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.
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.
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
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
ear for melody.
," 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
. Each song she's put out has a similar emotional electric current running through that keeps you hooked on its melodic twists and turns.
Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson
My first experience with VÉRITÉ was when I heard her cover of the 1975’s song
“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
Credit: Lasse Floede
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
. Not too shabby for a newbie.
Phoebe Ryan first came into my life when I heard her "
" 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.
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."
Photo by Rachael Wright.
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."
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.
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,
. It's at over 54 million plays on Spotify, and she's since released
a music video
for the track.
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."