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Ones to watch 2019: 20 musicians to look out for in the new year, from Flohio to Another Sky

The Independent logo The Independent 01/01/2019 Roisin O'Connor, Alexandra Pollard
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While the below list is by no means one of all the emerging musicians to watch in 2019 (there’s plenty more talent out there), these are the 20 artists that The Independent has really been impressed by over the past 12 months.

Get to know their music, and prepare to see great things from them in 2019.

Arlo Parks

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Eighteen-year-old Arlo Parks spent much of her teens writing short stories that tackled conflicting thoughts about her identity. Those words took flight in her debut single “Cola”, which was released in November 2018: it’s a confessional work that shows a maturity beyond her years and, in her own words, serves as a “reminder that betrayal is inevitable when it comes to pretty people that think flowers fix everything”. She’s apparently got an album’s worth of material written down – we can’t wait to hear it next year.

Another Sky

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Another Sky’s Catrin Vincent has the sort of voice – peculiar, powerful, androgynous – that’ll stop you in your tracks. It is perhaps the most striking thing about Another Sky, who also comprise drummer Max, bassist Naomi and guitarist Jack (they haven’t given their second names) – though there are plenty of other things too.

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Take their single “Avalanche”, for example. Its condemnation of toxic masculinity, police brutality and violence against women, channelled through that arresting voice, is hugely affecting. Another Sky used to perform in total darkness, wishing to be anonymous. They don’t do that anymore. They’re ready to step into the light.

Black Futures

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This industrial noise punk duo are flanked by a group of people in Hazmat suits as they play (really loud) space anthems akin to Death From Above, The Chemical Brothers and Nine Inch Nails. Their live shows are like the soundtrack to the end of the world, offering a weirdly upbeat and eccentric experience that is a chaotic, but always enjoyable, assault on the eyes and ears.

Cecil

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Alternative pop singer-songwriter Cecil hails from Berkshire but is now based in London. Her songs have a darker, more mysterious sentimentality than much of the pop that dominated the charts in 2018: this year’s single “Toybox” casts a spell with sinister chimes and Cecil’s breathy, bewitching vocals.

Flohio​

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You can hear the fast-paced energy of London’s streets in every word of Flohio’s boundary-breaking work. After bursting through in 2016 on God Colony’s “SE16”, she’s established herself as one of the fiercest talents on the UK rap scene. The 25-year-old British-Nigerian born Funmi Ohio spits over gritty, bold electronic instrumentation that’s as assertive as her own personality, linking back with nods to grime and hip hop.

Glowie​

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“We’re taught that there’s only one way to be beautiful. This is something that needs to change.” This is the message Glowie – 21-year-old Icelandic artist Sara Pétursdóttir – addresses in her single “Body”, which was written by American singer-songwriter Julia Michaels. Eschewing the bright, spirit-lifting pop of her Scandanavian peers, Glowie specialises in Nineties R&B-influenced tracks akin to Dua Lipa. For her, art doesn’t always have to look nice. But it does sound really good.

Grace Carter

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Grace Carter crafts soulful, piano-led pop. Some might interpret the single “Why Her Not Me” as another breakup ballad; Carter in fact wrote it about her father choosing another life over raising her. The 20-year-old was a self-professed “angry child”, but a guitar her stepfather gave her provided an outlet for that frustration and heartbreak. She taught herself the piano by watching YouTube videos, and since then has grown into a talented and original young songwriter.

Kelsey Lu

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When Kelsey Lu’s mum (a strict Jehovah’s Witness) found out she’d won a scholarship to music college behind her back, she “picked up her shoe and started beating me with it”. Lu hopped out of the window and ran away.

While at college, she worked as a stripper to earn money, from which she found a sense of “freedom and strength” – before incorporating her cello playing into minimalist hip-hop songs and embarking on a music career. Thank goodness her mum’s forceful discouragement was ineffective. Brilliant new single “Due West” is Lu at her very best.

Koffee​

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Signed to Columbia Records, this Jamaica-born 18-year-old cites influences that include reggae legend Protoje to rapper Giggs, and shared a stage with another reggae star, Chronixx, when she supported him during his UK tour this year. Koffee is on a mission to preserve and share Jamaica’s roots via her music, and to empower the youth of her generation. Once you hear her debut single “Burning”, about embracing the fire within yourself, you won’t doubt her for a second.

King Princess

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The received wisdom is that Harry Styles is responsible for King Princess’s stratospheric rise; the former One Direction superstar tweeted lyrics from the 19-year-old’s debut single, “1950”, to his 33 million followers a few weeks after it came out. But the song, a delicate but supremely confident queer ballad, was one of the best songs of 2018, and would have surely found its audience without him. As the first signing to Mark Ronson’s new label Zelig, King Princess is poised for the kind of left field pop stardom enjoyed by the likes of Years & Years and Hayley Kiyoko.

L Devine

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When Olivia Devine decided to make a go of a career in music, she sold her car and used that money – as well as a small charity grant – to move from her seaside town in Tyneside to London. It was a brave move, but it paid off just two months later, when she signed a major label record deal with Warner Music. With her breakout single “Peer Pressure”, Devine (who goes by L Devine because an adult film star already had her given name) cemented her brand of relatable pop, which uses autotune, minimalist beats and Heathers samples – but she’s not blown up just yet. That’s what 2019 is for. 

Lady Bird

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We’re not talking about the film, or the Chet Baker song. Lady Bird are a three-piece punk band formed around Tunbridge Wells, signed to fellow punk rockers Slaves’ new label. Their Social Potions EP was released in February this year, followed by the singles “Boot Fillers” and “Reprisal”. They’re wry, witty, social observers; crafting small but intricate vignettes of life that would otherwise seem mundane.

Nilüfer Yanya​

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It’s been two years now since Nilüfer Yanya made waves with her debut EP, Small Crimes / Keep on Calling – but the 23-year-old has refused to be rushed. Next year, the London singer-songwriter, who trades in intimate, soulful guitar music, will release her debut album, Miss Universe. With strange, conceptual spoken-word interludes and a grungier, more experimental sound, the album is more than worth the wait.

Octavian

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At just 22 years old, the France-born, London-based artist has experienced homelessness and poverty, but, for the past two years, Octavian has been building himself up as one of the UK’s most promising young artists. Over an amalgamation of house, techno, grime and drill he raps and sings in his signature raspy vocals. It’s this distinguishable sound that has people so excited: Octavian sounds like no one else and, listening to his music, you get the sense that anything and everything is possible for his future.

Pillow Queens

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Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, Pillow Queens spent the past year releasing a clutch of scuzzy, guitar-based rock songs that emulate the likes of Weezer and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They’re sharp and funny: the single “Gay Girls” is a joyous anthem for a generation of young women and LGBT people in Ireland slowly feeling the shackles of oppression come loose. Their first ever gig was at a fundraiser for dogs two years ago – we're convinced they’ll be playing more prestigious venues in 2019.

Rukhsana Merrise

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Following excellent collaborations with fellow UK artists such as Ghetts and Kojey Radical, Rukhsana Merrise released the first half of her Child O Today album in December. It’s an eclectic collection of songs that highlights her prowess as a folk writer, and also her ability to address universal feelings of self-doubt, love and nostalgia for lost youth in a way that feels intrinsically personal.

Samm Henshaw

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With a background in gospel, Samm Henshaw’s music is guaranteed to warm your soul. Following tours and collaborations with Chance the Rapper, Pharrell, Rag’n’Bone Man and Maverick Sabre, he headlined London’s Scala in October and released two new singles: “Broke” and “How Does it Feel?”. His music draws on his love of Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye, blending classic pop and hip-hop influences with that gospel sound.

Sea Girls

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This London four-piece spent their summer building a fanbase at festivals around the UK. While the music industry hasn’t been so kind to rock bands over the past few years, the tides (geddit) seem to be turning, and it’s about time we had some new blood on the scene. Sea Girls are offering listeners a fresh, uplifting and bold guitar-based sound that capture the spirit of youth.

Slowthai

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Over the past year, 23-year-old rapper Slowthai and his gap-toothed grin have become very familiar to rap fans around the UK. A unique mix of grime, rap, techno and industrial noise rock buzzing beneath his distorted, yelping vocals has drawn comparisons to the innovation heard on Dizzee Rascal’s groundbreaking debut album Boy in Da Corner.

But his spirit is pure punk: his sweaty live shows are fast-becoming the stuff of legend, and often end with him stripped to his boxers screaming “F*** the Queen” in front of a Union Jack. He’s one of the most thrilling, unpredictable new artists to emerge in the past few years.

ZuZu

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Some artists make a point of masking their regional accents in their music, thinking it will give them a better shot at breaking through in US markets. Not ZuZu, a Liverpool-born singer whose proudly Scouse delivery is one of the best things about her music. It’s guitar-led pop rock that is both self-deprecating and dripping with delicious venom: “Call me her name one more time,” she dares an anonymous lover on “What You Want”, “and I swear to God, I’ll eat you alive.”

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