The 30 Best New Artists of 2020

Featuring Rina Sawayama, Arlo Parks, Nation of Language and more

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The 30 Best New Artists of 2020

There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a band live that everyone’s been talking about, or watching one that you know people will be gabbing about soon, after you leave the venue and spill the beans. These situations were few and far between in 2020 for obvious reasons, but we’ve still managed to store up excitement for up-and-coming bands that released exceptional music this year. We were blown away by first albums from Bartees Strange, Anjimile, Rina Sawayama, Nation of Language and more, and we’re just as excited for the arrival of 2021 debuts from Arlo Parks, Katy Kirby and Black Country, New Road. From electronic and hip-hop to punk and soul, these are the 30 new (or new-ish) artists who had a breakout year or are on the cusp of one.

Listen to Paste’s Best New Artists of 2020 playlist on Spotify here.

070 Shake

Born Danielle Balbuena, 070 Shake (named in part for her New Jersey area code) got her big break courtesy of one Kanye West, stealing the spotlight on his 2018 ye track “Ghost Town” as a rising G.O.O.D. Music signee. Her acclaimed debut album Modus Vivendi (“way of life” in Latin) delivered on that promise this year: From the glittering future pop of “Guilty Conscience” to the ascendent psych-R&B of “Rocketship,” her music is like the Uncut Gems opal, prismatic and powerfully intoxicating. Shake has described her music as “feeling put into frequency”—we’d be hard-pressed to say it any better ourselves. —Scott Russell

Anjimile

On his opulent debut album Giver Taker, Anjimile’s most powerful and enchanting instrument is his voice. The project—which serves as a testament to the different stages of healing—is a sparse nine-track undertaking that reveals just how resilient our protagonist truly is. Anjimile’s story is an uncommon one, but an uplifting one nonetheless: A trans person—in the midst of battling his own demons—excavates the most troubling parts of his past and ultimately seeks out catharsis. Giver Taker is captivating in its detailed storytelling, luscious harmonies and admirable vulnerability. —Candace McDuffie

Arlo Parks

A young Arlo Parks sees herself as “a black kid who can’t dance for shit, listens to emo music and currently has a crush on some girl in my Spanish class”—fast-forward to today, and we see the London singer/songwriter as one of the most exciting new artists out there. Her music draws inspiration from everyone from Otis Redding and David Bowie to MF Doom and Julien Baker, with honeyed vocals dripped over lush folk instrumentation and delicate boom-bap beats, while her evocative lyrics (modeled after the fiction of Haruki Murakami, Sylvia Plath, etc.) tend to linger in your mind; “I had a dream, we kissed / And it was all amethyst,” she sings in the opening moments of “Eugene,” one of several stellar singles she’s released this year ahead of her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams, arriving Jan. 29, 2021. —Scott Russell

Backxwash

Zambia-born, Canada-based artist Backxwash dropped one of the creepiest rap albums of 2020. Ashanti Mutinta’s voice is threatening, both in her normal cadence and the contorted form used throughout her records. Her ferocity paired with off-kilter, spine-tingling beats is best experienced at night with eyes wide open, stored-up rage and a desire for bloodthirsty imagery. While her 2019 album DEVIANCY was explosive, maniacal and perfect for letting loose in a live environment, this year’s follow-up, God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It, is more detailed and downtempo, but it still retains its predecessor’s mystifying qualities. —Lizzie Manno

Bartees Strange

We live in an era when intersectionality is either fiercely celebrated or rejected, and Spotify playlists are the norm—especially for young music listeners. These conditions are perfect for an album like Live Forever by Bartees Strange, a Brooklyn musician whose work is a tapestry of traditions, ideas and sounds. Strange throws curveballs throughout his debut album’s 11 tracks, but they never seem out of place. Atmospheric soul bookends Live Forever, a style where Strange excels, but there’s plenty to be surprised and delighted by in between. Promo singles “Mustang” and “Boomer” harness a visceral power with the former diving into hooky synth-rock and sweltering punk and the latter dishing out hip-hop verses and giddy blues rock. —Lizzie Manno

beabadoobee

London-based artist beabadoobee (aka Beatrice Kristi Laus) saw her Spotify listenership shoot up dramatically after Powfu sampled her 2017 song “Coffee” for his track “death bed (coffee for your head).” It was the first song she ever wrote on guitar, and she now boasts 18 million monthly listeners in large part because of it. Though TikTok brought her an army of fans, most of beabadoobee’s new songs don’t sound like “Coffee” or her other early lovey-dovey acoustic tracks. By 2019, beabadoobee was making wispy, ’90s-inspired rock music, taking cues from Lush, Pavement and Veruca Salt. She’s now signed to Dirty Hit, was shortlisted for the Brits’ Rising Star Award, opened for Clairo and The 1975, and has released her debut album Fake It Flowers. —Lizzie Manno

Black Country, New Road

Born of the same South London scene that’s produced the likes of black midi, PVA and Squid, white-hot septet Black Country, New Road found their band name using a random Wikipedia page generator. The transparent artifice of that is actually fitting: With only three singles to their rather unwieldy name, including 2019’s “Athens, France” and “Sunglasses,” and this year’s “Science Fair,” the U.K. up-and-comers are growing and changing before our eyes, already reimagining the few songs they’ve released for their debut album For the first time, out Feb. 5, 2021. Frontman Isaac Wood’s hypnotic speak-singing shifts subtly away from “speak” and towards “sing” on the album, so as to more effectively meld with the band’s mercurial instrumental outbursts. Their thunderous post-punk, spiked with discordant jazz, feels both explosively raw and carefully, ingeniously crafted. —Scott Russell

Buscabulla

In 2014, Buscabulla released their debut EP of Latin rhythm-tinged electronic pop music, produced by Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes. They followed up a few years later with EP 2, released on Ribbon Music—a Domino imprint—where Raquel Berrios’ vocals shined even brighter over Luis Alfredo Del Valle’s organic electronica production and which featured a collaboration with their friend Roberto Carlos Lange of Helado Negro. If the dreamscapes and temperament of the first two EPs sounded like they had one foot in the Brooklyn indie door and one foot out, Regresa (which means “return” in Spanish) thrusts past the threshold to create indie music that is positively Puerto Rican. The album’s pulse is charged with gripping drum beats, sounds that howl like menacing winds and indigienous inflections that mirror the steadfast traditions of a resilient people. —Adrian Spinelli

Cafe Racer

The debut album from Chicago five-piece Cafe Racer arrived in 2018 with Famous Dust, which artfully wobbles as much as it confidently struts. Their ability to make keyboard and guitar sounds bend, zigzag and squeal was already well-developed, so by the time they released their 2020 follow-up Shadow Talk, they were firing on all cylinders. With art rock, psych and krautrock as their backbone, they lock into immersive grooves, but even when a groove is dismantled or they’re building up to another one, Cafe Racer have a way of dazzling with subtle, snaking riffs and luscious vocals. —Lizzie Manno

Catholic Action

Glasgow band Catholic Action stitch together pop, punk, indie, glam and garage rock, always with bold guitars at the center, but most crucially, there’s a contagious bounciness to their music. The four-piece band released their debut album, In Memory Of, back in 2017, and it was a frequently amusing, occasionally dark collection of hopped-up pop songs with knobby guitar tones. It was also one of those records that made you remember what it was like to actually hear irresistibly hummable basslines in guitar songs that are decidedly not funky indie-pop or stark post-punk. On their 2020 follow-up Celebrated By Strangers, the four-piece, led by singer, guitarist and producer Chris McCrory, are firing on all cylinders again, and ready to remind you that guitar solos still rule—if they’re as interesting and well-executed as these, that is. While their debut album delivered its fair share of peculiarities, Celebrated By Strangers is peppered with even more moments of unexpected zest. —Lizzie Manno

Chubby and The Gang

Chubby and The Gang’s debut LP, Speed Kills, was released via independent British hardcore label Static Shock back in January, and critics raved about it, coming to a similar consensus that its hopped-up punk-pop is impossibly punchy and ridiculously fun. Charlie Manning-Walker and his fellow bandmates are all hardcore veterans—having played in bands like Violent Reaction, Abolition, Guidance and Gutter Knife—but somehow they’ve made one of the strongest stitchings of pub rock, classic pop, surf and punk in recent memory. Like its colorful, cartoonish album cover, the album celebrates the vast characters of working-class London: the dubious, fun-loving rascals, the crass authority figures, the squares and the reckless brutes. But more than anything, Speed Kills is an ode to the “gang,” the fiercely loyal one that finds you when you’re young and makes grim circumstances much more bearable. —Lizzie Manno

Dehd

On Flower of Devotion, Dehd’s second Fire Talk full-length, songwriters Emily Kempf (bass) and Jason Balla (guitar), joined by drummer Eric McGrady, devote themselves to the sort of polarity symbolized by the so-called “sock and buskin” adorning their album cover—joy and suffering, coming together and falling apart, bitter ends and new beginnings. The result is Dehd’s best album to date, a significant upgrade on their sound that finds their Windy City DIY scene-honed amalgam of surf rock, shoegaze and dream pop at its most melodic and expressive. The trio demonstrate newfound levels of intensity and focus on Flower of Devotion, leaving minimalism behind in favor of glossier compositions. —Scott Russell

Ela Minus

When Ela Minus first surfaced a few years ago with a series of gorgeous EPs that culminated with 2017’s Adapt., there was something unusually striking about her synthesized productions alongside her vapory vocals. Perhaps it’s because Ela Minus’s Gabriela Jimeno forgoes the use of computerized sounds in favor of those emanating from synths that she builds and designs herself. The Colombian-born, Brooklyn-based producer and singer just released her debut LP, Acts of Rebellion, via Domino, and is maintaining the analog approach to her compositions. On tracks like “they told us it was hard, but they were wrong.” and “el cielo no es de nadie,” (translation: “heaven belongs to nobody”) Jimeno ruminates on purposeful solitude with an unwavering club sensibility. Ela Minus is a necessary Latinx voice in indie electronica. —Adrian Spinelli

Flo Milli

Flo Milli sings or says the words “That bitch” countless times on her debut album Ho, why is you here? (which, by the way, is just an absolutely incredible name for a debut album). But nowhere does the Mobile, Ala., rapper sound more certain of that status than on the actual song “Like That Bitch.” In what has to be one of the best lyrics of the year, Milli raps, “All they do is talk shit like a toilet with some lips / Bitches hatin’ ‘cause I’m rich, ho you broke, you need a fix.” Flo Milli has graduated from viral hits to pure hip-hop finesse on Ho, why is you here?, and in the process she has supplied one of the most addicting rap albums of 2020. —Ellen Johnson

Ganser

Ganser released their debut album Odd Talk in 2018, making quite the entrance with their bloodthirsty, self-destructive guitar riffs and moody, surreal vocals. Fast-forward to 2020, and the Chicago outfit released an even more gripping body of work with Just Look at That Sky. Folding in their noise-rock guitars with post-punk tendencies, the album skillfully erupts into fits of anxious chaos while maintaining a cool confidence. It’s also an apt summation of what it feels like to live in a world that turns with agonizing leisure and overwhelming speed, and makes even the most crowded cities feel lonely. —Lizzie Manno

Gum Country

Courtney Garvin and Connor Mayer know they have you wrapped around their finger with the steamy self-described “harsh twee” of their new project Gum Country—or at least it sounds like they do. Pulling from noise, avant pop, college rock and classic indie, it’s clear they know their stuff. After all, this isn’t Garvin’s first indie-pop outing. She played lead guitar in The Courtneys, a Vancouver trio who released two full-length albums of fuzzy power pop—most recently 2017’s The Courtneys II. While The Courtneys’ sound is centered primarily on driving, harmony-laced indie pop, Gum Country push this sound even further on their debut LP Somewhere. Front and center, Garvin ramps up the fuzz, and Mayer adds eccentric synth flourishes—making for a sound that’s more mature, but as equally carefree as before. —Lizzie Manno

Helena Deland

We had the pleasure of seeing Montréal’s Helena Deland open for Connan Mockasin at the 2019 Montréal Jazz Festival, where Deland’s deft lyricism and sonic edge left a lasting mark. For her debut album, she’s signed to Chris Cantallini’s (of timeless indie blog Gorilla vs. Bear) Luminelle Records, and her dreamy sound slots nicely next to label mates like Anemone, Hana Vu and Jackie Mendoza. On songs like “Someone New” and the spectacular “Truth Nugget,” Deland expands on themes of interpersonal dynamics and identity in powerful ways. She is undoubtedly one of the best new talents to emerge from the robust Montréal indie scene. —Adrian Spinelli

Jordana

Jordana Nye’s first album is full of affecting lo-fi tracks, marked by her wispy vocals, gentle guitar strums and a young adult longing both innocent and profound. Though her bedroom rock made her a standout and garnered acclaim from everyone from Anthony Fantano to Pitchfork, Nye had her sights set on something bigger: genre-blurring pop/rock songs with vivid textures. Nye ran with these striking loops and textures and released an EP titled Something to Say (which Paste named one of the best of 2020), a six-track release that showed off her irresistible hooks, emotional intimacy and newfound sparkly sounds. That EP was followed by the announcement of another one titled ...To You, and both EPs were released together as her second full-length album, Something to Say to You. The synths, guitars and beats are dynamic and unexpected, particularly the sawtoothed “Big” or charred “Hitman,” but others like “I Guess This is Life” and “Interlude” retain the gorgeous minimalism of Classical Notions. —Lizzie Manno

Katy Kirby

Indie-rock songwriter Katy Kirby grew up in a small-town Texas, where her primary exposure to songcraft came via “the pasteurized-pop choruses of evangelical worship.” On her forthcoming debut album Cool Dry Place, out Feb. 19, 2021, on Keeled Scales, the still-Lone Star State-based Kirby wrestles with the indefatigably cheery spirit of the church songs she was raised on, twisting her jangle-pop sound into subtly adventurous shapes suggestive of a roving soul. “Ten segments in an orange / Only so many ways that you can pull apart someone,” she sings on the title track, effortlessly tossing off the kind of line that makes your heart ache instantaneously. Kirby thrives in the place between easy appeal and more complicated explorations, and she’s already made believers out of us. —Scott Russell

Nation of Language

Brooklyn-based band Nation of Language, led by vocalist and songwriter Ian Devaney and featuring his wife Aidan Devaney on keys and Michael Sui-Poi on bass, unleashed their debut album Introduction, Presence in 2020, and it’s crowned them as the most exciting new synth-pop act in years. The band has been releasing invigorating, ’80s-indebted singles for about five years now—tracks like “I’ve Thought About Chicago” and “Reality” are undoubtedly direct descendents of Pet Shop Boys, A Flock of Seagulls and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, but there’s also a subtle glow that recalls 21st century anthemic indie rock à la Arcade Fire, The National and The Killers. While their decade-spanning influences can certainly be scavenged, their songs always sound bigger than them—Devaney’s songwriting feels essential and eternal. —Lizzie Manno

Nubya Garcia

At 28, Nubya Garcia is doing her part to open the floodgates of U.K. jazz back up and illuminate the roots of the music and herself. Raised in London’s Camden Town and born to a Guaynese mother and Trinidadian father, Garcia studied at both the Royal Conservatory of Music and at the prestigious Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. But atop her classical training, she’s a resident DJ on London’s buzzy NTS Radio and recently filled in for U.K. alpha tastemaker Gilles Peterson on his BBC Radio show, playing cuts by everyone from Sister Nancy and Ahmad Jamal to Yoruba Andabo and Erykah Badu—influences who have helped shape the compositions of her debut full length album, Source, out now on Concord Jazz. Where her first EP, When We Are, showed hip-hop sensibility, and her follow-up, Nubya’s 5ive, flexed contemporary jazz fluency, Source flashes more fully-formed production from Garcia and co-producer Kwes along with a palpable sense of intent. —Adrian Spinelli

Peel Dream Magazine

Peel Dream Magazine, the project of NYC musician Joe Stevens, began in 2018 with the release of their debut album Modern Meta Physic, 13 pacifying shoegaze tracks marked by background hisses and hushed vocals. The band’s 2020 follow-up Agitprop Alterna is much broader, thanks in part to the live members that appear here like vocalists Jo-Anne Hyun and Isabella Mingione and drummer Brian Alvarez, and also due to its emphasis on a more dynamic sound. It’s still minimal like its predecessor, but the droning is bolder, the pop melodies reach a higher peak and the avant-garde and electro-pop elements are more pronounced. Agitprop Alterna is a loungey, droning, space-age odyssey that might help even the most anxious among us escape for a bit. —Lizzie Manno

Porridge Radio

Brighton, U.K. foursome Porridge Radio released their debut studio full-length Every Bad, which follows their 2016 self-recorded first album Rice, Pasta And Other Fillers. After signing to Secretly Canadian last year, it was clear they were going to lose their title as the best-kept secret of their British seaside town. Porridge Radio, led by their entrancing singer Dana Margolin, are headed for the big time. They can loosely be categorized as an indie rock band, but they’re worlds apart from many of the genre’s run-of-the-mill groups. Their sound is just as multifaceted as the feelings they channel—they shift between chiming rock (“Give/Take”), dramatic punk (“Lilac,” “Sweet”), subtle, melodic pop (“Circling,” “Nephews”) and PC Music-like synth-pop (“Something,” “Homecoming Song”). —Lizzie Manno

Rina Sawayama

We’ve been inching towards an early Max Martin-esque maximalist pop revival for several years now, between artists like Liz, Kero Kero Bonito, Holiday Sidewinder and, in a strange way, 100 gecs, but Sawayama solidifies the notion that bubblegum pop is back, fully self-aware and ready to conquer. With the help of longtime producer Clarence Clarity, Rina Sawayama modernizes a sound made famous by Britney Spears, *NSYNC and all who reigned supreme on Casey Kasem’s weekly Top 40 countdown around the turn of the last millennium. More importantly, however, she upholds the integrity of the genre, gently reminding us why we all, deep down, truly love pop music. —Annie Black

Samia

Most people instinctively try to mask their deepest insecurities. We shove them into a dark closet and lock the door, refusing to acknowledge them, much less confront them. We brush them off with humor and become blasé about them, even when they continue to wreak havoc. We overcompensate for them in ways that are wildly unhealthy. This is just part of the human experience, particularly for people in their formative years. Samia Finnerty, who records music under her first name, faces all these same conundrums, but she deals with them in a fairly unique way: writing hyper-specific songs about them. The 23-year-old New York-based singer/songwriter recently released her debut album The Baby via Grand Jury Music to critical acclaim, and it trots out painful details with poetic ease. —Lizzie Manno

SAULT

SAULT are undeniably the breakout act of 2020. The mystifying U.K. soul group emerged with their first two albums, 5 and 7, in 2019, which indulged in soul, R&B, funk and Afrobeat traditions, while bringing a vivacity and effortlessness that were uniquely their own. In 2020, they managed to climb even greater heights with two more full-lengths, Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise), unquestionably two of the year’s best. The former album was dedicated to George Floyd, who was brutally killed by Minneapolis police earlier this summer, and captured the bloody struggles and unparalleled perseverance of Black people everywhere, while the latter embodied glorious Black grace and joy that exists alongside injustice. SAULT’s 2020 albums aren’t just full of masterful songcraft, they’re essential documents. —Lizzie Manno

Se So Neon

Seoul band Se So Neon shared their debut EP Summer Plumage in 2017, and its breezy indie rock stood out for its melodic ease, but they had yet to come into their own. By 2020, they leveled up in a dramatic way with Nonadaptation. The album melded R&B, indie rock and psych, and is as challenging as it is a smooth, easygoing listen. Many bands struggle to mix these sounds without sounding dated, but Se So Neon are fresh and inventive. Lead vocalist Hwang So-Yoon’s melodies are entrancing and unexpected, and the band’s amorphous sound never disappoints. —Lizzie Manno

Sweater Curse

Brisbane indie trio Sweater Curse released their debut EP See You in 2019, which featured the girl-boy lead vocals of bassist Monica Sottile and guitarist Chris Langenberg, and their versatile sound that ranges from distorted and punk-ish to sweet and sentimental. They followed it up with a 2020 EP titled Push/Pull, which packs their best songs yet. “Close” is a succulent indie-pop gem with an unforgettable chorus, and “All The Same” is a serrated rock rollercoaster. —Lizzie Manno

Thanya Iyer

Thanya Iyer is a Montreal-based band led by the vocalist, keyboardist and violinist of the same name, and joined by bassist Alex Kasirer-Smibert (aka Pompey) and drummer Daniel Gélinas. They self-released their debut album Do You Dream? back in 2016, followed by a mixtape in 2018. KIND, on the other hand, is a totally different beast. It was released earlier this summer to critical acclaim via Topshelf Records and was both meticulously devised and skillfully improvised. It’s one of the most astonishing albums you’ll hear this year, fusing indie-folk with jazz, experimental pop and classical music to stunning effect. —Lizzie Manno

Tkay Maidza

Tkay Maidza doesn’t need us (or anyone) to hand over her flowers—she claims them with artful authority on the opening track from Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2, one of our favorite EPs of 2020. The Zimbabwe-born, Australia-bred pop-rap renegade signed to influential U.K. label 4AD in May, the latest in a series of shockwaves she’s made since dropping her 2013 breakout single “Brontosaurus,” 2014 mixtape Switch Tape and 2016 debut album Tkay. At 23 years old, Maidza has already established herself as a genre-melding visionary à la M.I.A. or Charli XCX, boldly pushing pop music in a more vibrant, unpredictable direction. —Scott Russell

Listen to Paste’s Best New Artists of 2020 playlist on Spotify here.