If you map out music’s existing pop landscape, there’s a serious lack of male tastemakers who pump out lasting hits with a glossy package like legends Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley. Where singers like Madonna and Lady Gaga have built a legacy on larger-than-life arena shows, dramatic music videos and provocative fashion statements, we can’t help but recognize the deficiency of men who’ve offered the same addictive appeal throughout the past year.
Sure, Sam Smith has somehow attracted an impressive following, but his bland, sludgy aesthetic is sure to lose steam eventually; Justin Bieber’s esteem relies more on his viral shirtless photos than any laudable musical contributions; Kanye West is arguably the closest thing we have to a modern-day “King of Pop,” but his monarchy feels like a monopoly—desperate for someone, anyone to rise to his level and add in some healthy competition. Pop is sodden not only with the likes of Madge and Mother Monster, but also Katy Perry, Kesha, Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, (etc. etc. etc.)
With that in mind, we’ve selected our favorite up-and-coming male artists, all worthy of filling pop’s void in 2015. Pop needs a new male face and these are the freshest contenders.
The androgynous Vegas-based crooner offers something lighthearted and bubbly to the pop sphere. He announced just yesterday the arrival of his forthcoming debut album, Ratchet, which will be available May 18 on XL Recordings. “Music is not sacred; music is for everybody,” writes Shamir on his Tumblr press release. “Genre is a tool, not a boundary. It doesn’t matter what you sound like, you just have to be you.” Having been raised in a post-Born This Way environment, Shamir represents an inclusive chapter in music—one that welcomes his beautiful breed of glimmering genderless glory.
TC Milan is the lead vocalist for two stellar New York-based outfits: Avan Lava, which is currently on tour to promote a forthcoming EP titled Make It Real, plays with more house-heavy pop sounds, while Romance explores a lo-fi, late ’90s attitude. Regardless of which band he’s leading, Milan never fails to deliver with killer vocals and high-octane live performances. Though he’s been limited mostly to small club stages, Milan’s talent is built for arenas—begging for shows with a Madonna-level budget. Avan Lava’s latest single, “Wanna Live” is hands down the best track of 2015 so far.
LA-based singer/songwriter Marion Belle is a rising force in music that thoughtfully considers his project’s entire package, and at a level that’s rare for independent artists on a slim budget. In his nostalgic “Thug Youth” music video, directed by girlfriend Abigail Briley, Belle is pictured in bold red lips, sailing blithely through the Aeolian Islands off Sicily. The clip currently sits at just over 1,000 views—a crime, considering just how spectacular the Briley-directed film really is. Belle recalls an ’80s sonic space with this project, like a one-off cassette tape you’d find in a dusty record store bin—amazing.
A seductive fusion of Sade and Prince, LA-based singer/producer Harriet Brown is absolutely undeniable. His most recent release, “20/15,” grooves with a funky finesse and campy lyrics that could easily find a comfortable home among Prince’s dense discography. “I ain’t no doctor girl, but I’d give you a full checkup for free,” coos Brown on the single, bringing to mind something Prince might’ve wailed on, “Little Red Corvette.” With a full-length album in the works, Brown’s career is certainly on the rise.
“You and I getting contact high off each other; we could get lost in-between my sheets,” sings 21-year-old Brayton Bowman on the Here | Now track, “Runaway.” Bowman’s confident, robust vocals are beyond his years, and the production on his debut EP is wonderfully fresh. He’s taken a Mark Ronson approach to music, playing with elements of ’70s funk, but given the throwback sound a more polished, electric edge. It’s rare to see someone so new, deliver something with such a distinct aesthetic—we’re here for it 100%.
St. Paul rapper Allan Kingdom has already had a life-changing year, having landed a feature on Kanye West’s new single, “All Day,” featuring Theophilus London. Before making his world debut on the Brit Awards stage during West’s riotous performance, Kingdom was the underground, matchless emcee with a vision for success so strong, it had no choice but to become reality. In the sea of rappers all churning out the same sound, Kingdom’s style is like none other with wobbling vocals and organic production that only he can pull off. This is without a doubt Kingdom’s year to finally shine.
America always sleeps on the freshest European artists and 20-year-old MNEK is no exception. The London-based singer has attracted a substantial following overseas, but he’s unfortunately been a slow grower in the states. Sam Smith faced a similar hurdle before finally breaking through to American radio with his infectious Disclosure collaboration, “Latch.” Because MNEK is already equipped with overflowing talent and a memorable image, maybe he simply needs to work with a celebrity producer before catapulting to pop star status.
London-based crooner Shivum Sharma creates dreamy, ethereal soundscapes subtly evocative of FKA Twigs. Sharma’s echoic vocals add a dynamic layer to his subdued production with beautifully tender melodies and strikingly honest lyrics. We’d love to see him perform a live show with a full pit orchestra, Björk’s otherworldly production team and a giant, billowing fog machine—that’d be pure magic.