Throughout the past year, the music industry has seen an explosion of young talent popping up all over online platforms. From rappers gaining fame on TikTok to indie artists going viral on YouTube, it’s clear that social media savvy Gen Z singers are poised to dominate the 2020s. Listeners are searching for singers with relatable lyrics and strong aesthetics, and our Gen Z peers have answered the call. Here is a list of six rising artists, 22 years old and under, who are producing some of the best hits of our digital age:
Clairo is a lo-fi singer-songwriter who gained fame when her song “Pretty Girl” went viral on YouTube in 2017. Since her first hit, Clairo has released multiple singles and a studio album, Immunity, featuring soothing indie rock songs like “Sofia” and “Bags.” Clairo’s lyrics often tackle her feelings of heavy expectations and uncertainty regarding the future, making her discography an epitome of Gen Z angst. When combined with her tracks’ pared-down production and her natural persona which defies the stylized perfection of mainstream female artists, she has garnered a fan base that prizes her raw reliability. Clairo also openly includes female pronouns in her love songs, making her a fledgling LGTBQ+ musical icon for the younger generation.
- Olivia Rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo is a Disney channel actress and singer who burst onto the music scene this year with her smash hit “drivers license.” The song’s dreamy vocals, impressive storytelling and iconic bridge immediately launched Olivia into superstardom, and she shows no signs of slowing down. This month she released the stunning follow-up single “Deja Vu,” which also successfully captures feelings of young love in an innovative pop format. Music lovers should keep their eyes on Olivia, as she plans to come out with her debut album in May. She’s already shown incredible talent at just 18 years old and is sure to continue defining Gen Z songwriting.
- Conan Gray
Conan Gray is an indie-pop singer who began his musical journey on YouTube. Branching off of a successful video making career, Conan released his first full album, Kid Krow, in 2020 and has found commercial success with hit singles like “Maniac” and “Heather.” His lyrics perfectly reflect the anxieties and hopes of the Gen Z internet teens, with themes of questioning cultural norms, feeling peer pressure and coping with social media’s flex culture. Conan has also developed a signature laid back, gender-bending style which plays into current fashion and lifestyle aesthetics all over social media. His eloquent songwriting has spoken to Gen Z during the generation-defining pandemic, and fans eagerly await his next big project.
- Chloe x Halle
Chloe x Halle are a sibling double-act who are leading the Gen Z era of R&B. Known for their impeccable harmonies and polished performances, the duo rose to fame due to their YouTube covers and the mentorship of the legend herself, Beyonce. They have since produced critically acclaimed albums (even receiving Grammy nominations!), with their most recent project being their 2020 album, Ungodly Hour. The sisters’ hit songs like “Do It,” “80/20” and “Forgive Me” perfectly blend old-school references and distinctly youthful beats and lyrics, creating instant classics which circulate on social media. They are also accomplished actresses and talented dancers; what’s not to love?
Mxmtoon, whose real name is Maia, is a folk-pop artist and known for her gentle melodies and signature ukulele playing. Maia grew her audience on Youtube where she built a connection with her listeners who relate to her quirky, introverted internet persona. Her biggest hit to date is the emotional song, “prom dress” which details a quintessentially Gen Z story of coming of age and the pressure teens face nowadays. Maia’s songs like “prom dress” can be characterized as a type of twee-pop that has matured throughout her discography, culminating in her 2020 two-part album, dawn and dusk. The album’s tracks like “Fever Dream” combine catchy melodies with personal storytelling to create the intimate feeling which seems to define many Gen Z artists’ point of view in the music industry.
24kGoldn is a California rapper who has taken TikTok by storm. Having broken into the rap game with his single “Valentino,” 24kGoldn was highlighted by the hip hop magazine XXL as a rising star in 2020. He has since topped the Billboard charts with his song “Mood” and in March of this year released his first studio album, El Dorado, featuring collaborations with heavy hitter rappers like Future and DaBaby. 24kGoldn’s songs embrace “emo trap” elements and straddle the genres of pop-punk and traditional rap. This innovative style has found massive appeal among Gen Z TikTok users, with his success speaking to a wider shift in the taste of young music consumers who appreciate music that defies typical genre boundaries.
Young, innovative musicians who embody Gen Z’s trends and ideals deserve a spot on our playlists. Check out these six artists’ latest releases and dig past their viral hits to find some of their hidden gems. Each musician on the list is a household name in the making, so you’re sure to find a fav new song to appreciate!