his lyrics screamed back at him night after night, but there is a nagging feeling that Easy Life are high on style and light on substance.

Where to Start: “Easy Life”, “Nightmares”, “Sangria”

Arlo Parks 

Genre: R&B/Indie/Soul

Who Is She: “I talk to girls who sing about asphyxiation”, London’s Arlo Parks certainly knows how to grab her audience’s attention at the outset. This hybrid soul, R&B and indie folk/funk singer made the BBC Sound Of 2020 shortlist despite only making her live debut in May. She may have been churning out EPs in her bedroom, but Arlo Parks’ sound and aesthetic vision is frightening fully-realized considering her lack of road testing. She is an absolute natural.

The Verdict: This poet-turned-popstar deals in hard-hitting lyrics, but soft, dreamlike textures. Her incisive verses almost sneak up on the listener amid her sad-girl drift. Arlo is understated and ennui ridden, but completely switched on to the sorrows that surround her. With a sigh and a soft-yet-lavishly-detailed-croon, Arlo is set to take the word by storm: don’t be surprised if she becomes 2019 most in demand feature.

Where to Start: “Cola”, “Super Sad Generation”, “Sophie”

Dominic Fike 

Genre: Alternative Hip Hop

Who is He: The Kevin Abstract approved Floridian, Dominic Fike, is already taking the world (or at least YouTube) by storm. This self taught guitarist, rapper, singer and songwriter’s early material is genuinely all over the place. He’s shown a flair for everything from semi-comedic romantic rap to buoyant and utterly infectious indie inspired R&B jams. Whatever mood he happens to inhabit, he’s has a knack for garnering millions of streams.

The Verdict: Dominic Fike feels like a bone fide modern popstar from the face tattoos on down. On the imperious “3 Nights” he showed a capacity for dreary romanticism so melodic that the charts could offer no resistance. Elsewhere, he’s struggled with some cloth-eared rapping, but there’s persistent sense that he’ll stumble upon a serene ska-influenced hook or charming melody sooner or later.

Where To Start: “3 Nights”, “Phone Numbers”, “King Of Everything”

article topics :

R. Kelly, David Hayter