By Paige Daniel
Pop music is at a bit of a crossroads right now – it seems like anything has the potential to be a hit, while the pre-eminent pop stars of our youth crash and burn (sorry, Katy Perry).
The charts are unpredictable as well, with hits coming out of left-field like Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” and the ex-Fifth Harmony underdog Camila Cabello somehow managing to snag a number one spot with “Havana,” despite how overwhelmingly the charts have been dominated by men (looking at you, Ed Sheeran).
People even surmised that women in pop were facing a period of stagnation, as a slew of new singles by women failed to crack the top 10. The pop charts are hugely rap and R&B focused these days, with pure pop being pushed out in favor of hybrid styles that mesh trap, rock, R&B and rap.
It’s not always the best to pledge allegiance to the charts as someone who is interested in the history and trajectory of pop music. I nailed down a few artists who are expected to release new music this year, but you may notice that few of them are “chart-toppers”; in the economy of pop, as some call it, there is a new precedent wherein fringe artists are still able to achieve a level of success. Even if you haven’t heard of them, they are making waves in their respective internet pools.
Kimbra is a pop artist who hails from New Zealand, though you might remember her from Gotye’s hit “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
That song sorely underutilized her abilities and is kind of disappointing when you compare it to everything Kimbra has done on her own. Her vocal flair is hard to describe without falling back on tired clichés – it’s that good.
Her debut album “Vows” found her with one foot heavily in a traditional pop sound and the other aiming for the funk stratosphere, and then her second album, “The Golden Echo,” made it clear that she had decided to experiment even more.
The three songs released so far from her new album, “Primal Heart,” are very high quality; “Everybody Knows” is a driving damnation of a characteristically bad person, while “Top of the World” has an unusual tribal beat and a surprising bass passage that will singe your eyebrows off. She just released a third song, “Human,” which continues to foretell the greatness of “Primal Heart.”
No other current R&B artist has been wronged more by their record label than Tinashe. Originally introduced as Beyoncé’s eventual successor (which is just unfair), Tinashe only has one amazing debut album to her name, 2014’s “Aquarius.”
She was put in production limbo by her label, and her attempt at a second album release ultimately sputtered and failed thanks to their halting efforts.
Then she released a mixtape, “Nightride” (2016). “Nightride” allowed her to explore her taste for dark, nocturnal R&B while her label consistently screwed her out of major success.
Poor label decision after poor label decision piled up; without giving her a choice in the matter, they paired her up with noted abuser Chris Brown for her song “Player” in the hopes of it charting (hint: it failed).
She seems to be officially trying her hand at a second album release this year with the single “No Drama.” Maybe this is the year she breaks into a wider audience, but if she doesn’t, I’ll just keep her talent to myself and that’s fine too.
Troye Sivan is a pretty big deal for the online LGBTQ+ community, as his 2015 album “Blue Neighbourhood” found him dealing with explicitly queer themes in front of a bigger audience than is usually afforded for most LGBTQ+ artists. “Blue Neighbourhood” was just a glimpse of what he has to offer, so his yet-unreleased album looks promising.
He made a slick entry in the worthy Jeopardy category of “music videos in empty warehouses” for his new song “My My My!” and also released “The Good Side” shortly before his performance on Saturday Night Live last weekend.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2015 album “Emotion” is a sleeper hit, lauded by critics and fans yet finding no major chart success. The lack of chart success doesn’t really matter when there is an online community so devoted to singing the album’s praises that they’ve been making memes about it since its release.
Jepsen reportedly has a new album in the process of being completed; where “Emotion” played with a retro 80s sound, she claims this next album will be focused on disco.
Her revivalist tendencies are never pastiche or hollow, and fans are already revving up the hype machine for her fourth release that is unnamed.
Ariana Grande by now is a superstar, and she has been teasing a new album in the works for a few weeks. “Dangerous Woman” (2016) is seriously one of the best pop albums in years (zero hyperbole there), which could partially be chalked up to its intense Max Martin contributions.
This time around, she is working with legendary pop producer Pharrell Williams for her fourth album; this follows the tragic terrorist attack at one of her concerts that had people questioning when, or even if, she would return to the pop scene.
Grimes barely hinted at a possible 2018 release in a reply to a fan on Twitter and I kind of freaked out, because my love for Grimes knows no bounds. The album is just an idea in my head and is probably stewing somewhere on Grimes’ laptop, but whatever, I’m definitely on this hype train.
Grimes produces all her music herself (this is sort of a big deal, especially with there being a glaring absence of women producers in the music industry), and is unapologetically experimenting with each new release.
Okay. Let me explain this one. When I learned that Charlie Puth’s whole bland enterprise was initially put-on for the sake of drawing a wide audience, I couldn’t help but be simultaneously peeved and relieved.
He claimed in an interview that his debut album, “Nine Track Mind,” was purposefully saccharine and lukewarm so as to appeal to the lowest common denominator and chart. Of course, he also said that attaining his level of success now allows him to do what he actually wants to with his music.
He was one of the newer pop stars I abhorred the most, and it’s safe to say the tide has turned on that one given the quality of his recent singles, “Attention” and “How Long.” His expected release, “Voicenotes,” has been delayed after advertised to be out in the first months of the year.
He is another producer like Grimes who insists on producing all of their music themselves, which again, is no small feat. And Puth is talented, as he is formally trained in music composition (he would know how to write a catchy pop song). I thought it would be a cold day in hell until I admitted I was looking forward to a new release from him, but he proved me wrong.