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It's Here: Our 2021 Hot Take on the Emerging Musicians to Know Now

In last year’s rising-musicians portfolio—published a month into quarantine—I harped on the fact that music is the ultimate unifier. At a time of great uncertainty and isolation, at-home performances and virtual concerts brought a welcome sense of community and joy. While curating this year’s story, the word resilience was top-of-mind. In what has been a particularly trying 12-plus months, it has been truly exciting to see a new wave of artists and music not only emerge from this time but also thrive sans tours, showcases, and connecting with fans IRL. As such, in 2021’s Fresh Faces in Music feature, we’re celebrating the talented young musicians who are carving out their own unique artistic spaces and delivering some seriously fantastic music in the process. 

Whether you are in need of a little escapism (and let’s be honest—who isn’t?), a new album to fuel an upcoming road trip, or some soulful jams to take you into the weekend, you are in the right place. I am thrilled to shine a light on this group of talented female artists who span the globe and represent an array of musical genres. With so much to look forward to in the coming months, it’s the perfect time to reenergize your playlists. So let’s get to it! These are the artists to have on your radar now.

Photo:

Kevin Young

WHO: Lauren Auder

WHAT: A British French singer-songwriter whose baroque-pop style and deep baritone vocals will have you in your feels. Following two poetic albums centered on coming-of-age themes and the exploration of her identity, Auder’s latest offering, 5 Songs for the Dysphoric, marks her first body of work as an out trans woman, and with it comes a new sense of confidence for the London-based artist. A glimpse into a formative time for the 22-year-old, the concise and vulnerable five-track EP featuring a lustrous sonic palette chronicles how the experience of coming out has influenced not only her past and future relationships but also her worldview. It’s the most beautiful 17 minutes spent. 

WEAR: Vampiric chic.

For people discovering you for the first time, how would you describe your music? What song of yours should they start with?

Noisy and baroque. Attempting to make big things of little moments. I think “Heathen” is my favourite song I have released, so maybe there’s a good start. That or “June 14th.” 

You released your third EP 5 Songs for the Dysphoric earlier this year. How has your artistry evolved from that first EP to now? 

I think it’s mostly about confidence in my vision. I feel I have less to prove to myself, and that has allowed me to trust my process and writing and has let experimentation become more of a part of this last record. 

5 Songs for the Dysphoric is significant in that these are the first tracks you wrote since coming out as a trans woman. How does this collection of songs reflect that period of your life? 

It’s definitely mostly about my state of mind during that time. It’s an interesting thing to have such a yardstick chronicling where my head was at. I think, yeah, it’s just introspection and looking back at how my life was and already had changed since being open. 

Is there a particular song on this EP that is close to your heart? 

I think “Animal”  is the one that pulls at my own heartstrings the most—ha. It just says a lot of things plainly in a way I’d never put to track before. 

How would you describe your process as a songwriter?

It all starts with words. I spend most of my days just typing away in my notes, little aphorisms and phrases that are sticking with me. Once I’ve found something that feels potent enough, I can think of where it could go musically. 

What are some of your biggest sources of creative inspiration? 

Walking! I’ve been obsessively walking 10 miles almost every day, and that’s where I get most of my thoughts to appear. 

You have worked with major fashion brands, including Gucci and Celine. How does fashion play a role in your artistry? 

I think it’s a natural extension of what my music is all about—communicating who I am—and in that sense, it’s important. It’s all about signifiers, what I care about, how I choose to be seen and portray myself. I also just truly admire the craft, so it’s exciting to be able to be linked to that world. 

What would you say is a Lauren Auder style signature?

I got, quite honestly, justifiably bullied in the street recently for dressing like a vampire, so anything that portrays that image is the signature, ha. 

What are you looking forward to most this year?

Meeting people I didn’t know existed ‘til then. 

Photo:

Jamal Peters

WHO: VanJess 

WHAT: A Nigerian American sister duo delivering perfect come-hither bops. Ivana and Jessica Nwokike of VanJess have steadily taken the R&B world by storm since releasing their debut album Silk Canvas to critical acclaim in 2018. After multiple mixtapes, collaborations, and tour dates with the likes of Little Simz and Masego, the sisters are back in the spotlight in a big way this year with their second album, Homegrown. The nine-song EP is easy listening, offering a perfect blend of ‘90s R&B, soul, and funk. My advice: Turn up “Dysfunctional” to start your weekend off right. 

WEAR: Never short on glamour. 

For people discovering you for the first time, how would you describe your music? What song of yours should they start with?

Our music is rooted in soul. A good song to start with is "Addicted."

How do your Nigerian roots play a role in your music?

We’ve always been inspired by our Nigerian roots and music. I think it gives us a certain spirit and joy that channels into the records.

You released your new EP Homegrown in January. What has been the most rewarding part of working on this EP?

Seeing the messages from fans who are touched by the project and telling us how good it makes them feel to listen.

I’m sure all the songs are precious to you, but do you have a favorite?

JN: “Slow Down”

IN: “Addicted”

How would you describe your songwriting process as a duo?

It changes every time, but it’s always collaborative. We trust each other and bounce off ideas easily when we get in the studio and are vibing to the music.

You have collaborated with some great artists, including Kaytranada and Little Simz. Who are some of the people you would love to work with next?

Brent Faiyaz.

You shot and styled the promo art for Homegrown. What was the inspiration for these images?

We were inspired by images of our parents in the ‘70s in Nigeria and Nollywood fashion.

What would you say is a VanJess style signature?

Our signature style is elegant, vibrant, and sensual.

What are you looking forward to most this year?

Releasing more music and doing more performances and content for the fans! 

Photo:

Top: Dudi Hasson; Bottom: Shai Franco.

WHO: Noga Erez

WHAT: An Israeli singer, songwriter, and producer telling it like it is with emotive lyrics and heavy-hitting beats. If Erez’s inimitable style feels confrontational, that’s on purpose. She isn’t afraid to speak her truth, and her sophomore album KIDS, which she worked on in collaboration with her partner and co-writer Ori Rousso, is no exception. The LP is a result of Erez’s mission to find empathy during a particularly dark time, and you get a real sense of the emotional roller coaster she experienced with her impressive sing-speak storytelling and the array of eclectic sounds featured. My introduction to the artist came via the single “Views,” and it's been Erez on repeat from then on.  

WEAR: Effortlessly cool suiting always paired with her signature topknot.

For people discovering you for the first time, how would you describe your music? What song of yours should they start with?

I wish it was easier for me to answer this one, but people who have heard the music know why it’s not. My music is very diverse. It doesn’t fit into any box, mainly ‘cause the songs are very different from one another but still have a mutual core. So I would say start with “Views,” but don’t expect more of the same when you move to the other ones. 

You just released your second album Kids last month. What is the meaning behind the album name?

It could have easily been called Humans, but kids/children are humans who have just begun gaining their consciousness of self. They are at this beautiful sweet spot where their potential is the greatest. And most importantly, not so long ago, we were all kids. This is a perspective on the world that allows more forgiveness and empathy. It’s a perspective I needed after a long time of dealing with a lot of anger about the world’s evil and injustice. 

What has been the most rewarding part of working on this album?

During the last stages of working on the album, Rousso, my partner, and I had a really tight deadline to meet. People started coming to the studio to watch us work just ‘cause they wanted to be inspired with the process. Musician friends who wanted to be there to learn, they would sit with us for hours without saying anything—just fully respecting the intimacy of our process. At some point, we told them we would love to get their feedback, and slowly, those people became a huge part of KIDS. They invested hours in listening and making the most amazing and inspiring comments, giving us ideas that made KIDS a far better album. 

On the flip side, what has been the most challenging?

When we started to work on the album, it was really hard. We had been touring for over a year, and making music every day was something we were not used to any longer. We both felt like we might have lost our groove. We had to fight through months of sessions that ended with frustration because we had nothing. It was so awful and left us insecure. Getting past that is a true victory of mine. 

Is there a particular song that is close to your heart?

“Switch Me Off,” the ending track of the album, is a song I still get the chills from. Also “Candyman” and “Kids,” the title track. They all talk heavily about intergenerational heritage in different ways. They have a very wide perspective about life from an existential place but also a very personal, close place of fearing the loss of our beloved ones. 

How would you describe your process as a songwriter?

My process, similar to my music, is not one that you can easily describe in a one-liner. With each song, I try to do something different, change the method. The process of making the music needs to be reexamined all the time in order to remain fresh and loving toward your creative self. 

What would you say is a Noga Erez style signature?

When it comes to fashion, suits. I wear oversize suits the same way I did when I was six. I used to go to my dad’s closet and try on his suits. For a while, I wanted to come back to it and finally tried it a couple of years ago. 

I heard you actually design/make a lot of your own suits. Can you tell us a little about that process and what you look for in a great suit?

About two years ago, I partnered up with a fresh-out-of-fashion-design-school talent, Shir Shtarker. I told her I needed five suits that could mix and match. I wanted to get 25 combinations that work together. She helped me through the process of realising the cuts, fabric selection, color, and sewing. What we got were five really cool suits that I constantly wear. I would love to do more of that in the future now that I have the knowledge and I know what I'm looking for in a suit. 

Now that KIDS is out in the world, what are you looking forward to most this year?

Well, I’ll go for the cliché answer and say touring. Still didn’t get a chance to hear most of the songs in huge speakers. Still didn’t get that energy coming back from people in a crowd. And I miss that a lot. At the same time, I miss just being in the studio and making music. But let’s get back to touring first.

Photo:

Top:CJ Harvey; Bottom: Julien Burgueño

 

WHO: Sofía Valdés 

WHAT: A 20-year-old Panamanian singer-songwriter serving up intoxicating alt-pop melodies. Valdés’s debut EP Ventura, which dropped in February, offers a snapshot of the last four years of her life and the love, heartache, and loneliness she experienced while away from her family at school in the U.S. and the UK. It’s a beautiful showcase of the artist’s soothing vocals accompanied by effortless, up-tempo beats. For a mental escape to the beach, don’t miss the tracks “Handful of Water” and “Oceans Away.”

WEAR: Easy-breezy summer separates accented with gold hoops.

For people discovering you for the first time, how would you describe your music? What song of yours should they start with?

I would say my music is some sort of soft pop. I take a lot of inspiration from bossa nova, folk, and Motown. I [would] start off with “Handful of Water” or “Lonely.” “H.O.W” is the most pop out of the EP, but it seems to stick with people faster than the other ones.

Your great-grandfather was Cuban musician Miguelito Valdés, and your great-great-grandmother was Panamanian singer Silvia De Grasse. How have their careers influenced where you are today?

I think they did in some way or another. I never got to meet them, but I always heard stories about them and how amazing they were and how a lot of my family members wanted to follow the same career and couldn’t do it. So I felt like I really had to do something about this because it was my dream and everyone else’s dream in my family at some point, but I was the only one who had supportive parents and the internet to put myself out there. Knowing that family members of mine were able to be successful gives me a bit of hope.

You released your debut EP Ventura in February. What is the story you are sharing with this collection of songs?

There are a lot of different topics in the EP, from missing loved ones to breakups to being afraid of commitment. There is a lot in there. There is no one story. It's been my life the past four years in a little EP.

Is there a particular track from Ventura that you hold close to your heart? Why?

“Lonely” is very special. I wrote “Lonely” in my room, and I’ve never not been so judgmental about myself when writing. It was really quick to write this one, but I tried being incredibly honest, so honest that the person I was with broke up with me after listening to it. Ha ha!

I read that you learned English by listening to pop music. Who were some of your favorite artists from that time?

I learned English from pop music and movies. I would watch a stupid amount of movies a week and listen to a lot of records and look up the lyrics. I was listening to a lot of Bob Dylan since his storytelling is so classic. Lorde had just released Pure Heroin, and that album really got me thinking.

Music and fashion tend to go hand in hand. How would you describe your style?

I wear a lot of hand-me-downs from my mom or my aunts. All my jewelry is my grandmother’s. I love simple but with a statement piece. I would describe my style as eclectic. Sadly, I don't have any of my clothes because I left it all in England thinking I would get it back in two weeks, but the virus is still around, and it's been a year. I miss my clothes.

What would you say is a Sofía Valdés style signature?

Last time I had my clothes, I had this big black coat that I would wear all the time. I got it at a vintage shop. But my style changes so much. I haven't been able to experiment for a long time. When the pandemic is over, ask me this question again!

Any favorite fashion brands at the moment?

I like to be on Depop and finding special pieces that I couldn't find anywhere else.

Now that your EP is out in the world, what are you looking forward to most this year?

My next EP, ha ha. I wanna make a good body of work and something I'm really, really proud of.

Photo:

Alex Hopper

WHO: renforshort

WHAT: A Toronto-based singer-songwriter captivating a legion of young listeners with her heartfelt and punchy pop-rock tracks. Lauren Isenberg—best known by her moniker renforshort—will take you straight back to your angsty years with her deeply relatable lyrics that speak to everything from succumbing to societal pressures and frustrations with social media to celebrating her friendships. Since releasing her debut album early last year, renforshort has been on the fast track. She was featured as the first artist on Samsung’s Music Galaxy Thursday spotlight, she landed a single (“I Drive Me Mad”) on the HBO Max coming-of-age series Generation, and her sophomore EP is coming this spring.    

WEAR: Uniform dressing with a nod to the ‘90s.

For people discovering you for the first time, how would you describe your music? What song of yours should they start with?

Guitar-forward alternative music with personal lyrics about mental health, relationships, and growing up. I would tell someone who’s new to me to start with “I Drive Me Mad.” It feels like the song that perfectly sums up the general vibe of most of my music.

Your debut EP Teenage Angst came out at the beginning of the pandemic. As an emerging artist, how did you overcome some of the challenges associated with quarantine? 

At the beginning of the pandemic, all I could think about was how my career would’ve been different if COVID hadn’t happened, and that energy was not good for me because I later realized everyone’s going through the same thing. If anything, I should be so fortunate for my position, but at the time, my first headline shows were announced, and it felt like the beginning of something special, and it almost felt like it all slowed down, which was hard for me to accept. I think spending this last year working on my music and career and really reflecting on who I want to be as an artist was such a positive and important thing for me to do. 

Your sophomore EP is set to release this spring. What can you tell us about this next chapter? 

This project is definitely more mature sonically and lyrically. Not that Teenage Angst wasn’t, because that project means the world to me, but there’s something about Off Saint Dominique that feels really special. There’s something in that project for everyone. I got to experiment with new sounds and concepts because I’ve learned a lot over the past two years about myself and what my music means to me and others. This next chapter is basically just growth and a new chapter of my life.

I’m sure all the songs on the EP are precious to you, but do you have a favorite? 

Sometimes, I think I have a favourite, but honestly, I can’t pick just one. I think that’s pretty awesome, especially for myself to really love what I’m putting out. I doubt what I make all the time. It’s hard for me to be in love with one of my songs, but I think I’m truly in love with all of these songs.

I love your music videos. What do you enjoy most about that creative process?

The creative process is so fun for me. I’ve always loved visual art and cinema, so it’s always a blast for me when we can start talking about videos. I think what I enjoy the most is getting to create this world and watch it come to life with really talented directors that help bring these visions to life all from my Pinterest mood boards.

How does fashion play a role in your artistry? 

Fashion has always been huge for me. It’s such a cool form of artistic expression that is so unique to one person. It really helps with the visuals. What I’m wearing in a video pretty much helps determine the setting, my character, my mood, etc. It’s one of the most important forms of artistic expression to me (besides music).

In terms of your personal style: What are you loving right now? Where do you look for inspiration, and where do you like to shop?

I mostly shop secondhand. I love finding designer vintage and even just oversize knit sweaters because that’s basically all I wear. My day-to-day look is an oversize, worn-in sweater with a miniskirt, black ripped tights, and boots. Most of my style is my shoes. I think shoes can bring any outfit together! My biggest style inspiration comes from Kurt Cobain and Pinterest—ha ha ha. Such an odd mix, but it kind of works. 

What would you say is a renforshort style signature?

Big boots and a sweater, for sure! It’s my favourite look, and it makes me feel confident and comfortable. Being comfortable is the most important to me.

What are you looking forward to most this year?

My EP to drop! I’ve never loved anything I’ve done like I love this! Aaaaaand hopefully touring. If it ends up coming back, I’ll be the happiest ever!

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