Songs You Might Know From Artists You Probably Don’t: Listening To 2022’s Potential Pop Hits
The term “overnight success” has evolved quite a bit in the last 20 years. A few decades ago, pre-internet, the term might apply to someone lucky enough to convince the right radio DJ to give their new track a few spins, or maybe the artist’s team got them on MTV, or opening up for a more established performer. This is not to discount an artist’s pure, organic talent, of course, but typically, where mainstream audiences were concerned, there used to only be a few major launching pads, and you really needed someone to show your music to the right person.
When it comes to pop music discovery, everything has changed. Today, when you listen to Top 40 radio, you’re barely scratching the surface of the pop world. So much of the new pop artists you hear on Top 40 have trickled down (up?) from TikTok, Spotify, and YouTube. The contemporary overnight success happens LITERALLY overnight, and sometimes, like in the case of Emmy Meli’s “I Am Woman,” the song isn’t even finished yet when it goes viral. In a rapidly evolving landscape like this, where do you begin when you want to get ahead of the curve? (Especially when you’re like me, aka chronically bad with names?) Well, this week’s column is dedicated to a handful of new (and some not-so-new) voices/songs that you might have heard recently but haven’t exactly put a name to a voice yet.
Benson Boone – “Ghost Town”
Released: October 14, 2021
YouTube views: 13,858,895
If Boone’s name rings a bell, it’s probably because he’s a TikTok star with more than 2 million followers AND was on the last season of American Idol (he had to drop out unexpectedly, though). The 19-year-old is doing just fine, though, catching the attention of Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds and signing a major-label deal with Reynolds’ Night Street Records in partnership with Warner. The piano-driven “Ghost Town” is a swooping ballad seemingly about a relationship that’s starting to come apart (Boone has said that it’s actually more about “breaking up with my childhood”). Its centerpiece is the Washington native’s monumental voice, which we’re bound to hear more of as 2022 progresses.
Emmy Meli – “I Am Woman”
Released: December 1, 2021
YouTube views: 338,198
Emmy Meli’s “I Am Woman” is a prime example of overnight TikTok success. When the 21-year-old Long Beach native first uploaded a video of herself singing the song’s hook to the platform in October, it racked up thousands of views by the very next day and inspired her to write the rest of the song. “I Am Woman” is jazzy, soulful ballad about self-love that has been embraced by hundreds of thousands of fans (including influencers like Loren Grey and Ashley Graham), regardless of whether they themselves identify as female.
Jessie Murph – “Always Been You”
Released: December 7, 2021
YouTube Views: 238,300
Don’t let the YouTube count fool you — Jessie Murph’s echoing single has amassed more than 21 million Spotify streams and is climbing the platform’s Pop Rising playlist. It’s easy to see why: The rising 17-year-old performer can play piano, guitar, and ukulele, and her sultry vocals always sound on the edge of cracking in that emotionally on-the-brink sort of way.
Julia Wolf – “Bottle Of Advil”
Released: December 8, 2021
YouTube Views: 21,907
Julia Wolf, who also performs under the name WOLF, offers a more classical, alternative take on the traditional pop song. The native New Yorker got started releasing music in 2019 from her bedroom in Queens, and her pop-punk-meets-R&B single “Hoops” has collected more than 6 million streams on Spotify. Not far behind is her barely month-old song “Bottle Of Advil,” a mournful acoustic track that showcases Wolf’s range. Clearly she’s just as capable of rolling out a gorgeous ballad as she is a high-energy banger.
Kidd G – “I Don’t Wanna”
Released: December 24, 2021
YouTube Views: 491,890
Early last year, the New York Times dubbed the then 17-year-old Kidd G — born Jonathan Gabriel Horne — “country music’s next emo-rap star.” Whatever your feelings on country being lumped in with emo AND rap (admittedly, the Neapolitan genre trio gives me brain freeze), you can’t deny how stupidly catchy Kidd G’s songs are — especially his latest, “I Don’t Wanna,” which snuck in at the tail end of 2021 and certainly captures the still-strong mass resignation vibe. Over twanging banjo, Kidd G rap-sings about hitting the fishing hole, knocking back Natty Lights, quitting his nine-to-five, and haters “raising hell about the hell I raise.” I don’t know why, but it works!
Maggie Lindemann – “She Knows It”
Released: October 28, 2021
YouTube Views: 2,605,829
Picking up the pop-punk baton from Y2K figureheads Avril Lavigne, Fefe Dobson, and Paramore, Maggie Lindemann’s intoxicating “She Knows It” is like a faster-paced “Losing My Grip” that’s also a clarion call for queer crushes and lusty make-outs. Joining in the nostalgia cycle pop-punk ranks of Olivia Rodrigo, WILLOW, and GAYLE, the Dallas singer propels the once-homogenous genre to new depths, opting not to sneak same-sex pronouns in a pop song’s lyrics but place them front and center.
Muni Long – “Hrs And Hrs”
Released: November 22, 2021
YouTube Views: 2,618,249
In 2009, when Pricilla Renea was 18, she got signed to Capitol Records. She released her debut album Jukebox that same year and cowrote Rihanna’s “California King Bed,” Pitbull and Kesha’s “Timber,” Fifth Harmony’s “Worth It,” and Selena Gomez’s “Who Says,” among others. Now, Renea is stepping back into the solo spotlight with a new moniker. As Muni Long, she dropped an LP, Nobody Knows, and an EP, Public Displays Of Affectiom, last year. Her slinky single “Hrs And Hrs” (rightly) has collected more than 2 million Spotify streams, with fans no doubt being drawn to her masterful vocals and warm, ’90s-inspired R&B melodies.
NEIKED, Mae Muller, & Polo G – “Better Days”
Released: October 7, 2021
YouTube Views: 10,210,587
Again, credit TikTok with this collaboration’s viral success. Thanks to the “Better Days” challenge, this bouncy disco-funk track, led by Swedish pop collective NEIKED, earned more than a million streams. The hook is super-sticky, for sure, but Polo G’s verse captures a universal feeling that can only be attributed to our isolated, quarantined times: “Can I get an Amen? / Introverted, can’t make friends / Pray for better days, now it’s 300k when my day ends.”
Nicky Youre & dazy – “Sunroof”
Released: November 25, 2021
YouTube Views: 48,025
“Sunroof” is only Nicky Youre’s second-ever single, his first being “Sex And Lemonade,” which featured LAIKI on production. The OC native’s easy-breezy follow-up featuring dazy, full of “la-da-da-da-dee-da”s, is a strong contender for playlist additions and TikToks — for when that rare good mood strikes.
Noa Kirel – “Bad Little Thing”
Released: October 14, 2021
YouTube Views: 35,791,897
It’s possible you’ll already be familiar with Israeli pop star Noa Kirel — she’s been active since 2015, becoming super-famous in her home country via songs that meld Hebrew dance music with more mainstream pop sounds. In 2020, she entered the Israeli Defense Forces — military service is mandatory for every Israeli at age 18 — but now she’s zooming back into focus with last summer’s “Please Don’t Suck” and “Bad Little Things,” which she remixed with KALI last month. The original is a loud, swaggering, bang-bang-into-the-room track about empowerment, self sufficiency, and making zero apologies for who you are.
RUEL – “GROWING UP IS _____”
Released: December 8, 2021
YouTube Views: 526,029
Just look at these lyrics and tell me you don’t want to hear more: “Growin’ up is weird, sleep with friends, break a heart / Question everything you thought / Split a pill, smoke a dart / Growin’ up is weird, fall in love for a year / And then I disappear, wish that you were here.” It’s nice to hear a little teary teenage angst out of the male gender in pop music, and Australian-British upstart RUEL does it with such painful precision on this thudding banger.
Sadie Jean – “WYD Now?”
Released: December 9, 2021
YouTube Views: 206,742
Sadie Jean’s heartbreak ballad is a natural follow-up to the success of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License,” both in sound and substance. Its ripped-from-the-diary lyrics (“I don’t wanna be 20-something / And still in my head”) and coming-of-age themes have a lot in common with Ms. Olivia. But Jean, still just 19, stands on her own with a voice that somehow sounds both fragile and powerful all at once as she bemoans “looking for love online” and thinking about (maybe) seeing some “real good guys” that “are never gonna be like you.” “WYD Now?” be an Extremely Online/Gen Z slangy phrase, but the feeling behind it is ageless.
Tate McRae – “Feel Like Shit”
Released: November 11, 2021
YouTube Views: 8,324,883
18-year-old Tate McRae already has a pretty hefty resume, between her 2016 appearance on So You Think You Can Dance and her slow-build hit “You Broke Me First,” which helped make last March’s Too Young To Be Sad the most streamed EP by a female artist on Spotify in 2021. McRae’s star power moves further into focus on the lush single “Feel Like Shit,” where she demonstrates Camila Cabello-level vocal range. Its music video, too, is a sight to behold, with Rae weaving in interpretive dance to tell a story about young love, lust, and utter heartache.
Chris here with your weekly chart update! It looks like the annual influx of Christmas music has finally subsided.
As Billboard reports, Disney’s Encanto soundtrack surges from #7 to #1 on the Billboard 200 this week with 72,000 equivalent album units, mostly driven by streaming, though the album did 11,000 in sales. The soundtrack, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, made a huge leap into the top 10 last week after the movie hit Disney+ on Christmas Eve. It’s remarkably only the sixth animated film soundtrack to ever hit #1 following Frozen II (2019), Frozen (2014), Jack Johnson’s Curious George (2006), Pocahontas (1995), and The Lion King (1994-95).
Encanto bumps Adele’s 30 to #2, followed by Morgan Wallen at #3, Olivia Rodrigo at #4, Taylor Swift at #5, Drake at #6, and Doja Cat at #8. The Weeknd’s greatest hits album The Highlights is back up to #8. Juice WRLD and Polo G round out the top 10 at #9 and #10 respectively.
Over on the Hot 100, the absence of holiday classics clears the way for Adele’s “Easy On Me” to return to #1 for an eighth nonconsecutive week. The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” is back up to #2, while Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves” reaches a new #3 peak. Per Billboard, “Heat Waves” completes a record 51-week climb to #3, surpassing the 45-week run to the same peak by Gabby Barrett and Charlie Puth’s “I Hope.” Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers” is at #4, also a new peak.
Rocketing from #50 to #5 is the Encanto track “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” credited to cast members Carolina Gaitán, Mauro Castillo, Adassa, Rhenzy Feliz, Diane Guerrero, and Stephanie Beatriz. It’s only the fifth song from an animated Disney movie to reach the top five. The other four: “A Whole New World,” “Can You Feel The Love Tonight,” “Colors Of The Wind,” and “Let It Go.”
After Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow’s “Industry Baby” at #6 comes a new #7 high for Elton John and Dua Lipa’s “Cold Heart (Pnau Remix).” The track, which brings together elements of four prior John singles, is his 28th top-10 hit — tying him with Mariah Carey and Stevie Wonder for seventh most all time — and his first visit to the top 10 since 1997’s “Candle In The Wind” / “Something About The Way You Look Tonight.” It’s also the fourth top-10 hit for Lipa.
After Sheeran’s “Bad Habits” at #8 and Doja Cat’s “Need To Know” at #9 is Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin” at a new #10 peak. It’s the Florida rapper’s third top-10 visit following “Tunnel Vision” (#6 in 2017) and the Travis Scott/Offset collab “ZEZE” (#2 in 2018). Alright… back to Rachel!
Maren Morris – “Circles Around This Town”
Morris strikes gold in this honest look back at her long road to country-pop success. The best part, other than its super-hummable chorus, is her admission that fame doesn’t at all resemble what she’d imagined.
MARINA – “Pink Convertible”
Always love hearing new work from the criminally underrated MARINA, and this shimmery power ballad doesn’t disappoint.
GOT the beat – “Step Back”
This new K-pop supergroup features Girls’ Generation‘s Taeyeon and Hyoyeon, Red Velvet’s Seulgi and Wendy, and Aespa’s Karina and Winter — whew!! Their debut single is suitably clubby, but its backing sample — dissonant strings and looping chorus chants — is actually rather disarming.
Maddie & Tae – “Strangers”
This is a sweet ode to the country duo’s husbands, and it sounds rather inspired by Shania Twain’s classic “Still The One.” Not a bad thing! But definitely the kind of song you’d get the most out of if you, too, had someone to couple up with. Shmaltz tends to go down better that way.
Jonas Blue & Why Don’t We – “Don’t Wake Me Up”
Remember when Aerosmith didn’t want to close their eyes or fall asleep because they’d miss you, babe? This is kind of like that, only EDM. And instead of going to sleep, Why Don’t We want to remain subconscious.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Machine Gun Kelly says he’ll release two albums this year. [Twitter]
- Bleachers will release an album this year. [Twitter]
- Aaliyah‘s uncle says her posthumous album, Unstoppable, will arrive this month. [YouTube]
- The 1975 are back in the studio. [Instagram]
- GAYLE made her television debut, performing “abcdefu” on Fallon. [YouTube]
- The Chainsmokers teased their fourth album. [Instagram]
- Julia Fox wrote about her new whirlwind romance with Kanye West in Interview. [Interview]
- Rihanna says her Savage x Fenty brand will open brick-and-mortar stores this year. [Twitter]
- John Legend is the latest hitmaker to sell his music catalog. [Bloomberg]
- Pete Davidson joined Jack Harlow onstage in LA. [Twitter]
- Demi Lovato recently completed a stint in rehab. [E!]
- Lovato also showed off a large black spider tattoo on the side of their head. [Twitter]
- Cardi B fought with Cuban Doll on Twitter over Offset’s alleged cheating. [TMZ]
- Lana Del Rey got a temporary restraining order against a woman who is stalking her. [TMZ]
- Joe Jonas returned to acting, appearing as himself in the season premiere of The Righteous Gemstones. [E!]
- Clay Aiken is running for Congress again. [WaPo]