Some musical trends are easy to spot a mile away, but last year’s chart domination by female-driven alt-pop was more of a pleasant surprise. Lorde was the obvious epicenter, but further down the charts and in critical circles, we saw a number of other prominent players. When exciting debuts from Charli XCX and Sky Ferreira finally landed after years in the works, it felt like there was a true place for them, not just some corner of the music world. We also saw the rise of Chvrches, led by Lauren Mayberry and, a year earlier, Grimes’ stunning debut. Even longtime indie duo Tegan & Sara went full-on pop with 2013’s Heartthrob, which garnered them commercial radio play in a big way.
Of course, this isn’t to say incredible alt-pop by women hasn’t been coming out consistently throughout the years, or even breaking wide (let us not forget about Florence + the Machine and Lykke Li — or that we shouldn’t lump all of these artists together, either). At the moment, though, it feels like Top 40 listeners and the mainstream music industry are more apt to listen to what these artists have to say. And so, we present our guide to the alt-pop ladies to watch for this spring. Some, like MØ and Mr Little Jeans, have seen success with EPs and are now releasing their debut LPs. Others, like Allie X, are brand new. We expect to hear more from all of them soon, though.
MØ Age: 25 From: Denmark Collaborators: Diplo, Avicii, No Wav.
The Deal: Since 2012, it’s been a slow build for MØ (real name: Karen Marie Ørsted): a song here, an EP there. At a time when it feels like so much of breaking through in this genre is about creating a singular brand, MØ stands out because she flirts with so many different styles and moods — her work to date has exhibited, perhaps above all, variety and complexity. On her 2013 Bikini Daze EP, she flits from a sexy midtempo banger with Diplo to a girl-group chillwave siren song, from a funky brass-tinged jam to a piano-led, Lana Del Ray-style slow burner. The unifying factors are a light touch and Ørsted’s lithe, multi-tracked vocals.
What’s Next: Her solid debut LP, No Mythologies to Follow, is out this week via RCA/Sony, so expect to see much more in the press re: MØ in the near future.
Hear more MØ here.
Allie X Age: Unknown (mid-20s, we hear) From: LA via Toronto Collaborators: Superstar pop producer/Dr. Luke’s righthand man Cirkut
The Deal: Wisely, Allie’s playing the mysterious card, but what we do know is that her debut single, “Catch,” has been slowly building since the beginning of the year. At this point she’s only got the one song out, but it’s a strong one: “Catch” captures the pop “it factor” by mixing something dark (lyrics, general production) with something deliciously catchy (her sweet vocals repeating the chorus, the synth tick). This is an earworm that doesn’t just tag along — it haunts you. From what we’ve heard of her unreleased material, Allie maintains this moody undertone even on the unrelentingly upbeat, electro-pop songs where she makes room for her big voice.
What’s Next: It’s rumored she’ll be releasing a series of EPs throughout 2014, though she’s not signed to any label yet. That said, Neon Gold premiered “Catch” on their site, and she’d be a perfect fit there, or IAMSOUND. That is, if one of the major labels doesn’t snap her up first. Katy Perry tweeted last week that she’s obsessed with “Catch,” so I imagine A&R is all over Allie at the moment — and rightfully so.
Betty Who Age: 22 From: Australia
The Deal: Betty Who (real name: Jess Newham) is by far the most recognizable name on this list, and some may be scratching their heads at the “alt” bit attached to pop with regards to her sound. She’s a favorite in women’s mags, but Who is not a cookie-cutter pop singer. Her sound is equal parts Kylie Minogue, (new) Tegan & Sara, and Robyn, but there’s some ’80s/early-’90s fun dominating in her vibe, like you’re stuck perpetually in an episode of Saved By the Bell or Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” video. After releasing her 2013 EP The Movement, Who nabbed a major label deal with RCA late in the year. It’s been a whirlwind few months that’s culminated with a #1 hit on the Dance Club Songs chart, the posi anthem “Somebody Loves You” (above).
What’s Next: While Who works on her debut LP, she’s offering up a another EP, Slow Dancing, on April 8. It shows a bit more of her range, culminating with an echo-y, acoustic love song titled “Silas.”
Hear more Betty Who here.
Mr Little Jeans Age: Mid-20s From: Norway Collaborators: YACHT, Wavves
The Deal: Mr Little Jeans, the Wes Anderson-inspired moniker of singer-songwriter Monica Birkenes, first broke out in 2011 with a sensual, bass-heavy cover of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs.” Those who judged her sound on that alone will be surprised by her original songs, which she previewed on her recent Good Mistake EP. This is joyful music, particularly “Oh Sailor” (above), which sees Birkenes chirping alongside a children’s choir. A ’60s pop vibe brings to mind Camera Obscura, but make no mistake: these are modernly produced dance-party jams on which Birkenes harmonizes with herself.
What’s Next: Her excellent debut LP, Pocketknife, will be out March 25 on Capitol imprint Harvest Records. Nearly every bubbly track sounds ready for a TV/film/ad synch, an arena in which Mr Little Jeans has seen a nice bit of success already (Vampire Diaries, Celeste & Jesse Forever, Iron Man 3, Gossip Girl).
Hear more Mr Little Jeans here.
Laurel From: England Collaborators: Pop songwriting mainstay Diane Warren, Dan Croll
The Deal: Getting signed to a prominent label or management firm on the strength of a debut single is the 21st-century Cinderella story for emerging artists. Such is Laurel’s tale in her native UK, where she’s developing her sound under Turn First Artists, the same company that manages the likes of Ellie Goulding and Rita Ora. Her sound has continually moved away from her traditional singer-songwriter influences over the last couple years, but there’s a certain sadness in acoustic strummers that’s stayed with Laurel. Like Lorde, she lets percussion lead her to a certain extent, but this isn’t dancing music — it’s sensual well beyond Laurel’s 19 years.
What’s Next: She’s currently working on her self-produced debut LP, initially expected out later this year, but she’ll have a new EP, built around her upcoming single “To the Hills,” out in the coming months. Come June, she’ll be hitting the US for a few live dates.
Hear more Laurel here.