The best new artists of 2016 mash up genre dividers and take popular music in new and exciting directions.
20 - 16
In his 1962 travel memoir, Steinbeck once wrote, "A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike... we find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us." This sentiment is the core essence of Auckland-based Leisure, a quintet fueled by the desire to make good music and live within the moment. The groove-centric New Zealand collective of Tom Young, Jaden Parkes, Jordan Arts, Djeisan Suskov and Josh Fountain never set out to form a band; it instinctually emerged from the fruits of their creative labor. Despite possessing wildly disparate musical personalities, Leisure has gone on to deliver one of the most gorgeous, cohesive debuts of any year in recent memory.
Leisure is the sound of sunset champagne toasts, late night clubland romps, and retro-chic, poolside pleasures, a selection of songs that sound like a greatest hits collection. From the lounge-like swagger of opener "Got It Bad", the Tame Impala-esque groove of "Hot Love", and the ebullient, disco-kissed "Take It to the Top", there isn't a duff track in the lot. The highlights are innumerable, but cuts like the deliciously woozy "Nobody" with Gold Link, and the slinky "Moonbeam", with a bassline to die for, display a seasoned maturity that belies the infancy of the electro-soul outfit. Leisure is a debut that delivers on the promise of its exceptional promotional singles and proves the industry hype machine is not always selling us a lie. -- Ryan Lathan
19. Kate Tempest
Those who mix in different circles may argue that Kate Tempest is not in fact a new artist. The English wordsmith has already earned a reputation as one of the premier poets and playwrights of our time, however, not until the release of her second album in October has she genuinely been able to add musician to her list of credentials. Tempest's Let Them Eat Chaos, with its politically focused themes, is a concise retrospective of an ideology gone mad. Armed with minimalistic sounds and articulate verse, Tempest wrestles with capitalism, consumerism and the fabrics of our Western world from the beginning of the record. Her examination is both fully realized and innovative, giving a face to the performance poetry genre with her emotive style of delivery. At the same time, Tempest walks the line between accessible and confronting with grace and daring. With any luck, she will continue to do so in the years to come. -- Jasper Bruce
The Los Angeles-based trio KING -- twin sisters Amber and Paris Strother, and Anita Bias -- has been on the rise for about five years, but 2016 was when they really stepped into the spotlight. Their fascinating debut album We Are KING is a dreamy take on the smoother side of '90s R&B. They're taking quiet-storm vibes and turning them into a slightly strange, always-gorgeous trip, with harmony as their base and vintage analog synthesizers as the dressing. Many of the songs on their debut are love songs, in their essence, but with a daydreaming quality. Yet what might seem like a love song may also turn out to be something else, like a tribute to Muhammad Ali ("The Greatest"), a sign that their view of love runs broad and deep. -- Dave Heaton
17. Lil Yachty
The new school of style-over-substance rappers reached peak meme in 2016, but before Lil Uzi Vert and 21 Savage had their fair share of radio smashes there was a neat little project making its way to the forefront of Soundcloud called Lil Boat. In addition to being one of 2016's most reliable consistent carefree rap releases, Lil Boat introduced one of rap's most divisive characters: Lil Yachty. You either shivered with disgust at the sound of his auto-tuned warbles, ranted about his lack of awareness and technical skill, or you embraced the fact that rap was in need of a smirking, attractive product like him, even if you could still cringe at his hilariously disjointed tracks and lyrics that were prime bait for Supreme-wearing fuccbois to chant amidst the halls of their New York City private schools. Either way, Lil Yachty was a sensation, and even when he attained massive mainstream recognition with D.R.A.M.'s "Broccoli", he was still the "king of the teens", young as fuck and rich as hell, with a sound and look that remained infuriatingly fresh. -- Max Totsky
Although Karen Marie Aagaard Ørsted Andersen has a 2014 debut album under her belt, the Danish singer-songwriter's status among pop music watchers grew in the last year and a half, thanks in large part to a very popular 2015 collaboration with Major Lazer and DJ Snake. 2016 continued that forward momentum with a pair of popular singles, led by the uplifting, impassioned rallying cry "Final Song". Couple that with an appearance on Fallon and a North American tour that showcased her energetic, punk-derived take on electropop, and you've got some very, very high expectations for MØ's new album in 2017. -- Adrien Begrand