Calendar years have never felt more meaningless. It’s 2022? Hooray. This will be the year I…stay inside a lot.
But we can still count on music lists to help us organize our calendars. So here’s our latest: 22 Artists to Watch in 2022. (See what we did with the numbers there? Embrace the chaos.) This year, like last year, will be weird for everyone in the industry — it’s too soon to know how many of these emerging musicians we’ll be able to “watch” in the literal sense.
But for one reason or another — an acclaimed 2021 debut, a flurry of under-the-radar singles, a star-making guest verse — everyone below has us eagerly awaiting their next moves. Hopefully, they happen soon. But what’s “soon” anyway? – Ryan Reed
With two phones, an immeasurable number of flows, and some inseparable family ties, Baby Keem made 2021 the year of the “range brothers,” shapeshifting throughout his commercial debut LP, The Melodic Blue. Just two years removed from initial breakthrough, Die For My Bitch, the 21-year-old inspired Pulitzer-winning cousin Kendrick Lamar to be as outrageous as possible, complained about OnlyFans with Don Toliver on “cocoa,” and got apologetically melodic on the standout anthem “16.” It’s been his defiant entrance into the mainstream — and while critics can’t seem to agree on Keem’s long-awaited debut, one thing is for certain: Baby Keem is here, and he’s already got us talking…and investing in a second phone. – Brenton Blanchet
Through their snotty moniker and oddball visual antics, London’s Los Bitchos wear their sardonic sense of humor on their sleeves. But beneath the winking exterior, the band’s intricate surf rock instrumentals are eclectic well beyond familiar lo-fi garage cassette fare — a swirling, guitar-driven psychedelia with elements of dream pop, funk, and cumbia. The band recruited Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos to produce their debut, Let the Festivities Begin! (out February 4 via City Slang), and its early singles highlight the diversity of Los Bitchos’ musical ecosystem, from the dance-punk groove of “Las Panteras” to the tropical noir of “The Link Is About to Die.” – Jeff Terich
Blue Lab Beats
London’s Blue Lab Beats are widely described as “jazztronica” — a fitting label for any band that combines the classic instrumentation and harmonic vocabulary of jazz with the choppy, beat-driven aesthetic of modern electronica. But that description also feels a bit limiting: On February’s Motherland Journey, their debut album for venerated jazz label Blue Note, the duo touch on funk, soul, hip-hop, psychedelia, even Afrobeat (a sample of the late, great Fela Kuti appears on the title track). After a while, the distinctions dissolve and you’re left with the only thing that matters: exquisite feel and atmosphere. – Ryan Reed
Sophia Chablau e Uma Enorme Perda De Tempo
Think tropical jazz meets neo-bossa meets indie-pop — and you’re still not even close. The Brazilian quartet, led by vocalist and composer Sophia Chablau, made quite a splash last spring with their self-titled debut album, a nine-track wonder produced by 2020 Latin Grammy nominee Ana Frango Elétrico and released on independent label Selo Risco. Coming from the great São Paulo rock tradition (Os Mutantes, Legião Urbana, Cansei De Ser Sexy), Sophia Chablau e Uma Enorme Perda De Tempo may have considerable shoes to fill; yet the appeal of their exhilarating sound lies exactly in echoing everything while imitating nothing. – Ana Leorne
Indigo De Souza
Love is a pulsing universe, and North Carolina singer-songwriter Indigo De Souza pulls from it without reservation, in all of its dark and its light. In 2021, she signed to Saddle Creek; released her second album, Any Shape You Take; re-issued her first, 2018’s I Love My Mom; and announced a run of upcoming dates opening for Lucy Dacus. On Any Shape…, she affixed funk, pop, and R&B to her grungy indie-rock; she grappled with a breakup, by turns optimistic and heartbroken, but always with love radiating through the cracks. “Love might go, but it’s not gone; I still know you,” she sings on “Real Pain,” before the song breaks into a cathartic chorus of fan-submitted screams. – Mia Hughes
Blu DeTiger would have one of the most glamorous stage names in music today — if it wasn’t her real name. (Her brother Rex DeTiger plays drums in her band.) A New York City native and a School of Rock alumnus, Blu dropped out of NYU to be the touring bassist for both Caroline Polachek and Fletcher, and she also played on the Bleachers hit “Stop Making This Hurt.” As a singer-songwriter, DeTiger’s danceable but emotionally fraught aesthetic is best summed up by one song title: “Disco Banger But You’re Crying In The Bathroom” from her EP, How Did We Get Here? And her latest single “Blondes” — released in November, shortly after she signed with Capitol Records — captures that vibe in a killer chorus: “They say blondes / They have more fun, get what they want / Why am I so different? / I’m just sitting at home, feeling dumb and alone.” – Al Shipley
New Jersey singer Fousheé sold hundreds of her voice recordings as an open-source sample pack a few years ago, but she didn’t know that Brooklyn rapper Sleepy Hallow made a song with her vocals until “Deep End Freestyle” went viral on TikTok. Fousheé eventually got her credit on Sleepy Hallow’s track, and in 2021 her haunting solo version of “Deep End” became the first top 10 hit on alternative radio by a Black woman since Tracy Chapman over 30 years ago. In 2021, Fousheé had enough juice to work with Lil Wayne on the single “Gold Fronts” but not include it on her debut, Time Machine. Instead, the omnivorous album features funhouse mirror interpretations of Depeche Mode and Carole King classics, along with a jammy, seven-minute collaboration with The Internet’s Steve Lacy. In more recent months, Fousheé has kept her dance card full, becoming the only guest on Vince Staples’ self-titled LP and appearing on King Princess’ single “Little Brother.” – A.S.
Girl in Red
During the bedroom pop Soundcloud boom of the late 2010s, Marie “Girl in Red” Ulven was Norway’s answer to Billie Eilish, a teenager whose uncomfortably honest songs about depression and sexuality made her a burgeoning zoomer icon. In 2021, the singer-songwriter’s early single “We Fell In Love In October” went platinum, and she released her full-length debut If I Could Make It Go Quiet. The album’s alt-rock radio singles “Serotonin” and “I’ll Call You Mine” put a festival rock gloss on Girl in Red’s lo-fi sound, helping her land a spot on the 2022 Coachella lineup. But there’s still an engaging, offbeat sensibility in songs like “hornylovesickmess” and “Rue,” which serenades Zendaya’s character from HBO’s Euphoria. – A.S.
For Georgia Harmer, it’s a matter of when, not if. The Toronto songwriter’s serene debut single, “Headrush,” displays a rare skill for wrestling obvious emotion — in this case, naked nostalgia — into sound. “Hours go by / Let’s drink up the sky,” she sings over a distorted, palm-muted chug. “And spend some time / Being little kids.” The fact that she’s 22 adds another layer of soft sadness — proof that we can long for the past, even when we’re not far removed from it. But the vocal here is the key: Harmer, a former backup singer for Alessia Cara, twists the melody around like a pretzel — adding swoops and vibrato with phrasing that draws more from soul and jazz than the indie-rock her guitars suggest. – R.R.
The members of Chicago trio Horsegirl are still in their teens: young enough not to be weighed down by music industry cynicism, old enough to revel in ecstatic noise-pop swathed in guitar fuzz. The group is off to an auspicious start: They signed to Matador Records on the strength of their first two singles, and their third — the dense and gauzy, Sonic Youth-like “Billy,” recorded at Electrical Audio with John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Waxahatchee) — showcases their massive growth in just a year’s time. “Billy” alone displays talent well beyond their years; the fact that they’ll likely release their debut album before any of the band members finish their sophomore year of college just seems like showing off. – J.T.
Mustafa was always around; at first, the spoken-word poet recounted a lifetime spent in Toronto’s Regent Park neighborhood before founding the rap collective Halal Gang alongside Mo-G, Puffy L’z, Safe, and Smoke Dawg. His debut project, When Smoke Rises, recounts another lifetime’s worth of experiences since, wrapping grief, glory, truth, and light into pensive folk that grapples with moving forward in times of loss. Mustafa’s voice warms the words with reverence, revealing When Smoke Rises as a compelling series of revelations that refuse to dim in the waking hours. Mustafa’s been quiet on future plans regarding a tour or follow-up, though he did tweet in October that he recently visited Egypt and “wrote some songs with local musicians”). This simply can’t be the end, right? – Jibril Yassin
Gabe ‘Nandez raps like he’s lounging on brownstone steps next to the bodega. There’s something distinctly New York about being conversational yet, lyrically, jumping off the stoop when on the attack. His pointed writing and even most left-field production mark him as a student of Nas and the like, but this is new and not atavistic rehash. His voice is a booming rasp that grants gravity to each word while still sounding like a crisp wind is cutting through the syllables. ‘Nandez, the son of UN diplomats, also has an incisive intellectual streak: There are times where he seems to spit from behind the lectern, as though delivering a dissertation on the cumulative psychological effects of an itinerant childhood. His 2021 Ox EP may be the best distillation of his talents yet. ‘Nandez balances original and cutting boasts, intertextual rap allusions, and revelations about his mental health. And he never sounds like he’s breaking a sweat. – Max Bell
Genesis Owusu’s 2021 debut, Smiling With No Teeth, is a deliriously fun mix of soul, hip-hop, funk, jazz, and industrial sounds. The Ghana-born, Australia-based chameleon is like Outkast for outcasts: He never skimps on melody, but the album’s central image is a black dog used to comment on both depression and racism — that golden grin plastered on his album cover hides some serious darkness. “Don’t Need You” is a pseudo-playful single battling against mental illness, but “Black Dogs!” is much more forceful punk-rap throttle. No Teeth is an ambitious triumph that should propel the 23-year-old toward further acclaim — and his ongoing, first-ever U.S. tour should help. This feels like just the beginning. – Bobby Olivier
Punchy, internet-damaged, and usually under two minutes long, the songs on PinkPantheress’s debut mixtape, to hell with it, seem made for TikTok. The effervescent “Break It Off” felt destined to take off when the 20-year-old started uploading her self-produced music to the video-sharing site. It probably helps that she created one of 2021’s freshest sounds: Her chief innovation is dialing drum & bass and garage beats down to a hyperactive shuffle, making room for bedroom pop hooks and airy vocals. The BPMs are high, but tune in and you’ll hear lyrics as sharp and original as her DIY production work. – Beverly Bryan
Pom Pom Squad
Oh, wow, Olivia Rodrigo wore a cheerleader costume for three whole minutes in a music video to subvert standards of adolescent beauty and social structure? News flash: 23-year-old Mia Berrin has a whole fucking band bound to the skirts, cheers, and stomping the idiotic norms. Pom Pom Squad’s 2021 debut, Death of a Cheerleader, is a nuanced meld of punk, indie-pop, and grunge with a coat of ‘60s polish — imagine Leiber and Stoller getting good and emo in the Brill Building. The Brooklyn group even covered Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover.” But stay for the delicious petulance of “Head Cheerleader” and My Chemical Romance-y “Shame Reactions.” Berrin’s sharp perspective is destined to spawn many more cutting tunes, as evidenced her recent Spotify Single “Until It Stops.” – B.O.
S. Raekwon — short for Steven Raekwon Reynolds — spent his lockdown between suburban Illinois and the East Village of New York, writing his debut album, Where I’m At Now. His music lives in that tension between serenity and vitality; between the soft contentment of being in love and the urging questions that accompany it. He wanders between R&B, folk, touches of musical theatre, even salsa. He sings both of devotion and uncertainty, but always infused with aching romance. The undercurrent of the LP is Reynolds’ connection with the Black side of his family for the first time since childhood, and midway track “T.D.T.K.A.” is an arresting meditation on the exhaustion of racism. – M.H.
Remble is San Pedro’s first rap star. The Southern California port city is miles from Los Angeles proper, but Remble’s string of grave yet hilarious singles led to his rap ascent in L.A.’s street rap ranks. His punchlines have shades of late idol-turned-collaborator Drakeo the Ruler, though Remble is a stylist who distinguishes himself from the city’s hordes of Drakeo clones. He enunciates every line, subtly modulating his voice to move from deadpan to feigned surprise as he delivers rhetorical disses: “Are you willing to die for those Christians? Do you really feel fly in True Religion?” (“Gordon R Freestyle”). The effect is somewhere between a PowerPoint (or “Ted Talk”) on L.A. gang life and Joe Pesci’s “What do you mean, I’m funny?” bit in Goodfellas. Whether it’s his delivery or the tension between comedy and emptied clips, Remble will likely draw more fans outside of L.A. in 2022. – Max Bell
Some artforms are forever. Criminology rap descended from Kool G Rap and Raekwon will remain potent as long as someone somewhere weighs powders on the triple-beam. Rome Streetz knows his history and that life. As such, he’s one of the sharpest writers to emerge from the shadows of the Griselda camp. In a distinctly New York accent, he delivers retrospectives on hand-to-hand sales in desolate projects, the ounces that tipped the scale, and the hours behind bars plotting his next move. He balances those narratives with hard-won wisdom and wordplay about his dexterous wordplay. Rome released four excellent projects in 2021, including the DJ Muggs-produced Death & The Magician produced by DJ Muggs. He may never exhaust the form. – M.B.
In this line of work, a PR pitch occasionally works its magic with grabby adjectives, leaving you no choice but to click play. Often these albums are like awkward Thanksgiving turkeys: all dressing, no meat. Sometimes, though, you have a “holy shit” moment — and for me, my biggest 2021 discovery was Seafoam Walls, a self-described “Caribbean jazz-gaze” band that somehow flew way under the radar with their 2021 debut, XVI. The South Florida quartet, led by singer-guitarist Jayan Bertrand, achieve exactly what that quirky pull-quote suggests: pairing jazzy chord voicings and spacey effects with tranquil Afro-Caribbean grooves. Will they blow up in 2022? Given the volatility of our current industry, will anybody? But I’m betting on it anyway. – R.R.
While their fluid arpeggios and metallic crunch may echo other modern post-hardcore-meets-prog bands, Portland’s To Bloom have a not-so-secret weapon: singer Bruno Lopez-Vargas, whose flashy, melismatic phrases seem to draw more from R&B than anything from, say, the Sumerian roster. As of this writing, they’ve only officially released two songs, but the expressive reach of 2021 single “Wander” is enough to make my “must-watch” list. (As of November 2021, they were workshopping “Dat mf-ing New New,” and they recently promised new music “preeeeeetty soon.”) – R.R.
We need new energy in 2022 — something to shake the sheets and move our feet. Wet Leg might be the band to get us there. The Isle of Wight duo, Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, are dropping their self-titled Domino Records debut in our laps on April 8 — right when we need it the most. A drunk punk dance party for the masses, lead single “Chaise Longue” has sunk its teeth into everyone who’s heard it, conjuring both a blurry night out and the hazy morning after. Maybe “horny, chaotic post-punk record” is the mood we’re finding ourselves in this year. Trust Wet Leg to set the vibe proper.– Niko Stratis
Remi Wolf’s 2020 breakout hit, “Photo ID,” became a peak pandemic-era soundtrack staple thanks to TikTok. But with her debut LP, 2021’s Juno, the 25-year-old Californian proved that the staying power of her distorted, whimsical pop far exceeded that of futile rollerskating attempts and awkward Zoom parties. Toeing the line between ultra-trendy hyperpop melody and well-worn funk groove, Wolf’s music feels like being transported into a surreal cartoon, fueled by her versatile voice. Her world is one where everything is hyper-saturated, blissfully surreal, and — most importantly — fun. – Abby Jones