Welcome to Future Hitmakers!
We're taking a look at some of music’s newest and brightest talent and asking ourselves: Who are going to be the major players to break into the mainstream?
Here's who we think are the biggest acts of the near future:
You can’t talk about the future of popular music without talking about Olivia Rodrigo. After building a following on the Disney+ show “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”, Rodrigo has finally released her first song independent of the show. Dripping with melodrama, “drivers license” announces Rodrigo as a pop star capable of writing songs both as catchy and as sincere as her predecessors, which include Taylor Swift and Lorde. The song garnered quick attention on TikTok, and has since broken all sorts of streaming records. Tik Tok has a bad rep for creating one-hit wonders, but Rodrigo shows a strong promise of breaking that curse.
Rap and country have been in conversation with each other for some time now, but Willie Jones’ music marks the next evolution in this relationship. Jones first garnered attention on The X Factor, where he showed up in denim streetwear and a flat-top and shocked the audience with a soulful rendition of Josh Turner’s classic “Your Man”. Now, he’s promoting his debut album, Right Now, a country album with all the textures and vernacular of hip-hop and R&B. The miracle of songs like “American Dream” - a righteous protest song about what it means to be a black American - is that Jones is able to be a fully-fledged country artist without sacrificing his identity as a black artist. He’s not the first person to fuse these traditions (Sam Hunt, Kane Brown, etc.), but he’s certainly the one to bring it into the future.
PRETTYMUCH isn’t your typical boy band. Formed by Simon Cowell, this group would rather focus on individuality than radio domination. After garnering attention for New Jack Swing-inspired pop songs like “Would You Mind”, and working with artists like Lil Tjay and CNCO, the group has switched labels and taken more control over their own music. Now, they're back with a new EP, Smackables. Mixing R&B and indie-pop (and nailing some choreo along the way), songs like "Stars" are a reminder that the group has the talent and the style to be as influential as any of your favorite boy bands. They're just doing it their way.
If you only know London-based Bree Runway from her Missy Elliot-featuring song, “ATM”, you might think of her as a rapper cut from the same cloth as Missy or Nicki Minaj. You’d be right, but only partially. Bree Runway is building her own lane by combining traditional rap with hyper-pop. Her debut album, 2000AND4EVA is ecstatic and chaotic, but never without centering her skillset, which is as strong as any hip-hop artist at the top of the charts today. Songs like “NO SIR (FREESTYLE)” is a reminder that a rapper can sound completely all-their-own while still delivering on all the things you expect from a hip-hop artist.
The arrival of Tate McRae might mark music's first post-Billie Eilish artist. After garnering attention as a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance and going viral on YouTube, Tate McRae is releasing music that juxtaposes her delicate vibrato with heavy bass. Her first single of 2021, “rubberband”, shows her growth as a lyricist, reflecting on a doomed relationship and its inevitable end (“Was it a wasted couple months?/ Sneaking outta the window, spending nights in limbo”). If she continues on this path, it’s only a matter of time before she’s a name everyone is familiar with.
When DaBaby first broke out in 2019, he reminded people that hard-hitting trap music could be really, really fun. In 2021, Unghetto Mathieu is carrying that torch. His breakout song “Plastic” is a masterclass in hashtag rap set over a sample of the 1997 classic song “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. The aggression Unghetto can channel over such a goofy beat is a perfect distillation of what he has to offer to rap music. In his portfolio, which includes songs like “Karma” and “Better Than Me”, he dips in and out of genres like trap, emo-rap, and pop, all while maintaining a shining personality and remaining lyrically dexterous.