On February 10, UK pop darling Katy B releases her long-awaited second album, Little Red. For those of you who have never heard of Katy, she’s an R&B-influenced singer who specializes in smart, evocative dance music. She’s an approachable pop star for the people, the cool girl next door who’d much rather share the floor than rule it. She’s received heavy acclaim from the likes of Pitchfork and Rolling Stone since she broke out in 2011, but she’s never quite cracked the surface of mainstream pop. Thankfully, this could be the year she finally breaks out — critics are already fawning over Little Red, and Rolling Stone called her single “5 AM” one of 2013’s best songs. Hopefully, you’ll hear a lot more about Katy in 2014; in anticipation of her inevitable rise to fame, here’s everything you should know about her.
She helped facilitate the rise of dubstep in the UK.
Dubstep wasn’t always loud and obnoxious frat-boy music! In its early days, it was actually quite restrained and sophisticated, visible in the works of Burial, James Blake, and, of course, Katy B. She was an early champion of the genre, and her songs “Katy on a Mission” and “Easy Please Me” are fine examples of dubstep done right.
She’s been doing this for a while.
Like fellow electro phenom Charli XCX, Katy B has been raving since her early teens. She was introduced to the world of UK dance music in 2007 as Baby Katy on DJ NG’s “Tell Me.” But it was her partnership with Geeneus of underground radio station Rinse FM that thrust her into the spotlight. She was signed to Rinse shortly after the release of “Tell Me,” and Geeneus has gone on to produce the vast majority of Katy’s work.
She was nominated for a Mercury Prize.
Katy’s fantastic debut On a Mission was nominated for the esteemed Mercury Prize in 2011, along with Adele, James Blake, and onetime touring partner Tinie Tempah. Katy lost to PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, but hopefully Little Red will score her another nomination — or better yet, a win. Above, watch the video for On a Mission highlight “Broken Record.”
She boasts a top-notch education in music
Katy is a graduate of the prestigious BRIT School, alma mater of Adele and Amy Winehouse, and she has a degree in Popular Music from Goldsmiths. This has given her a respect and understanding of music that most pop stars don’t have. Katy consciously tries to avoid formulaic approaches to songwriting and production, and it shows in her work. “At [school] we would spend a lot of time analyzing music, and picking songs apart,” she told the Guardian. “It wasn’t enough to say you liked a song; you had to work out why and understand why, and be able to explain why… I always think about that when I’m writing songs like ‘Lights On.’”
She has excellent taste in music.
Katy really knows her music history; she’s covered some of underground dance music’s most underrated tracks, like Kele Le Roc’s “My Love,” N’n’G’s “Right Before My Eyes,” and Inner City’s classic “Good Life.” Her and Geeneus’ rework of “Good Life” is one of those rare covers that improves upon the original without sacrificing its best details.
She loves promoting her peers in the UK pop scene.
Katy’s all about sharing the wealth, and she’s made some phenomenal playlists for Pitchfork and Spotify that prominently feature songs from lesser-known peers like Cherri V, Toddla T, and Wiley. She’s also performed covers of other young UK artists like the underrated R&B singer Maverick Sabre and a certain totally unknown band called One Direction.
She frequently appears in other artists’ tracks.
Katy B’s been a reliable guest artist since her days as Baby Katy, and she’s popped up on tracks by The Count & Sinden, Horsepower Productions, and rapper Devlin, to name a few. Her most prominent releases in this category are her songs with dubstep supergroup Magnetic Man and “Anywhere in the World,” a collaboration with Mark Ronson for the 2012 London Olympics. My favorites are Makoto & Zinc’s drum and bass triumph “Fade Away” and ANGO’s “Fireworks,” an airy summer jam that samples My Bloody Valentine, of all things.
She’s got a bunch of fantastic b-sides.
For someone who’s only made two albums, Katy B’s already got a pretty large catalog, including On a Mission bonus track “Water” and last year’s one-off single “What Love Is Made Of.” Grimes recently called On a Mission b-side “Louder” one of her favorite songs of all time.
She released a free EP last year.
Late in 2012, Katy gave her fans a very pleasant surprise in the form of the free, four-track EP Danger, featuring Diplo, Jessie Ware, Iggy Azalea, and more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be available for free download anymore, but you can still hear the whole thing on her Soundcloud. And thanks to frequent play on UK radio stations like BBC Radio 1, “Aaliyah (feat. Jessie Ware and Geeneus)” will be on Little Red. Listen to an extended version of Katy’s modern-day “Jolene” above.