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Karis Pierre

Ones to watch: gal-dem’s 21 music acts for 2021

Sure, January wasn't the beacon of hope we were waiting for, but maybe discovering some new music can help spark some joy. Here are 21 artists and groups we're excited for this year.

28 Jan 2021

Let me not take up too much of your time with the intro. By now I think we are all aware that, even in these endlessly draining times, music has helped keep us going through it all. And so, for all that January was not the beacon of light and hope we might have been waiting for, there is still solace to be found in the spark when you hear something new for the first time and it fills you with joy, intrigue and excitement.

Accordingly, here is a non-exhaustive list of 21 artists and groups who we’re excited to hear more from this year. Maybe the whole “ones to watch” thing feeds into some kind of weird capitalist industry cycle, I’m not really sure. But taking a minute to celebrate some up and coming musicians in our communities who have us buzzed can’t be all bad, right?

Over the coming days, we’ll be sharing a few interviews with some of the names we’re spotlighting too. But for now, without further nonsense from me, here are gal-dem’s ones to watch for 2021.

Bree Runway

Where do we even begin with Bree? 2020 saw her star ascend and in 2021 she’s set to keep on shining. Swallowing genres and spitting them back out into something quite her own, our favourite east London pop girl counts Missy Elliott among her fans for a reason: Bree Runway is the future. – Tara Joshi  [READ OUR BREE RUNWAY INTERVIEW]

Cartel Madras

Cartel Madras are a Canadian duo merging dream-pop synths with spoken-word vocals. With their uptempo dance beats and nonchalant vocal delivery, they’ve mastered a unique and hard-to-replicate electronic hip-hop sound. Catching our attention with their saucy release ‘Working’, they’re an imperative act to look out for this year, with an EP lined-up for later in 2021. – Laviea Thomas 


At 18, Filipino-Australian daine’s dark electronic pop is captivating and escapist. Since her first single ‘Picking Flowers’ last year, she’s been bringing mid-00s emo vibes. Did we mention Charli XCX is a fan? – Narzra Ahmed

Desire Marea

Armed with an extensive arsenal of instruments and one heck of an arresting voice, South African artist Desire Marea’s experimental soundscapes are a force to be reckoned with. Atmospheric at times, chaotic and stuttering at others, they make for a strange yet fulfilling listening experience. After last year’s acclaimed debut album, we can only wait in anticipation for what’s next. – Safi Bugel


Dark psychedelic soundscapes, soaring guitar riffs, and moody vocals, the east London band’s music is every angsty teen and adult’s dream. Channelling nostalgia for the 2000s pop-punk and alt-rock reign, their song ‘ME ME ME’ perfectly captures the self-pitying, wallowing feeling we’ve all come to know stuck in lockdown, bound to our beds. – Melissa Kasule


Since releasing her first single ‘He’s Not Into You’ in April 2020, this southeast London rapper’s work has played an important role in uplifting the voices of young Black women in music and beyond with her profound lyrics and sweet melodies. – Tarzsa Williams


This Jamaican and Chinese singer-songwriter is already sparking noise after making BBC’s Sound of 2021 longlist and blessing us with the tear-inducing track ‘Love is a Compass’ for Disney’s Christmas ad. Heart-spilt ballads paired with her soft-spoken vocals and compelling hooks all point to her being the next pop protégé. – MK

Hope Tala

Okay so full disclosure, Hope was on our ones to watch for 2020 list too – we were right then, and we’re right now. The west London singer-songwriter makes sweet, lithe and fierce bops, is confidentially working with some *big* names, and her low-key rise last year has her poised for greatness this year. – TJ

Ivorian Doll

The self-proclaimed “Queen of Drill” has had a whirlwind of a year and it seems 2021 will be even bigger. The die-hard Barb has been building a profile with her transatlantic features as well as her fun and sexy showmanship that brings a star quality to drill music as it settles into the mainstream.  – Rahel Aklilu


An indigenous, trans artist based in Montreal, Kìzis takes influence from pop, poetry, Algonquin dance and techno. Her music has themes of love, joy and humour and her album Turn is out next month. It spans four hours and features over 50 artists including our fave Beverly Glenn-Copeland, and if it’s anywhere near as strange and exciting as her single ‘Amanda’ then we are ready. – NA

Lavida Loca

A rising star of the UK Rap renaissance, the 21-year-old Malawi-born artist has a swagger and depth to her that intrigues listeners, which is probably why she’s been named as one of 1Xtra’s ‘Hot for 2021’ artists too. Determined to make a mark this year,  Lavida has recently launched a body-positive campaign to highlight skinny-shaming in the industry: #littlebootiesmatter. – RA


Melbourne-based producer Samantha Poulter creates conceptual soundscapes that seem carelessly experimental yet hyper-accurate in their production. On her eponymous fourth release, she cements her heady, bold sound which takes inspiration from UK-centric dance rhythms and vocal samples, delivering niche musicality which also appeals to everyone. – Malvika Padin

Lucinda Chua

With a prodigious touch to her musical abilities, cellist and vocalist Lucinda Chua is an FKA twigs collaborator who began her musical journey at the young age of three. Her first solo EP, Antidotes 1 highlighted music safely nestled somewhere between experimental classical, R&B and pop, establishing her penchant for introspection, tinged with the brilliance born from years of technical training. – MP

Meet Me @ The Altar

Thrashing themselves into a currently white, cis-male space, are pop-punk goers Meet Me @ The Altar. Having recently shared their colossal single, ‘Garden,’ the US trio are since a force to be reckoned with. Newly signed to Fuelled by Ramen records (home to Paramore, Panic! At The Disco and more), it’s refreshing to see WOC thrive in this scene.  – LT


Piercing stereotypes with powerful, genre-defying music South London artist Mysie’s talent is limitless. The winner of the inaugural Rising Star Award at the Ivor Novello Awards 2020, Mysie ended the year with single ‘Patterns’, establishing her ability to draw people in with unfailing creativity, versatile vocals and poignant messaging that underlines freedom and pride in her African heritage. – MP

Priya Ragu

This Swiss-Tamil artist is making music with her brother – it’s a genre they call “Raguwavy” melding lush soul and south Indian sonics. It’s magic and we are very gassed to hear more. – TJ

Sabrina Bellaouel

A French-Algerian vocalist, her latest single ‘Float’ is taken from her magic Libra EP. Her brand of electronic R&B makes use of spoken word and broken beats alongside the soulful sounds of Sabrina’s honeyed vocals, carrying the message of women’s empowerment. – NA


The self-proclaimed Queen of the South spits bars with an intimidating composure, calling out your local wastemen through her cutthroat cynicism, Nandos references and biting retorts in her native tongue. Though Shaybo’s been rapping since the Limewire days, her recent releases have pushed her further into the spotlight and 2021 looks even bigger yet. – SB


As alté raises its profile outside the continent, the tender-voiced Tems has been building her own momentum for a while, fusing it with R&B and neo-soul to create a distinct approach. She simply has not stopped delivering – whether featuring on Show Dem Camp’s album on a track with fellow alté babe Amaarae, or proving herself a standout feature on Wizkid’s heavenly ‘Made In Lagos’. – RA

Tia Carys

A modern-day storyteller with a knack for versatility, the west London rapper-singer is not afraid to bare all in her music. The 21-year-old opens up on her EP project EnRoot about her sexuality, emotional breakdowns and toxic relationships. With a command to flow on drill or stripped-back percussion, she guarantees excitement. – MK


If ever we needed a glimmer of reassurance to cling on to, it’s now. Fortunately, New York singer-songwriter Zsela’s earthy tones and silky instrumentals give just that. While we wait to see what’s in the bag for her in 2021, last year’s debut EP continues to provide a balm for a trying time. – SB

You can listen to all our ones to watch on our Spotify playlist: