By Mia Smith, Second Year English
A definitive guide to the best new talent in the business.
Just announced as BBC Introducing’s Artist of the Year, 19 year old Arlo Parks’ thrust into the spotlight comes as no surprise. Diving headfirst into the choppy waters of depression and unrequited love, Parks effortlessly navigates subject matter usually so ineffable, capturing clichéd teen angst in new and exciting ways. Her heavy verse comes bubble-wrapped in softness and twinkly guitars, but is at the same time utterly raw.
In ‘Black Dog’, depression is far from romanticised, the painful refrain ‘I would do anything to get you out your room’ talking to not just the song’s addressee, but perhaps the listener. Writing through a Black, queer lens, Parks has created a wholly unique sound; one that makes for sometimes difficult, but always necessary listening. 2021 will undoubtedly be the year of Arlo Parks. We are left eagerly awaiting the depths to which she can push her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, expected in late January. You can also catch her on tour in 2021.
With the current musical landscape now more readily carved with spaces for mental health discourse, South London’s Joy Crookes has joined the conversation, harmonising her personal struggles alongside an attempt to define her identity. Crookes articulates pain and politics perfectly, using her 2020 Brit Award nomination to expose the award’s lack of diversity. Her masterful representation of her Bangladeshi/Irish heritage is creating a voice for marginalised South Asian youth and catalysing a call for increased accessibility into the creative industries. In ‘London Mine’, the melting pot of the capital rings out against a struggle to assimilate: ‘Streets that are tailored to no one / but that’s what makes London mine.’
Meanwhile, heart-breaking ‘Anyone But Me’ reflects candidly on Crookes’ experience with depression: ‘I'd rather be somewhere else / with anyone but me.’ Her cultural identity and mental health all the while seem tangled: ‘Where I grew up, this wasn’t a topic you could just bring up while your mum was fixing you up a plate of dal’ she explained, in turn opening up essential conversations for other South Asian individuals to have with both themselves and their families. For now, Crookes has taken London; Soon, the world.
In his recent seventh album, the eponymous Shamir, Las Vegas native Shamir Bailey finally seems to have found his voice. Over the past five years, Bailey has traversed through what appears to be the entirety of the musical spectrum: from electronic dance to lo-fi folk, his sound has eventually settled comfortably within a dreamy, melancholy indie pop; Vastly different from his origins. Opening track ‘On My Own’ is a manifesto for both himself and other queer POC: ‘I refuse to fucking suffer’. The album is sprinkled with interludes, snippets of Bailey (now 25) age 19, forming the final bridge between past and present, between playful naivety and assured wiseness. But moments of introspection make points for larger reflection: tracks ‘Running’ and ‘I Wonder’ grappling with faith and climate change. After bearing witness to Bailey’s past and present, we can only await the future.
Currently revelling in the clear success of her debut album, Beabadoobee - aka Bea Kristi - seems to be smiling on the cover of every major music magazine. Fake It Flowers was met with expected critical acclaim, becoming an immediate soundtrack for the 20 year old’s peers. Kristi’s progress has been steady, from the silent release of a few EPs to this explosion of an album: Graduating from her bedroom and into the studios of Dirty Hit.
Perhaps a little too cocky for her own good - igniting a war on Twitter against The Vamps in a bid to win the chart’s top spot (which she ultimately lost) - Kristi may have a right to be, amassing a faithful fan base desperate to star alongside her in what feels like a strange revival of Skins: Singing about dyeing your hair and crying in your room to Pavement set against 90’s grunge-y and grainy shoegaze guitar riffs. It seems impossible to talk about Kristi without considering her TikTok notoriety, and the Powfu remix of her song ‘Coffee’ that seemed unavoidable on the platform. Annoyingly catchy, this proved an even more annoyingly inaccurate portrayal of her sound. Regardless of her catalyst to stardom, the future is bright for Beabadoobee.
The undoubtedly deserved winner of the illustrious 2020 Mercury Prize, Michael Kiwanuka is the king of foot-tappingly-good tracks. The embodiment of music that Spotify would probably put on a ‘Dancing in your kitchen’ playlist, Kiwanuka’s songs are symphonies - jazz, funk and soul seem simply not enough to describe his musical ingenuity. After battling a fierce imposter syndrome throughout his previous two albums, Kiwanuka finally breaks free in this self-titled album, with instant serotonin-boosting track ‘You Ain’t The Problem’ finally fighting back against his self-doubt: ‘I used to hate myself / you got the key / break out the prison.’
This new joyful self-assurance however strolls hand in hand with a darker despair, reminders of racism a foreboding presence within the album and samples of civil rights activists sandwiched between discussions of police brutality in both ‘Hero’ and ‘Rolling’: ‘on the news again / I guess they killed another... No tears for the young / A bullet if you run away.’ Finally, content with his sound and success, Michael Kiwanuka will no doubt continue to wield the mantle for timeless sound well into the future.
Featured Image: From left to right - Shamir, Arlo Parks, Beabadoobee, Michael Kiwanuka, Joy Crookes