Pop Goes the Theory:
The Rise and Rule of the Female Solo Artist (Part One)
THIS will be, like so many others, a feature I intend to extend across…
PHOTO CREDIT: Josh Shinner
a few editions. Last year, I was amazed by some rather wonderful female solo artists. Billie Marten, who I will bring back into this feature, was my standout: creating the majestic Writing of Blues and Yellows and still scurrying around my brain without any desire to relinquish its tenancy. I shall leave her until last because I wanted to select a few other artists worth watching – from mainstream-approved stars to some upcoming sensations. Jones (or ‘JONES’) is the moniker of Cherie Jones-Mattis and is housed on the 37 Adventures Records label. The Alternative-Pop singer-songwriter arrived in music in 2015: her extend play, Indulge, was named after her debut single and showed her to be one of the most promising young artists around. New Skin is her debut album and has drawn comparisons with the likes of Lykke Li and Yukimi Nagano. She teamed up with Shy Luv on the new single, Shock Horror! You can watch the video with Karma Kid and see just what all the fuss is about.
The London-based musician has a big future ahead and is an artist I’m tipping for great things. I have read interviews she’s conducted and (Jones) comes across as honest, earnest and open.
Last year, she amassed huge followers on social media and wracked up an impressive amount of Spotify plays. 2017 looks set to be even more exciting as she has the task of following up New Skin. I cannot wait to see where she goes and just how far she will progress.
Izzy Bizu is an artist that I have been following a while and another unique and fantastic talent. She was labelled BBC Introducing’s standout of 2016 and rightfully so.
A Moment of Madness is her debut album (released last year) and boasts a cavalcade of bright and hopeful songs. We all heard White Tiger do the rounds on radio and T.V. Bizu was shortlisted in BBC’s ‘Sound of…’ 2016 poll and saw her introductory L.P. score impassioned reviews and common praise.
Sometimes sharp-tongued; the young Londoner is a peppy and chatty woman who can never be accused of being ordinary and unspectacular. She is not your average Pop/Soul star for sure. She is warm and welcoming but has that distinct Landaan accent. Relocating to south-west London after spending her childhood in Ethiopia, her mother’s homeland, and Bahrain – where her father was working at the time. By her teens, she was sneaking into clubs and fell into a typical teenager lifestyle. There is still evidence of that now – occasionally boozy trips abroad – but Bizu has the discipline and attitude to succeed and remain. If her debut album has too many hints of Amy Winehouse, her songwriting and backstory hardly compares with the great, late legend. In fact, there is something cosmopolitan, town-straddling and ethereal about Bizu. Her music looks at love, regrets and fuc**** up but is very much her own voice.
Jorja Smith found herself included on BBC’s ‘Sound of…’ 2017 and was one of a host of female artists tipped for greatness. Maggie Rogers – someone I will include in a future edition – but does not possess the same magic and mystique as Smith. The Walsall-based teenager is just starting her career but all the signs look promising. After sampling Dizzee Rascal’s Sirens – for her standout track, Blue Lights – she got the thumbs-up from the Grime master. Her confidence, songwriting expertise and authority are already there – keep your eyes in her direction. I know Smith has a lot of attention on her shoulders and is being tipped for greatness. That acclaim might be the ruination of anyone trying to find their voice and create their first moments. Smith has been making music for years and has a great support network around her – her family are especially supportive of her career. I, for one, am eager to see where Jorja Smith heads this year. I suspect an album will arrive but she is busy performing and interviewing.
The hype is still there but she remains cool and settled. Of all the names that appeared on BBC’s shortlist of names to watch this year; there will be few that can match the sheer promise and vibrancy of Smith.
Her songwriting and voice have that extra edge and nuance. I feel she will remain for many years and continue to create album after album of exceptional work. Not to suggest BBC got their rankings wrong but always put a bet on the outsider. Jorja Smith is a smart, relatable and multi-talented artist whose fascinating career has only just begun.
PHOTO CREDIT: ED HARDY X Illustrated People Shop
All the names above are relatively established or have made their way to the precipice of the mainstream. In future editions, I will look at artists like JAIN and Lula James but am keen to highlight some underground, unsigned musicians that are doing wonderful things. London-based Lola Coca is one of my favourite current act and someone who always brings the good. She is a colourful, bright and vivacious human who is always dressed in eye-catching clothes and has an infectious personality. She has street smarts and attitude but a vulnerability and keen wit; an intellect and passion for music that few others possess.
Bad Girlfriend was the song that put her on the map as it were. A track still talked about and played: a masterful, commanding song that looked at boys wanting only one thing for their birthday – you might not have to use your imagination to figure it out.
Blending Ska, Reggae and Pop together with R&B; you get sweet-leaf hang and island percussion alongside whip-smart beats and hazy electronics. It is the vocals that get to me and really stand out. Lola Coca is a fantastic songwriter whose lyrics are truly memorable and humorous. That vocal dominates and shows such cool, verve and attitude. Whether negotiating sleazy businessmen (GQ) or oral sex-fixated boyfriends (Bad Girlfriend); she is always-in-control and hypnotic. Latest single Ego is, perhaps, her most assured and layered song. It builds off her previous work and proves she means business. Her first headline show will happen on 20th February at Camden Assembly and you can still book a ticket. I know this year will be the finest from Lola Coca and one where she goes from underground hero to a stone-cold radio fixture – someone dominating the airwaves.
PHOTO CREDIT: Anna Urik
MissDefiant are another London act who are unlike any other duo out there.
Jordan Cather and Emily Rose Adams take a bit of Lady Gaga and Madonna and fuse it with a world of variegation and energy. Their songs always convey important messages but never in a dour and overly-serious way.
I have followed their careers for a while and know they’re another act that will go far. They play Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen on the first of next month. I suggest you get down there and see the girls in the flesh. If you hanker for a duo that combines the best aspects of 1980s Pop with modern-day Electro.-Pop and Soul then you should not deny yourself the chance to hear the girls. 133t is an instantly memorable song with incredible production values whilst Calculator, their latest release, is as memorable, ear-lodging and fresh as songs come. There is never a sense the girls are following anyone else’s footsteps and trying to conform to expectations. They make their own music and follow their own intuitions. It is no surprise they have amassed a serious following and have some loyal fans following them. Competition out there is fierce and I know Cather and Adams will handle everything with aplomb and conviction. You fall for their music but get hooked by their varied and strong songwriting; the way they can shift themes and subjects without losing that singularity and focus. They are no throwaway Pop act – that talk of love and relationship woes endlessly – but a very serious duo capable of igniting the dancefloor. Their live performances are fantastic and they are indispensable in modern music.
My penultimate artist is another London-based singer – I shall come to look at more international artists in the next part. At the initial stages of her career, she is fighting to be taken seriously and avoid the pitfalls of her peers. Newspapers are linking her with Harry Styles and whether they are dating: it takes focus from her music and reduces her to tabloid fodder. That is the gamble every young Pop star takes when they enter the scene. The press will always be on their back and I hope Dua Lipa overcomes the hurdles and can shake off the paparazzi. She has just teamed up with Martin Garrix on his latest track, Scared to Be Lonely. In fact, Dua Lipa can sit alongside any other artist and fit into their fold. Her voice and adaptability mean there will be many requests from other acts.
Right now, songs like Hotter than Hell and Blow Your Mind (Mwah) show she is a young lady with a serious amount of talent. Her songs are sexy, sweaty and suggestive but there is never a crude edge or anything approaching crass.
There is tease and suggestiveness together with a boot-load of passion and power. The young artist has very little time to rest and relax through this year. She is busy speaking with magazines, recording new material and preparing her forthcoming debut album in June. The eponymous record sees her co-write every track and brings together new tracks with some of her older material. Dua Lipa is off to the U.S. to tour there soon (having played there last year) and has already created a huge fanbase over there. Despite the fact she has not yet released her debut album – but has that demand from America – is quite frightening and impressive. If she can dodge relationship rumours and stay focused on the music she will be one of the most talked-about (for the right reasons) acts of this year.
PHOTO CREDIT: Victor De Jesus
Because it is 2017 (and promised I would wait until this year to mention her again), I am including Billie Marten in this run-down. She created my favourite album of last year (Writing of Blues and Yellows) and remains a British treasure. The Ripon-based teenager had a frantic and busy year (in 2016) and is taking the time to record new material and plan her moves. She balances study with recording and has some tough questions ahead. I know Marten is working on new songs and taking some time out.
It will be hard following up an album like Writing of Blues and Yellows which remains an absolute work of wonder. I could not believe, when I reviewed the record, just how mature, accomplished and nuanced it was.
I am still listening to the album months after its release. Songs lodge in the mind and do not let go. I try to unravel the complexities of songs like Emily and Unaware but struggle to make sense. The entire record stems from a young woman who grew up listening to the right influences. As a Folk artist, she always ran the risk of being lumped in with the less inspired, more boring options available. It only takes a few seconds of her music to realise she is a very special artist. It is that voice that rules and swoons; it swims and seduces as it pleases. I look forward to following Marten’s career and throwing as much support behind it as possible. She is someone who will be a huge star in future years and, already, is a staggering songwriter with very few peers and equals.
It is clear there is some immense female talent out there and I cannot wait to see the best and brightest shine. I have just tipped the iceberg but will continue to pull together artists you need to watch. Those I have include today are all doing great work and will continue that throughout 2017. From BBC Introducing's Izzy Bizu to Billie Marten; there is a wealth of female talent around. They often get overlooked in favour of their male peers and are not afforded the same opportunities. Surely that will change because, as you can see, there are so many fantastic artists around right now. Have a look around and discover the true extent...
OF music's brightest female talent.