Pandora’s Box is officially open in our TikTok crazed, ever-evolving music industry. In the absence of live music, artists have been connecting with their fans on socials more than ever before. But has the pendulum swung too far? Is art taking a back seat to influence?
In this year’s list — we distinguish the risk-taker from the attention seeker, and highlight the cultural impact that they have made. We touch on the complexities of artists navigating a social-first world, and ask: “Now that you have your audience, what do you stand for?”
Yebba is authentically herself, raw and real selfies and all; her unique personality and talents were obvious enough to none other than Drake himself, featuring her on “Yebba’s Heartbreak” the 11th track on his album Certified Lover Boy. Dawn (produced by Mark Ronson), her debut album honoring the memory of her mother as well as her own life experiences, was just released this year but is setting the stage for Yebba’s soulful and distinctive talents to carry her throughout the years.
9: TAYLOR SWIFT
Taylor Swift has proven, yet again, that no one knows their fan base like she knows the Swifties; “All Too Well” (10 Minute Version) is now the longest song to ever go No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart (previously held by Don McLean’s “American Pie” [8:42]). Her re-releases are sparking new conversations (again) about the ‘rules’ artists believe they should follow and how defying the status quo has allowed her to be just as successful 15 years on from her first single.
8: BABY KEEM
As easy as it could have been to come out sirens blaring and lights flashing, letting people know he is the cousin of none other than Kendrick Lamar, Baby Keem chose to establish himself on the credibility of his own artistry with The Melodic Blue. His live performances and genuine talent give people little room for skepticism about his artistic abilities within his own right.
One of the most outspoken artists right now, IDK (short for Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge), launched a tuition-free 10-day music business seminar to teach young adults about pursuing careers in the industry and even partnered with Credit Karma to help teach young adults about financial literacy.
6: ICE NINE KILLS
With an undying commitment to fan engagement with the art and their distinctive narrative, Ice Nine Kills managed to bring their cult-like fan base into their very own horror-drenched universe that is Welcome To Horrorwood: The Silver Scream 2 in every music video, monthly merch drop and intricate attention to detail.
5: REMI WOLF
One look at Remi Wolf‘s digital footprint and it is simple to see how her aesthetic is the quintessential moodboard of Gen Z kids. 2021 saw Remi Wolf’s first full-length release, Juno, in October leaving fans and big name brands (like Apple) enthralled with her effortlessly cool style and artistic vision.
WILLOW proved this year through her genre blending and unique sonic lane that she is not one to shy away from taking risks as is most recognizable in her side project THE ANXIETY with Tyler Cole that produced the TikTok hit, “Meet Me At Our Spot” that no one could get out of their heads for weeks.
3: OLIVIA RODRIGO
At one point this year, “Drivers License” seemed to be the only song available for anyone to hear, and yet Olivia Rodrigo‘s authenticity paired with genuinely great pop music has given fans a reason to keep it on replay all year, relentlessly loving her music and storytelling. The fan-to-artist connection was at the forefront of everything Olivia did, proving that with good social narratives and authentic engagement, artists have the ability to defy the common comedown we see after uber successful singles.
2: DOJA CAT
Doja Cat has simultaneously mastered pop stardom and meme culture with hit records like “Kiss Me More” feat. SZA and her hilariously weird TikTok presence. Even appearing in an episode of Lil Dicky’s show, Dave, Doja Cat has managed to place herself in various pockets of pop culture so much so that she surpassed Drake as the most streamed rapper in 2021. $10 if you had that on your 2021 bingo card.
1: LIL NAS X
Throughout the campaign for his debut album MONTERO, Lil Nas X flawlessly executed one of, if not the most entertaining and successful marketing plans in recent pop culture. With lawsuits, fake court hearings, countless TikTok trends and hits, powerful imagery of embracing his sexuality and trolling trolls on Twitter like no one else can, Lil Nas X managed to captivate fans and critics alike, solidifying himself as an icon for years to come.
Daft Punk, a French electronic duo, announced in February of this year that the duo was breaking up after almost 30 years together. Since 1993 the group had been creating house and electronic music resulting in 6 Grammy awards, countless prolific collaborations, and an almost insurmountable range of influence on artist brands that will live beyond just their music.
Whether you were familiar with her or not, SOPHIE’s influence on the modern pop scene, specifically in the hyperpop genre, is heard far and wide. The Scottish musician created a whole new sound for artists like Vince Staples, Charli XCX, and Flume just to name a few and her influence won’t soon be forgotten.
TIKTOK (DONE RIGHT)
Tai Verdes is an artist who you can’t help but root for; he really is the first of his kind, the TikTok creator turned legitimate artist during the pandemic and solely based on social engagement. His virality, supported by his endearing personality, propelled the R&B/soul singer-songwriter into stardom, landing him a slot at Lollapalooza in Chicago this year, a record deal, and his first Billboard Hot 100 hit.
Celebrating the 3rd anniversary of his album Ultraviolet, 3lau singlehanddely raked in the largest-ever music NFT sale to date, with a mind boggling $11.7 million in profits as well as setting the record for the expensive music NFT ever sold in an initial offering ($3.6 million). In light of this success, 3lau has launched his own company to help other artists get in on the NFT game.
JESSE MCCARTNEY’S MUSTACHE
Jesse McCartney successfully leveraged his teen heartthrob persona by way of making a statement with his facial hair this year: a mustache–something fans had never seen on him before. This stark contrast to his typical clean cut, classic aesthetic paved the perfect path for Jesse to create, arguably, his most edgy music video to date for “Kiss The World Goodbye” and for fans to view him as the adult version of the pop star they have known and loved for all these years.
Think we missed the mark this year? Let us know. You can also check out our top brands from previous years below.