This list has been cultivated to commemorate some of our favorite up-and-coming Gen Z-ers in music. With a 21st century perspective, these artists are representatives of their generation and of a new wave of rising talent. Growing up amidst smart phones, mass shootings, and political polarization, they are the first to illustrate these unique experiences through song, trailblazing the way for the generation to come.
Chloe x Halle
Wunderkind teen sisters from Atlanta, Chloe and Halle Bailey, are poised to become the voice of the next generation. With the release of their debut album, The Two of Us, under a new, 1-million-dollar contract with Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment, the duo defines their distinct, often hypnotic sound. The sisters are virtuosic writers, performers, and producers, allowing them control almost the entirety of their creative process singlehandedly, an anomaly for young artists. Each song on The Two of Us acts as its own vignette, articulating and expressing the Gen Z condition. Now featured as actresses in the ABC Freeform hit show, Grown-ish, Chloe and Halle Bailey have positioned themselves as multi-faceted entertainers to watch.
Recent high school graduate, Ravyn Lenae, emerged from the Chicago music scene in 2015 with her first release, Moon Shoes. The debut EP revealed Lenae an artist wise beyond her years, her vocals radiating a nearly unmatchable warmth, softly asserting herself as a newest R&B force. With a falsetto compared to legendary artist, Eryka Badu, Lenae drew the attention of another young artist on our list, Steve Lacy. Together, the pair crafted her most recent EP, Crush, to much critical acclaim by tastemakers like Pitchfork and The FADER. With his characteristic SoCal production, complete with clean electric guitar and synth, and her impressionistic melodies, the pair found their styles to be a nearly perfect marriage. Now, Lenae plans to promote the new record, Crush, with a headlining tour throughout the US.
The 19-year-old singer, songwriter, guitarist, bassist, and producer, Steve Lacy, began his career as a member of The Internet and has since released a solo project and become one of the most coveted producers in the business. With an idiosyncratic “California soul” production style, Lacy has attracted collaborators like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Tyler the Creator. Lacy works on his own terms, often persuading A-List artists to conform to his style, not the other way around. Notorious for using Garageband on his iPhone for most his recording process, Lacy proves that good music can be made in any way, on any budget, provided the creator is creative and dexterous with their tools.
Seemingly raised on a diet of Mac Demarco and Frankie Cosmos music, 19-year-old Clairo is the newest rising anti-pop star. After gaining a viral following from her DIY music video for her (now hit) song, “Pretty Girl,” Clairo has signed with the manager of famously DIY sensation, Chance the Rapper, and opened for Tyler, the Creator, all during her freshman year of college at Syracuse University. With Clairo, there is no magic behind the curtain, in fact, there is no curtain at all, the sheer genius of this young artist is that she is daringly simple and transparent. She is really just a teen having fun. In an age bedroom music production, Clairo will be a trailblazer and exemplar for a rising generation of do-it-yourselfers in music in the years to come.
Cosmo Pyke, a true polymath, writes with a sense of maturity and social consciousness. A middle-class kid, raised in a small British town, Pyke is a singer, songwriter, skater, artist, and model. After a feature in Frank Ocean’s “Nikes” music video, Pyke skillfully used the video as an international introduction, smoothly launching him into the release of his own material. After posting five singles over the course of 2016 and 2017, Pyke had established millions of streams, solidifying his career and his nearly trippy R&B sound with a hint of laziness.
Jaden Smith is already a household name. Besides being the oldest child of superstars, he is known for his work as an actor, rapper, fashion entrepreneur… and for just being a walking conundrum. It’s hard to believe Smith has accomplished so much before he has hit his 20s, but Smith has always built his best projects by shocking the world. His major label debut, SYRE, is no different. Beginning with a four-part song titled, “B, L, U, E,” which describes the creation of the world, Smith prophesizes the genesis of his otherworldly rap career, marking SYRE as his new beginning in music. As the self-proclaimed “boy who’s words never seem to make sense,” the beauty of SYRE and of Jaden Smith himself is not in the dissection of each word, but in the overall impression of the message itself.
From America’s Got Talent winner, to major label darling all prior to her 8th grade graduation, Grace Vanderwaal is one of the youngest rising pop talents. A self-taught singer/songwriter, Vanderwaal has successfully managed to make the daunting transition from reality TV star to a respected music industry talent by consistently exceeding the expectations of the adult collaborators around her. Known for her characteristically raspy voice and penchant for the ukulele, Vanderwaal’s work situates her as the newest descendant of Taylor Swift, Feist, Regina Spektor, and Birdy. With a debut album released in November 2017, Vanderwaal will be supporting Imagine Dragons during 2018 and continually honing her craft.
Singer, songwriter, voice actor, and political activist, Bea Miller rose to popularity as a contestant on season two of The X Factor. Signing with Hollywood Records shortly after, the young artist has released two albums, including the most recent, Aurora, in 2018. Released in three “chapters,” the album chronicles Miller’s coming-of-age both as an artist and as a young woman. Confident with an edgy grit, the young artist proves with Aurora that she is ready to proclaim herself a pop icon and a force to be reckoned with.