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Over the past year and a half, artificial intelligence has been the focal point of nearly every conversation about the future of labor. Corporations and startups are spending billions of dollars on AI as people project their hopes and fears onto it, setting it up as a proxy for attitudes towards culture, capitalism, and technology. With all the noise, it’s been difficult for many in the creative space to understand the real-world impact of these new innovations on our work and lives. Third Bridge Creative is engaging with AI in the hopes of transforming the tool sets we provide to our workforce and creating a new line of services and products that we offer to our clients. We are approaching AI in a way that is ethical and fair to our contributors and community, improves our work, and helps us better articulate our perspectives on culture.
As we begin this journey, we’ve spent time talking with different individuals inside and outside our company to understand how we fit into this landscape, and how we can do so in a way that is fair and transparent to our community, collaborators, and clients. Below are the basic principles that we will adhere to as we continue to navigate this space.
We believe that at its root, culture is a fundamentally human endeavor. This is true of the people who create it, and equally true of those who shape and engage with the conversation around it. Regardless of how we use AI to help us execute our work, critical creative decisions will always be made by humans. This will be true of not only our final products, but also inform how we use the technology in our work itself: which data sets we identify and curate, how we structure our prompts, and the types of software and tools we use.
The landscape for creatives has changed many times since the advent of the World Wide Web over thirty years ago. Each time, creative practitioners adapted and learned new ways to use their knowledge and skills to make a living from their craft. We are currently in one of these transitional periods. In order to survive and grow – both as a business and as individual creatives – we’ll have to change the way we work. This will require us to try new things. We’ll have to expend resources, both in terms of monetary investments and time. We’ll place smart bets, but it’s inevitable that while some of our efforts will yield valuable results, others won’t. What’s important is that we try out new ideas and learn from them.
At its core, AI is a mechanism that powers a new suite of tools. There are many ways that we could use it help us execute our work on a technical level: performing administrative, rote tasks such as data entry; providing input into strictly non-creative tasks such as language translation or quality assurance; aiding in the creative process by developing first drafts of articles, blurbs, or playlists, or contrasting different stylistic approaches; or enhancing the quality or the accuracy of the data that we use to inform our decisions around curation or assignment allocation.
The heart of our work engages with culture and art – through listening, watching, and taking in information, we interpret these signals based on our values and perspective, and synthesize these ideas using technical skills that we’ve honed over many years. AI is good at ingesting and synthesizing data, but the interpretative and critical thinking that informs our decisions is essential to our processes and the quality of our work, and allows us to see and work against any biases that AI algorithms might be pulling from. It also leaves space for original thought that pushes the culture forward.
Conversations around culture are collaborative and iterative. Threads overlap and ideas build off one another, but our knowledge and understanding of culture is based on the labor of specific individuals – those who have written and created reviews, features, videos, Wikipedia entries, blogs, and social posts on the internet for the past thirty years. As we puzzle through how to use these tools, we’ll seek to acknowledge that labor, and use tools, build models, and develop products that fairly compensate these individuals.
We will let our community – employees, contributors and clients – know how we are using this technology, and how it impacts our work. We will never use any contributor’s work in learning language models without their knowledge and consent. We will never use AI to develop an end-product without explicitly informing our client.
We want to continue to have these important conversations within our community. If you have thoughts, reservations, or want to bring up other considerations in regards to how we might best approach AI, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly: email@example.com
Few experimental musicians have as much personality as Amarillo, Texas native Hayden Pedigo. He’s established himself as one of the country’s most boundary-pushing solo guitarists—but he’s won even more fans for his puckish pranks and sly sense of humor. Most famously, he launched a surreal campaign for a seat on Amarillo’s city council—captured with pathos in the critically acclaimed documentary Kid Candidate. But he’s also memed his way into a Gucci runway show and recently has been merging his music with his goofball persona. Thanks partly to a series of strange videos accompanying his latest album, The Happiest Times I Ever Ignored, his profile has risen dramatically in recent months. He’s earned placements on playlists like Acoustic Melodies, fall feels, and Cosmic Country. It’s a strange place for such an experimental artist to be, but his charisma speaks for itself.
London-based, Singapore-born electronic pop artist yeule is a classically trained musician whose moniker references a character from Final Fantasy. Making art pop in the vein of Purity Ring and Grimes, yeule’s music is ethereal and digitally influenced. While they've been making music since 2014, they experienced breakout critical success with their 2022 sophomore album, Glitch Princess. Recently, yeule has been experimenting in more of an emo territory and stepped their toes into alt-rock with new singles “sulky baby” and “dazies.” But the pivot isn’t slowing their momentum: Within 10 days of the July 12 release of “dazies,” yeule shot to the top 2K dance, top 2K electronic, and top 5K pop artist rankings on Chartmetric and was featured in a number of Spotify playlists such as All New Indie, IRL ANGEL, and misfits 2.0.
Taking the name of a 19th-century French Romantic composer, UK jazz-electronic musician berlioz describes his sound as “If Matisse made house music.” Before self-releasing his debut EP, jazz is for ordinary people, on June 23, berlioz had only released three tracks. Despite this low output, at the time of this writing he has 1.4M monthly Spotify listeners, 298K followers on Instagram, and 6.6M likes across his TikTok posts. This might be due to his impressive social media strategy—his popularity on TikTok, for instance, comes from his posts, which often feature clips from well-known movies and animations with the caption “pov: you listen to berlioz.” While he’s only featured on three of Spotify’s editorial playlists, berlioz is placed at the top of each one and has even been on the playlist cover of Jazztronica since June.
Filipino funk-rock group Lola Amour are no newcomers to viral success: Their November 2022 single “Fallen” brought them huge success in the Philippines. Their breakthrough single, “Raining in Manila,” details the myriad emotions that arise when a loved one moves to another country. Since its June 14 release, the song has gained traction on TikTok (an uptick of 79K posts), where it has thrived in K-Pop AU (alternate universe) videos. After being featured in a popular AU about the K-Pop band ENHYPEN earlier this month, members Jungwon and Jake shared Lola Amour’s track during a Weverse Live to their fans. All the hype has paid off: The track now has 12.9M streams on Spotify, and Lola Amour’s Chartmetric score has increased 59.94% since July 7.
This Southampton-born singer-songwriter found his way into songwriting through the vocal pop legends he grew up listening to as a kid, like Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, and Adele. It shows in his moody yet virtuosic music, which draws on R&B, jazz, and classic pop to transmute pain and introspection into powerful, uplifting songs. He originally went viral in 2020 on TikTok with a cover of Jasmine Sullivan’s “Pick Up Your Feelings,” but he’s on the rise again thanks to the success of his single “ego talkin,” which he recently performed on the tastemaking YouTube channel COLORSxSTUDIOS in a video that's at 1.4M views as of this writing. The track is also popular on TikTok, where it has been used in over 2,000 videos since its mid-May release. His tracks also appear on popular editorial playlists like Chilled R&B, Channel-X, and idk, which have helped power him to over 777K monthly listeners on Spotify.
Liam McCay has released music under many different names, but the heavy-hearted lyricism of the music of his sign crushes motorists project is his most popular. Moody in the vein of Salvia Plath and Duster, McCay’s drowsy lo-fi tracks have garnered millions of streams. Only one song from 2022’s i’ll be okay hasn't passed 1M streams, while the best-performing track, “Better,” currently has over 9M. With little press coverage, the young Irish songwriter is finding success on apps like Spotify and TikTok. His monthly listeners have increased by over a million since the start of 2023, and his music can be found on many prominent playlists (like All New Indie, Spooky, and undercurrents), while #signcrushesmotorist has 20.5M views on TikTok.
The high-energy Dominican genre known as dembow has been having a global moment over the last few years, and Jey One, a 22-year-old rapper from Santo Domingo, is the scene’s latest rising star. Powered by cosigns from some of the genre’s most popular acts—like Yomel El Meloso, Bulova, and Chimbala—Jey’s ascent has been dramatic, with tracks like “Socorro” and “Gemelo” garnering millions of streams on Spotify. “Onana” is proving to be his big breakout, thanks in part to its wide reach on TikTok, where it’s been used in over 335K videos since its release in May. This viral success has led to his placement on popular playlists for the genre like Dembow Pegao. Time will tell if he’s able to attain the international success of the scene’s biggest stars, such as El Alfa, but he seems well on his way.
Lijay’s style is reminiscent of the 2010s SoundCloud rap era of heavily computerized and animated beats. The recent high school grad has capitalized on an ingenious marketing formula: riffing on famous imagery and using the word “freak” liberally, as in “live laugh love freaks” and “i love freaks.” The “I love NY” logo designed by Milton Glaser inspired the artwork for the latter, which has been used in over 121K TikToks and has 5.4M views on YouTube. With additional placements on playlists like Internet People and Most Necessary, Lijay is establishing a carefree community of fans that make up his 2.6M monthly Spotify listeners, while still only having released seven singles.
Rahill Jamalifard wears many hats: She runs a popular NTS radio show, is a visual artist, and is the lead singer of Habibi, a band that fuses psych rock, Motown-inspired harmonies, and Iranian musical influences. Some of Habibi’s lyrics are in Farsi—beautifully reflecting a diasporic experience—and Rahill has incorporated the language into her solo music as well. In 2022 she signed with Big Dada; she released her debut full-length album, Flowers At Your Feet, in May 2023. Rahill's Spotify traffic grew dramatically to nearly 300K monthly listeners in spring 2023. The record, produced by Arca producer Alex Epton (who has also produced FKA twigs), introduces Rahill’s work to new audiences via placement on major Spotify playlists, including Pollen, All New Indie, and Chill Vibes.
Florida rapper iCandy has experienced a precipitous rise over the past few months thanks to her hit single “Keep Dat N***a” and a TikTok dance challenge that powered the launch to viral success. Driven by a sample of an old KC and the Sunshine Band hit, the track is a hard-partying celebration of leaving a worthless ex in the past, a relatable sentiment that’s led to over 500K creates on TikTok and helped her garner over 3.2M monthly listeners on Spotify as well as a spot on Rap Caviar. And though the rest of her tracks haven’t enjoyed the same kind of success, her confident bars on 2022 singles like “Da Roof” and “Lie to Me” prove that she’s got the technical skills to back up her viral rise.
In the ripple of recent British post-punk updates, bar italia are creating new wave-tinged lo-fi rock, à la Slowdive and The Cure. Think Heatmiser meet Yves Tumor with a drop of Dean Blunt, whose World Music label released the London trio's first three projects. Now signed with Matador, bar italia have gotten a little more indie-pop polish, while retaining some grittiness for their third album, Tracey Denim, released in May 2023. In March, they released “Nurse!,” taking their Spotify monthly listeners from 50K to 200K. Though they rarely give interviews and have little social media presence, bar italia’s success is independent of their visibility. YouTube views for their video for “punkt” saw a 6.1K increase in late May. They have strong playlist support from Spotify and are currently on 38 Pandora stations as well as a handful of international Apple Music playlists.
Lagos-born ODUMODUBLVCK has a unique spin on Nigeria's burgeoning drill scene. While other international versions of the hard-nosed rap subgenre favor heavy bass and gruff delivery, he and his compatriots in the Abuja scene merge the nimble rapping of the sound with the delicate arrangements of R&B and highlife, creating one of the genre’s breeziest mutations. Fans have caught on to the singer and rapper's charm; he’s recently signed to NATIVE Records, in a joint venture with Def Jam, and hit singles like the sunny “PICANTO” have earned him over 1.1M monthly listeners on Spotify. Recent singles like the rebellious “DECLAN RICE” and his guest appearance on Joeboy’s “Normally” (which hit No. 36 on YouTube’s Nigeria Top Songs chart) have earned him prominent playlist placements on New Music Friday and Most Necessary.
Almost a year after he released his 2022 song “Tomioka,” 24-year-old New York rapper Jay Eazy decided to heavily re-promote it on TikTok this March, determined that it would again be “the song of the summer.” After one TikTok featuring Eazy's girlfriend got 5.5M views, the Demon Slayer-referencing track became a sleeper hit and spawned 251.1K videos. Though Jay Eazy had his first minor hit with the 2021 gimmick song “Pinkeye,” he’s been able to reel in his core audience of anime fans (which he’s built from his many anime-inspired songs), yet also appeal to a mainstream crowd with the catchy Ponderosa Twins Plus One sample on "Tomioka." The success of “Tomioka” is also translating off TikTok, as Jay Eazy’s Spotify monthly listenership has climbed from 226.6K to 686.6K since March.
Equal parts gaudy and gloomy, 6arelyhuman’s take on dance pop is introducing a new generation to the forgotten sounds of the Myspace era. Self-described as “the hottest alien in the club,” 6arelyhuman makes colorful pop songs that recall the Pixy Stix-snorting energy of 2000s Eurodance and the chaotic scene-dance of once-maligned acts like Brokencyde. The Auto-Tuned EmoDM banger “Hands up!” is 6arelyhuman’s first viral hit, garnering 73K TikTok creates and placements on playlists like Spotify’s hyperpop and Ultimate Pop Gaming. But other tracks like “XOXO (Kisses Hugs)” and “Death City” are on the rise too, each generating millions of streams of their own. No doubt, 6arelyhuman is set to bring some chaos to the club this summer.
For St. Louis rapper Sexyy Red, desire is an art. A string of viral tracks has kept her on rap's radar, with her brazen bars catching everyone's attention. Her breakthrough single "Pound Town," a collaboration with Memphis producer Tay Keith, is a maximalist's approach to bedroom banter. With an 89.1K increase in Shazam counts, it's clear that fans want in on Sexyy Red's charisma. Since March, the track's popularity soared and led to the artist’s rise on Spotify: She has 431 percent more monthly listeners (1.8M in total) and has received placements on prominent Spotify playlists like Get Turnt and Feelin' Myself. Sexyy Red's stellar features—on tracks including NLE Choppa’s similarly ribald “Slut Me Out” and Memphis rapper Gloss Up’s confident “Check”—has only left fans wanting more.
As a new signee to Latin Grammy winner Carin Leon’s label, Kakalo is the latest musician to successfully bring regional Mexican music to the global stage. Together, the two Hermosillo natives released “Mil Maneras de Morir,” inspired by American folk while using mariachi and crooning '50s rock to convey all-consuming heartache. The song has racked up 4M streams since its release on March 28 and has been added to major Spotify playlists like Top México (500,000 likes) and La Reina: Éxitos de la Música Mexicana (2.5M likes). With an influx of listeners, a viral hit, and the backing of one of the genre’s most established artists, Kakalo is finding his footing as a pioneer of this rich Mexican movement: Since April, his Spotify monthly listeners have increased from 50K to 1.6M.
We're at least two generations into the world of big data, where data points are generated by the millions and uses for them are multiplying exponentially, all the time. Data can be a powerful tool for understanding what's happening around us and making educated guesses about what's going to happen next. But it's only one type of information, and it will never completely unseat human intelligence and intuition as a likewise valuable tool for evaluating context. This is especially true when it comes to realms that are non-scientific, such as culture. Culture—meaning all the creative and decidedly human things we generate and exchange—is unpredictable and irrational, and that's a large part of what makes it so interesting.
Every day, people around the world are listening to music using dozens of platforms. And that generates big sets of data that can provide some level of insight into what's trending and what is meaningful. With something as subjective and amorphous as music, though, the cultural knowledge and intuition of humans is essential to making sense of the data. The key is to connect the quantitative (the data) with the qualitative (the human insights that contextualize it). Using those two analytical perspectives in tandem, it's possible to make sense of a mountain of information—combining, sorting, and analyzing it to discover where tastes, trends, and creativity are headed.
We're calling this music intelligence. The term refers to collecting and analyzing music consumption data and looking for patterns and also diversions from patterns, and then interpreting that information using human knowledge and learned intuition. This approach creates countless opportunities for companies that work in or partner with cultural enterprises of all kinds, including music.
Take the quirk from late 2022 where Lady Gaga's "Bloody Mary" (off 2011's Born This Way) saw an abrupt spike in traffic. What was going on? The wildly popular Netflix series Wednesday had featured a very memorable scene where the titular character performed a dance right up there with Napoleon Dynamite's most indelible sequence in terms of wonderful weirdness. TikTok noticed. TikTok could not resist the temptation to meme it to infinity. But instead of setting the memes to The Cramps' "Goo Goo Muck," which Wednesday danced to in the episode, the world of TikTok landed on "Bloody Mary." The platform is known for being an incubator where ideas get melted down, stirred together, and spat out as something new. But it takes human understanding to follow the data up the chain, find its apex, and contextualize a phenomenon so particular to its moment.
Viral trends on social media, like that one, often drive surges in catalog listening habits, and music curation projects need to examine those trends in order to understand what is happening and why. Then they can use that information to create experiences that are relevant and compelling to listeners. They can also assist owners of vast swaths of user-generated music in identifying the value in their portfolios in ways that are meaningful and even predictive. And the marketing departments of streaming platforms need data to identify and engage with highly relevant, on-brand emerging talent.
Doing this work effectively requires designing systems that strategically intertwine human expertise with the data, each providing checks and balances on the other. The first step is analysis of the data points, including their sources. For example, an artist or track surging on TikTok is an entirely different phenomenon than one surging on a traditional DSP. The music on TikTok is often not the centerpiece of the content, and while a spike on that platform can sometimes lead to lasting success, it’s frequently ephemeral. To get a sense of what direction a trend is headed, that signal needs to be analyzed alongside ones from platforms where music is the focus.
With understanding of the significance of relevant data signals in place, it's possible to construct a simple algorithm that establishes baseline criteria around artist performance across multiple platforms and then weights those signals appropriately. This algorithm can sift a pool of artist candidates to see which of them are likely gaining serious traction, versus enjoying a viral flash. Literally millions of artists (and AI bots) are looking for their big break at any moment, but only a fraction have the skills and timing to earn it.
Human intelligence re-enters the process at this point. Metrics measuring engagement (the number of people listening) and velocity (how quickly that number is growing) are invaluable, but in isolation they can be misleading. That's where highly specialized music experts spanning genres, scenes, and territories lend the big-picture context that's crucial to identifying what's actually happening. This team can include taste makers, DJs, writers, and people who are themselves musicians, past or present. They can discern the difference between an emerging act being signed to a buzzy label and a sound or genre entering the actual zeitgeist, making it more likely for adjacent artists to gain a broader audience. With the list of relevant emerging talent now sifted again, the remaining pool can still be large—as many as 1,000 artists.
To further winnow it down, data and human intelligence need to operate in tandem again. An algorithm that looks at the variance in the performance metrics between the remaining artists can produce a simple weighted score that accounts for those signals. The above visualization is an example of a Third Bridge Creative tool that presents a score to allow a subject matter expert to quickly orient around priority artists. This score enables the expert to provide the final—and crucial—layer: actually listening to the artists and evaluating their music and brand. This is perhaps the most important step, because regardless of what the data indicates, an artist is not going to be popular if their sound isn’t compelling.
Though the process laid out above is oriented around identifying emerging artists, music intelligence isn’t a single product or service. It's flexible and modular, a highly customizable approach to strategic content development and decision-making. The insights can identify trends in catalog music or help streaming platforms prioritize new releases. Marketing teams can also use the information to identify trends within the music world so they can make key alignments.
In the current world of music consumption, where more than 7 billion tracks are streamed every day, it's impossible to keep track of what's going on without the benefit of data. But to use that data effectively and figure out how to anticipate which 7 billion tracks will be queued up tomorrow and also next month, human intelligence is equally essential, and this is where the music intelligence approach produces results that either method can't achieve alone.
It’s hard not to be moved by Sam Barber’s fierce, sorrowful singing and delicate finger-picked guitar. After years of singing covers (a video of him singing Dani and Lizzy’s “Dancing in the Sky” received a whopping 4M views), the Missouri-born musician’s original songs are getting just as much buzz. Earlier this month, a snippet of “Straight and Narrow,” a contemplative country ballad, garnered 3.4M views on TikTok, with 40.6K users flocking to the sound since April 6. Barber’s earnest lyricism and rock influences have even translated to the Billboard charts: “Straight and Narrow” debuted at No. 24 on the Hot Rock Songs chart and No. 38 on Hot Rock & Alternative Songs. At just 18 years old, Barber is heralded as country’s next great storyteller.
BLP Kosher’s dizzy drawl resembles fellow Sunshine State artists like Kodak Black and SpotemGottem, but the Broward County native stands out from his contemporaries thanks to some inherent contrasts in his presentation. He wears his hair in wicks—a Florida-born hairstyle brought to the mainstream by Kodak—while centering his Jewish background in his public image. A snippet of his single “The Nac 2” generated nearly 2M plays on TikTok since January. On March 31, the provocative rapper released “Mazel Tron,” a punchy track featuring Michigan rapper BabyTron ripe with on-the-nose wordplay. Even without attention from legacy media publications, he’s received the ultimate co-sign from Lyrical Lemonade: a video directed by Cole Bennett. In the weeks since the premiere of “Mazel Tron,” the video has garnered nearly 2M views.
DJ/producer BAMBII has been a fixture in Toronto’s rave scene since the early 2010s, when she launched JERK, the cult queer party centering Caribbean music. After acting as a touring DJ with Mykki Blanco, she gained confidence to be a solo artist: She’s been issuing a steady stream of club-ready heaters since 2019—always an electrifying mix of dancehall, jungle, and garage. In February, she gained recognition for co-producing nine tracks on Kelela’s new album, Raven, and shared her rowdy new single “One Touch,” which earned Best New Music from Pitchfork. Since its release on April 3, her Spotify monthly listenership jumped from 31,554 to 124,283, signaling a breakthrough.
While most high school seniors are focused on graduation, rising rapper Kanii is still excited about his major-label debut single. His latest offering, "I Know," a song about a failed love has the right components for virality: a memorable hook and the popular Jersey Club bed squeak. When YouTuber Penguinz0 used "I Know" in a video a week after its release, it became the go-to sound for gaming and anime content. A student at Washington, D.C.'s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Kanii represents the intersection of traditional musicality and internet culture. With nearly 7M monthly listeners on Spotify, he’s a fixture on playlists like Mint and big on the internet.
Building a name on his introspective raps since 2015, Navy Blue has found his mainstream breakthrough with Ways of Knowing, his debut album for Def Jam. The Brooklyn-based rapper, producer, and skateboarder born Sage Elsesser is an established figure in the indie hip-hop scene, having collaborated with Earl Sweatshirt and provided crackling, soul-sampling beats for the likes of Wiki and MIKE. The reflections on love, family, and relationships on his new LP (released March 23) are the result of four years of soul-searching and closely working with the producer Budgie, which has led to a 129K percent increase in his Spotify editorial playlist reach.
Sometimes, when hyperpop sibling duo Frost Children are asked what kind of music they make, they respond “it’s confidential.” It’s a cryptic answer that nonetheless reveals the winking, satirical sensibility at the core of their music. On tracks like “BL!NK,” the duo reference Blink-182 and SpongeBob SquarePants over a beat that morphs from jittery and glitchy to a cyclone of raspy vocals, ricocheting drums, and chaotic, video game-like blips. Since getting their start during the onset of quarantine, they have released three full-length albums, with another slated to be released on April 14. With this new project, they are primed to bring their singular sense of humor to hyperpop.
Destroy Lonely has been making massive waves in internet rap’s everchanging vortex. In 2021, the Atlanta rapper signed with Playboi Carti's label, Opium, where he released NO STYLIST, a 19-track project bringing fans into his euphoric soundscape. Before he released “if looks could kill” last month, the single leaked and became hugely popular on TikTok and SoundCloud, building anticipation for its official release. As evidenced by over 14M Spotify streams and his appearances on coveted playlists like Rap Caviar, Destroy Lonely's growing popularity is positioning him as a must-see this festival season, when he'll perform before crowds at Rolling Loud, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza.
Boston-born artist Khamari is paving his own lane in R&B and soul. After leaving Berklee College of Music in 2017 to pursue a recording career, Khamari released Eldorado, an EP that bears acoustic and progressive R&B sensibilities. Khamari's now a Los Angeles resident, and his latest single, “On My Way,” is an autobiographical look at the singer-songwriter aiming to strike it big. The gentle song prominently samples 1972 Al Green classic “Love and Happiness” and as of this publication has achieved nearly 300k Spotify streams since its release, with Khamari garnering 428K monthly listeners (and climbing). Featured on noteworthy playlists like R&B Weekly, Lowkey, and R&B Rising, Khamari is writing his way into R&B’s future.
Generally speaking, artists don't literally break through overnight. For weeks or months or sometimes years before their name is on the tip of everyone's tongue, they've been working, creating blips in the collective music-listening radar, turning a few heads here and there. And right before the big moment, the velocity data—that is, the data that indicates how many new people are paying attention to them over time—gives a clue that the moment is nigh. They're ready to emerge.
These four artists are the ones we’ve identified for the latest installment of Sound Signal—a biweekly music intelligence newsletter, produced in partnership with Chartmetric, in which we identify emerging artists and tracks, as well as other scenes, trends, or new genres. Check out their music in the accompanying playlist. And if you like knowing what’s next, you’d probably enjoy Sound Signal.
You can sign up here.
With blazing punk riffs and catchy pop melodies, Meet Me @ The Altar have emerged as pop-punk’s new leaders since signing with Fueled by Ramen. After forming online in 2015 as teenagers, the trio started getting buzz with punchy, uplifting tracks like 2020’s "Garden" and 2021’s "Hit Like a Girl," an anthem of female solidarity. After opening for Green Day last summer, they released Past // Present // Future, a bold debut album that veers from honest self-deprecation to boundless optimism, earlier this month. Connecting with listeners who have waited for mainstream pop-punk to reflect its diverse fandom—all members of MM@TA are POC, with two of the members being queer. The LP has grown their Spotify playlist to 14M listeners.
The colorful K-pop girl group FIFTY FIFTY made a splash when they debuted in late 2022, impressing listeners—including The Recording Academy—with their remarkably self-assured approach to pop songcraft and a uniquely dreamy visual identity. Still, they’re rising even higher in early 2023 thanks to the success of "Cupid," a breezy cut that recalls both the simmer of early ‘00s R&B and the plasticine sheen of city pop. The track’s become a hit on shortform, notching over 41K creates on TikTok in just over a month, resulting in prominent playlist placements, including Spotify’s big on the internet and Pop Rising. All eyes are on FIFTY FIFTY, one of K-pop’s most ascendant new acts.
1nonly is a rising star of the internet-addled hip-hop scene known as aesthetic rap, owning his gruff-voiced cool on his 2022 single "Mine." He twists the TikTok-popular indie rock cut “Notion” by the Rare Occasions into a heavy-lidded, club-minded rap track. It’s not the only time he’s coasted over a beat featuring a viral sample—but he does so in a way that feels familiar yet true to his identity. He’s adopted other internet-popular genres like Phonk ("Step Back!") and rage ("GHOSTKILLA")—landing him on big editorial playlists that document online music (for example, Spotify’s Internet People and Top Gaming Tracks). With 6M monthly listeners on Spotify, he has a knack for reaching new audiences with every track.
Hailing from the UK, emerging singer and producer JayO blends smooth R&B and the heart of Afrobeats. "22," a sensual single, is nothing like the cheeky Taylor Swift track of the same name. After teasing a snippet on TikTok in January, 22-year-olds on the app rejoiced: The song has been used for over 200K creates, despite the Tottenham singer releasing the track in late February. In the month since its release, JayO has banked over 13M streams on Spotify and earned more than 4M monthly listeners.
We had to kick off this update with a nod to the Barbie phenomenon—”Barbie World,” by Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice, is taken from the movie soundtrack—but there's a lot more new music to absorb this week. Earl Sweatshirt is back with a knotty track that references the stars of Diddy’s “Making the Band,” we have another banger from newly minted K-pop superstars NewJeans, and Miami’s City Girls return with the club-ready “No Bars.” Indie-leaning selections include “17250,” a pop-punk singalong from young Floridian glaive that streamlines his hectic and lo-fi early work, the deeply emotive “A Good Thing” from Chicago bedroom singer-songwriter Claud, and a sturdy cowboy ballad, “For a Long While,” from Canadian singer-songwriter Colter Wall.