Sam Fender, Grace Carter, Ella Mai, Drax Project and Self Esteem ones to watch in 2019

Here's our pick of five of the up-and-coming pop acts poised to make an impact on the music scene in 2019

London R&B superstar-to-be Ella Mai nabbed two Grammy nominations in 2018
Lucy Mapstone PA


YOU know how it is: get named on BBC Radio 1's Sound of the year list and win the Brits Critics' Choice Award and inevitably you end up having a stellar career. That's certainly the likely projection for British singer-songwriter Sam Fender, who won the 2018 Brits accolade, following in the footsteps of the likes of Adele, Sam Smith, Jessie J, Florence and the Machine and Rag'n'Bone Man.

The young musician from North Shields, on the mouth of the Tyne, has so far received plenty of praise following the release of his debut EP in November, and he scored a spot on Later... With Jools Holland. He's also been given one of the most sought-after accolades for young, rising musicians there could be – a mention on influential Irish DJ Annie Mac's Hottest Record list for the song Dead Boys, a powerful track about suicide in young men.

Erring on the rockier, more acerbic and socially aware side of singer-songwriter fare, Fender has a raw sound to offer music fans who perhaps have grown a little tired of the regular pared-back guitar ballads from male musicians. Fender also doesn't feel the need to suck up to his successful predecessors. He recently said of Ed Sheeran: "I admire what he's done – the fact that he's sold out Wembley with acoustic guitars. I just find his music incredibly beige." So, expect markedly un-beige music from Fender.


FANCY listening to someone who was heavily inspired by the likes of Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill? If so, do check out Grace Carter, a BBC Sound of 2019 nominee. The soulful singer's Why Her Not Me may already sound familiar – perhaps because you've already heard it somewhere, or just because there's a comforting familiarity and ease to her style of powerful songwriting and simple, elegant, mature musicality. The heartbreaking song was written about her father, who she says chose "another life over raising me". Also check out the beautiful piano-backed ballad Silhouette, which has more than 800,000 views on YouTube for another taste of her emotive approach.

Carter, from Brighton, has supported Dua Lipa, Mabel, Jorja Smith and Rag'n'Bone Man on tour, and her debut EP, released in 2018, was a critical triumph. Success is on the horizon for this budding star; she's already on Amazon Music UK's ones to watch list for 2019.


SINGER-songwriter Ella Mai has already started to make her sizeable impact on the industry in America, but in case she's not on your radar yet, here's what you need to know: the R&B superstar-to-be nabbed two Grammy nominations in 2018, and her video for breakthrough single Boo'd Up has garnered more than an eye-watering 300 million views on YouTube so far.

Not only that, but she stepped in to support Bruno Mars on his tour when rapper Cardi B pulled out and she recently performed on Saturday Night Live.

Mai, who appeared in trio Arize in The X Factor in 2014 (although they didn't make it past the first auditions) after years of musical theatre training, saw Boo'd Up make history as the longest-running number one by a female artist on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. Billboard magazine later ranked the track as their third best song of the year.

There's a real 1990s R&B vibe to Mai, who hails from London and whose debut self-titled album – dubbed a "throwback R&B record" by critics – debuted at number 18 in the UK charts. It's performed even better Stateside, where Mai, who lived in New York for five years as a teen, seems to be reaping the most of her success currently.


THIS four-piece from New Zealand have been bubbling under for some time, but 2019 looks set to be the year they finally make it in the global market. Formed in 2014 and comprised of school friends Shaan Singh (vocals and saxophone), Matt Beachen (drums), Sam Thomson (bass) and Ben O'Leary (guitar), they kicked off their career as buskers on the streets of Wellington, but have since gone on to perform in 20 sold-out shows and they've also supported international acts including Ed Sheeran, Gorillaz and Camilla Cabello, as well as their fellow Kiwi Lorde.

Drax Project's music could best be described as smooth yet addictive, covering bases from pop, dance, electro and R&B. They've been cited by several music outlets as one of the most "captivating" acts to come out of New Zealand since Lorde herself and, having recently signed to Syco in the UK (and to another record label in America), it's definitely worth keeping an ear out for new music from them in the new year.


SELF Esteem, aka Rebecca Lucy Taylor, was previously one half of Sheffield-based genre-bending duo Slow Club, but now she's going it alone and has already started offering the world her own brand of punchy, pop-tinged alternative music. The songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist will drop her debut album in 2019, and it looks set to be a banger if her recent single Rollout is anything to go by. The catchy track has been supported by BBC Radio 6 Music, having landed on their A-list, and followed her first two equally memorable singles Wrestling and Your Wife.

Explaining her style, and what people can expect for her, Taylor recently told Wonderland: "I spent 10 years making music videos with the most horrific burning desire to do choreography and not being allowed to, so here we are, I suppose." Having been described as "witty, intelligent, an extrovert and piercingly insightful", Taylor is one to check out in 2019.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access


Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: