This year, we witnessed pop music change. Through emerging voices, the mainstream has been subverted into something far more interesting, more diverse: a party of contagious, uninhibited strange. Here are 6 Musicians Who Broke The Pop Music Mold in 2019, a class of artists who will—without a doubt—go down as the harbingers of a new pop music era.
Take what you thought to be criterion for a female pop star (belting vocals, colorful ensembles, glitter) and throw it into the Marie Kondo-fueled giveaway bag along with your other outdated things. Billie Eilish dresses like an anime character. She will wear Chanel, but only if it’s a neon green t-shirt, and only if it’s large enough to stretch over her knees.
Billie Eilish will weave little nightmares into her pop songs, like the critically perfect single “bad guy”, where her vocals are both deranged and coy. Where the dark, driving baseline cons us into contagion. Nothing about Billie Eilish resonates as “pop”, and yet, there she is, topping the charts and selling out her first headlining tour at an incredibly expensive price. Destined to be seen as a generational artist, Billie Eilish is the pop ideal in the most important way: She’s a voice all her own.
We were first alerted to Lizzo with last year’s #FluteAndShoot challenge, where the rising star asked her Instagram followers to post videos of themselves slaying on the flute. Lo and behold, very few can play like Lizzo, who, in addition to having an incredible set of pipes, can lay into the brass unlike any R&B singer on the scene. And flute-flexing isn’t the only way Lizzo obliterated pop standards this year.
How is a listener supposed to respond when posed with the confidence, the funk, the unadulterated swag of Lizzo’s lyrics? Below is the chorus to “Juice”, Lizzo’s first single of 2019.
If I’m shinin’, everybody gonna shine (yeah, I’m goals)
I was born like this, don’t even gotta try (now you know)
I’m like chardonnay, get better over time (so you know)
Heard you say I’m not the baddest, bitch, you lied
From emblazoning a moment of freedom in Jane the Virgin with her single “Truth Hurts” (which remains on the Billboard Hot 100) to delivering some of the best awards show performances of the year, Lizzo is not only here to stay: She’s here to slay. And while she’s at it, “everybody gonna shine”.
Megan Thee Stallion
How often do you see rising rappers arrive on the scene with fully realized, alter-egos? Though, it doesn’t matter if she’s Tina Snow, or Hot Girl Meg, or Money Makin’ Meg, Houston-proud rapper Megan Thee Stallion is out to get the recognition she deserves. She started a huge market trend in her first big year to prove it.
“Hot Girl Summer” found Megan Thee Stallion in the company of Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign, two seasoned rappers who know a little something about being the center of attention. Though many of us didn’t see her coming, Megan Thee Stallion’s skyrocketed year is hardly a surprise once you listen to her bold, sex-positive lyrics. It’s no wonder that Nicki Minaj wanted to link up and drop bars. And it is, without a doubt, to our benefit that Megan Thee Stallion is officially on the scene. Bad b*tches are back in season, and “Hot Girl Summer” could potentially run all year long.
Lil Nas X
Younger than the federal drinking requirement; less than a year ago, was a college drop-out sleeping on his sister’s couch. Now, he’s the musician behind the longest running No. 1 single in history. “Old Town Road” broke the pop music mold in almost too many ways to count.
There has always been a cultural barrier between hip-hop and country music, but as time wears on, we are witnessing the gap become slimmer and slimmer. And Lil Nas X is here, chasing the end of this divide. “He’s been able to break down cultural barriers as well as pre-existing notions of musical genres,” Ron Perry, the chairman & CEO of Columbia Records, Lil Nas’ label, told TIME. “He has remained authentic and true to his art and this is just the beginning.”
Last year, Bad Bunny dropped a stunning debut, the expertly produced and rhythmically addictive X 100PRE, or “Forever”. Though he already had released enough singles in his three year long career to fill several albums, it was this trippy, imaginative, and complete gesture that really put Bad Bunny on maps outside of his home country.
All while circumventing radio politics and government censorship. All while redefining what it meant to be an “urbano” artist, a producer, a man. Then, when tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets to demand the resignation of the island’s governor Ricardo A. Rosselló, Bad Bunny was there, alongside his people, alongside Ricky Martin . It’s not easy breaking the pop music mold, and it’s even more difficult to stand for what you believe when super-stardom is on the line.
Reggaeton and flamenco music have found each other in the soul of Rosalía, a Spanish singer who—much like Bad Bunny, Ozuna, and J Balvin—has become an ascendant of pop music internationalism. On “Aute Cuture,” Rosalía’s latest, one-off single, her signature handclaps and sultry vocals ride the wave of bombastic horns and an accelerating baseline. Even though Rosalía sings in Spanish, you can hear some of the pop icons who’ve influenced her sound: Rihanna, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez. But even though she resonates with those artists, she is none of them at all. She is Rosalía.
Simultaneously sophisticated and playful, Rosalía’s appeal is clear and contagious. From the darkly seductive “Malamente”, to her latest EP Fucking Money Man, Rosalía is breaking the pop music mold by simply commanding us with her music. We have no idea how she became, when she first heard the tango between the disparate genres of reggaeton and flamenco. But we do know she has made a sound unlike any we’ve heard before.