Tom Van Schelven

It’s a new year, and with it comes countless prognostications of who will be the Next Big Thing. Often, these lists read more like rhapsodic verses elaborating on indie bands that give jaded music critics the fuzzies. No harm in that. Still, I decided to instead single out those more mainstream artists whom I sincerely think will make a sizeable dent in 2011. Yes, quality mattered, but so did quantity. As in: the number of units they’d move, how often their songs would be licensed, how much they’ll inspire imitators—how omnipresent they’ll be, for better or worse, in your lives. So I bring you, five for ’11:

Jessie J

After the year Dr. Luke has had churning out hits, all ears are on the producer’s next big pet project: Jessie J, a raven-haired vamp from the U.K., who at 22, has already co-written a certified hit (Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.”). Luke, as expected, remains ensconced in his comfort zones: Like Ke$ha and Katy before her, Jessica Cornish is an outspoken woman with a strong visual style, possessing a cheeky sense of sexuality. Her first single, the electro-rap confection “Do It Like a Dude,” was initially written for Rihanna but plays right into the potty-mouthed-minx image of Jessie, who’s debut, Who You Are, is expected to drop in March. Back in her native England, where “Do It Like a Dude” reached No. 2 on the singles chart, she has already won a Brit Award for critics’ choice and landed atop the BBC’s prestigious and eerily prescient Sound of 2011 list. And by way of bragging rights: Justin Timberlake has already anointed her the best singer in the world. In addition to Who You Are, look for Jessie J’s name to pop up as a songwriter on upcoming releases from Willow Smith and Britney Spears.

Jay Electronica

His biggest claim to fame might be that he’s the baby daddy to Erykah Badu’s third child. But Timothy Thedford has also been dropping exemplary singles (notably, “Exhibit A” and “Exhibit C”) and mixtapes (Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge), in which he raps over Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s soundtrack) for the better part of three years now. Considered by many fellow artists to be the most exciting new talent in hip-hop, he’s frustratingly never capitalized off the hype by releasing an album. That will hopefully change soon: Jay-Z just inked the nimble New Orleans rapper to a deal on his Roc Nation imprint, just as he’s reportedly working on projects with Nas and Mos Def.


Despite their perplexing name, Graffiti6 are actually a British duo. Singer Jamie Scott (a Nick Lachey look-alike who toured with pop stars like Kelly Clarkson as part of his previous band Jamie Scott & the Town) and producer Tommy “D” Danvers (who’s purportedly worked with Kylie Minogue and Kanye West) started a casual collaboration that gestated into Graffiti6’s debut Colours, after their track “Stare Into the Sun” was licensed by a newspaper’s ad campaign. Throwback pop-soul propelled by trip-hop beats, songs from their debut have landed in everything from Grey’s Anatomy and CSI: NY to the Victoria’s Secret runway, all the while charting on HypeMachine, that arbiter of indie-blog cool-dom.

Skylar Grey

The work of Grey—a protégé of London-bred Alex “Da Kid” Grant (the producer behind Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” and B.o.B.’s “Airplanes”)—has been reverberating in your ears, even if you haven’t realized it. She has quietly been penning tracks for A-listers, earning a rep for her sticky hooks: like the one Rihanna belts out in “Love the Way You Lie,” or the one Christina Aguilera’s croons in T.I.’s “Castle Walls.” Since then, the elusive Grey—said to be the alt-folk artist formerly known as Holly Brook—has also worked on unreleased tracks with Rob Thomas and Avril Lavigne. Under Grant’s tutelage, Grey, whose singing voice is an ethereal nightingale whisper (think an even less aggressive Dido), is starting to test her own mettle by guesting on Dr. Dre’s “I Need a Doctor,” Diddy-Dirty Money’s “Coming Home,” and an upcoming Lupe Fiasco cut called “Words I Never Said.” If  having the formidable weight of Alex Da Kid on her side weren’t enough, Grey’s also got his undivided attention. Says Grant, “Skylar is the one I want to focus on for the time being. My aim is to get her album out and then move on from there.”

The Naked and Famous

The New Zealand-based band (mentioned in our Kiwi-core roundup) cite Massive Attack and Tricky as influences. Sure, we can hear trip-hop in their work, but we mostly hear a blissful convergence of Passion Pit and MGMT on their debut, Passive Me, Aggressive You—a golden mean between swelling, life-affirming electro-pop melodies and cynical lyrics. The five piece’s claims to fame are: becoming celebrities back home where they top the charts, and opening one date down under for Nine Inch Nails’ farewell tour. (Though it’s worth noting that the Naked and the Famous are soon relocating to London, where they’ve already amassed a following.) Thus far, the band’s music has popped up in The Vampire Diaries and Covert Affairs, but we predict that their voluminous, genuinely intoxicating melodies will soon soundtrack movies with the type of steady growth that propelled Arcade Fire into the mainstream.