BBC Music Sound Of 2020 has revealed the top five artists who experts think are most hotly tipped for success this year. Around 170 music critics, musicians and DJs, including alumni artists like Billie Eilish and Lewis Capaldi, voted in this year’s poll, and the top five covers artists whose influences range from Arctic Monkeys to Billie Holliday to The Cure.
Topping the list this year is Celeste, the 25-year-old British-Jamaican singer from Brighton with her spine-tingling brand of neo-soul. “Celeste is a phenomenal talent, a voice that does not come around often and when you are exposed to it, is impossible to ignore,” says BBC Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac. “I have received countless emotional texts from listeners who have had to sit in their car and lose themselves to her song Strange before carrying on with their evening.”
The top five artists are listed below, we’ll be showing exclusive videos from the top three over the coming days.
FIRST PLACE: Celeste
Celeste adds the Sound of 2020 prize to a growing cabinet, including BBC Music Introducing’s Artist of the Year 2019 and the BRITS Rising Star. The neo-soul singer has earned feverish comparisons with Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday for her bluesy melancholic voice. Celeste started her journey with BBC Music in 2014 when she uploaded her track North Circular to the BBC Music Introducing website. Her heartbreaking single Strange put her on the map, and she has toured with label-mate Michael Kiwanuka, who topped the BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll. One of her biggest fans is Paul Weller. “He reached out to one of my managers, we got to do a duet of one of his songs,” Celeste tells the BBC. “You don’t expect that sort of thing to happen.” Another fan is James Corden, who tweeted:“I cannot stop listening to @celeste this is her song Strange. It’s sensational. I dare you not to love her. I dare you.” Expect to see her on a late-night talk show sometime soon…
Interview with Celeste on BBC Introducing on Radio 1 with Huw Stephens
SECOND PLACE: Easy Life
Indescribable and undefinable, Leicester’s Easy Life hop, skip and jump effortlessly across a head-spinning range of genres, their sound fusing everything including hip-hop, psychedelic electronica, jazz, indiepop, ambient house, and much, much more. The band say they were formed “on a whim” in a pub two years ago, and their first single Pockets picked up a huge amount of buzz almost immediately. “Pockets is four-and-a-half minutes long and it’s not very commercial, but ironically it was that song that got a moderate commercial seal of approval,” says frontman Murray Matravers. “That was a massive deal for us, because we were just five dudes from Leicester rehearsing on an industrial estate.” Their music is enshrouded with personal experience, but with a distinctly rainy British outlook. “The overarching thing is the idea that life can get a bit crap, but everything’s going to be OK,” Matravers tells the BBC. “It’s quite a British outlook to grit your teeth and smile – but I can’t help it, that’s my general outlook.”
THIRD PLACE: Yungblud
Yorkshire’s Yungblud is the most established artist on the list: he has more Spotify streams than the other nine artists on the longlist combined, and his EP The Underrated Youth reached the UK’s top 10. His ambitions are to make anthems that speak to his own generation, and his unflinching honesty about his sexuality and ADHD has won him a host of loyal fans worldwide – who call themselves The Black Hearts Club, based on the two tattoos on his middle fingers. Yungblud wears his heart on his androgynously dressed sleeve about topics like sexual assault, gun control and mental health, and he’s worked with Marshmello, dated Halsey, and current rumours suggest a collaboration with Post Malone may be in the pipeline. “People are angry again, people are riled up and want to be told the truth,” he tells the BBC. “When people look back on us in 10 years, I want them to be like, ‘They were a movement and they did something that was that was completely original and a liberation within people’.”
FOURTH PLACE: Joy Crookes
Born to a Bangladeshi mother and an Irish father, Joy Crookes’ jazz-drenched vocals and honest, witty lyrics paint vivid portraits of everything from her identity to life in London. A cover of Ray Charles’ Hit The Road Jack earned her a management deal, and an acoustic performance of Don’t Let Me Down for the BBC became one of the most-talked about moments at 2019’s Glastonbury Festival. Her sound fuses the eclectic range of music her father played as he drove her to her weekly Irish dancing lessons. “My dad wanted to give me a real education, from Nick Cave to King Tubby to all this Pakistani music,” Crookes tells the BBC. “He’d say, ‘This is from your ends of the world, you should hear this.’” Not that Crookes is fully embracing the attention that being on the Sound of 2020 list will bring. “Anxiety central is what it feels like!” she says. “It’s half an incredible feeling because there’s so much adrenaline, but the other half is like, ‘I’m going to die, I’m going to die, I’m going to die!’”
FIFTH PLACE: Inhaler
Having Bono’s son in the band is always going to open a few doors for you, but rather than trade on his dad’s name, Elijah Hewson and schoolfriend band members Robert Keating, Ryan McMahon and Josh Jenkinson have done their apprenticeship the harder way. The band have crafted a post-punk sound influenced by Joy Division, The Strokes, The Stone Roses and The Cure, and taken it to tiny pubs and clubs to build up a loyal following. They’ve supported Noel Gallagher and recently finished their first US tour, supporting Blossoms. The proto-stadium rock of My Honest Face is their stand-out song so far, and the band say their debut album will be about their generation’s dependence on smartphones and social media. Hewson says he definitely wants to succeed in his own way, with or without his famous dad’s influence. “I’d never ask him for advice – only advice about where am I going to live next year and that sort of thing,” Hewson tells the BBC. “I try not to ask him about music.”
Meet all the artists in BBC’s Sound of 2020 list