There may be other performers about to breakthrough in 2010, but these are 10 that caught my ear and attention in 2009. With the right support behind them and the fanbases to get them through, I can see all of these performers being better known by the end of 2010! They’re listed alphabetically.
DAN BLACK resident music mad scientist
After teasing us with a home mix unauthorized Notorious B.I.G. and Rihanna samples in 2008 on “HYPNTZ”, Dan Black’s musical scientifics found their way onto a debut CD in mid-2009 called UN. This Englishman based in Paris (hence the title of the CD, the French word for ‘one’) creates breathtaking melodies wrapped in many studio tricks, which he then surrounds with intelligent, playful words and emotions. “HYPNTZ” begat the lush “Symphonies” which caught online attention, as well as subsequent European singles “Alone” and “Yours”, which all feature creative and interesting videos. Dan came across the pond to NYC for a showcase in the Fall, and just as the year ends we saw UN released in North America with “Symphonies” as the free single of the week on iTunes USA. Club dates will follow in 2010. Justin Timberlake and Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic have both tweeted about him, so I’m sure that in 2010 the world will find out that Dan Black is the real deal.
CHARLIE BROWN sensitive rapper or edgy soul singer?
There was quite an online to-do about UK soul singer and rapper Charlie Brown during the summer. He was featured vocalist in one of those shoulda-been-a-hits called “The Rain” by Bless Beats and Wiley with the kind of vocal that makes a song really shine. Then he released a free mixtape through his MySpace site that showed the edgy vibe that was only hinted at in “The Rain” – a particular standout is “Don’t Make Me Over”. Charlie Brown is definitely well worth the chat – I’d like to see him catch on with international artists in a similar way to fellow countryman Jay Sean (but I’ll skip the duets with Lil’ Wayne and Sean Paul).
AGNES CARLSSON the new voice of Sweden
Agnes has been a star in her native Sweden these last few years, after triumphing on their own edition of American Idol. In late 2008, Agnes released the CD Dance Love Pop, full of well sung pop trifles and dance ditties to tweak your ears and feet. One of those ditties, Release Me, was a domestic success and attracted international ears, first starting in the U.K., where it was released, reaching #3 on the pop charts. Then it spread to North America, where DJ’s and clubgoers grabbed it and sent it to #1 on the Billboard Dance Club Play chart. Oft compared to Leona Lewis, and deservedly so, Agnes Carlsson proves that the right voice matched with the right song will create a launching pad for success, something that should grow for her internationally in 2010.
SIMON CURTIS a new breed of pop male vocalist
Though I had heard of Simon Curtis through a song or two that was featured in the Nickelodeon movie Spectacular! early in 2009, I did not find out what was up this Tulsa-raised multi-talent’s sleeve until later this year. In fact, I caught on to all happenings Simon Curtis via Twitter just as his followers numbered over 6,000. As his followers grew, he began to release new songs online for free, to preview the upcoming free ‘pop mixtape’ that he’s been working on called 8Bit Heart. First up was “Delusional”, a complexly produced song about heeding (unwanted) advice that features crafty, soaring vocals (hello Darren Hayes high notes!) and 0ther moments of music magic. In a different world, this song would be all over pop radio, but these days enough exposure online will grab new fans eager for great songs like this. Next up was “Diablo”, a bit of entertaining but hyperkinetic vitriol at romance gone waaay wrong that you might not expect from Simon – it successfully flips Britney Spears’ “Womanizer” upside its head, and also makes a statement for the kinds of songs not being produced by young male pop singers of today. So now we have 8Bit Heart to watch for in 2010. Aside from the songs, I’m looking forward to whatever Simon offers next!
THE MIDWAY STATE no holes in their plans
These aren’t just any four nice guys from the Toronto area looking for domestic success. They’re a talented bunch, led by singer/songwriter Nathan Ferraro, who toured the hell out of their debut album Holes back and forth across Canada and back again in 2009 and managed to score not only two Juno Award nominations, but also a duet with (of all people) Lady GaGa on a cover of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s “Don’t Give Up”!! It all started with an unassuming song called “Never Again”, which took its time in late 2008 to catch on. But it’s that song’s raw edges and extremely catchy chorus that grabbed me, enough to send me to two of their concerts. Then came a domestic Top 20 success with “Change For You”, which was later remixed into a duet with Carly Rae Jepsen. And after Michael Jackson passed way, they posted a free download of their sensitive cover of “Man in the Mirror”. Like with Canadian rockers Marianas Trench, The Midway State has more to them than meets the eyes and ears, giving them enormous potential for an international breakout.
MIIKE SNOW their lucky rabbit’s foot
Towards the end of 2009, Miike Snow are becoming less of a mystery to me. They’re a trio featuring Swedish DJ/producers extraordinaire Grammy winners Bloodshy & Avant (aka Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg) of Britney Spears (“Toxic”) and Madonna fame, and New York vocalist Andrew Wyatt. It’s definitely an eclectic mix but I found remixes of “Animal” very playful with the year closing with a potentially massive club hit with “Black and Blue”. The trio toured internationally throughout 2009 to extensive critical raves, which undoubtedly will continue in 2010.
RYAN STAR how to breathe right now 4 other people
After some limited success after appearing on RockStar:Supernova a few years back and releasing a CD with a band called Stage, New Yorker Ryan Star has led the indie journeyman rock star life. With the advent of MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, Ryan has got the message out to fans interested in his earnest, hard-working style and vocally and lyrically powerful songs. “Last Train Home”, featured in the film PS I Love you, first caught my attention in 2008, leaving me begging for more. Then I learned that Ryan had a CD called 11:59 in the works, and from those sessions in early 2009 came “Right Now”, which I initially thought was just so much of a rock-oriented cheerleading song… until the sentiment underneath grew on me. Now I see that song as a major source of positive encouragement and reinforcement. Later in the year Ryan released “Breathe”, accompanied by a video of actual people looking for work in the downturn of the U.S. economy. Through hashes on Twitter and rapid word-of-mouth, this song and all that’s positive about it reached many ears and may have actually helped some of the people in the video get jobs. So Ryan Star is U.S. Rock Star and Everyday Good Samaritan – a great combination well worth watching in the coming year!
EVAN TAUBENFELD welcome to his takeover
You may know him best right know as the blond-haired Baltimore-bred guitarist and songwriter from Avril Lavigne’s band in its “Complicated” days, but for the past few years, Evan’s had nothing better in mind than conquering the world one fan at a time. He’s about to release the CD Welcome to the Black List Club through Warner Brothers, and gave us a few tastes of that CD in 2009. “Boy Meets Girl” took a witty pop culture approach about meeting members of the opposite sex, while “Cheater of the Year” (my favourite song of Evan’s thus far) made no bones about calling out a previous object of desire. And at year’s end, Evan shot and scored with the festive season by offering up “Merry Swiftmas” right at the time Taylor Swift is at her most popular, suddenly making her a more-than-welcome gift under young men’s Christmas trees! Evan makes sure there’s always something going on via his website, MySpace site, or on Twitter to draw in even the most casual music listener. He also endears himself to his live concert audience, as I discovered in Toronto in September – small crowd, lots of energy on stage, and plenty of opportunities to connect one to one with his audience members. Be sure to check out Welcome to the Black List Club and a live Evan show in 2010!
SAM TAYLOR torch singer for a new generation
One of many beautiful voices out of the UK, Sam Taylor came to my attention while checking out the mostly kitschy soundtrack to the UK television series Beautiful People. Amid the retro pop dance tunes came two gorgeous ballads with the BBC Orchestra, “Sometimes I Need You” and especially “Run Away”. The latter song is my favourite of 2009 and one of the best of the decade, a largely unheard torch song for a new generation. Sam’s voice will charm even the most casual listener of any age. He’s got a London stage background to send him through, a penchant for taking risks (a smouldering version of “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar”), and a connection with online bloggers who have showcased him at small select club dates in London and New York City in 2009. But as of yet… no album, and I believe, no record contract. His MySpace site is only teasing us with a couple of other new and unreleased songs (like “Talk Me Down”, which quickly appeared and disappeared, and left me wanting more!). He may not need that contract – once the online world gets to know Sam Taylor, his music will be everywhere and so will he to support it. I’m sure Sam’s records will be on many Christmas lists a year from now!!
MANS ZELMERLOW our new mister charisma
2009 was a great year for male vocalists on the rise. And though they didn’t keep the same pace as the female singers way out in front, they certainly held their own. And though we haven’t yet seen Sweden’s Mans Zelmerlow break out much beyond the domestic success he’s had during the past few years – in fact similar to that of Agnes Carlsson, and they have recorded together – his star-making performance in the Swedish music contest Melodifestivalen singing “Hope and Glory” attracted many online music listeners. While the song itself is lyrically kitschy, Mans’ performance was absolutely stunning, full of charm and personality that doesn’t exude from many performers these days. His CD MZW was released in the Spring, when it became a #1 album in Sweden. MZW is an above average showcase of ballads and uptempo pop songs, but you can hear Mans’ personality the most in “Rewind”, a throwback to summer months that you would swear has been recorded by a laid back guy from the L.A. beaches instead of a Nordic country. If Mans Zelmerlow’s songs can be marketed successfully outside of Sweden, he will join the likes of Agnes Carlsson and Robyn as one of the few untapped talents to reach international audiences in the next few years.