Discovering new artists, whether they’re buzzy or under the radar, is half the fun of being a music fan. Last year, our hearts were stolen by New Zealand guitar pop band The Beths, singer/songwriter supergroup boygenius and rapper Tierra Whack, among many others. This year brought an entire new class of musicians who made us weep, sway, dance and thrash. Some of these artists have one single to their name while others have one or two full-lengths under their belts, but all of them made an entrance that caught our attention. Bands like black midi and Empath made us rethink guitar music altogether while Yola and Orville Peck brought new perspectives to country music. Queer voices like Clairo, Sir Babygirl and King Princess established themselves as some of pop music’s heavy hitters while Pottery and Fontaines D.C. freshened up the post-punk scene with their subtle infusion of blues, surf and garage rock. From R&B and noise-pop to indie rock and rap, here are the 20 rising artists that blew us away in 2019, as voted on by the Paste staff.
Listen to our Best New Artists of 2019 playlist on Spotify right here.
There’s an aggressive purity to Disq’s music. The Madison outfit filters sincere, bittersweet songwriting through vast guitars, and the result is a whiplash of good-natured pop. The five-piece band, whose members range in age from 19 to 24, have generated noticeable buzz off the back of just one seven-inch single for Saddle Creek’s Document Series. Disq was formed by two Wisconsin teens, Isaac deBroux-Slone (vocals, guitar) and Raina Bock (bass, backing vocals), who self-released and self-recorded a mini LP, Disq I, in 2016, but their recent Saddle Creek single, “Communication” (backed with “Parallel”) is their debut label release and more representative of their current sound. Paste caught Disq’s set in Atlanta, where they matched the sonic magnitude of their sturdy SXSW showing. Their new live material is anything but monolithic—you’ll find traces of feverish psych-rock, lustrous jangle pop, noisy post-punk, and bouncy twee pop—though you’ll notice a consistently vociferous energy thanks to their propulsive guitar triple threat. —Lizzie Manno
Philadelphia four-piece Empath aren’t your everyday noise-pop band. They masterfully and curiously juggle bubblegum pop sweetness, ear-splitting noise guitar tornadoes, off-kilter synths and ambient nature sound effects. On last year’s cassette EP Liberating Guilt and Fear (which made Paste’s list of the 10 Best EPs of 2018), they intentionally overwhelm with discordant noise-punk rumbling, charm with tuneful pop melodies and baffle with experimental hues. Their highly-anticipated debut album, Active Listening: Night on Earth, released on DIY label Get Better Records (and later re-released on Fat Possum), is further proof that you can achieve the highest highs of pop via unconventional musical vehicles. It contains mystifying weirdo symphonies that defy all previously existing musical states of matter, and Empath are nothing if not for their ability to push sonic, musical and lyrical envelopes. The album is both a resplendent listen and an acquired taste. Not every listener will take pleasure in the band’s blustery dissonance, but those who do will be rewarded with dense pop riches and deeply poignant, poetic lyrics. —Lizzie Manno
It’s a shame Toronto-based quartet waited until the very end of November to release Get Bleak, an EP so perfectly suited for summer that it’s almost making me angry thinking about all of the rooftop parties and barbecues it could have soundtracked. A perfect combination of contemporary modern indie rock à la Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and classic jangle pop bands like Belle & Sebastian or The Sundays, the four songs on Get Bleak are pure indie-pop bliss, filled to the brim with warm, swirling guitars. Lead singer Tom Mcgreevy leads the way with his calming but sure-handed vocals, singing songs about hopelessness that sound anything but. Sure, the band called this release Get Bleak, but there’s no chance you’ll feel any of the emotions they sing about throughout these four tracks—in fact, you’ll feel the exact opposite. —Steven Edelstone
Few artists have garnered as much swift buzz as 20-year-old Norwegian singer/songwriter Marie Ulven (aka Girl in Red). With two EPs—chapter 1 and chapter 2—and a series of singles in hand, Ulven makes lo-fi pop for those who can’t get enough love-dovey heart flutters or photo booth strips with their significant others. Her bedroom pop aesthetics might lean towards breezy, lonesome wistfulness, but her live shows are boisterous romps—full of rainbow flags, bouncing and happy tears. Between older cuts like “summer depression” and “we fell in love in october” or new singles like “bad idea!” and “i’ll die anyway,” Ulven makes youthful restlessness and heartbreak feel blissful and less lonely. Ulven’s debut album is expected to drop in 2020, so make sure you keep your tissues fully stocked. —Lizzie Manno
Bright-eyed DIY band Beach Bunny, fronted by the very sharp 22-year-old singer/songwriter Lili Trifilio, don’t even have a full-length album out yet—that’s Honeymoon, arriving Feb. 14 via Mom + Pop (Courtney Barnett, Sunflower Bean, etc.). But they do have quite the shiny rack of singles, and hundreds of thousands of internet-bred fans (over 1 million on Spotify, to be exact) who have latched onto their vivid, emotional rock sound. There’s one song in particular that folks have fallen for hard: “Prom Queen,” from the band’s springy, five-song 2018 EP of the same name, gathered more than 70 million streams on Spotify. It’s a song of longing and personal exhaustion that faces impossible beauty standards head-on. “I’m no quick-curl barbie,” Trifilio sings. “I was never cut out for prom queen.” Maybe that’s because she’s cut out for something else: rock star. —Ellen Johnson
After a solid performance at this year’s South By Southwest and tours opening for Parquet Courts, Viagra Boys, Oh Sees and Fontaines D.C., Montreal five-piece Pottery released their debut EP No. 1, recorded in just over two nights and cut live to tape. Crediting Orange Juice, Josef K and DEVO as influences, Pottery blend the whimsical, danceable and the arty leanings of some of pop and punk’s greatest groups. The instrumental “Smooth Operator” is a slinky opener, evolving from a cool and collected bluesy strut to an anxious punk freakout. Another somewhat rootsy tune “Hank Williams” is unexpected, but it’s one of the peppiest country-punk tracks since Iceage stomper “The Lord’s Favorite.” “The Craft” finds their eccentric post-punk at its sharpest and most cartoonish. Their wonky percussion, frisky vocal snarls and lyrics of life’s rat race result in freakish art-pop profundity. —Lizzie Manno
Albums are hardly more compassionate than the retro pop-meets-indie rock of Queen of Jeans’ recent release if you’re not afraid, i’m not afraid. Following their 2018 debut Dig Yourself, the Philadelphia trio led by Miri Devora have returned with even more affecting, tuneful melodies and bittersweet shimmers on their second album. Devora’s lyrics seek to regain the territory that’s been taken from her, whether it’s social, political or emotional. Her ruminations on relationships, grief and space cut deeper and deeper with each listen. Their guitar work is equally emotionally piercing—ranging from twinkling echoes to grunge-pop earworms, Queen of Jeans nail the art of catchy pop subtlety. Their folk-tinged rock songs fold into each other beautifully like a luscious candy ribbon, and Devora’s sticky songwriting doesn’t leave any throwaway scraps. —Lizzie Manno
Seriously, when was the last time a British rock band came around that was this fun? Making Hay, a greatest hits release of sorts with the best of their 15 or so songs they’ve put out to date, doesn’t just make the case that Sports Team are the most exciting British band of the moment, but also that they’re one of the most exciting British bands in ages. With frenetic guitars à la Palma Violets and an energy that harkens back to the best of the British indie invasion of the ’00s, Sports Team are truly ready to take over the world. Few lead singers this decade have had anywhere close to as much charisma as frontman Alex Rice has, a face that you’ll surely see on an NME cover in 2020. Each song on Making Hay is anthemic as all hell, the kind of songs that have been tearing down stages across Europe and North America all year (and when I caught them at Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right in October, members of Hinds were leading the mosh pit). Next year—or whenever their debut LP is released—will be a banner year for the London-based band, so get on board now before they’re playing your town’s biggest venue. —Steven Edelstone
Clairo’s brilliance didn’t hit me until I spent a few weeks living with her debut album Immunity. Previous songs from the now 21-year old singer/songwriter Clarie Cottrill like “Flaming Hot Cheetos” and “Pretty Girl” were enjoyable, but didn’t necessarily stand out in the crowded bedroom pop and R&B market. But anyone who spends any amount of time wallowing or chilling with her Rostam-produced full-length record will become attached to her lush vocals and angsty, vulnerable pop perfectly suited for a night-out comedown. With songs about lust, regret, suicide and her arthritis, Clairo has a stark ability to rejuvenate and pull listeners close to her. She started her career plagued by industry plant accusations, but those charges are even more absurd now as Immunity has more than proven her vast talent and artistic integrity. Clairo is also one of many compelling queer voices in 2019, but anyone can find something of value in her rich, starry guitar pop. —Lizzie Manno
Athena, the striking debut album from singer/songwriter, producer and violinist Sudan Archives, doesn’t fit squarely into the trends of 2019. Following her 2017 self-titled EP and 2018 Sink EP, Cincinnati-born Sudan Archives has emerged as one of R&B’s true modern boundary pushers. Her roots as an avant-garde violinist and appreciation for ethnomusicology frequently surface on her first full-length album, which merges minimal electronic beats with breathy R&B, windy psychedelia and dynamic strings. Athena brings a worldly spirit with her vocal harmonies dancing around dazzling violin and percussion that keeps you guessing. Sudan Archives flies in the face of the R&B’s poppier and flashier sides and challenges listeners with her versatile string-laden soundscapes, but she also provides the plush soulfulness that you’ll crave from the genre. —Lizzie Manno
King Princess, the moniker of vintage-pop songwriter and queer hero Mikaela Straus, first entered into the public eye with the charming, swooning “1950,” a revisionist history indebted to the hidden yearning between the two female lovers of the 1952 novel The Price Of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, later adapted into the 2015 movie Carol. The song, like the novel and film it homages, builds a flame out of smoldered glances and subtext, an anthem for a fledgling generation of queer folks whose private lives are still somehow very much relegated to intimate, dark corners. Her debut album Cheap Queen is more melancholy than “1950,” more introspective than her ode to “Talia,” less ebullient than the assured bedroom-romping funk of follow-up single “Pussy Is God,” the latter of which was co-written with Stenberg. Cheap Queen is also more vulnerable: As Straus figures out the contours of her heartbreak and the patina it takes on, the longer it lingers out in the open. Much of Cheap Queen plays out as a lovely, longing suite of dimly-lit torch songs played out in the restless hours—Straus is stoned, alone and checking her phone to ward off the ghost of solitude. —Joshua Bote
Technically, Sasami Ashworth (best known by just her all-caps first name) is a new artist, but she’s actually been doing this for years. Her self-titled debut album arrived in March, but long before that, she spent three years playing synth in Cherry Glazerr, arranged music for Curtis Harding, Wild Nothing and Vagabon and opened shows for Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy and Mitski. It’s no surprise, then, that SASAMI’s grey-hued, grunge- and shoegaze-indebted songs tackle tumultuous relationships and friendships with the tact and poise of a longtime solo performer. The LP comprises vast, acerbic voids that fashion the bile of Ashworth’s personal turbulence into a balm for listeners experiencing similar woes. It’s a trick that only somebody who’s already put in her 10,000 hours could pull off so well, or maybe it’s just in her blood. —Max Freedman
Let’s get one thing straight (or gay, just keep reading the sentence): “Queer” is not a genre. Queer pop, queer hip-hop—none of it exists. An artist’s sexuality doesn’t automatically make their work a unicorn within its genre. Now, all that said, few artists have been so out and proud in their music as Kelsie Hogue, aka Sir Babygirl. A scroll through her Instagram brings up captions including “dyke the halls” and “how many times can I say queer in one sentence challenge.” Her debut album Crush on Me, released in February, is just as overtly queer, with songs about lesbian flirting and trauma—which queer people carry in droves—arriving via exuberant pop cocktails of theater-kid belting, racetrack guitars, and dancefloor synths. Though her music may be new to fans, queerness is far from new to her, and her unflagging, constant celebrations of her identity demand attention no matter their genre. —Max Freedman
Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion is an icon in the making, a force majeure in the lineage of Houston rap. Fever, her first official mixtape, maintains the high-octane rap of her earlier work, all delivered with a sneer and a smile. Don’t let the appropriation of “hot girl summer” by the (largely-white) powers that be overshadow her relentless, braggadocio-filled raps, aided by Houston’s finest: Hot Girl Meg lays out her M.O. on the Juicy J-produced album highlight “Pimpin”: I could never ever let a n—- fuck me out my bread.” She knows she’s good, she’s unsympathetic to the guys who are intimidated, threatened and broke, and she makes that evident throughout Fever. Even at her most party-ready, like on the delightful DaBaby double-feature “Cash Shit,” the hot girl anthem “Shake That,” or “Best You Ever Had,” a crossover track in waiting, she makes her point and underlines it: Either keep up, or get out of the way. —Joshua Bote
Masked country crooner Orville Peck is forging a path all his own. Hot on the heels of his illustrious and mysterious debut album Pony (out now on Sub Pop), Peck first caught our attention thanks to his look, act and secret identity (we still don’t know who he is, exactly), but his music secured the hold. Pony is a weirdly satisfying musical milkshake, an at-times spooky blend of classic country, shoegaze ambience and vintage rock ‘n’ roll that goes down more like a smooth slurp of whiskey. At its core is an emotional journey, at times told through the lens of outlandish characters who’d feel right at home in a spaghetti western (two canyon-traversing cowboys caught up in a doomed romance on “Dead of Night”), and, at others, through more personal anecdotes (“Turn to Hate” tracks a series of internal struggles, told from a male, gay perspective we may not otherwise hear in country). The voice of Merle Haggard and the heart of an earnest indie-rocker make for a singular combination, one that should solidify Orville Peck as a country innovator, not an outsider. —Ellen Johnson
Changes were constantly gusting through the winds of country music this year, it seemed, and one of the most welcome breezes was the arrival of British “country-soul” singer Yola Carter, who goes simply by “Yola.” Carter was raised on a diet of Dolly Parton and The Byrds, but when she started crafting her own country sound, it benefited from a heavy dose of R&B-infused soul. Her debut album Walk Through Fire arrived early in the year and has remained in my heavy rotation. It twinkles and sparks (no pun intended), even if Carter is singing about personal demons that “haunt” her or the heartbreak that storms her consciousness. But Yola’s impact didn’t stop with her solo record—she also appeared on the title track from The Highwomen’s debut supergroup record. The song is reworking of The Highwaymen’s “Highwayman,” and Yola sings a particularly affecting verse about a determined Freedom Rider. She’s revered by all of Nashville and has attracted fans from all corners of music—Yola is undoubtedly one of the best things to emerge from 2019. —Ellen Johnson
Style over substance is never a smart method for making art, and London based singer/songwriter Nilüfer Yanya masterfully obliterates that concept on her debut album, Miss Universe. With an album that borders on soul, pop, jazz and rock, Yanya is far too preoccupied with her inner demons and unique artistry to quibble over what one particular genre her music most closely resembles. In a current musical climate ruled by increased musical accessibility from streaming and in a world where so many people struggle with mental health, Miss Universe is a post-genre attempt at self-care that feels needed. This is an emotionally multi-faceted album to luxuriate in. Whether you take solace in her sultry, rich voice, instrumentals that range from bubbly to rugged or become invested in her confessional storytelling, Nilüfer Yanya’s Miss Universe can be easily enjoyed during a night out or night in. There are exultant singalongs (“In Your Head,” “Heavyweight Champion of the World”), luscious, bittersweet slow-burners (“Melt,” “Safety Net”), and sometimes humorous, sometimes alarming spoken-word interludes, which cultivate a transcendent alternate reality (“WWAY HEALTH,” “Sparkle GOD HELP ME,” “Experience?”). It’s an angsty LP concerned with entrapment, fear and expectations versus reality. Perhaps most triumphantly, Yanya pulls off jazz-infused, scrappy guitar pop with much more emotional and musical nuance than the buzzy, male-dominated “sad boi” acts like Rex Orange County or other beanie-donning dudes with keyboards and Stratocasters. —Lizzie Manno
Fontaines D.C. have been pigeonholed as the British Isles’ next great post-punk export à la Shame or Idles, but this Irish five-piece deserve more than that reductive framing. Fontaines D.C. are more poetic than the bands they’re lumped in with, and their debut album Dogrel is a testament to a different set of concerns. Dogrel takes on the degradation of urban cities as lively cultural hubs and launching pads for people to make something of themselves—or at least put some change in their pockets. Frontman Grian Chatten and his bandmates share a love of literature and poetry (the Beats, James Joyce, Patrick Kavanagh, etc.), and they write songs together in Irish pubs, resulting in a brazen-faced, romantic portrait of Dublin and its vast characters. Two of their biggest calling cards are self-belief and authenticity. The uplifting lyrical themes on the lead track “Big” (“My childhood was small / But I’m gonna be big”) are analogous to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” the lead track on Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, though “Big” has more wit and spit. If self-awareness is one factor of the renewed interest in post-punk, the intense, charismatic Chatten certainly has it as he pokes fun at charisma (“Charisma is exquisite manipulation”). Dogrel is an album of tremendous ardor and vivid landscapes, and interspersed with an Irish underdog spirit, Fontaines D.C. are nearly untouchable. —Lizzie Manno
Aussie singer/songwriter Stella Donnelly told Paste earlier this year that the electric guitar “opened up a different world of how I could write music and still have those folk mannerisms, but it just added a little edge to what I was doing” before with an acoustic. “Folk with an edge” might just be a perfect description for what Donnelly’s doing. Her debut album Beware of the Dogs is chock full of modern folktales—stories of rather nasty men, triumphant women and millennial relationships, which Donnelly sings with gusto as she confidently plucks away on that electric guitar. It’s a response to #MeToo done right, every ounce of female pain acutely captured and every bit of social satire masterfully executed. Donnelly sounds like she’s on your side, like she—or maybe someone she knows—has been through the ringer, but she knows you can emerge somewhat calmly on the other side. Donnelly was already on our radar last year with her wonderful debut EP Thrush Metal, but this year everyone caught on as she staked her claim as one of indie’s best songwriters. —Ellen Johnson
When I reviewed black midi’s near-perfect debut album Schlagenheim back in June, I still didn’t know what to make of it after 30 or so listens. “I have no idea what black midi sounds like,” I wrote, adding “But here’s what I do know: This is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.” That hasn’t changed after six months and another 50 front-to-back listens. I still don’t have any real reference point to compare them to anyone (or anything) else, I still can’t make sense of the lyrics even with the help of Genius and, hell, I still can’t quite figure out what makes them so good. But I haven’t connected with a band this hard in years. Easily the most impressive live band I saw this year (hitting #6 on our best live acts of 2019 list), the quartet managed to take everything you know about music, tear it up into tiny pieces, blend it into a smoothie and then throw it away, starting their own new thing entirely. Armed with the best drummer in rock music and two of the most inventive guitarists, black midi is unlike anything you’ve heard before, the most unique guitar rock band in quite some time, full of unexpected tempo changes and bizarre grooves that sound like a highly-trained jazz band trying to make a post-punk album. They aren’t for everyone—just imagine flipping through channels in the U.K. and randomly catching their batshit crazy Mercury Prize performance of “bmbmbm”—but if you buy in, it’ll be the most mind-blowing listening experience you’ll have in quite some time. —Steven Edelstone
Listen to our Best New Artists of 2019 playlist on Spotify right here.