The Ones to Watch for a bounceback year
13:51 15th December 2020

Shall we try again in 2021? After a year of hardship, it's a nice feeling to look ahead with something resembling hope. Perhaps we can hug our grandparents in the new year, maybe we can get out to small gatherings, or even look forward to unseated gigs. Whatever happens, it's looking to be more positive than 2020: a bounceback year of sorts, we hope.

Coming over the horizon armed with bangers and good times are a bunch of artists ready to soundtrack the resurrection. It took a lot for musicians to get through 2020 intact, so the potential of these 21 artists fixing us up with some big sounds for 2021 is even more exciting. Fuck no, they're not retraining in cyber. Here are our 21 Ones to Watch in 2021.

Words by Jessie Atkinson, Grace Almond, Philip Giouras, Paige Lambie, Harrison Smith, Sofie Lindevall, Alex Rigotti, Charlie Brock, Malvika Padin and Lucy Harley-Mckeown.


With a musical style that she has self-described as “angry, punk, hip-hop, bubble-gum, sad-girl-feminist,” Ashton Nicole Casey - better known as Ashnikko - first rose to prominence with her viral hit single 'Stupid' in 2019. With her unique brand of fusion-pop music elevated by a healthy helping of socially-conscious messaging and full-on absurdism, the 24-year-old artist co-wrote the massively successful Doja Cat offering 'Boss Bitch' and collaborated with Grimes on the music video for 'Cry' in 2020. Her first charting and first top 40 single 'Daisy' cemented her place as a star who is consistently rising. More music from Ashnikko awaits listeners in 2021 as she prepares to drop her debut mixtape Demidevil in February 2021 - prepare for it to blow up. (MP)

Key track: 'Cry'


Biig Piig

Photo: Melanie Lehman

Having been on the music scene since 2016, Irish singer Jess Smyth, aka Biig Piig’s, sound is due to burst into the mainstream any minute. Funky riffs and hazy monikers will feel right at home on any post-COVID-19 dance floor or afterparty, with early laidback tunes having already found critical acclaim. 

Pithy lyrics and experiments with scat, which slip between English and Spanish, see her describing love, friendships and meditations on growing up. In 2020, Biig Piig made her second debut as a real popstar in the making: her recent hits include DnB taster 'Switch' and big budget RnB on 'Don't Turn Around'. (LHM)

Key Track: 'Don't Turn Around'


Black Country, New Road

Photo: Max Grainger

Black Country, New Road have finally announced their debut album For The First Time. It’s set to be an exciting one: the seven-piece achieve a truly unique sound which is intriguing, exciting and fresh. Their first single, 'Sunglasses' was one of our favourite finds of 2019, with the 7” single getting three separate represses. We were lucky enough to catch BC,NR before we were locked down earlier this year: their mixture of grungy guitar and brass instruments, plus strings and keys culminate in a fascinating live show; their debut album, out in February via Ninja Tune, is set to be a very interesting listen. (CB)

Key track: 'Sunglasses'


Bleach Lab

Photo: Isy Townsend

Something dreamy this way comes: originally hailing from Buckinghamshire, South London-based four-piece Bleach Lab are rewriting the indie, dream-pop genre that has become so popular of late – and whilst many can be seen to ride the wave of its misty, shoegaze-tinged melancholy, Bleach Lab are painting the skies with it. Through the stirring nonchalance of ‘Never Be’ to the ethereal gaze of ‘Heartache of the Season’, Bleach Lab demonstrate their penchant for conjuring stunning soundscapes that emanate and endure, steeped with moments of sad euphoria. The lyrics, blazing and insightful, are rooted in reality and sung with a profound fragility; the deftly-layered guitars soar to a tranquil halcyon, shimmering, quietly electrifying. Bleach Lab have created a sound that is raw and refined, highly-polished and aglow with a luminous magnetism – and with only four tracks to their name. (PL)

Key Track: 'Never Be'


Bree Runway

"You cannot sleep on me, no sir!" Bree Runway snarls on ‘NO SIR (FREESTYLE)’. Supported by the likes of Rina Sawayama, Rico Nasty and even Michelle Obama, Bree Runway is pop’s next princess. Her latest LP 2000AND4EVA is only nine tracks long, but there’s something here for everyone. Just listen to her cheeky requests on ‘ATM’ (featuring a British-accented Missy Elliot), or her hip-shaking throwback bop, ‘APESHIT’. Bree’s joining the legion of artists indulging in the Y2K trend – and honestly? So should you. (AR)

Key Track: 'GUCCI'



Photo: Esme Mai

With their sunny slice of 90s alternative dreaminess 'Green' back in July of 2020, Bull became the first York band to sign with a major label since Shed Seven almost thirty years ago. Picked up by EMI for their lush, playful melodies and grunge sensibilities, the four-piece have actually been on the scene in Yorkshire since 2011. It's taken until now, though, for the sounds of Bull to reach ears further afield.

Recently-released EP Love Goo shows off just why this quartet are doing it for York: clever, pithy and hard not to raise a smile to, the songs that Bull put out remind us why guitar music was once such a popular proposition. In 2021, perhaps they'll convert more people to the ways of the six-string and the pedal. (JA) 

Key Track: 'Green'


Greentea Peng

Full of blissful sounds and honest, unapologetic lyrics, London’s Greentea Peng has had a great year for making music. She’s had plenty to say – 2020 single ‘Revolution’ focused on her frustrations with the current state of politics against a juxtaposing, laidback melody, and ‘Hu Man’ provided a much-needed call for unity during a year of divisions. ‘I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Love Him’, a collaboration with The Streets and Donae’o, with an accompanying music video complete with strong political messaging, was the perfect upbeat, breezy summer track, even if we didn’t actually get to listen to it in a club. Greentea Peng has been working on her debut album throughout lockdown, describing it as a “transmutation of rage, pain, [and] apathy over [2020]”, and, with a BBC Sound Of 2021 nomination under her belt, the next year looks like it could be an early-career defining 12 months for her. (GA)

Key Track: 'Revolution'


Holly Humberstone

Already lined up for prominent slots at next year’s Great Escape and Barn On The Farm festivals, Holly Humberstone has also toured with Lewis Capaldi...Take one listen to her incredible EP Falling Asleep At The Wheel and you’ll see why she's captivated listeners and critics worldwide. Wistful, alluring vocals wrap around relatable stories that sit at the heart of her songwriting; there’s a natural air of darkness to her music that makes her music and melodies so compelling. The massively successful title track blends a sombre and reflective piano melody with an electronic beat: do you dance or do you cry? ‘Overkill’ touches on the unspoken anxieties of our lovestruck minds, ‘Drop Dead’ demands a crowd to singalong with its mantra whilst ‘Vanilla’ is full of whipsmart, killer punchlines. Humberstone manages what most artists can only dream of, tapping into an honest, real beauty in the bleakness of our darkest moments. More music is on the way in 2021. (PG)

Key Track: 'Falling Asleep At The Wheel'


Ivorian Doll

Only three solo singles deep into her career in drill, and German-born Londoner Ivorian Doll is already rightly claiming herself "Queen" of the genre. She's had a huge year featuring on Headie One's massive debut album Edna and millions of views for her single 'Rumours', yet it feels like Vanessa Mahi hasn't even gotten started. 

As someone who's bringing prettiness and femininity to drill, Ivorian Doll is carving out a niche of her own that'll likely bring a wave of new femme rappers in her wake. There have been a lot of hints at a debut EP and album coming soon, and we're hoping that the problems she's having with Oliver Ashley of Locked In Music don't see a postponement to those plans... (JA)

Key track: 'Rumours'


Joel Culpepper

Photo: Michal Augustini

With an infectious East-Coast inspired swagger partnered with astronomically impressive vocals cherry-picked from a decade gone by, Peckham's own Joel Culpepper has all the allure and moxie of an artist destined for a fascinating future. Having been present on the underground scene since 2009, Culpepper has been loading up on an assortment of sounds ranging from California soul to hip-hop. The ear-worms ‘Woman’ and ‘Caroline No’ - the latter featuring the excellent Kojey Radical - paint glorious soundscapes and images of late night shindigs and are stocked with funk-driven instrumentation scattered with expertly performed vocals. With guest vocals on the Radio 1 track of the week ‘Thinking’ by Goldteeth and an upcoming album to be released through his own label, Culpepper has his eyes set on establishing his own brand of alternative R&B and shaking up 2021 in his own way. (HS)

Key Track: 'Return'



With over one million monthly Spotify listeners and huge collabs with the likes of Travis Barker and nothing,nowhere., it’s fair to say KennyHoopla has been hiding in plain sight. The result of an era of artists who have had the world’s music at their fingertips, the Cleveland, Ohio native defies genre, setting the basis for a new and incredibly exciting generation of music. The only signature - expect the unexpected. Each new track brings a new guise, but always impulsive, jagged, clever, with anguished vocals and a smouldering groove that will reel you in, hook, line and sinker – the only tether to what is distinguishably his. 

At times nostalgic, ‘how will I rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//’ reminiscent of Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm or A Weekend In The City, whilst ‘plastic door//’ is closer to early Foals, listening to KennyHoopla’s dissonant and rhythmic new wave is listening to an artist who is discovering himself at each new chapter, and one that is set to blow up at any second. (PL)

Key track: 'ESTELLA//'


Lava La Rue

Making a blistering debut in 2018 with the EP Letra, and shutting shit down with the gorgeous lo-fi neo-soul/RnB mash-up that was the Stitches mixtape, Lava La Rue is reinventing once again for what looks to be a big 2021. Blasting back for the first time in a year this November, the London musician dropped 'Angel' - a collaboration with Deb Never that signalled a new direction ready for a new year. Part of a forthcoming Butter-Fly EP, the spacey, dance-pop-soul cocktail is bound to capture attention and bounce onto radio playlists in 2021. (JA)

Key Track: 'Angel'



If you haven’t heard of Lynks (formerly known as Lynks Afrikka) yet, you’ve seriously been missing out. 2019 single ‘Str8 Acting’ was primed for a queer night, poking fun at heteronormativity and “masc4masc” queer culture through the lens of a night out, complete with hilarious soundbites. Fast forward to 2020 and he's released a queer electro-pop cover of Courtney Barnett’s ‘Pedestrian At Best’, and the sarcastic cut about beauty standards ‘Brand New Face’, singing “so I rip my face off, go to the Face Shop, buy myself a new face, now I like my face lots”. He's also been keeping our spirits up with his Self-Isolation Tapes, including the satirical ‘Pandemic!’. 2021 promises to be an exciting year for Lynks – his upcoming EP, ‘Smash Hits Vol.2’ will be released at the end of January, featuring some of their recent singles including ‘Pedestrian At Best’, as well as some new material. (GA)

Key track: 'Str8 Acting'


Made Kuti

Photo: Ifeoma Kalu

Carrying on the family tradition of musical excellence, Made Kuti - the grandson of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti and son of four-time Grammy nominee Femi Kuti - is set to do nothing but great things in the coming year. After having spent much of his childhood playing bass and saxophone in Femi’s band The Positive Force, Made released his debut single ‘Free Your Mind’ in October this year to much critical acclaim.

Whilst influences and the heritage carried on from prior generations shine through, both sonically with its rhythmic complexities intertwining with layers upon layers of danceable brass melodies and lyrically with its themes calling out for justice and equality, Made Kuti has so far also very much set the scene for his own musical journey. Having played every instrument on his debut album For(e)ward, set to be released early next year, Made Kuti feels like the force of positivity and change that we all need when turning the page on 2020. (SL)

Key Track: 'Free Your Mind'


Meet Me @ The Altar

Signing to Fueled by Ramen - home of Paramore and All Time Low - in October, this young American pop punk outfit look to be a leading light in the neo-emo moment the music industry is having right now. Chugging guitars alternate with lighter riffs and pounding drums for the perfect sountrack to the ups and downs of youth. With lyrics that recognise the struggle of adolescence (and include Black plus POC and queer experiences in their narrative), vocalist Téa Campbell is truly setting this band up to be a Paramore for Generation Z and beyond. (JA)

Key track: 'Garden'



With new music coming in the new year and an album on the horizon, NYC's collective MICHELLE are another example of what is becoming a classic Generation Z proposition: genreless music pulled together by artists who have grown up with Spotify at their fingertips. 

With their newest singles 'UNBOUND' and 'SUNRISE', the six-piece perform a volte-face from undone lo-fi to hyper-sweet retro RnB reminiscent of Summer Walker and Nelly's 'Dilemma'. We predict 2021 will be a name-making year for MICHELLE. (JA)

Key Track: 'The Bottom'


Miss. Grit

With all the jagged, avant-garde brilliance of St. Vincent, the evocative strength of Jehnny Beth and the cosmic simplicity of Karen O’s solo work, New York’s Margaret Sohn, aka Miss. Grit, is at the helm of something brilliant. Driven by the wonderfully-buoyant, unchanging rhythms that spiral throughout and the laid-bare, at times sceptical, lyrics that ruminate on themes of self-doubt and self-reflection, Miss. Grit marches to the sound of her own beat – quite literally – with an unwavering prowess, accentuated by moments of wily intricacies, and angular, disjointed riffs that serve to test the singularity otherwise explored on each track. From anti-love anthem ‘The Bride’, on which Sohn sings my favourite story’s the one that’s gory, to latest track ‘Dark Side Of The Party’, about feeling alone in a room full of people, Miss. Grit’s music is an ode both to resilience and to the gritty reality of life. A bold tapestry – and bolder still the woman behind it. (PL)

Key Track: 'Dark Side of the Party'


Pa Salieu 

His mixtape Send Them To Coventry having made a late bid for Debut of the Year, Pa Salieu has made a dizzying rise within just one year. His massive early-2020 hit 'Frontline' became one of the Radio 1XTRA's most-played songs, and featured alongside fourteen equally-accomplished tracks on Send Them. With his crticially-acclaimed mixtape and a cavalcade of magazine shoots under his belt in a whirlwind of public consciousness climbing, Salieu is looking at a very big 2021 indeed. And you're looking at Britain's next big name in rap. (JA)

Key Track: 'Block Boy'


Puma Blue

Photo: Netti Hurley

Puma Blue’s brand of progressive, experimental and lo-fi jazz has allowed him to carve out his own space in the modern jazz scene. Producing his music himself, he’s held onto some creative independence and pushed boundaries, frequently collaborating with artists such as Biig Piig, Lucy Lu and Nilüfer Yana. This year, Puma Blue released some of his most creative tracks yet, including the euphoric ‘Snowflower’, which he called “a poem about purity, and mourning your loss of innocence” and ‘Velvet Leaves’, where he balanced hope with the complexities of processing his sister’s suicide attempt, alongside a music video directed by Harvey Pearson. February 2021 will see the release of his debut album In Praise Of Shadows, featuring recent releases including ‘Opiate’, which according to him, is about “finding light in the darkness – and realising that it’s what got me here today”. (GA)

Key Track: 'Opiate'


Yard Act

One of Yorkshire’s hottest prospects, Yard Act have a great talent of combining groovy post-punk, with charming, witty and funny lyrics. They certainly echo The Fall in their guise as the sort of band you’ll dance to whilst laughing at superbly-crafted lyricism. Their three released songs so far are all great examples of this: 'The Trapper's Pelts' is an upbeat stomp, whilst 'Fixer Upper' deals with that dickhead next-door with scathing observations about the kind of guy we’ve all had the misfortune to encounter. 

Yard Act have been writing all through lockdown, preparing for a hopefully brighter 2021. We're excited to see where they go to next. (CB)

Key Track: 'Fixer Upper'



Photo: Luke Hannaford

Formed at university, Peter Martin, George Godwin, Matt Glasbey and Ben Clark make up the hazy art rock band Zooni, who released their 4-track second EP Familiar Ground this year. Exploring atmospheric melodies and angular beats, it took a step away from their self-titled debut EP, which featured softer sounds. With the delicate ‘Cascara’ giving us a more Radiohead feel, Martin has said it “it was a brand new song we’d just jammed up together a month or so before we came to record. Bassist Glasbey, meanwhile, co-produces the EP. The summer of 2021 should see some exciting new music - and news - and with the band constantly evolving each time they release new music, whatever they release promises to be an exciting new addition to the art rock landscape. (GA)

Key Track: 'Cascara'