Why you should care
Because new music can change your listening life.
There’s something exhilarating about finding a new musical artist. Hearing a string guitar played in a way you’re not familiar with or following a distinctive voice, not knowing where it will go, is like riding a roller coaster in the darkness: You know you’ll probably hit some highs and lows, but you may also travel to an emotional place you’ve never been before. Every year, new artists let us experience this ride, and luckily for us, some of the best-known organizations gather them in the same place to shower them with awards and inspire those that follow.
This week, MTV announced its annual Video Music Awards nominees, including, as it has for the last 30 years, those for best new artists. The Artists to Watch included Fetty Wap, FKA Twigs and Vance Joy, three individuals with distinct approaches to music (and videos) and each offering exciting spins on, respectively, rap, R&B and folk. As the industry roils amid the war of words between Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift and the important cultural conversation about the still-undervalued influence of women of color on culture, we must also remember that it all comes back to the music. Without a great new approach from the beginning, there’s little opportunity to make a difference musically.
At OZY, we’ve profiled several up-and-coming artists expanding the sounds of music. Some explore important topics like race and gender and others just want to rock. Check out three of them below.
The 21-year-old Arlington, Texas, native grew up in an era of musical ferment, when country and urban audiences enjoyed music from opposite cultures and wider points of origin. Now this African-American artist is making noise in the country music industry and audiences of all ages and races are into it, especially her videos.
“In wistful montages of her solitary wanderings around a house so empty it looks windswept, Guyton reminisces about her heart being broken by a lover’s frosty goodbye. The video, directed by Peter Zavadil, is sunlit and Guyton isn’t gloomy. ‘Better Than You Left Me’ is in the tradition of country music resolve and pop female perseverance. Guyton’s long-faced expressions frequently break into chin-up smiles — notably when two white girlfriends (cast to reflect America’s plurality as well as country-western’s proven market) visit with baked goods and good cheer to encourage her recovery.”
This part-Choctaw singer-songwriter waits tables between tours and lives in Oklahoma. Her 2013 release, Kid Face, revealed a focused, confident sound, with deeply personal tracks.
“[Her] new album, which reflects her love of rock, country and folk and her utter disinterest in hewing to genre, explores the lives of working-class women. Crain says that Kid Face ‘emptied her well’ of personal experience, and Under Branch & Thorn & Tree was a chance to look outside herself and paint women as multidimensional people. ‘Elk City’ tells of a woman who arrived in ‘a boyfriend’s coal wagon on the 40 Interstate’ — later on, the man is gone, but her daughter, at least, goes to college and escapes the small town. Typically in music, Crain says, ‘women are either depressed and brokenhearted or manically happy.’ ”
Rada has moved from the Israeli settlement in the West Bank to the top of the charts with her take on reggae, Afrobeat, R&B and funk, and has been making waves among soul aficionados and stars like Alicia Keys, whom Rada opened for when Keys came to Tel Aviv. She’s already played Glastonbury and South by Southwest and her 2013 EP Life Happens received rave reviews.
“The hit ‘Life Happens’ kicks off with a flourish of Ethiopian-influenced horns followed by Rada’s every-so-slightly accented English. She knows the song’s theme — taking life’s bumps in stride — well. Her parents emigrated from Ethiopia to Kiryat Arba, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, just before she was born in 1985. Her parents divorced when she was a toddler.”