Stars of 2017: James TW

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When it comes to teenage male pop stars, Justin Bieber is the archetype that every new hopeful gets compared to. Their chances of being signed basically boil down to how much they look like Justin Bieber. This is why I was surprised when I first saw Shawn Mendes – he might be Canadian and cute, but he’s definitely not the Bieber type. He’s a sensitive singer-songwriter who will probably never try another dance routine after this amusing incident. Shawn forged a new path for the teenage boy in pop, and now he’s invited another anti-Bieber to follow in his footsteps.

19-year-old James Taylor-Watts, who goes by the name of James TW, is here to represent all the awkward, geeky, middle class boys, with his mild-mannered songs about being “different in a cool way” and dreaming of quitting school to become a musician (he even weighs up “the opportunity cost”). His best known song, When You Love Someone, attempts to diplomatically explain divorce to an 11-year-old. He’s the teen star parents will want their kids to love… whether the kids themselves will play along is yet to be seen.

James has been uploading YouTube covers since the age of 12, and was discovered by Shawn Mendes a few years later. Shawn set up a meeting for James with his label, Island Records, and he was signed in 2015. He’s spent much of 2016 on tour with his Canadian mentor (who is actually almost a year his junior), and is currently in the midst of his own UK headline tour. He’s been working hard to build a following, but hasn’t yet inspired a fanatical response. Nonetheless, When You Love Someone has been a sleeper hit on Spotify, with nearly 40 million plays to date. I don’t think James has the charisma or looks to be both a teen heartthrob and singer-songwriter, like Shawn, but if he can come up with a few more Sheeran-esque story-telling songs, he could certainly join James Arthur in filling in for Ed while he’s on his break.

Click here to find out more about This Must Be Pop’s Stars of 2017 and come back on 19th Dec to vote for the artists you think, and hope, will be the biggest pop breakthrough of 2017. The results will be announced in the Future Pop mailer on 2nd Jan.

Stars of 2017: Harry Styles

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When compiling my top 10 Stars of 2017, I originally planned to include Liam Payne and Niall Horan. In last year’s poll, Zayn was one of the most popular choices, and of the remaining 1D members, those two seem most ready to launch. Niall has already released a single, and Liam is posting regularly about his recording sessions on social media. However, we all know that anything they release will simply be filler until the main event, when we finally get to meet solo Harry Styles.

Harry may have kept tight-lipped about his solo plans, and allowed us to think he’ll be focusing on acting for now, but that $80 million three album deal he reportedly signed won’t wait forever. I believe we will have a Harry single by the end of 2017, and perhaps an album too. A starring role in the new film by a respected director is the perfect pre-release promo for a classy, carefully constructed debut.

As for his sound and positioning, ever since Harry grew his hair long and started wearing blazers made from soft furnishings, I’ve been hoping he’s modelling himself after BØRNS. A classic singer-songwriter sound would suit his voice, feel like a natural yet not too obvious progression from the later 1D albums, and broaden his appeal enough to start making back that hefty advance.

Click here to find out more about This Must Be Pop’s Stars of 2017 and come back on 19th Dec to vote for the artists you think, and hope, will be the biggest pop breakthrough of 2017. The results will be announced in the Future Pop mailer on 2nd Jan.

Stars of 2017: Grace VanderWaal

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America’s Got Talent, just like Britain’s Got Talent, doesn’t have a great history of producing successful pop stars, but Grace VanderWaal has demonstrated how an artist with true star potential can use these huge shows as a platform to gain international fame in an instant, especially if they’re clear on who they are and what they want to get out of it. And that’s what’s so remarkable about this 12-year-old prodigy – not just her oversized talent, but her pre-defined pop persona. When Zara Larsson won Sweden’s Got Talent in 2008 at age 10, she was lumbered with a Celine Dion cover as her winner’s single and faded into obscurity – Grace’s emergence as a ready-made, distinctive pre-teen star ensures she won’t face the same fate.

Grace stands out from the typical child star because she’s not a cliché – she didn’t turn up singing a song from Annie or covering a current pop hit. She auditioned with her own original song, and it was actually good! Her songwriting talent has gained comparisons to Taylor Swift, but in terms of positioning, she’s more like a baby Regina Spektor, or a pop star version of Tavi Gevinson. Grace’s quirky voice and style, and honest lyrics on relevant themes such as finding your own identity, impressed not only the middle-America audience of AGT, but the discerning music media and influential artists. Her fans include Rolling Stone and Billboard, Stevie Nicks and Cyndi Lauper. She’s basically the ultimate hipster kid, but rather than growing a cult fanbase on YouTube and Instagram as you might expect, she’s cut to the chase and aimed for the top.

After she (obviously) won AGT in September, Grace signed to Columbia Records and last week released an EP of original songs, Perfectly Imperfect. Produced by Greg Wells, the EP capitalises on her newfound fame, but I hope will give her some breathing space now to take the necessary time over her actual debut album. Just not too much time, cos then she won’t be a star of 2017. New single for the summer, right?

Click here to find out more about This Must Be Pop’s Stars of 2017 and come back on 19th Dec to vote for the artists you think, and hope, will be the biggest pop breakthrough of 2017. The results will be announced in the Future Pop mailer on 2nd Jan.

Stars of 2017: Camila Cabello

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As I wrote in last week’s Future Pop, Fifth Harmony have had a strange trajectory as a band, and their future, as well as the individual members’, is truly hanging in the balance as we reach the end of 2016. They reached new heights with Work From Home, which should have been the beginning of a huge album campaign, but tensions in the band have been the prevailing story in the press and among fans ever since. It’s uncertain whether the group will continue on to release a third album, but one thing is clear – Camila Cabello will be making a play for solo stardom, as a member of the band or otherwise.

Although Fifth Harmony doesn’t officially have a lead singer, Camila was a favourite in the band from the X Factor days, thanks to her cute personality/style and relatable One Direction fandom. She had a wobble when some very unpleasant pre-fame social media posts were unearthed, but as the group hit their stride with singles like BO$$ and Worth It, she strode ahead of the rest (a million Twitter followers ahead, to be precise). She dated teen star Austin Mahone and befriended Shawn Mendes, which resulted in a collaboration, released even before the band had finished promoting their first album. Since then, she’s recorded with Diplo, befriended Taylor Swift and her squad, hired her own high-powered manager, and is featured prominently on the new single by rapper Machine Gun Kelly, which recently hit no.1 on the US iTunes chart.

As a solo artist, Camila will no doubt struggle with a reputation that she’s not a team player, but I do admire her drive and ambition – it’s a shame that these qualities aren’t appreciated in female celebrities. I’m sure her career has many more ups and downs to come, and I can’t deny I’m excited for the 5H drama to kick off once they complete the obligations of their current tour, but I hope it won’t overshadow her potential as a young female pop star with a name, connections and the determination to make it.

Click here to find out more about This Must Be Pop’s Stars of 2017 and come back on 19th Dec to vote for the artists you think, and hope, will be the biggest pop breakthrough of 2017. The results will be announced in the Future Pop mailer on 2nd Jan.

Song of the Week: MUNA – I Know a Place

Taken from this week’s Future Pop mailer. Click here to subscribe.

Ever since I saw indie-pop girlband MUNA at The Great Escape in May, I’ve been impatiently waiting for my two favourite songs from their set to be released. Therefore I was very excited to receive an email last week setting the date for their debut album About U, which comes out on 3rd February. Those elusive tunes had to be on the way! And sure enough, a few days later, the brilliant I Know a Place had arrived. It’s a mid-tempo, heartfelt electro-pop tune that builds up and grows on you with every listen. It’s an uplifting track with a timely political message, on the importance of safe spaces for LGBTQ and other communities. I always thought of MUNA as most comparable to Haim, but actually this track, its lyrical theme and its positive reception by pop fans has made me realise they’re more like Tegan and Sara. Now I’m just waiting for their big ballad, If You Love Me Now, to be unleashed.

Future Hits: A supernova aiming straight for my heart

Taken from this week’s Future Pop mailer. Click here to subscribe.

My weekly playlist features five tracks I predict will be future hit singles in the UK.

Tracklisting:
  • Sigala x Digital Farm Animals – Only One
  • Alok & Bruno Martini ft. Zeeba – Hear Me Now
  • Calum Scott – Rhythm Inside
  • Adele – Water Under the Bridge
  • Petit Biscuit – Sunset Lover

For more Future Hits, subscribe to my  Spotify playlist, updated weekly with the next big thing.

Stars of 2017: Anne-Marie

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When I first featured Anne-Marie in Future Pop in 2013, she was unsigned and unknown, with no music online, but she had one thing on her side – she was represented by Elton John’s management company, Rocket Music. Since then she’s had a few false starts, and at one point it looked like she’d never be known as more than Rudimental’s live vocalist, but in the last few months her career has finally started to move in the right direction.

Rudimental took her under their wing, featuring her on several album tracks, and signing her to their Major Tom’s imprint of Atlantic Records. While their latest album failed to produce any big hits, this gave Anne-Marie chance to emerge out of their shadow. She takes the lead on Clean Bandit’s current no.1, Rockabye, and had a slow burning hit with Alarm, which she describes as her first proper single (using the now common rule whereby if a song wasn’t a hit, it wasn’t really a single). Although the track peaked at no.16 in the UK, it’s been in the charts for 28 weeks and counting, and has become a global streaming success with over 150 million plays on Spotify. She even performed it at the MTV Europe Music Awards.

Anne-Marie is in an unusual position at the moment. In a sense she hasn’t had a hit at all (her no.1 is only a feature, and her own single hasn’t broken the top 10) but you could equally say she’s one of the biggest artists of the moment. In fact, she’s the 11th top artist on Spotify today. Her challenge in 2017 is to join up the dots and make sure everyone knows she’s the star behind those songs they know and love. She’s come this far, she can’t give up without a top 10 hit of her own now. And after reading her plans for world domination in The Guardian (“I’m just not going to put out a shit song”), I’m feeling pretty optimistic.

Click here to find out more about This Must Be Pop’s Stars of 2017 and come back on 19th Dec to vote for the artists you think, and hope, will be the biggest pop breakthrough of 2017. The results will be announced in the Future Pop mailer on 2nd Jan.

Future Pop: Stars of 2017

It’s that time of year again: All the tastemaker music brands are releasing their lists of the most promising new artists for 2017, and I’m scouring them for any sign of a pop star; any hint of a catchy melody; any glimmer of hope. While VEVO’s Dscvr Ones To Watch  has a few  pop acts in the mix, the BBC  Sound of 2017 longlist is duller than ever (save for a few promising urban acts), and the Brits Critics Choice panel had to reach for artists who  have been hanging around the major labels for years to find even three suitable candidates.

But surely, the situation is not really that dire for pop music? There must be someone who can bring out some bangers to cheer us up after the miseries of 2016. Even a belt-along ballad would do. So, I’m making it my mission to search out the stars that can save 2017.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be featuring 10 pop acts  who are gunning for mainstream success. Some are my personal favourites, while others are simply my predictions for future stardom. And then, when all the acts have been introduced, it’ll be over to you to vote for who you think, and who you hope, will be the biggest pop breakthrough of 2017. Last year  you appropriately selected Troye Sivan and Zara Larsson, so I have faith in you to choose wisely this time too!

Make sure to follow on Twitter and Facebook for updates, and let me know what you think of the nominees.

Top of the Poptastic: The best singles of November 2016

Here are my top 20 singles of November, compiled into a poptastic playlist for your enjoyment. I hope you discover some new favourites! I’ve also updated my Spotify playlist, which features all the songs from my monthly charts, and you can listen to that here.

  1. Au/Ra – Concrete Jungle
  2. Twice – TT
  3. Robin Schulz & David Guetta ft. Cheat Codes – Shed a Light
  4. Samantha Jade & Cyrus – Hurt Anymore
  5. Walker McGuire – Til Tomorrow
  6. Syn Cole – Californication
  7. Sälen – Copper Kiss
  8. Chase Rice – Everybody We Know Does
  9. Strandels – Chance of Rain
  10. Lao Ra – Bang Boom
  11. Amy Shark – Adore
  12. Sheppard – We Belong
  13. Sleigh Bells – I Can Only Stare
  14. Black Pink – Playing With Fire
  15. Penthox ft. Madcon & Julimar Santos – Cigarette
  16. KOLAJ – Hitchhike
  17. Miranda Lambert – Vice
  18. Florida Georgia Line ft. Tim McGraw – May We All
  19. Ralph – Busy Man
  20. Brothers Osborne – 21 Summer

Song of the Week: Walker McGuire – Til Tomorrow

Taken from this week’s Future Pop mailer. Click here to subscribe.

A few weeks ago I enjoyed a country song on The Voice, started thinking about visiting Nashville (definitely has to happen in 2017), and quickly descended deep into one of my country phases. The perception of country music has definitely improved in the past few years, but that hasn’t really helped me – I now find myself having to explain that, with the exception of Kacey Musgraves, I don’t listen to cool country music. Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson mean nothing to me. I like it as mainstream as it comes – basically just mumsy pop songs with a twang. I’ve had Spotify’s Hot Country playlist on repeat for the last week, and my favourite discovery so far is this MOR-tastic tune, Til Tomorrow by unsigned duo Walker McGuire. The chorus melody is so uplifting and comforting, not a hint of originality but give it one listen and you’ll be singing along.