Time to shine: Five to watch in 2019

As we prepare to step into a brand new year, it's time to look ahead at the new stars of the music world, all poised to make an impact in 2019. We run down the budding artists you should keep an eye out for over the next 12 months.
Time to shine: Five to watch in 2019
Ella Mai. Picture: Meeno.

Music is a constant joy, and there’s no denying the extra thrill that the promise of a fresh year of brand new music can bring.

While of course music fans will continue their long-standing love affairs with established artists, the excitement of discovering new acts — those rising singer-songwriters, the bands who have spent years working on their craft, the painfully talented musicians who have so much to offer on a global stage — is even more appealing.

From the Brit-born young R&B star who is already making waves in America, to a four-piece from New Zealand, here are the acts to keep on your radar in the coming months.

Sam Fender: You know how it is — get named on BBC Radio 1’s Sound of the Year list and win the Brits Critics’ Choice Award and you’re well on your way to having a stellar career. That’s certainly the likely projection for British singer-songwriter Sam Fender, who won the 2018 Brits accolade, following in the footsteps of the likes of Adele, Sam Smith, Jessie J, Florence and the Machine, and Rag’n’Bone Man. The young musician from North Shields has so far received plenty of praise following the release of his debut EP in November, scoring a spot on Later... With Jools Holland. He’s also been given one of the most sought-after accolades for young, rising musicians there could be — a mention on Annie Mac’s Hottest Record list for the song Dead Boys, a powerful track about suicide in young men.

Erring on the rockier, more acerbic and socially-aware side of singer-songwriter fare, Fender has a raw sound to offer music fans who perhaps have grown a little tired of the regular pared-back guitar ballads from male musicians. Fender is also one of those up-and-comers who doesn’t feel the need to suck up to his successful predecessors. He recently told the BBC, of Ed Sheeran: “I admire what he’s done — the fact that he’s sold out Wembley with acoustic guitars. I just find his music incredibly beige.” So, expect some markedly un-beige music from Fender.

Grace Carter. Picture: Polydor Records.
Grace Carter. Picture: Polydor Records.

Grace Carter: Fancy listening to someone who was heavily inspired by the likes of Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill? If so, do check out Grace Carter, a BBC Sound of 2019 nominee. The soulful singer’s Why Her Not Me may already sound familiar — perhaps because you’ve already heard it somewhere, or just because there’s a comforting familiarity and ease to her style of powerful songwriting and simple, elegant, mature musicality. The heartbreaking song was written about her father, who she says chose “another life over raising me”. Also check out the beautiful piano-backed ballad Silhouette, which has more than 800,000 views on YouTube, for another taste of her emotive approach. Carter, from Brighton, has already supported UK stars Dua Lipa, Mabel, Jorja Smith and Rag’n’Bone Man on tour, and her debut EP, released earlier in 2018, was a critical triumph. Success is on the horizon for this budding star, and it’s highly recommended that fans catch her in smaller venues on her tour in the UK in March before she starts selling out the bigger arenas. She’s already on Amazon Music UK’s Ones to Watch list for 2019, so you’d better be quick.

Ella Mai: British singer-songwriter Ella Mai has already started to make a sizeable impact on the industry in America, but in case she’s not on your radar yet, here’s what you need to know: the R&B superstar-to-be nabbed two Grammy nominations in 2018, and her video for breakthrough single Boo’d Up has garnered an eye-watering 300m+ views on YouTube so far.

Not only that, but she stepped in to support Bruno Mars on his tour when rapper Cardi B pulled out and she recently performed on Saturday Night Live. Mai, who appeared in trio Arize in The X Factor in 2014 (although they didn’t make it past the first auditions) after years of musical theatre training, saw Boo’d Up make history as the longest-running number one by a female artist on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. Billboard magazine later ranked the track as their third best song of the year.

There’s a real 1990s R&B vibe to Mai, who hails from London and whose debut self-titled album — dubbed a “throwback R&B record” by critics — debuted at number 18 in the UK charts. It’s performed even better Stateside, where Mai, who lived in New York for five years as a teen, seems to be reaping the most of her success currently.

The record hit number five on the Billboard 200 chart and number four on the US R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Mai is heading out on her first headline UK tour in January, before performing across Europe and then America.

Drax Project. Picture: Syco.
Drax Project. Picture: Syco.

Drax Project: This four-piece from New Zealand have been bubbling under for some time, but 2019 looks set to be the year they finally break into the global market.

Formed in 2014 and comprised of schoolfriends Shaan Singh (vocals and saxophone), Matt Beachen (drums), Sam Thomson (bass) and Ben O’Leary (guitar), they kicked off their career as buskers on the streets of Wellington, but have since gone on to perform in 20 sold-out shows and have supported international acts including Ed Sheeran, Gorillaz and Camilla Cabello, as well as fellow Kiwi Lorde. Their music could best be described as smooth yet addictive, covering bases from pop, dance, electro and R&B.

They’ve been cited by several music outlets as one of the most “captivating” acts to come out of New Zealand since Lorde herself and, having recently signed to Syco in the UK (and to another record label in America), it’s definitely worth keeping an ear out for new music from them this year.

Self Esteem. Picture: Charlotte Patmore.
Self Esteem. Picture: Charlotte Patmore.

Self Esteem: Self Esteem, aka Rebecca Lucy Taylor, was previously one half of Sheffield-based genre-bending duo Slow Club, but now she’s going it alone and has already started offering the world her own brand of punchy, pop-tinged alternative music.

The songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist will drop her debut album in 2019, and it looks set to be a banger if her recent single Rollout is anything to go by. The catchy track has been supported by BBC Radio 6 Music, having landed on their A-list, and followed her first two equally-memorable singles Wrestling and Your Wife.

Explaining her style, Taylor recently told Wonderland: “I spent 10 years making music videos with the most horrific burning desire to do choreography and not being allowed to, so here we are, I suppose.”

Having been described as “witty, intelligent, an extrovert and piercingly insightful”, Taylor is definitely one to add to your list of music acts to go and see in 2019.

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