What do a feisty R&B singer, a fierce trio of women, and a Nigerian highlife band have in common? They're just three of the newcomers that EW predicts will break out in 2017. Get to know the artists below.
While many college students don't think seriously about a career until they’re seniors, Cari Fletcher's was already blowing up by her final year at NYU: In 2015, "War Paint" topped Spotify's U.S. viral chart, but instead of dropping out to pursue a record deal, the artist (who performs as FLETCHER) finished her education and continued releasing music independently. "I was still figuring myself out as an artist," says the 22-year-old, whose 2016 EP, Finding Fletcher, put an electro-pop sheen on the story-focused songwriting she'd honed during a stint in Nashville. Next up: a debut full-length, which she hopes to release in 2017.
Sampha Sisay, born in Sierra Leone and raised in Britain, has collaborated with superstars like Drake and Kanye West, yet it was his own tune, the soul-stirring R&B anthem "Blood on Me," that took off in 2016, scoring more than 3 million Spotify streams. No one was as surprised as Sampha -himself: "I felt like it was more aggressive than what I usually do," says the 28-year-old. So on his debut LP, Process (due Feb. 3), he's dialing down that intensity for a sound that’s in line with his introversion. "I have all these -insecurities," he says with a laugh. "But I listened to [the record again] and realized that feeling of anxiety and self-deprecation is the feeling I'm expressing in my music. I empathized with myself."
The lush folk sound of 1960s Laurel Canyon gets a reboot with this Texas trio, featuring longtime buds Mark Wystrach (the 37-year-old lead singer and a former Calvin Klein model!), guitarist Jess Carson, 37, and bassist Cameron Duddy, 31. After forming in 2014, the band's first recording session didn't go as smoothly as you’d expect. "There were a few fights—a few choke-outs," says Wystrach. "But halfway through that week there was a clear chemistry between the three of us and a real joy about what we were doing." That uplifting vibe shines through their debut EP, which mixes Nashville twang with robust, Eagles-style harmonies; a full-length album, released on Taylor Swift's label Big Machine, is expected this year. Says Wystrach, “We’re just excited to be making music that's emanating from our heart and our souls."
When this trio started jamming as college students in 2013, they didn't know what kind of music they'd create. "Josette [Maskin, 22] comes from a more progressive-rock background, and Naomi [McPherson, 24] grew up in a jazz family," says frontwoman Katie Gavin, 24. "So I think they were surprised when I was like, 'Oh, we made pop music.'" But the band, who produced their upcoming debut, About U, are using their '80s-inspired tunes to tackle topics rarely found on the Top 40: "Loudspeaker" explores the aftermath of sexual abuse, while "I Know a Place" is a rallying cry for the LGBT community. (All three women identify as queer.) "If I'm going to try and get stuck in somebody’s head," Gavin says, "I hope it can be something that's going to help their life."
Soul, hip-hop, drum and bass: The music of the 31-year-old Brit Rory Graham, better known as Rag'n'Bone Man, has many flavors. "I didn't want to sound like B.B. King over a Pete Rock hip-hop beat," he says when explaining how he fused his love of the blues with contemporary rap and neo-soul. Thankfully, Graham avoided the pastiche he feared, and to rousing effect: His single "Human" hit No. 1 in 27 countries last year. "It's kind of mad, really," says Graham, whose debut album, also called Human, arrives Feb. 10. “All the dudes in [airport] security in Hamburg were like, 'Yo, we love your song!' "