Meet The Next Generation Of Music Superstars

As a child, I religiously watched VH1's "Top 20 Countdown" every week to inform my musical preferences (I know, I was a cultured kid). In 2015, the final episode of the Top 20 Countdown aired, without much justification.
But looking back on the last 15 years, its clear that the winds of the music world have drastically shifted, transitioning away from the days where radio DJs held the keys to the kingdom, and VH1's countdown served as music's most powerful performance indicator. Now, streaming services like Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud, or social media apps like Instagram, Musical.ly, and Snapchat, have become key initiators of virality.
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With these new methods of sonic dissemination has come a sort of changing of the guard in the industry, and increased opportunity for young women to break musical boundaries and launch a career on their own terms. Think Kehlani, who found success on SoundCloud; Cardi B, who found her voice through Instagram; Alessia Cara, who was discovered on YouTube.
With the help of social media and some of my favorite streaming services, I've identified ten up-and-coming female artists, the majority of whom the Top 20 Countdown wouldn't have unveiled to me in 2002. I chatted with them about life, their music, and what's up next for them. Ahead, meet ten music superstars poised to dominate the scene in 2018.
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Chelsea Cutler

Chelsea Cutler is what I'd imagine a hybrid between Stevie Nicks and Taylor Swift sounds like. Connecticut-born, this singer songwriter was discovered by her label Ultra only two years ago on SoundCloud. Since then, Cutler has managed to rack up millions of plays on Spotify, film a music video, and release an EP, all while attending Amherst College.

Cutler's youthful zest and passion is impossible to ignore, which is what initially struck me about her song "Your Shirt." Her lyrics, almost poetic in nature, are raw and honest, plus she's got a killer ear for melody.
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When I asked Cutler about her writing process, she told me, “If a song doesn’t come to me, then I call it quits. I don’t try to write unless I’m really feeling something. If something is feeling labored, that’s not how a song should feel.”

Labored is quite the opposite of how I'd classify my favorite song of Cutler's, "You Make Me," which came out earlier this year, and she describes as a track about "that intoxicating love that makes you go insane." Her first EP, Snow In October, just dropped October 8 (my favorite track on it is "Giving Up Ground"), and I'm already waiting with bated breathe for her first full-length album.

Her must-listen track: "You Make Me"
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TYSM

"Wraith," a short electro-pop track, was the song that first hooked me on TYSM, which stands for "Thank You So Much." I discovered the track via my Spotify Discover Weekly, which made me thank the lord for that Spotify algorithm. TYSM's pointed, staccato vocals and poetic lyrics spoke to me – I immediately felt connected to her without ever having met her IRL.

After hearing "Wraith," I tracked her other songs down on Spotify, of which there were only three. But I loved every single one, which is rare. Each song she's put out has a similar emotional electric current running through that keeps you hooked on its melodic twists and turns.
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When I spoke to TYSM to learn more about her project and how she got into the music biz, she told me that, despite having never released a single until 2017, she had been singing her whole life, starting off in musical theater.

She quit her 9 to 5 a few years ago to focus on creating music, and shortly after, by chance, met producer Felix Snow at a vegan beer festival. Snow, who runs his own label, EffEss (under Atlantic Records), has worked with artists like Selena Gomez, SZA, and IconaPop, and the duo started working on music shortly after meeting. "It was like a weird answer from God, like, this is what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Despite her relatively new ascension onto the recording scene, it's pretty clear that she was always meant for this. Most recently, she dropped a dope music video for "Honeymoon Phase," her most popular track with over 15 million plays on Spotify, and is planning to drop several singles in the coming months, eventually leading to an album.

Her must-listen track: "Honeymoon Phase"
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Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson
VÉRITÉ

My first experience with VÉRITÉ was when I heard her cover of the 1975’s song “Somebody Else.” “I covered that song because I loved it, and it’s very universal," she told me. "It was a very natural thing, I did it on a whim, we didn’t put any PR behind it. It’s a great moment when people [just] gravitate towards something.”

The melancholy, tortured darkness that she injects into the track is like the other side of the 1975's male-driven story, and I love the juxtaposition. It takes a true artist to repurpose and construct someone else's song into something that feels totally different. I'm thankful "Somebody Else" hooked me on her, because she's been releasing some incredible music in the alt-pop realm since 2014, when she released her first EP Echo.
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VÉRITÉ has been around music her whole life – she and her dad would play shows and perform covers of songs like "Drops Of Jupiter" and "Like A Bird" when she was 8 – and her musical education continued from there. At age 15 she started playing guitar and writing music came along with it.

Earlier this year, she released her first full-length album, Somewhere In Between, complete with 13 incredible tracks. She also just finished a cross-country tour. Some of my favorite songs from her album include "Death Of Me," a spooky-sounding twisted love song, and "Better," a haunting track about broken love.

As far as whats next for her musically, VÉRITÉ told us she's "been gravitating towards warmer organic sounds,” and I look forward to seeing how her sound will evolve.

Her must-listen track: "Better"
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Credit: Lasse Floede
Astrid S

Twenty-year-old Astrid S is wise beyond her years. When I spoke with her on the phone, my jaw literally dropped when she told me that she was “about 17 when [she] understood that music was what [she] wanted to do with [her] life.” When I was 17, I could barely drive and didn't know what college I'd get into, let along what I wanted to pursue as a career.

Astrid had a slightly different childhood as a result of her stint on Norway’s singing competition show, “Idol,” in her late teens, and in the three years since her decision to pursue music, she’s racked up over 430 million plays on Spotify, and released a killer EP, and worked with some of the industry’s best songwriters, like pop royalty Julia Michaels. Not too shabby for a newbie.
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Astrid's music is light, snackable, and insanely catchy. Having grown up on a steady diet of Hannah Montana and Britney Spears, her penchant for stuck-in-your-head-for-hours type tracks feels natural.

Right now, Astrid is touring, working on new music (perhaps a full-length album), and recently released a music video for "Think Before I Talk," one of her latest singles. Big things are coming for Astrid, so keep your eyes on her. Trust me.

Must-listen track: "Such A Boy"
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Courtesy: Sony.
Phoebe Ryan

Phoebe Ryan first came into my life when I heard her "Ignition/Do You" mashup in 2015. Her breathy, innovative mixing of an R. Kelly track with a slow-jam Miguel song won me over. Safe to say the emerald-haired NYU grad has a tone all her own.

Since I heard that song for the first time, Phoebe’s simultaneously polished and rugged vocals burn themselves into my head whenever she releases a new track. Add her relatable lyrics on top of her vocal texture, and you’ve got the makings of a superstar.
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Ryan's songs tap into the emo-angst of being a 20-something, while simultaneously remaining self-aware and unapologetic. ‘[I] started singing as soon as I could talk," she told me, "and always just really wanted to be a singer, and writing came along after that. They’ve turned into something that's so hand in hand for me”

Ryan classifies her sound and upcoming EP as “playful pop, with a beautifully somber edge,” and I'd totally agree. Her music doesn't pretend to be something its not – it's nowhere near perfect and it's messy, but it's relatable, and that's what keeps her songs on repeat for me.

Most recently, she's released a few new singles, my favorite of which is "Forgetting All About You" with rapper Blackbear, where Ryan croons "I'm running out of room inside my brain/I'm celebrating nothing with champagne/Fill my cup with zero fucks." If that's not a relatable post-breakup mindset, I don't know what is.

Must-listen track: "Chronic"
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Nicotine

I was introduced to Nicotine via her former band's debut album, "An Open Letter," which was released in January 2017. The album's raw, saccharine-yet-seductive sound, recorded under the moniker Nicotine's Famous Honey, hooked me from the first minute I listened. Looking forward to 2018, Nicotine is breaking out on her own with a solo career, which makes sense for someone who has been enmeshed with music since childhood.

Nicotine told me that she would dress up as artists like Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu, and Selena when she was a child, putting on shows as these artists and performing their songs. "Music is and has always been my safe haven," she told me. "There are times when I honestly feel as if I have nothing and nobody at all, but the simple reminder that I have music is what has kept me going."
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Right now, Nicotine's major source of inspiration is '70s funk and soul music – "Just take every single great 1970's funk, soul, and disco artist/band... THEY are who I look up to." Her style and vocal texture clearly reflect those influences, with a hit of modern R&B magic.

Up next, Nictotine is working on some solo music, and when I asked her what we should expect from her, she answered like a true artist: "My ideas are clear and my blessings are flowing. Visions, sounds, and growth. Expect growth."

Must Listen: "Running"
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Photo by Rachael Wright.
Yaeji

Listening to Yaeji's trance-like, murmur electronic music is a journey. It almost feels like a version of synesthesia – colors and images unfolding while the song unfurls. Turns out, visual art was the first thing that Yaeji felt compelled to create: "For most of my life I never even thought of music and always saw myself as a visual artist. DJing came first, which was around my junior year of college. Producing came a year later, and singing was naturally a part of it."
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The Seoul and New York-based artist classifies her sound as "songs to move to," and when I asked her about her inspiration, she told me that "my creative process is always changing. If I had to think of a common thread, it would be that I somehow try and document fleeting feelings, memories, and moments."

Her latest track, "drink I'm sippin on," mixes Korean with whispers of English in a hypnotic melody, and she told music blog Pigeons & Planes "‘drink i’m sippin on’ is non-alcoholic, though its effects are similar to getting drunk: knowingly being misunderstood by others, forgetting what I did yesterday, and feeling comfortable being me."

Up next, Yaeji told me that she's working on an EP, titled EP2, and more creative projects "that communicate my ideas, not just through sound."

Must Listen: "drink i'm sippin on"
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Liz Huett

It takes serious guts to debut a career with a song titled "STFU & Hold Me." The brazen title immediately piqued my interest when I came across it in on Spotify's "New Music Friday." My gut instinct was right, and I immediately fell in love with Huett's Nashville twang and brassy lyrics. How can you not love someone who sings about eating sour candy and drinking whiskey?

Huett started her career in the music biz as a background vocalist for Taylor Swift, branching out first as a songwriter, and then into her own solo career this past summer with Swift's blessing. That connection makes sense to me – "STFU & Hold Me" is a song I could see Swift recording five years ago, if she veered more country and employed more curse words.
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When I asked Huett about her burgeoning career, she made it obvious that despite working behind the scenes for most of her career, music has always been in her blood. She even told me that her musical debut came at age five, when she "sang a song from The Little Mermaid in [her] elementary school talent show and felt the high of performing."

In terms of how she writes music, both for herself and for other artists, Huett loves cowriting. "It's nice to bounce ideas off someone else for feedback and input with steering the song. I'm thankful I was a staff writer initially because that chapter really helped nurture the 'dare to suck' muscle in me creatively."

Her lyrics are deeply personal and specific, so it makes sense that she writes her own stuff with the help of a few other collaborative partners. After releasing just one song and planning an upcoming EP, Huett is definitely doing her 5-year-old self proud.

Must Listen: "STFU & Hold Me"
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Courtesy: Sony.
LÉON

LÉON, aka Lotta Lindgren, was born into the music business. Her family is filled with classical musicians and composers. "I'm the weird one in the family because I liked pop. I always wrote my own stuff, I started playing guitar and piano when I was really young,” she told me.

Her first breakout indie-pop hit came in 2016 with "Tired Of Talking," a song from her first EP, Treasure. It's at over 54 million plays on Spotify, and she's since released a music video for the track.
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When I talked to LÉON about her influences and how she would label her sound, she described it as "soulful pop that’s very honest and personal,” and listed acts like Led Zeppelin, Sam Smith, Nick Drake, and Odesza as inspiration.

The diversity of her sound is something that even surprises her at times. "It's hard to say what your music sounds like, because...it always changes. I can be in the studio and I can be like, I’m going to write indie folk, and then I will write hip-hop soul.” The lack of clarity is what makes her style singular, and the versatility leaves her career ripe for creativity and iterative growth.

Must Listen: "Tired Of Talking"
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Kodie Shane

Rap isn't traditionally a woman's game. But in 2017, women have been having a well-earned moment in the hip hop scene. Eighteen-year-old Kodie Shane is on the edge of the female rap movement as part of Lil Yachty's "crew" – she was even on tour with Yachty over the summer.

When I talked to her about her musical genesis, Shane made it clear that music was always destined to be a part of her life: "My mom and dad tell me stories all the time of how I used to bob my head crazy like as a 6-month-old baby, and they came to realize that I was hearing melodies."
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Shane cites Frank Ocean as a source of major inspiration, threads of which you can hear in songs like "Sad," which features Lil Yachty, that has lyrics like "I just wanna be sad, I just wanna be sad babe, Don't you ever have a sad minute?" It's refreshing to hear a rapper sing about real feelings in such a simple and straightforward way – her content is refreshing, and far more insightful than some of her much older peers.

When asked to describe her sound, Shane threw out the words "new, edgy, refreshing, melodic, and fun," which all made total sense to me. Her funky melodic shifts on songs like "Indecisive" mirror Yachty's flow and reflect a movement towards a "bubblegum trap" type of rap.

Whats up next? Shane's working on her debut album, slated for 2018, and will be headlining a tour this March. From there, the rap world's hers for the taking.

Must Listen: "Drip On My Walk"
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