If there’s one thing Adele has reminded us in the last two years, it’s that pop listeners aren’t all mindless receptacles of EDM. We like good lyrics that we can relate to, songs with fully developed verses and choruses, and, oh yes, someone who can actually sing live, without pitch correction.
Unfortunately, it looks as if Ms. Adkins will be on hiatus for a considerable length of time, busy raising her baby boy amidst rumors that she’s heading back to the studio. Her contemporaries are few and far between: Amy Winehouse left us too soon, while Duffy and Pixie Lott both hit the sophomore slump. For listeners aching to hear blues-inflected female pop, Florence Welch and Rebecca Ferguson are currently the closest matches.
You wouldn’t expect to see Hollywood Records, a subsidiary of Disney Music Group, on a list of record companies where Adele’s audience would find an interim substitute, but it is indeed there where fans should cast their attention, to singer-songwriter ZZ Ward.
Though she shares the same label as Selena Gomez and Bridgit Mendler, all similarities end there. Having grown up listening to blues and hip-hop, and sung in bands since she was 12, ZZ’s musical chops and experience shine through on songs like “Put the Gun Down”, the single from her debut album Til the Casket Drops.
There’s no mistaking the influence of artists like Etta James as soon as ZZ opens her mouth. As she pleads to the vixen wrecking her happy home, her voice alternates effortlessly between seething contempt and a cry for help.
The vocal similarities to Adele are surely one of the reasons why ZZ has an album out without any charting trailer singles; the other reason is probably her stunning looks. When scrutinized in direct comparison, Ms. Ward’s vocals are less pop and more gritty than the pipes that power through “Rolling in the Deep”; this also perhaps explains the former’s lack of hits so far.
Much like Ms. Adkins, ZZ sings with weight and pain that sound far more mature than her young age. She breaks no sweat switching from righteousness to heartbreak in her delivery, and she also has a vocal affectation of bending her vowel at the end of phrases, just like Adele. Most importantly, both share the ability to make you believe every word they sing.
The voice, the songs, the looks: ZZ Ward’s got the whole package. There really isn’t any reason why she shouldn’t be the next big thing in pop.