Pop music is a crazy industry, even more so in our fractured age. It’s crazy how many songs can be blowing up in some corner of the world, online or off, without ever spilling over into the mass consciousness. It’s crazy how many of those songs actually do spill over without some of us realizing it — how many you can know from the grocery store or wherever without even realizing you know them. It’s crazy how quickly the artists out front of those songs can go from obscurity to household name if they know what to do with their 15 minutes. It’s crazy how many different points such a rise might originate from: a random streaming playlist placement, a well-played sync on a Netflix show, radio rotation mandated from on high, a social media post from an (ugh) influencer, even virality on a lip-syncing app.
To wit, here’s a look at 16 songs that have been building steam in recent months, nicked from sources such as SiriusXM and YouTube’s featured playlist. Where did they come from? What do they sound like? Will they be remembered as 2019 pop classics by this time next year? Will they be remembered at all? Let the speculation begin!
Alan Walker – “Darkside” (Feat. Au/Ra & Tomine Harket)
Released: July 27, 2018
YouTube views: 234,244,783
My editor Scott tells me his 9-year-old daughter knows all the words of this one from TikTok, the youth-beloved lip-syncing app that also serves as a stealth delivery system for new pop hits. That must be somewhat alarming for Scott given that the hook is “Let go of the light/ Fall into the dark side.” Given how many people have watched the video, his daughter is probably not the only one who knows “Darkside” by heart. The song — which matches England-born, Norway-based DJ/producer Alan Walker (whose fans are apparently called Walkers) with Spanish singer Au/Ra and fellow Norwegian Tomine Harket — is post-EDM pop marked by humongous synth sounds and an even bigger sing-along chorus. It’s unnerving to hear such dark messaging in such a bright and cheery tune. But the invitation is persuasive; it feels like only a matter of time before this makes a splash at American radio.
Dahl – “Think About Us”
Released: Dec. 6, 2018
Spotify plays: 91,237
“You hit me with the unfollow/ Now baby girl, I feel hollow” — real lyrics from this song! It’s the work of Trevor Dahl, one half of the popular production duo Cheat Codes. The press release cites “a hybrid of influences from electropop acts Bazzi and Lauv alongside the lyricism of John Mayer,” which is about right, and also so wrong. This is the sound of acoustic bro balladry at the dawn of the 2020s. “Think About Us” hasn’t properly caught fire yet, but given the success of the aforementioned Bazzi (“Mine”) and Lauv (“I Like Me Better”) last year, it probably will.
Brynn Cartelli – “Last Night’s Mascara”
Released: Dec. 17, 2018
Spotify plays: 833,106
Cartelli, age 15, was The Voice’s season 14 champion. She was part of team Kelly Clarkson, whose husband Brandon Blackstock became her manager. “Last Night’s Mascara” is a peppy acoustic pop song that belongs in the same genre as Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” and other inspirational rom-com anthems, except this one is about a high school girl getting blackout drunk and hooking up with one dude to get over another. Thus, it raised more than a few eyebrows upon release. Cartelli and Clarkson insist the song is Cartelli singing about other people’s experiences, but that doesn’t really reduce the weirdness of hearing an underage girl singing about a sexual encounter she doesn’t remember because she was wasted. Anyway, even the most successful Voice contestants seem to exist in their own little universe, separate from the pop mainstream, and I don’t expect Cartelli to buck that trend.
Noah Kahan – “False Confidence”
Released: Sept. 21, 2018
Spotify plays: 9,924,289
Now that Mumford & Sons are making Coldplay records, somebody had to keep making Mumford & Sons records. Kahan (pronounced “Khan”) racked up 84 million Spotify plays with his 2017 Julia Michaels duet “Hurt Somebody,” and he’s signed to Republic Records, the label whose roster includes Drake, Ariana Grande, Post Malone, and now Taylor Swift. So you tell me if this is gonna hit big.
DaniLeigh – “Lil Bebe” & “Lil Bebe (Remix)” (Feat. Lil Baby)
Released: July 20, 2018 / Nov. 2, 2018
Spotify plays for the remix: 16,654,838
DaniLeigh is a 24-year-old singer and dancer who backed up Pharrell and Nelly Furtado as a teen before becoming a protege of none other than Prince, who helped her score a deal with Def Jam. She got a publicity boost last summer when her contribution to the #InMyFeelingsChallenge garnered almost 10 million Instagram views. Her trap&B bop “Lil Bebe,” released to capitalize on her viral success, was doing fairly well on its own last summer and fall. The remix — which, naturally, features Lil Baby — is doing even better. No shots at Lil Baby, but I prefer the original. Still, if his feature is what it takes to get “Lil Bebe” on hip-hop radio where it belongs, I can live with that.
flora cash – “You’re Somebody Else”
Released: Spring 2017
YouTube views for the lyric video: 22,243,028
This Is Us uses a lot of Sufjan Stevens songs; the question “You’re Somebody Else” inadvertently answers is, what if somebody tried to write a Sufjan song with the express purpose of getting a This Is Us sync, and then ended up writing a OneRepublic song instead? The song was released almost two years ago, before married singer-songwriter duo Flora Cash signed with RCA, and is still picking up heat. Most recently stoking the flames was the release of an official music video this past November.
Upchurch – “Dont Come Knockin”
Released: Dec. 24, 2018
YouTube views: 1,108,536
Although the concept of country-fried rap music by a white guy is not new (see: Bubba Sparxxx, Yelawolf, Kid Rock), Ryan Upchurch’s proudly “redneck” take on the genre capitalizes on our current cultural divide in especially nauseating fashion — i.e. he rocks a Confederate flag on his website. My friend and colleague Andy Downing wrote a great feature on this brand of so-called “hick-hop” last year, which I urge you to read. I also urge you to burn your Confederate flags because that heritage is anything but proud.
Lele Pons – “Celoso”
Released: Aug. 17, 2018
YouTube views: 189,627,676
Former Vine star Lele Pons — a Miami-born Venezuelan-American who now hosts Mexico’s version of The Voice among other “internet personality” activities — is making an honest-to-God run at pop stardom. Songs as good as the slinky, low-key reggaeon banger “Celoso” (Spanish for “jealous”) will help a lot.
Sabrina Carpenter – “Paris”
Released: Oct. 25, 2018
Spotify plays: 5,282,037
Carpenter, who had a role in the Disney Channel’s Boy Meets World update Girl Meets World, already has five songs with more than 30 million Spotify plays each, including one (“Thumbs”) that topped 100 million. “Paris,” the lead single from her new album Singular: Act I, is not what I expected at all. It’s kind of a bluesy, lounge-y rock song with some hiccuping dance elements and traces of spy movie guitar. It’s basically a dance remix of Radiohead’s “I Might Be Wrong” as covered by Lana Del Rey.
Lennon Stella – “Feelings”
Spotify plays: 1,337,315
Stella came up as one half of the country duo Lennon & Maisy with her sister; together they starred as Maddie and Daphne Conrad on Nashville. Now she’s edging into pop. The Jonas Blue/Liam Payne collab “Polaroid” scored Stella her first proper hit last year. “Feelings,” from her recent Love, me EP, trades out the prior song’s upbeat club-pop, on which finger snaps gave way to a resounding 4/4 thump, for something more low-key. The sound is post-Lorde and post-Lana: a little bit trap, a little bit electronic, warm but “chill.” Put it on the right playlist and watch it soar.
Travis Denning – “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs”
Released: July 11, 2018
Spotify plays: 7,800,820
Country singer Travis Denning has followed a standard trajectory so far: moved to Nashville, got work writing hits for other artists, now pursuing a performance career of his own. His breakthrough hit is a good old-fashioned story-song about the subtle indiscretions of small-town life — in this case buying beer with a fake ID. It’s not half bad, and given that Denning meets country radio’s baseline requirement of being a man, he should be good to go.
Tayla Parx – “Slow Dancing”
Released: Oct. 19, 2018
YouTube views: 495,123
What do you even call this sound? Tropical hologram trap-pop with a breathy R&B vocal? Tayla Parx — fka Taylor Parks — is another longtime Hollywood fixture. She’s acted in TV series including Gilmore Girls, Everybody Hates Chris, and Ariana Grande’s old Nickelodeon show Victorious. She’s co-written songs including Grande’s “thank u, next,” Khalid and Normani’s “Love Lies,” and Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes,” all of which hit the top 10 last year. And now she’s got this absurdly fun and colorful single of her own. I think you’ll find it contagious unless you’re put off by it reinforcing gender stereotypes: “Guess I’m a typical girl/ I like diamonds, I like pearls/ Guess I’m a typical girl/ Makin’ love around the world.”
Lalo Ebratt & Trapical – “Mocca” & “Mocca (Remix)” (Feat. J Balvin)
Released: April 27, 2018
YouTube views (combined): 174,490,783
Colombian reggaeton star Lalo Ebratt, the best-known member of the Trapical collective, already had a massive hit with “Mocca” even before his global superstar countryman J Balvin hopped on the remix. The misty production is exactly what you’d expect from a group calling themselves Trapical. As with DaniLeigh’s “Lil Bebe,” although I like J Balvin a lot, the remix feels forced. The original “Mocca” is simply superior.
grandson – “Blood // Water”
Released: June 15, 2018
Spotify plays: 49,362,415
One of the first definitely post-Twenty One Pilots musical acts, grandson, just happens to be signed to Twenty One Pilots’ label home, Fueled By Ramen. His big hit, “Blood // Water,” really gives me a fresh appreciation for Twenty One Pilots.
We have a new #1 song in America — the first new #1 hit of 2019, in fact. “Without Me” becomes Halsey’s first #1 hit as a lead artist following her appearance on the Chainsmokers’ summer 2016 smash “Closer.” And with a new remix featuring Juice WRLD released yesterday — to juice Halsey’s chart standing, get it? — she may be able to hold on beyond this week despite fierce competition for #1 lately.
According to Billboard, Halsey’s hit surpasses Eminem’s #2-peaking 2002 single “Without Me” to become the highest-charting song called “Without Me.” Halsey’s “Without Me” also interpolates Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River” — which peaked at #3 in 2003 — making it by far the most successful but not the best song to sample that tune. (Notably, “Eastside,” Halsey’s other rising hit with Khalid and Benny Blanco, is up to a new #11 peak this week.)
“Without Me” bumps Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” back down to #2 after seven nonconsecutive weeks atop the Hot 100. Post Malone and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower” reaches a new #3 peak, while Travis Scott (and Drake)’s former chart-topper “Sicko Mode” is at #4. The rest of the top 10: Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes” at #5, Marshmello and Bastille’s “Happier” at #6, Maroon 5 and Cardi B’s “Girls Like You” at #7, Lil Baby and Gunna’s “Drip Too Hard” at #8, the Kodak Black/Offset/Travis Scott hit “ZEZE” at #9, and Post Malone’s “Better Now” at #10.
Over on the Billboard 200, 21 Savage’s I Am > I Was remains at #1 for a second week with just 65,000 equivalent album units. Since Billboard opted not to report how much of that comprises actual sales, I’m going to assume it’s almost all via streaming. There are no debuts in the top 10; the rest of the list comprises A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Meek Mill, Post Malone, the Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse soundtrack, Drake, Travis Scott, the Greatest Showman soundtrack, Kodak Black, and the A Star Is Born soundtrack. Oh, the doldrums that are January album sales.
Halsey – “Without Me” (Feat. Juice WRLD)
I am not sure what’s worse: Juice WRLD ruining a perfectly good Halsey song or Juice WRLD probably getting a #1 hit by doing so.
Billie Eilish – “When I Was Older”
What does this song has to do with Alfonso Cuaron’s breathtaking Oscar contender Roma? I don’t know. What I do know is it has given me a new level of respect for rising star Billie Eilish.
Benny Blanco, Calvin Harris, & Miguel – “I Found You”
Benny Blanco has so many B+ singles to his name at this point that his new drops are becoming appointment listening. This one arrives at beauty by taking the full-blown Calvin Harris x Miguel duet you’d imagine and stripping it to its barest essentials.
Kehlani – “Nights Like This” (Feat. Ty Dolla $ign)
This is a superb Kehlani single — and many will appreciate how it continues to push same-sex pronouns into the pop mainstream — but I must say, Ty Dolla $ign is wasted here.
Alec Benjamin – “Let Me Down Slowly” (Feat. Alessia Cara)
Alec Benjamin is 24 years old. Does he sound 24 years old to you? What is happening here?
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Lady Gaga’s ALLY billboard from A Star Is Born has appeared in LA just in time for awards season. [Billboard]
- Britney Spears is taking an indefinite work hiatus after her dad “almost died.” [E!]
- Cardi B and Bruno Mars are reportedly releasing another song together later this month. [Page Six]
- In darker, artsier collab news, Gesaffelstein and the Weeknd have been heavily teasing a new single called “Lost In The Fire,” out tonight. [YouTube]
- Rihanna posted new footage from the recording studio. [The Fader]
- Kim Petras teased a collaboration with SOPHIE. [Imgur]
- Beyoncé’s production company was sued for discriminating against blind fans. [The Guardian]
- Troye Sivan shared a video for “Lucky Strike.” [YouTube]
- In Charlotte, Justin Timberlake met with the parents of a young fan who was killed in a restaurant accident. [WCNC]
- Ariana Grande shared bloopers and a deleted scene from her “thank u, next” video. [YouTube]
- Imagine Dragons shared the remix of “Believer” with Lil Wayne they debuted at the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship. [YouTube]
- Keith Urban covered Marshmello and Bastille’s “Happier” for Spotify Singles. [Spotify]
- Meanwhile Hozier covered Destiny Child’s “Say My Name” for the same series. [Spotify]
- ZAYN shared a new video for “Satisfaction.” [YouTube]
- Ten years after her famous Britain’s Got Talent debut, Susan Boyle appeared on America’s Got Talent: The Champions. [Twitter]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
i love get out 2 pic.twitter.com/d9XHe22C3z
— gabe bergado (@gabebergado) January 7, 2019