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Who are the ones to watch in music in 2021?

Griff and Alfie Templeman (PA)
Griff and Alfie Templeman (PA)

The past 12 months have not been kind to the music industry.

With the spread of coronavirus came the cancellation of concerts and festivals across the UK – important platforms for up-and-coming artists, and the disruption is set to continue into 2021.

Despite this, a crop of talent have managed to make their voices heard online.

Here are the acts to keep on your radar in the coming months.

– Pa Salieu

Pa Salieu (Will Robson Scott/PA)

Gambian-British rapper Pa Salieu exploded onto the UK rap scene with his single Frontline back in January.

A seamless blend of chilling melodies, drill beats and bubbling Afroswing, the track prompted comparisons to J Hus, another pioneer of the genre.

It became the most played track of 2020 on BBC 1Xtra and shone a light on a city not often associated with rap, Pa Salieu’s hometown of Coventry.

The 22-year-old released his debut mixtape Send Them To Coventry this October, its title a nod to the idiom meaning to ostracise someone.

Critics overwhelmingly praised the 15-tracks effort’s raw combination of musicality and social commentary, as Pa Salieu explored his heritage and Coventry’s status as a forgotten city in rhyme.

– Griff

Ivor Novello Awards 2020
Griff (The Ivors Academy with Apple Music/PA)

Sarah Griffiths was perhaps the breakout star of the year.

The singer may be 19 and still living at home with her parents, but that has not stopped her from making waves in the music industry.

This was a year that saw release a bevy of tracks on Warner Records, win a spot on the Ivors’ rising stars shortlist and perform a song for Disney’s Christmas advert.

Born in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, Griff’s earliest memory of music was being gifted an iPod Shuffle with Taylor Swift’s 2008 album Fearless on it.

She now cites Sia and Julia Michaels as influences.

With the release of her debut album slated for 2021, there’s much of the horizon for Griff.

– The Snuts

The Snuts (Gary Williamson)

Guitar music may be out of fashion, but Scottish band The Snuts are on course for success in 2020 with their fluid brand of blues and hip hop-driven rock.

The four-piece’s debut EP reached number 14 in the charts back in March but, of course, their live dates and release schedule were halted by coronavirus.

But now their debut album, WL, is slated for release in March and they have a sold-out gig at legendary Glasgow venue Barrowlands in the diary, things seem brighter.

Their debut EP, titled Mixtape, was overseen by Inflo, the producer behind Michael Kiwanuka’s Mercury Prize-winning Kiwanuka and Little Simz’ Grey Area.

This should be a hint towards their evolving sound – experimental, atmospheric, raucous.

– Holly Humberstone

Grunge guitars? Check. Deep, soulful voice? Check. Impeccable songwriting? Check.

Despite only having released one EP, Grantham-raised singer Holly Humberstone appears to have nailed her sound.

The 21-year-old, who gained valuable exposure supporting Lewis Capaldi on tour prior to the pandemic, combines the moodiness of Radiohead with the lightness of Damien Rice.

Like her Gen Z compatriot Billie Eilish, Humberstone tackles mental health and first love in her music, but with a deftness and maturity rarely seen in young artists.

Fans of Lorde and Phoebe Bridgers should keep a close eye on this one.

– Alfie Templeman

In a cheerless year, artists turned to music for escapism, with names like Dua Lipa and The Weeknd drawing on 80s pop and disco for elevation and inspiration.

Bedfordshire singer-songwriter Alfie Templeman, while only 17, looks to the same decade in his music with an added dash of something else.

Aged 10, he started his recording career, laying down demos and burning them to CD in his bedroom.

By 13 he was creating full-length songs.

Happiness In Liquid Form, his single released earlier this year, solidified his songwriting into something concrete.

After experimentations with funk, progressive rock and grunge, Templeman settled on grooving indie rock (think The Stone Roses) and soaring, maximalist choruses.

It’s a sound that will likely carry him to success in 2021.

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