With the world in a near-constant state of chaos, the appeal of shimmering, joyful pop music is stronger than ever. It might not necessarily change the reality of our sometimes dark news cycles, or the bouts of anxiety plenty of us are facing, but music has always worked best as a wonderful balm. And, at the moment, no one is offering a stronger antidote for the pain than women in pop music. Even when they’re singing and writing about difficult things, these are the artists who are making the world a better place with their voices.
Yes, off the strength of one single this woman is readying her world takeover. Ok, that’s not the whole story: She has two albums in collaboration with her sister, Halle, as Chloe x Halle, and 2020’s Ungodly Hour was a critical pick for best R&B project of the year. But it was in social media clips over the last year that fans noticed Chlöe coming into her own. First, fierce live performances, then sexy, unassuming Instagram clips and dancing along to TikTok memes, and finally, a solo single so meticulously constructed only Beyonce herself could’ve topped it. Considering she’s had Bey on her side for years now, as a direct mentor, it’s not surprising that Chlöe is facing down all the fame with unflinching grace and an unstoppable work ethic. The seamless combination of hip-hop swag and pop vocal acrobatics in “Have Mercy” leaves no doubt that this is an artist who knows her audience. Any and all additional singles will be welcomed, and if a solo album is coming next year, there’s no doubt it will be one of the year’s best. Until then, we have all the additional HBCU versions of “Have Mercy” to look forward to.
After a massive breakout with the early anguished hit “Black Hole,” Griff immediately proved she had more than just a breakup anthem up her sleeve by releasing an entire EP, One Foot In Front Of The Other. Anchored by the unstoppable momentum of “Black Hole,” the EP yielded several other gems that showcase her expert storytelling abilities, like the unexpectedly tender “Shade Of Yellow” or the brutalist lullaby, “Earl Grey Tea.” Griff uses the flexibility of synth-pop’s ever-shifting melodies to interrogate pre-existing ideas about love and loss, and establish her own perspective on the biggest, most important subjects in our lives. Already tapped by the BRIT Awards as a Rising Star and streaming giant Spotify as their first international Radar artist, this 20-year-old is a star in the making. Following up her EP with yet another hit single, the excellent, self-affirming “One Night,” she’s the rare artist who is releasing music even more interesting than her first big song, and getting better and better as she goes along. Sarah Faith Griffiths is on track to be one of 2022’s biggest pop voices, so start listening now before you’re playing catch up.
Sometimes there’s just a certain magic about a song. It’s inexplicable, really, the lyrics hum along like they’re more than words, like you’ve always known them, the melody balloons into something bigger than instruments, everything goes. That’s how a lot of people, including myself, felt when they first heard “Remember That Night?” by Sara Kays, a song about the mid-point after a break up where a memory sparks the kind of regret that almost hurts more than the initial break. The Nashville-based singer/songwriter has plenty of other songs to back up this one big, soaring hit, but if anything, its success is an omen of things to come. For those who live and breathe Taylor Swift’s Red, well, Kays is basically the logical continuation of that record’s themes — pop that tilts a little country, an emphasis on under-the-surface stories, wistful nostalgia, strange loves, growing pains, unspeakable emotions that overwhelm the body… it’s all here. Check out “Struck By Lightning” as a follow up if you like what you hear, or all of Kays’ latest EP of the same name. And for the record, Sara doesn’t just sound good in the studio; a recent live show at The Echo elicited several sing-a-longs, and her debut on late night further proved she’s ready for the big leagues. Taylor will probably be calling soon, that’s how excellent Sara’s songwriting is.
Tems reached mainstream audiences off the strength of her feature on WizKid’s massive single “Essence,” initially released last year as part of his Made In Lagos album. Still sticking around well into 2021, the song just got a remix from none other than pop’s Midas touch master, Justin Bieber, and that new No. 10 hit sets the table perfectly for Tems to release a new EP of her own, If Orange Was A Place. Between a co-sign from Apple Music as part of their Up Next series, and another big feature on the song “Fountains” off Drake’s Certified Lover Boy, there’s no stopping this angel-voiced Nigerian powerhouse from turning into a full-fledged diva. Hey, if she’s good enough for SZA, she’s good enough for you.
Free mind by tems has me in a fucking choke hold .. wow
— SZA (@sza) October 13, 2021
Julia Wolf kicks off her debut EP, Girls In Purgatory, by refusing to write a love song when she doesn’t feel it. Instead, “Falling In Love” is an all-too-relatable meditation on those nights when being single and scared about it is all part of going out to the club. Wolf manages to channel the understandable anger and frustration that come along with being a young woman in the social media era without ever slipping into bitterness. Her edge is part of what makes these songs pop beyond the normal heartache, love story, or self-love scripted anthems, and while they don’t technically qualify as “sad girl” pop, there’s something so cathartic about her unflinching honesty. Like Julia Michaels before her, Wolf mines the rich world of interpersonal exchange as mediated by technology in a way that only young millennial and Gen Z artists could, reflecting just how much the internet has shifted our behavior. Check “Resting B*tch Face: Part 2” for a nice dash of pop-punk guitar, “Checkmate” for a rap flow that rivals some of your favs, and “In My Way” to hear her sing in perfect Italian. As an independent artist, Wolf doesn’t have the luxury of a big label machine working behind-the-scenes, but it’s arguably this independence that lets her be as real as she is. And frankly, f*ck the machine, an artist this talented doesn’t need it.
Listening to PinkPantheress is like tuning in to a supercut of all the best DJ sets you’ve ever heard. Though she does sing original vocals, there’s an otherworldly, timeless quality to her voice that makes it impossible to distinguish what era or what genre she belongs to — instead, her work encompasses them all. The breakout TikTok star cites influences as disparate as Lily Allen, ’90s and ’00s pop and punk acts, and K-pop, but she also manages to mix the best parts of these various eras into one post-pop conglomeration. Instead, her work hits the same pleasure centers as soothing house or glitchy trance, even when her vocals are present, they’re always slightly buried in service to the beat. After a couple hits went so viral that she got a label deal, the enigmatic London producer just put out a short mixtape called To Hell With It that will only continue to build hype. If you’re a fan of both soulful electronic music and hyper-pop, PinkPantheress might be the first artist to successful combine both — think H.E.R. meets PC Music, and settle in for the unexpectedly blissed-out ride.
Rosé (of Blackpink)
K-pop is having a moment, but Rosé is the moment. Even as the girl-group Blackpink is gaining an international following at hyper-speed, fresh off the release of their debut album last year, the band’s solo stars are coming into their own, too. With the release of her solo single “On The Ground” earlier this year, Rosé established herself as an artist that will last way beyond the hype. Without needing to lean into hip-hop features, trendy pop sounds, or compromising her crystal clear voice, she still managed to break the record for most views on a YouTube video for a Korean artist with 41.6 million views. In 24 hours. And the numbers don’t lie — “On The Ground” channels a ’00s pop nostalgia (that still sounds fresh twenty years later) in order to excavate the emptiness of fame. Backed with her second solo track, “Gone,” an acoustic-leaning breakup song, it’s clear that as soon as she wants it, Rosé can have a stage all to herself. But let’s hope her solo star doesn’t conflict with the domination of Blackpink, we still need them in our area!
Fresh off the release of her Pretty Poison EP, Nessa Barrett is another rising pop artist turning her TikTok views into full-blown fame. Unafraid to go dark as f*ck, Nessa’s sound is always infused with a creepy, eerie sense of dread, even as she churns out some of the catchiest songs of the year. Leaning into the femme fatale vibe implied by her EP title, tracks like “I Hope Ur Miserable Until Ur Dead” and “I Wanna Die” turn Halloween sentiments into a year-long lifestyle. Even if the production for her songs is top-notch, and Nessa’s singing voice is surprisingly great, it’s still the music videos where she really shines. Barrett seems the most comfortable and happy when she’s performing on screen, and a string of inventive, melodramatic videos accompanying her new singles has made the release cycle feel more like a mini-movie than anything else. Plus, when it comes to the cinematic world of Nessa Barrett, anything goes, from peep shows in a theater to dead bodies in the morgue.
Elder millennials will happily remember when artists like Ingrid Michaelson, Vanessa Carlton, and A Fine Frenzy ruled the airwaves with their downtempo anthems. Yes, I said anthems. There’s a way to make a pop song soar and rise while still keeping things very chill, and luckily for all of us, that style is back in full force with Gracie Abrams. “Feels Like” has the hushed piano feel and stretched-out vowels that take me right back to the early 2000s, but nothing about this is throwback or derivative. She’s just one of those singers who makes more sense when things are slowed down, like her collaboration with Benny Blanco on “Unlearn” illustrates. Think about a Blanco collab like Bieber’s “Lonely” — some topics just need to be addressed sad and slow. On her 2020 EP minor, Abrams showcased just how powerful a minor thing can be, channeling heartbreak on songs like “I Miss You, I’m Sorry” and locking into a beat for the harmony-laden “21.” Whenever your next chill night in presents itself, let Gracie provide the soundtrack, her sound is sharply sweet, sometimes sad, and oh so comforting.
It’s hard enough to survive a pandemic, let alone navigate releasing your debut album during one. Slayyyter had a massive surge of internet support that catapulted her into the alt-pop atmosphere, then a few hiccups where she jumped labels and dealt with backlash over old, stupid comments. But through it all, she kept focused on living what has been her lifelong dream — entering the upper echelon of the pop world like Britney, Christina, and Gaga — and this summer Troubled Paradise finally dropped. While it still included some of Catherine Slater’s more aggressively sexual early material like “Throatzillaaa,” the album showed serious range! From the bait-and-switch hyperpop of “Cowboys” to the pop-punk inflected “Over This!,” Slater flexed her songwriting muscles in every direction for her debut. The standout remains “Clouds,” a foggy rainbow blast of masterful sad-pop that gets more and more danceable the darker the lyrics get. It’s a brilliant execution of oppositional forces that encapsulates the best thing about Slayyyter, her maddening contradictions. Maybe the album came out this year, but she’s just going to get bigger and more beloved in 2022. The clouds can’t last forever.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.