11 rising alternative artists who fine-tuned their sound this past year
Nobody must long for blinding stage lights and sweaty mosh pitters more than musicians. To stand onstage and perform is more than a means for a living. It’s therapy, a chance for artists to bond with a couple dozen or a couple thousand people.
An album plus a tour is the music industry’s most basic equation. A deadly virus erased half of it. With more time on their hands, artists put pen to paper and crammed recording studios to keep fans close while they socially distanced.
An endless list of excellent alternative songs from rising artists dropped during the pandemic keeping the spirit of music alive as well as connecting fans from a distance. To say that it’s been exciting to watch rising artists earn more listens on streaming platforms while continuing to engage with fans on social media would be an understatement.
Aim High released their first EP approximately two months before the world went into an indefinite lockdown. Rather than let their hard work go to waste, the South Carolina natives invested in collabs with fast risers Belmont, safehold and the Home Team to boost their audience. But it’s their recent track “Home Is Where The Hea(r)t Is” featuring veterans Sleeping With Sirens and Like Pacific that erupted on Spotify. Muddled in a crowded field of young, talented pop-punkers a few months ago, Aim High now stand out amongst the crowd.
Perhaps the year’s greatest breakout song would have to be Powfu’s collab with beabadoobee, “death bed (coffee for your head).” The soothing single owned the alternative airwaves while infiltrating countless playlists. Perfect for the moment, the track tailors to couples quarantined together with little to do but get out of bed, pour a cup of morning coffee and work remotely. beabadoobee and Powfu’s masterpiece will thrive beyond COVID-19 and forever remind us of the simple life we returned to during an incredibly challenging year.
After multiple successful covers and experimental tracks in the late 2010s, the Boston natives released their most ambitious project in the middle of the pandemic. October Forever is a punk album at its core but blends elements of pop and hip-hop with varying vocal patterns and chord progressions. If Machine Gun Kelly’s style is pop punk’s future, Driveways fit right in. The band established their sound and will undoubtedly build off of an album that has no weak spots.
Olivia Rodrigo recently turned heads and skyrocketed on airwaves with her eerie debut single, “deja vu.” The popular song, which has been compared to Billie Eilish and received the stamp of approval from Taylor Swift, romanticizes something as simple as getting your driver’s license to young love and heartbreak. Already a household name due to her work on Disney’s High School Musical: The Musical, Rodrigo emerged as an undoubtable mainstay during the pandemic.
FigureItOut morphed into a song-creating machine over the last year. “Endless Nights” rivaled any pop-punk track released in 2020. It highlighted FigureItOut’s loaded debut album, Searching For More, which also dropped in 2020. Additionally, the artist released an outstanding cover of the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside.” Dare we say, his cover of “Closer” and “Without Me” might be better than the originals?
KennyHoopla may have been alternative music’s fastest rising artist over the last year. Early on, he earned attention through the Travis Barker collab “ESTELLA//,” which continues to earn radio spins. But his collaboration with grandson, “lost cause//” hit, and how will i rest in peace if I’m buried by a highway?// is one of the more innovative EPs in recent memory. The Cleveland native is set to head out on tour with fellow hometown musician Machine Gun Kelly at the end of 2021.
Meet Me @ The Altar
Meet Me @ The Altar no longer need an introduction, at least among pop-punk fans. Near the pandemic’s onset, the trio were tweeting Hayley Williams. Now, they might be the most exciting group to happen to pop punk since Paramore. Explosive tracks such as “Garden” and “Hit Like A Girl” came naturally to the trio. Yet, it feels like the band have always been confident about their sound. Apparently, it took a pandemic for the music world to finally pay attention. And trust us, they have our attention.
Ayoni’s “Unmoved (A Black Woman Truth)” did more than capture the emotional essence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. Ayoni’s stop-you-in-your-tracks voice acted as a welcome mat for allies to enter the fray. “Please make me feel you care my ally/But are you prepared to/To lose your sleep/To bare your teeth/To break like me,” the song goes. That song, like so many of Ayoni’s others, would cut to the core even if sung by an average vocalist. Ayoni entered the pandemic as an outrageously talented artist and will leave as a spark plug for change.
Goalkeeper are pure Philadelphia pop punk, beginning as goofy songwriters whose tracks centered on beer pong and leftovers (admittedly two of the universe’s greatest creations). Like many of their fore-punkers, they found success in 2018 with an undeniably catchy hit, “Sunshine.” With a growing listener gallery, Goalkeeper tweaked their tone and dropped the excellent EP Life In Slow Motion during the pandemic. It hits an appropriate, mostly serious note for 2020 without sacrificing that youthful bounce fans loved about their early work. The tone establishes Goalkeeper as a key cog in a possible pop-punk revival.
The North Carolina, lo-fi alt band watched as listeners binged their first three songs (“Cotton Candy,” “Fresh Air,” “Hypnotized”), all released in 2019. They didn’t need a major tour or festival to build a fanbase. With positive feedback to the tune of more than 400,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, Weston Estate clearly know what works. This emerging group understand their sound and are ready to deliver.
Pop rock’s TikTok star blossomed in 2020, pumping out a pair of popular tracks to the tune of millions of online streams. “Dress” resonated on the social media site as a gorgeously packaged critique of archaic gender norms. What’s most impressive is how casually Charlotte Sands raises a middle finger, nonchalantly blowing up close-minded views like they are the hospital and she’s the Joker in The Dark Knight. Progress takes so much grind, yet Sands makes world-changing appear easy. She found her sound, her style and possibly her purpose during the pandemic.
What rising artists have you been listening to the most? Let us know in the comments below.