Top 10 Uncharted Pop Songs to Know Now

More so than ever before it seems impossible for up-and-coming artists to reach the ears of mainstream listeners. Perhaps today’s magazines are to blame, all hesitant to waste precious time and real estate on a fresh musician that can’t promise the thousands of clicks publications now need  to stay in business. (Writing about Drake will always ensure a stronger ROI than featuring a promising newcomer with less than 20 devoted fans, and that’s the sad truth).

When Selena Gomez releases a single, it receives attention that’s embarrasingly comparable to an Obama-related news story, while an unearthed musician’s latest effort might as well have never happened—mere stardust in the expansive online galaxy. To combat this norm, we’ve pulled together a list of our favorite sleeper singles from 10 deserving artists all well-equipped to take over pop radio. Because there’s more to this world than Beyoncé.


“Backbeat” by DAGNY

Here we have the absolute best chorus that music’s heard in the past few months, leave (maybe) Gwen Stefani’s tearjerker “Used To Love You.” There’s simply no chance this track couldn’t ignite any dull crowd, regardless of the demographic—it shines with an immediately engaging tenor, like feeling the warm spring sun after a long winter. With its bouncy percussion and bright piano melody, DAGNY’s “Backbeat” is everything delightful about pop music, wrapped as an irresistible radio contender. Listen, below, and resist (quite literally) skipping down the sidewalk:

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“NoLo” by Grace Mitchell

Lifted off Grace Mitchell’s impressive five-track EP Raceday, “NoLo” is a fairly straightforward, easy listen, packed tight with exciting subtleties that add dimension to this bright pop winner. Rumbling guitars swing happily alongside nostalgic backup vocals, as Mitchell’s earthy alto drives the song toward a smooth, passionate chorus. “How do you know what the top looks like when you’re living on the bottom?” she questions, before slipping into an unexpected autotuned bridge. Listen below, and imagine yourself cruising lakeside with a bike basket-full of daisies (It’s very that):

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“Young Heart” by FREJA

To fully understand Denmark’s FREJA, you’d need to indulge in her “Young Heart” music video—a fantastic Godard-inspired clip that makes everyday backdrops—trailer and amusement parks, hotel rooms and empty beaches—feel far from mundane. The scandinavian singer’s sound is sonically charged with 80’s synth-pop luster and lyrically armed with the campy “hopeless romantic” archetype that’s in this case, simply irresistible. Listen, below, and lose yourself in a banging pop song that breathes life into a trend-driven landscape:

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“Kimono” by MNDR

Having co-penned tracks with major artists like Kylie Minogue, Rita Ora and Santigold, it’s time for LA-based singer/songwriter MNDR to have a major (well-deserved) moment in the spotlight. Following her standout 2012 LP Feed Me Diamonds, including the fiery cut “Faster Horses,” MNDR has released “Kimono,” which is featured in a teaser for season 11 of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Her stylish new single is the musical equivalent of Bianca Jagger posing on a white horse in Studio 54—quietly retro and slicker than a Tom Ford runway. Listen, below, and imagine yourself strutting earnestly with a Diana Ross ‘fro and RuPaul’s highest platforms:

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“Intention” by Kiiara

Despite being a staple soundcloud artist, Kiiara’s yet to cross over into the Top 40 pop playground. Her sexy single “Intention,” produced by Casper & B, is equally sophisticated as it’s prepped for the foggiest underground nightclub where all shameless 4 a.m. ventures are happily overlooked. Part of the reason why this chorus is so unbelievably infectious is that it’s coincidentally set to the same beat as TLC’s 1999 hit, “Scrubs.” Listen, below, and you’ll see what we mean:

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“Loudspeaker” by MUNA

LA-based outfit MUNA—armed with an all-woman roster—is the most important on-the-rise band, right now. Lead singer Katie Gavin’s walls-down lyrics are brutally honest, while still sounding “pop”—a seamless marriage of style and substance that’s terribly difficult for most to nail. The band’s third single, “Loudspeaker,” is their strongest yet with a chorus that will have you screaming to the stars and never once questioning yourself. Listen, below, and remember the moment you first hear MUNA before they inevitably reach stadium-sized success.

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“WorkX2” by Annie

Norwegian dance-pop icon Annie delivers exactly what one would expect from a Norwegian dance-pop icon. Listen to the Richard X collaboration, below, and let “WorkX2″ be the reason to spend an extra 30 minutes at the gym:

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“Dancing Thru It” by Mr. Hudson

After making a comeback appearance during Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreaks concert last month in Los Angeles, Yeezy’s longtime collaborator released “Dancing Thru It”—a somber, melodic cut about the singer’s “dark days” that sonically picks up where tracks like “Supernova” and “There Will Be Tears” left off. Mr. Hudson’s softly autotuned vocals strongly soar above the song’s cloudy, puttering production, making his sorrows sound beautiful, per usual. Listen, below, and bow down to UK’s most emotive crooner:

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“Play It On My Radio” by Niki & The Dove

Mirroring a soundtrack to some sunset-framed finale in a fuzzy ’80s film, Niki & The Dove’s latest effort is warmly nostalgic, like the melancholic sister to Madonna’s palm tree floor-filler “Holiday.” The harmonious single finds the Swedish duo reveling in a more muted soundscape, pulling out Phil Collins-style vocals from the pop grave and pairing this with richly organic synths. Listen, below, and allow yourself to melt into this soothing stunner:

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“Doors” by Cardiknox

The Cardiknox we saw open for Take Me When You Go singer Betty Who more than a year ago is not the Cardiknox we see today. A NY-based duo that once felt lost in the greater pop landscape has returned powerfully, armed with a more refined, mature sound. Happily on the outskirts of overworked trends this time around, “Doors” reads like a genuinely pensive effort, centered simply on the difficulties of  life. “When I’m diving in the deep, won’t always land on my feet,” sings lead vocalist Lonnie Angle with believable intent. Listen, below, and welcome a newly refurbished Cardiknox into your life.

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Justin Timberlake Could Play Daddy Warbucks in Jay-Z’s ‘Annie’ Remake

Alright, so, the headline. It’s a fact. Justin Timberlake could play Daddy Warbucks in a new movie version of Annie. I mean, anyone could play Daddy Warbucks in a new movie version of Annie. Jon Hamm. Seth MacFarlane.  David Copperfield. Martin Short. Charlize Theron. The dead body of Johnny Cash. Joaquin Phoenix in character as Johnny Cash. Your mom. Denzel Washington. Annie Potts. Sally Struthers. Lena Dunham. Angela Bassett. See what I’m saying? Literally anyone can play Daddy Warbucks, but not just anyone should play Daddy Warbucks. The person to play Daddy Warbucks should, well, be old and white, probably. And preferably male. Justin Timberlake should not play Daddy Warbucks, but Justin Timberlake might play Daddy Warbucks. 

Of course, tell that to the New York Post, who published this "news" "item":

Justin Timberlake could team with Jay-Z yet again. Hollywood sources are buzzing that JT’s being considered to star as Daddy Warbucks, opposite Quvenzhané Wallis, in the upcoming Jay-Z and Will Smith-produced remake of “Annie.” JT, who has the single “Suit & Tie” with Jay, and an impending tour, has been honing his acting chops with roles in the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” and the Ben Affleck film “Runner, Runner.” But a rep for Sony said of JT’s role, “Not true.”

Let’s hope that anonymous Sony rep is being honest. Can you imagine? Imagine the implications of Justin Timberlake saving poor little Quvenzhané Wallis from the despair of impoverished orphanhood. Through song and dance. I mean, really, Black Annie and White Daddy Warbucks probably says a whole lot about race in America already, but Justin TImberlake, who is basically delivering comfortable and non-threatening R&B music to our moms, really makes it much more complicated, huh?

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Quvenzhané Wallis To Star In ‘Annie’ Remake

Some good news for once! Quvenzhané Wallis, the pint-sized star of Beasts Of The Southern Wild, will star in the remake of Annie.

Rumors have been circulating that Quvenzhane — who can sing and dance, apparently — could play the titular role after Willow Smith, who was originally cast to play Annie, aged out of the role. The Annie remake is being co-produced for Sony and Overbrook by Willow’s parents, Will and Jada Smith, and Jay-Z. The film is due out during the holiday season of 2014, The Wrap reports

Quvenzhané Wallis, age 9, has been nominated for a 2013 Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Hushpuppy in Beasts.

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Willow Smith Gets Passed Over as Star of ‘Annie’ Remake

Remember when Willow Smith whipped her hair back and forth? Man, those were heady days… back in 2010. She’s been kinda under the radar ever since, despite collaborations with Nicki Minaj. I mean, let’s be honest, there’s only room for one big star in the Smith household, and that will always be Will. Look what happened to Jada Pinkett Smith! (Ahhh, I just remembered her goth-metal phase. That was a fun time!) Little Willow’s big break came and went, but at least she’ll always have the starring role the updated reimagining of Annie, right? Think again: she’s too old for the part now. Tough break, kid. (Just kidding: you’e super rich, you’ll be fine.) 

[via Deadline]

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Gotye’s Confusing, Challenging, Scary World

We all know the story by now: Australian singer-songwriter Gotye, aka Wally de Backer, works for years at home. His international presence is pretty quiet. Suddenly, his song “Somebody That I Used To Know” explodes, giving oddball pop a place on the charts again. Now, he’s performing at Radio City Music Hall, riding comfortably on the back of his 2011 LP Making Mirrors. He’s the guy with the unlikely hit on club-obsessed radio playlists, and he’s holding his own.

I caught up with de Backer on the phone to talk touring, writing, and itching to get back in the studio.

Where are you right now?
I’m in Las Vegas right now, at the House of Blues.

Is this your first time in Vegas?
Second time, first time playing a show there.

It’s kind of overwhelming, isn’t it?
Yeah, when I was first here a few years ago, I didn’t really enjoy it much. But we’re playing a show, and it looks good, we’re playing upstairs. Got a bunch of friends in the band and crew, so maybe we’ll head out and see something later. I wish I could see a Cirque du Soleil show while I was here, but no such luck.

At least you can fit in some gambling at the airport.
It’s amazing what kind of poker machines they have there.

You recently took Chairlift on tour. How was that?
It was great, I love that band. They were really fantastic to play with.

How did that come about? Did you invite them?
Yeah, all the guys in the band were really big fans of their second record. We played in Hamburg in Germany on our last tour and they were really lovely and played a great show. So I just asked, and they said yes.

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened to you on this tour?
I’m not really sure, not very much. Nothing really comes to mind. Been pretty even-keeled. I met Akon last night, that was interesting.

Oh, at the VMAs?
Yeah, I was at the VMAs. It’s pretty likely that you’ll bump into somebody at one of the parties. He was very enthusiastic about my music, which was cool and unexpected.

You know by now that you’re ubiquitous. Being from Australia, was being successful in America a goal for you when you were starting out?
I don’t know if it was a goal. I guess my goal with this record, as far as America was concerned, was just to get the record released. I tried to find an American label for my last album, Like Drawing Blood, and didn’t succeed after trying. I didn’t have a manager or an agent or any connection to give me a platform, so I ended up putting it out myself on iTunes and a few other services. My hope was for it to be coming out and be available on vinyl and CD and just broadly release something. The fact that it’s gone so well has been great.

Growing up and making music over the last ten to twelve years, I’ve never really dreamed about the scale of doing big tours or being onstage in front of thousands of people, as exciting as that can be. I don’t know; I like disappearing into the world of music itself and staying home and experiencing the connections that happen between people when you’re making music, recording records, or playing with my band. I like the audience as well, but I guess I just haven’t dreamed about it, like it’s some kind of goal or that it will satisfy me to get to that point to be able to do that. It’s been incredibly fun, and I’m enjoying it more and more, especially touring America over the past year. It’s almost like I’ve discovered it rather than it having been a thing I’d dreamed of for ages and now it’s coming true.

Would you say that in Australia, the music scene is more insular?
Well, because Australia is so far away from so many places, it’s very expensive for a band to get out. Not even out of Australia, just out of their city.

What’s coming up for you next?
Lots of shows, really. That’s what we’ve done for four months so far, here in the States. I’m going to Europe and playing some places I haven’t been to before, going to Poland and Portugal for the first time. Then we finish with shows back in Australia, which is going to fun. I’ve got some friends who’ve played in the live line-up for the band who are going to be back in the band, I’ve got horns and more backing vocals. I’m just taking it a day at a time on the tour, trying to enjoy different aspects. We spent a few days in LA and I’m really getting to like LA because there are so many interesting people and I’ve met a lot of people I’d like to work with in the future. I’m excited to travel next year and start writing new stuff and see some different places around the world.

Do you write on the road?
I’ve tried in the past, but it’s never been very successful.

Are you one of those people who needs to have a cabin in the woods, a total seclusion kind of thing?
I think it does help. I think it’s also because when you’re on tour and you’re meeting so many people and playing shows, there’s so much input. Especially when you’re enjoying it, it’s great. It’s not even necessarily that it’s overwhelming, just that you need a certain amount of withdrawal or a little bit of boredom, just that space to push myself to create and process a bunch of stuff. There’s just not much space or physical time to do that on the road.

Do you still try to take note of smaller ideas to expand on when you get to settle down?
Here and there. I try to recollect things we might jam with in sound check. I’ll make notes on potential song titles or sketches of lyrics, but it’s pretty infrequent. They’re only little placeholders at best.

What would you say that your writing process is like?
It is, for me, confusing, challenging, scary, and self-defeating. But good, usually, in the end. Going through that process and ending up with anything I find half-decent has always been kind of cathartic.

You can’t be too self-defeating, or you wouldn’t be here.
Yeah. I get asked a lot about being a perfectionist and stuff like that. It doesn’t matter if it hasn’t been tinkered or labored with too studiously. Usually I go in with one idea about what a song is about or what I want the production of a certain recording to evoke sonically for me. If I have that in my mind, [I make it happen], whether it happens quickly or whether it takes months of tinkering with samples and remixing or redoing vocals so that I can realize that feeling that I want from it. That’s kind of my process.

Which also makes it so compelling that you have become popular in America, because we’ve become used to everything being optimized for low-quality mp3s, and then you show up with something much more rich and subtle.
Thank you. Other aspects of my record, they’re still quite lo-fi, that’s because of the sources, the sampling, and I’m really not a great engineer. Francois Tetaz, who mixes my records, sometimes has to do it. I think sometimes the challenge with my stuff is trying to hold true to the vibe of what I record in my own way, which can be quite idiosyncratic and very lo-fi in certain ways. The challenge can be to make that translate when it’s put alongside something like what you described, very highly synthesized, heavily compressed pop music that has a lot of transience and tries to jump out of your speakers and smash you in the face. A lot of contemporary music is produced that way. It’s not like you want to be competitive with that stuff, but sometimes the challenge is making something sound like it’s not completely from a different world and still staying true to the aura of what I produced originally.

There’s also so much diversity to Making Mirrors. Do you try to mix things up live and present different versions of songs?
There are a few arrangements we’ve done on this tour that are new, songs we haven’t played before and really tried to come up with arrangements that suited the live environment. We take the album version as a starting point. I should do more of it with other songs in the future with the live show.

Is there anything specific that you hope people take away from your show?
I guess I hope that they feel like it was an immersive experience, between the visuals and sound, and one that has some twists and turns and surprises and is a moving thing, one that makes you feel like you’ve gone to a lot of different places, maybe somewhere you didn’t expect to go to. Maybe it’s a lot to ask, but I guess that’s what I hope.

Who are some new artists you’re excited about right now?
I really love tUnE-yArDs. I recently downloaded the Divine Fits record, and I really like a few tracks off of that. It’s great, I’m a big fan of Spoon and it’s interesting to hear a different take. Nick Launay, who produced the record, tipped me off to that album, so that’s a good one.

Would you say that you try to keep up with new artists, or stick with older stuff?
I’m always looking out for new stuff. I discover older music [as well]; my drummer Michael’s always good because he’s got a very encyclopedic music collection. You go record shopping with him and he’ll be like, "Yeah dude, have you heard of this record? You’ve got to check it out. 1974, these guys were doing this stuff, that guy was playing in this band and produced this thing and it all connects." He’s very good at contextualizing and giving tips for records I might otherwise pass by. My friends give me a bunch of new music and I’m always looking for new things that I find interesting. There’s a really incredible amount of new music that’s being recorded and released that’s very inspiring.

You mentioned you’re going to Poland and Portugal soon. Where’s the most unusual place you’ve ever played?
We played at this pool party for the KROQ radio station at Coachella Festival earlier this year. It was about 110 degrees and some of the computers from the house desk had a meltdown during the set, and there were girls in bikinis at this pool party and I’m trying to sing these peculiar songs about my home organs, and that felt quite incongruous.

Is there anywhere you haven’t played yet that you would like to go to?
We haven’t been able to go to Scandinavia yet. I have friends in Norway, and I would love to go and play in Oslo. I hope we get to Scandinavia, and I would love to play more broadly in Asia and see more of those countries. Maybe next year, we might go to Singapore and visit China, so that’s really exciting.

It’s interesting that you mention Scandinavia, because some of what you do also has that clean, well-measured quality to it that a lot of music from there has.
Is there any Scandinavian stuff you’re really into?

I just saw this group called Icona Pop, but that’s more straight dance-pop, following in the whole Robyn or Annie kind of thing. Would you say that a lot of Scandinavian artists inspire you?
I’ve liked a bunch of stuff that Robyn and Annie have put out. Others from Scandinavia, I’m trying to think. I really like the Jónsi record, but that’s not technically Scandinavian. Kings of Convenience, from Norway, are one of my favorite bands. Really beautiful band, one of the best live shows I’ve ever been to.

Where do you think you can go from here?
I don’t know, Siberia? Maybe I’ll just go home for a while, that’ll be welcome.

Anything else you’re into right now that you want to shout out, bands or anything else you think is cool?
Jumping into my mind…you mentioned Chairlift before, the other guy supporting us on this tour is a young guy called Jonti, who put out a couple records on Stones Throw, and he is really fantastic, I think. Beautiful producer and sonic experimentalist. I think people might really enjoy listening to his records and what he does with sound and the melting pot of things he brings together. He’s doing some really clever things with his live show, and his records are sterling, so check them out.

Pop Princess Annie’s Triumphant Return

With pop enjoying a sparkly renaissance worldwide this year, perhaps the series of delays prolonging pop princess Annie’s latest record, Don’t Stop, for nearly two years were ultimately serendipitous. Out now, her long-awaited comeback may be a last-minute addition to the inevitable flurry of year-end top tens, as it stands strong start to finish. The return of Annie poetically caps off a year that has seen an impressive new wave of pop stars — from no-brainers like Lady Gaga to on-fire upstarts like La Roux, VV Brown, Marina & the Diamonds, and Florence + the Machine. Annie is sunny as ever when discussing the fumbles of the major label responsible for stopping Don’t Stop in its first go-around. In fact, after the break, she even hints at how it afforded her extra time to make the effort shinier, even though this resulted in accidental cast-offs, later packaged in a special EP. “Hardcore fans are going to like it,” she adds. Although most will find to hard it resist the wiles of an easygoing pop star who can talk about Serge Gainsbourg and Girls Aloud in the same breath.

Well hello, Annie. How are you? Good. There was supposed to be a storm outside, but there isn’t.

Tell me about Don’t Stop. What were you inspired by? I would go into the studio — sometimes after watching TV, bored — and wanted to write about what I saw. “Marie Cherie” was inspired by Serge Gainsbourg. I found inspiration from italodisco and electronic music too. Some clubby music too for “I Don’t Like Your Band” and straight-up pop for “My Love Is Better.”

Speaking of “My Love Is Better,” British pop band Girls Aloud originally sang back-up on that song. But then their vocals were dropped. Why? They were around the studio, recording “Can’t Speak French” and liked the song. So they did the vocals. But then their record label contacted their management. Their management panicked and were afraid it would’ve crashed.

The record was supposed to be released a while ago, wasn’t it? The main reason it took a while to record was because the president of Island Records moved to EMI. So I ended up working with another person. In the end it didn’t work out. Island didn’t listen to what I or my management said.

What about “Girlfriend” — the originally planned comeback single which was out in 2008? The comeback single had no build-up. The “Girlfriend” release wasn’t right.

What did you do then? I left Island and got the rights to the music back. I had to get my own team.

But this wasn’t your first time going indie? I released my first two albums independently.

What was it like to going back to your indie roots? It’s much more work. But it was great. I was more in control.

Anniemal Gets Ready to Bite Back

Some Scandinavian pop pixies have all the luck. And others end up stranded on the outskirts of record label limbo with only the fingerprint-smudged masters of their unreleased gems. Such is the agonizing odyssey of Annie, who not only won hearts over the world with 2004’s Anniemal but also earned a 1,000-plus word profile at The Guardian and then looked poised to do it all over again with this candy-colored kiss-off and an album called Don’t Stop. But then, late last year, in the cruelest ironies, her career stopped and the blogosphere darling ended up a casualty of industry indecision.

Since parting ways with Island Records, the hi-fi pop tart not only started up her own label, but also penned about 60 new songs. The unfortunate byproduct of such a creative surge? Don’t Stop may find itself mutating dramatically from its initial form. That may, in turn, leave leaked favorites like this in B-side purgatory.

But lo! There’s a silver lining to all this unpleasantness. Annie has cooked up a single for the interim, due out May. Entitled “Anthonio,” the song is crafted in the likeness of her past releases. However, it’s probably not a nod to Antonio Banderas’ time spent starring in Pedro Almodóvar’s early works. The single also comes with a nifty remix courtesy of Designer Drugs (who’ve also recently lent Little Boots some of their club magic). But those left feeling unfulfilled by disjointed remixes need only raise an ear to her take on this Stacey Q classic.