LIST: The 10 Best New Artists of 2021
Shygirl, PinkPantheress, Navy Blue, Genesis Owusu and more!
Photos: Shygirl Instagram, PinkPantheress, NME Australia
The ARIA-winning, Obama-approved, Wiggles-affiliated Don of Down Under, Genesis Owusu is Australia's greatest new talent since Kevin Parker (of Tame Impala). At the young age of 23, he is wise beyond his years. Superstars Lauryn Hill, Kendrick Lamar and Talking Heads deeply influence not only his musicality, but also his wit, foresight and value of himself as an artist. “The art comes first” he said in our podcast episode, and listening to his explosive, genre-hopping debut Smiling With No Teeth reveals that to be very true. He tackles tough issues like commercialism, racism and spiritual emptiness like a linebacker, running head first into them without hesitation.
SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE
Photo: La Canal Auditif
It almost feels like cheating to call these Philadelphia psych wizards a “new act”, because they’ve been making quality alternative music since 2014. However, by reducing themselves to a trio rather than a quintet, they have distilled their individual talents down to a precise science. With their bold and idiosyncratic fourth album ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH, operate in the realm of “hypnagogic pop”, the space between sleep and wakefulness where late night TV becomes like a religious experience. They embody our credo to a tee, actively rowing against fragile sensibilities when it comes to art. Just like to the opening track "ENTERTAINMENT" to understand what we mean, listen past all the clanging and noise, and you get handsomely rewarded.
Photo: MTV UK
Maybe it’s premature to give the U.K. powerhouse Shygirl such a nod before even releasing a proper album, but so be it, we have been bumping her all damn year. 2020’s ALIAS EP may be a top five EP of all time, we fail to see a single flaw with the infectious, bombastic assaults of sound on cuts like “SLIME” and the nasty-as-fuck “FREAK”. In 2021, Shy continued to innovate on the sound she’s been crafting for half a decade, popping out with her most raunchy single yet “BDE” and her most mature in “Cleo”. She’s finally getting the big looks she deserves, including a Burberry modeling gig and a solid feature on Gaga’s Dawn of Chromatica remix record. Once the album is dropped (next year?) Shygirl will take her place on the throne of pop, we just know it.
Drakeo The Ruler
Photo: Citation Needed
Rest in Peace to the best new hip-hop artist of 2021, hands down. While he made waves with his groundbreaking prison tape Thank You For Using GTL, it was as a free man that he began to really become “the ruler”. The Truth Hurts rightfully lands in our top 50 albums of the year list because of his uniquely laid-back, whisper quiet flow that made listeners hang on his every word on tracks like “Same Order” and “Engineer Scared”. Underground oddballs like Chet Hanx and Andrew Callaghan of Channel 5 fucked with him, but so did some of the most prolific cultural influences like Drake and Virgil Abloh (R.I.P. as well). He was a superstar for the people, Drakeo was loved by many, including us here at AntiArt.
It’s funny how the artists that say the least sometimes inspire the most thinkpieces. Everyone was trying to fill in the gaps left behind in PinkPantheress’ minute and half diary-entry tracks like “Pain” and the eternally cute “Just for me”, until she finally dropped her catchy-as-fuck debut tape, to hell with it. We hope the stalker portrait she paints of herself as a character isn’t reflective of her real life, but we’d be lying if we didn’t low-key identify with these aspects. Everyone is a Reddit detective and Instagram stalker in the year 2021, PinkPantheress was just the only one brave enough to write pop music about it.
Photo: Ryan ANTIART / antiart.blog
Sage Elsesser aka Navy Blue is the underdog of the year for sure. We would’ve never expected someone so well known for skating and modeling to also be able to drop a competent album, yet he gave us one of the greatest hip-hop records of the decade so far with Song of Sage: Post Panic! He’s not afraid to dig into the emotional muck of his soul to pull out handfuls of honesty like “Self Harm” or the Christopher Columbus diss “1492”. Give Sage the chance to shine, and he’ll light up the whole world.
The debut record Mercurial World from the Los Angeles-based duo blew the music media away this year, receiving positive reviews across the board from Pitchfork, Anthony Fantano, and obviously, us. Like the liquid mercury they named their first album after, their style is shiny, fluid (genre-wise) and dangerous if heavily interacted with. We have definitely gotten Mag Hatter’s Disease this year by consuming copious amounts of synth pop (“Dawn of the Season”), cybergrunge (“You Lose!”) and ‘80s throwback funk (“Hysterical Us”) from these two.
Alice Longyu Gao
Watching Alice Longyu Gao’s Instagram stories is always a major highlight of our day over here at AntiArt. She’s constantly starting TikTok trends, premiering new singles, dropping merch with men’s phone numbers – Alice just absolutely goes 150% all the time. Her debut EP High Dragon and Universe shows just a sliver of the massive potential she holds, with off-the-wall post-hyperpop bangers like “Underrated Popstar” and “Kanpai” being our favorites. Her writing is egotistical in the best way, she knows she’s got something that other people don’t, and won’t rest until we all open her gift.
Photo: Ashley Bourne / NME
Bold concepts and long songs are often too difficult of a task for debut records to tackle. Most new bands tend to play it safe, keeping their music widely appealing and checking as many boxes as possible. For the U.K.’s Squid, it would be an insult to their craft to cheapen anything for anyone. For years before arriving with these studio recordings, the band was testing out and fucking around with these songs in live settings, setting what worked and didn’t like live market research. On their first album Bright Green Field, tracks like “G.S.K.” and “Paddling” sound like a band who already have it all figured out. They are making post-punk that is not only rich in literary context, but skilled in its nutty execution.
Photo: Alex Kurunis / Interview Magazine
We hate to be biased and choose teams at AntiArt, but we will always take Arlo Parks’ side. Even when she’s in the wrong as on “Eugene”, her style is so pillowing and inviting that it’s hard to blame her. She has a way with words and instrumentation that just relaxes the soul. In a year full of Arca’s sensory overload and Kanye’s excess dominating our listening palettes, it was always nice to light some candles and take a deep breath to “Hurt” or “Black Dog”. Parks makes music for the mind and body, music for relaxation instead of reaction.