Since the 1980s, teen culture and pop culture have been synonymous. Now more than ever, these young, culturally aware people have the ability to influence the world around them, through social platforms, media exposure and an increased visibility.
The music world in particular has offered up impressive examples of talent breaking through before they’re even twenty years old. Right now, the 19-year-old Zara Larsson is dominating the charts with “So Good” from her first album, but her journey began aged just ten after winning Sweden’s Got Talent. Another example would be Lorde, who blew the world away with her single “Royals” in 2013 when she was 16-years-old, although she has been signed to Universal Music Group for four years by that point. What we’re saying is that there is plenty of good reason to predict other young artists showing promise through a viral song, an early record deal, even online cover songs, have a good chance of cresting sooner or later in the music industry.
Here we’ve selected twenty of our favourite artists and bands who also happen to be under the age of twenty, and who we believe are on the path for success.
Atlanta based artist Adam Alexander creates sparkling R&B gems as Demo Taped. The 18-year-old introduced himself over two years ago with the bouncy bops of his three-track Heart EP, which instantly sparked comparisons to Jai Paul due to his forward-thinking and explorative synth-heavy production style. Whilst the EP set the tone for what was to come, it was with official debut single “Game On” that Alexander’s artistry truly blossomed. Despite the glitchy, synthpop soundscape which gives the tracks a springy aesthetic, Demo Taped sings about his “internal conflict throughout the years” in that gorgeously smooth voice of his. The same goes for “Stay”, another dazzling R&B jam featuring the inexplicably serene vocals of newcomer Amber Mark, which dotes on the anxious fluttering that change brings. Ingeniously shrouding his emotions with such vibrant and colourful atmospherics is Demo Taped’s secret weapon – it’s what sets him apart from his contemporaries. - DS
Last year, the mermaid haired Au/Ra made her first appearance with “Concrete Jungle”, a shimmering piece of off-kilter pop that’s “about starting out in music and how challenging it is,” but also about the comparison between the bustling party city of Ibiza where the young artist was born and the Caribbean island Antigua where she grew up. With spitfire lyrics like “Cracks in the pavement, scorpions, abandoned retail emporiums. Amazon Prime, the new world power,” it’s clear that this 14-year-old songwriter is as culturally aware as she is talented. That tantalizing debut was recently followed up with “Kicks”, a bold and bassy twist on electronic-pop that celebrates difference and a joy for life. With two solid singles already unleashed and a long career ahead, you had best keep an eye out for Au/Ra. - HT
18-year-old Ama Lou is a force of minimalistic pop that leans on elements of electro-R&B, but remains unique in a genre currently crowded by dilettantes. Based in north London, her sound falls between her London counterparts: The xx and FKA twigs. Her breathy vocals and downcast instrumentation would make any The xx fan fall in love. On the other hand, stuttering hi-hats, ethereal pitched vocals, and experimental overtones hone in FKA twigs. In between the two, her music uniquely drives forward as an accessible-yet-challenging blend of music’s most trendy genres. Her most popular track, “TBC”, sounds like someone much, much older is singing it. Her voice is thick, full, and bruised by emotion. The production, sparse and forward, has elements of hip-hop and dance music — all while intoxicating vocal melodies lock you into the beat. With only three songs out, we will definitely be following AMA LOU very closely as her sound has already promised so much. - SF
Jakob Ogawa is one of the young artists changing a global perception of Norwegian music. It’s not pop or a synthetic iteration of the genre, but instead Ogawa’s indie-retro songwriting plays with lo-fi strings, nostalgic themes and certain amount of chillwave influence. His first off-kilter gem “You’ll Be On My Mind” was released in January 2016 via singles label Diamond Club, with a hazy production achieved in the young artist’s bedroom in Oslo that instantly sparked comparisons to Toro Y Moi. That debut also revealed a key influence in director Wong Kar-wai, as Ogawa explained: “His movies often reflect upon the yearning of love, and a lot of my music floats around this subject.” That sense of yearning is positively distinct of psychedelic slow dance track “All Your Love” and later through the lo-fi tidal strings of “Let It Pass”. At 19 years old, Jakob Ogawa’s three flawless singles are imbued with the heartache of late adolescence and the resigned attitude of someone entering their early twenties that things will never be simple. - HT
Cambridge-based singer-songwriter Tyne may only be 18-years-old, but she's already racked up plenty of experience in the music industry. Grace Sarah Shelly is behind this exciting new project. Having released her stripped-back minimalist pop under moniker Grace Sarah for a number of years she's played countless shows in her hometown, gained support from BBC Introducing and let rip for a breathtaking session for Burberry Acoustic. Now, Tyne marks Shelley's next steps. Her debut single “Somebodies Something” was released as part of 37 Adventures' Odd Numbers Volume 1 compilation and with new single “Girly” out in the coming weeks, the future looks exceedingly bright. - MK
In every song by this talented 18-year-old, you can hear the influence of music game changers from the past decade from King Krule to Frank Ocean. It’s no surprise that Tyler the Creator is a fan and Badbadnotgood wants to collaborate with this talented teen. Still, Rex Orange County (real name Alex O’Connor) can absolutely stand on his own. Not only can he play the drums, keys and guitar, Rex Orange County has a voice that draws in the emotions of the familiar while launching everyone into a lo-fi sounding audioscape of breezy summers and nostalgic emotions. This is especially evident in his song “Best Friend”, which has a mantra for lovers of all ages. - CY
18-year-old rapper Kodie Shane has been lauded by Pitchfork as “the fearless hip hop prodigy we need,” a hype shared across the Internet, in her home city of Atlanta, her Los Angeles hangout spot on Fairfax Avenue and by Epic Records who signed the talented teen. Last year, the label released Shane’s Zero Gravity EP, which exposed her impressive range from hazy Fetty-style rap in “Drip In My Walk” to heat-turned-up R&B of “Can You Handle It”. The EP even featured self-proclaimed “king of the teens” Lil Yachty who heads up the Sailing Team a crew of young talent, although it’s been repeatedly touted that Kodie Shane is the best of them. - HT
El Paso teenager Khalid creates glossy R&B packed with soulful inflections beyond his younger years. A voice for the youth, Khalid eloquently addresses topics such as insecurities, anxiety, depression and heartache through his poignant and honest songwriting. Then there’s that ever so vulnerable and utterly charming voice of his, its golden honeyed tones serving as the glue that binds everything together. It’s safe to say that Khalid has had a pretty busy past few months: he’s released his debut album American Teen which debuted in the Billboard Top 10, made his live television debut with a stunning performance of his breakout single “Location” on Jimmy Fallon and to top things off, featured on the mind-blowing surprise single “The Heart Part 4” by Kendrick Lamar. Having achieved all of this at just nineteen years old, to say that the future is bright for Khalid is unquestionable. - DS
An old soul occupies a young heart — giving wisdom, maturity, and insight to youth. Trapo, 18-year-old Wisconsin rapper, has an old soul, and it guides his music to somewhere darker than you’d expect for his age, but also bright with hope. His lo-fi hip-hop ranges from the bleak, AutoTune-sung “Cards & Conversation” to the buoyant dance march “Chicago”. His voice always seems to have some grit saturating its tone — whether it’s from distortion effects or his own soulful graveling. His voice will certainly remind you of Chance The Rapper for its timbre, but his lyrical content and mood flows through its own unique lane of storytelling, braggadocio, and dark confessions. In an interview with XXL Mag, Trapo said, “I approach music with my mind already set that I want to be a legend, I want to be icon.” It’s hard to argue that he isn’t already on his way with 18K followers on SoundCloud alone at such a young age. - SF
Here’s a young artist who first began cutting his teeth on the streets of Sydney as a busker. A natural route for many performers to build confidence, practice cover songs and even test their own material on a passing public, but get this, Taj Ralph started when he was just ten years old. Last year, the rising talent was picked up by rap-pop duo Horrorshow to feature on their motivational single “Push”. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the now 16-year-old musician recently release his debut single “Beat The Keeper”. The combination of breezy vocals, Internet-style hip-hop beats, warm guitars, and even a touch of contemporary R&B, has already been picked up by Aussie advocates Triple J Unearthed and is gradually picking up momentum with the online tastemakers too. Clearly not short of experience, the countenance between laidback choruses and fast-paced verses in ‘Beat The Keeper’ displays Ralph’s songwriting ability. A promising start indeed. - HT
Mallrat is the moniker of Brisbane-based teen sensation Grace Shaw. Aged 16, she released her debut single "Suicide Blonde" having been inspired to make music after seeing fellow Australian rapper Allday live. Last year Mallrat popped up on another rising Australian artist's single, serving up a fresh guest verse on E^ST's "Get Money!" that left us wanting more. Jump to 2017 and the forwarding-thinking vocalist has released her debut, Uninvited, which documents some of the struggles of growing up. The EP sees Shaw singing, rapping and talk-singing like both Uffie and Kesha have done before. Opener "Tokyo Drift" really shows the diversity this exciting artist has to offer and the title-track is killer combo of a catchy hook and electro-pop production. - MK
Billie Eilish took the music world by storm with her song “Ocean Eyes” when she was only 13-years-old. Co-written by her brother, Finneas O'Connell (who was also under twenty when he wrote the song), “Ocean Eyes” was meant to be a one-off collaboration for a dance class. Instead it brought chills to listeners all around the world, amassing over 30 million views on Soundcloud and Spotify. The success and draw of this Los Angeles teenager has been compared to Lorde, and it’s not simply down to her age. It’s in the way she composes herself with confidence on stage and her ability to see the world through the eyes of different characters outside of her own identity. Her soft yet transcendent voice transforms metaphors and words into feelings each listener has always had. Anyone who has been lucky enough to attend a live show has seen how enthralling her performance is. Now signed to Interscope Records, Eilish is preparing for her debut album and touring live. - CY
Bands form an integral part of highschool life: practicing in your parents’ garage, making bedroom recordings, going to your friend’s band’s single launch at the local pub. The results were pretty shoddy and short lived, but with new technology and an increased support for young creatives, for some collected teens the utopic goal of global success seems much more like. We really couldn’t have made a list of talent under twenties without Liss, the Danish band who scored a hat-trick with “Try”, “Always” and “Sorry”, the last of which was even covered by their country’s brightest export MØ and selected by Annie Mac for BBC Radio 1’s Hottest Record. Fronted by Søren Holm’s distinct vocal, Liss have become well known for their woozy Nordic soul as heard in their killer debut EP, First, now out via label home XL Recordings. - HT
It’s not often that an artist bursts on to the scene with a debut single that blows just about everybody away, but with “Blue Lights”, London’s Jorja Smith did just that. A brutally candid song which “questions why you should have a guilty conscience if you've done nothing wrong” and features a Dizzee Rascal sample; this track instantly showcased the teenager’s talents as a vocalist and songwriter. Fast forward a year, and the London songstress has delivered a classy EP in Project 11, came fourth in the BBC Sound of 2017 and most recently was tapped by Drake to feature on stand-out single “Get It Together” from his More Life playlist. To mark this year’s International Women’s Day Smith released “Beautiful Little Fools”, an empowering and soulful song commenting on the perception of beauty in modern society which serves as the perfect example as to why this London singer is such a special talent. - DS
In July 2012, Frank Ocean posted a letter on his Tumblr, announcing he had once been in love with a man. As part of the hyper-masculine crew Odd Future, he was surrounded by rappers whose lyrics often vilified gays. And while Frank Ocean isn’t exactly a rapper, he was one of the first high-profile artists in the hip-hop community to be accepted for his non-cisgender sexuality. Tobias for now, a 16-year-old rapper from Los Angeles, is redefining what it means to be LGBTQ within the hip-hop scene. Feeling like he didn’t fit the part, in an interview with NPR, Tobias for now said, “It felt like I was a white-boy parody of a rapper.” It’s true that he may not be your typical rapper in terms of his scrawny figure and melanin-free skin, but despite his appearance and sexuality being out of the hip-hop mainstream, his music transcends stereotypes. On his song, “Jumping”, his voice flows over wide, cloudy trap-meets-EDM beats that create his own atmospheric sound. Featuring a verse from Rome Fortune, the song glistens with gorgeous pitched-up vocals, swirling in beds of reverb and faraway drum samples. His sound could go so many different ways from here, and with his unique identity leading the way, we can’t wait to see what comes next. - SF
Sophie Dyson is the 16-year-old electronic pop wunderkind known as Sody, who makes relays the teen experience through fresh, vibrant and relatable pop tunes. Last year, the London singer-songwriter launched her aptly named debut Youth EP, which featured the Spotify Platinum single “Wasted Youth”, now over 1.5 million plays. With a fantastic start already under her belt, it’s no wonder that her 2107 release “Let Go” has received such high acclaim from blogs and mainstream publications alike who can’t deny that it’s a straight up banger. Oh yeah, and she’s also signed a deal with Universal Publishing Group, making one of the youngest artists on their roster. - HT
George van den Broek is Yellow Days, the 17-year-old singer, songwriter and producer who has been tipped for big things by anyone who's anyone in new music. Finding success with just a few demos to his name on Soundcloud, Yellow Days was quickly snapped up by Good Years and with a little work those demos formed his incredible debut EP, Harmless Melodies. Released at the back end of last year, Yellow Days' alternative-rock sound is completely self-crafted, his lyrics universal and his voice unmistakable. Latest single “Go Home” once again sees Yellow Days offer relatability in his songwriting, the track being written about a feeling rather than to tell a story. - MK
Another young artist opting to centre the music around emotion rather than other factors is H.E.R., who explained that “this project came from an emotion, and that's what I want it to be about – not what I look like or who I'm with, but the raw emotion and support for women.” While her social media presence is littered with shadowy, blue and black images, the secret has been out for a while now that H.E.R. is in fact Gabi Wilson, a previous singing and acting starlet who entered into the limelight aged just ten. Now nineteen, the New York-via-California talent has emerged with a seven-track debut, titled Volume 1, that showcases her luxurious R&B vocals backed by tight beats. It’s a mature, well pieced together take on the genre that will have Aaliyah fans swooning. With a deal already secured with RCA Records and a mysterious male counterpart in H.I.M., a second volume from the promising H.E.R. is sure to be something to look out for. - HT
Something must be in New Zealand’s water because singer, songwriter and producer Eddie Johnston, who performs under the moniker Lontalius, is one of the few artists under the age of twenty who has gained worldwide recognition. As early as 2014, the Internet praised Lontalius for his unique, sleepy covers of mainstream hip-hop songs from Drake’s “Trophies” to Nicki Minaj’s “Pills N Potions”. He also transformed that up-beat Pharrell Williams song into two minutes of pensive meditation about happiness. When it comes to making his own tunes, Lontalius did not disappoint either. He kept to his dreamy tunes and reflective lyrics, strengthening his skills for his debut album I’ll Forget 17. The atmospheric production conveys the frustrations of relationships, finding your own identity and adulthood perfectly. - CY
We’re making a slight exception for Gothenburg band Agent blå, whose members have an age range of seventeen to twenty years. In 2015, the Swedish five-piece gave us their first taste of self-style death pop with “Strand”, an urgent number with flecks of shoegaze and indie-pop. Until recently, their release rate has been slow and steady with only one track in 2016. However, newest single “Rote Learning” has sparked the motion for change with an announcement of the band’s debut album Agent Blue, out July 9th via Kanine/Luxury. According the lead vocalist Emelie Alatalo, “The songs on Agent Blue are about bad parties and waiting for them to be over, and relationships, toxic friendship and young love.” - HT