YTL Arena's Ones to Watch for 2021

Despite the challenges 2020 posed to artists; cancelling tours, disrupting album launches and having to record new material during lockdown restrictions, new music emerged from out of the chaos and connected to audiences like never before. Streaming accounted for more than 80% of overall music consumption in the UK past year, when people listened to 139 billion audio streams, up from 114 billion in 2019, demonstrating how much we relied on music to lift our spirits during lockdowns.

Keep reading to find out which artists the YTL Arena team think you should be paying attention to in 2021!

Olivia Rodrigo

Olivia Rodrigo by Erica Hernandez.

Starting off strong with 2021’s first viral hit, Driver’s License has overtaken Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You as the UK’s most streamed song in a single day, and as of 17 January, Rodrigo’s debut single has officially surpassed 100 million streams on Spotify, making it the "fastest song in the platform’s history" to hit this milestone. Fans have been recording themselves singing along to this break-up anthem on TikTok, and videos on the platform with #DriversLicense have a total of 1.9 billion views. This is an unbelievable achievement for a debut single and we are so excited here at YTL Arena to see what Rodrigo does next.

Rina Sawayama

Rina Sawayama by Daniyel Lowden.

Rina Sawayama’s debut album, SAWAYAMA, was released last spring to widespread critical acclaim, topping almost every album of the year list including The Times, BBC, NME, Noisey and many more. She was also given a shout out by Elton John on Twitter, naming her one of his favourite up-and-coming artists. Sawayama pays homage to dance songs of the early noughties, but not without putting her own avant-garde, nu-metal spin on it - try imagining if circa 2003 Britney Spears released a heavy metal single – trust us, it works. Sawayama has already announced she is working on her second album and we can’t wait to see what she has in store for us!


Kawala by Ian Hippolyte.

The North London band KAWALA describe themselves as "indie meets folk meets afrobeat". The band's debut EP D.I.L.Y.D saw them land on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist over 20 times and their first collection of music soared to more than 5 million streams in a matter of months. Last summer, KAWALA were one of the first bands to tour the UK post-lockdown. The Car Boot Tour saw the band play 12 shows in nine cities, driving for 37 hours, all in the name of bringing some live music back to their fans. Shows were announced via social media and invitations were limited to a handful of winners to control the numbers and ensure social distancing was possible. KAWALA had to reschedule their planned 2020 UK and Ireland tour, but we can’t wait to see the band back on the tour circuit when events are safe to resume!

Leanna Firestone

Via Leanna Firestone's Instagram page.

Leanna Firestone, like many aspiring singer-songwriters now, has harnessed the platform TikTok to build up her audience from scratch. Her account has amassed over 200,000 followers and her videos have gathered a total of 5.8 million likes. Last autumn, Firestone released the folky-lullaby single Strawberry Mento to Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music and Deezer, her first ever song to be uploaded to streaming platforms. TikTok has completely changed the game for new artists, giving them the opportunity to reach more eyes and ears than any other platform, and the potential to become a viral hit literally overnight. We’re looking forward to seeing if Firestone really is TikTok’s next big star.

Sasha Sloan

Sasha Sloan, image by Sony Records.

In 2015, Sasha Sloan posted about a hilarious prank played by her parents to the social media platform Reddit. Overnight the post went viral, and Sloan decided to drop a link to her SoundCloud underneath the post, immediately breaking Reddit’s rules about self-promotion. Days later, she got a call from the publishers Warner Chappell Music offering to sign her as a songwriter. Fast-forward to 2021, Sloan has a released her first studio album, Only Child, a mix of pop, folk, Americana and more. Reddit appears in her career again, with Sloan recently releasing a collaboration with Charlie Puth titled Is It Me? inspired by the Unpopular Opinions subreddit.


via ANGELE'S Facebook page.

Angèle, is a Belgian singer-songwriter, known in her home country as the only Belgian singer to beat Stromae’s record for most weeks at the top of the Belgian singles chart for her debut album Brol. Now, Angèle is crossing borders, performing for the 2020 One World: Together At Home global broadcast during the COVID-19 pandemic, hosted by Lady Gaga. She appeared on Dua Lipa’s second studio album Future Nostalgia, also recording a music video together for the track Fever. We look forward to watching Angèle begin to top the UK charts!

Tom Rosenthal

via Tom Rosenthal's Twitter page.

Once again, TikTok amplifies an artist to reach new levels of fame and notoriety. Tom Rosenthal is a singer/songwriter from London, who was already enjoying a successful career as a recording artist since 2011, with his music featuring in episodes of Skins, Neighbours and independent films. In 2020, a cover of Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros which Rosenthal recorded back in 2015, went viral on TikTok. The song now has over 19 million streams on Spotify. Rosenthal has released five albums to date, all of them self-released on his own label Tinpot Records, and we are curious to see what he releases next with his newfound ‘internet-fame’.


Via SZA's Instagram page.

While SZA is definitely not a newbie to the music industry, we still think she’s one to keep an eye on in 2021. SZA's first studio album Ctrl was released in 2017, to universal acclaim from music critics, debuting at number three on the US Billboard 200, and was eventually certified platinum. The album and its songs were nominated for four Grammy Awards, while SZA was nominated for Best New Artist. Her music has amassed a loyal following, with fans loving her distinctive soulful, almost ethereal style. Excitement is now building up around her much anticipated second studio album, with SZA already releasing two singles, Hit Different and Good Days.


Beabadoobee by Jordan Curtis Hughes.

The Filipino-born British singer-songwriter Beabadoobee is one of the most exciting rising stars in the world of pop-rock. In 2018, Beabadoobee wrote her first song Coffee, which became an instant homemade hit, amassing 300,000 views on YouTube in a matter of months.  She also attracted the attention of independent label Dirty Hit Records and released a series of successful EPs. In 2020, Beabadoobee finally launched her debut album, Fake It Flowers to critical acclaim, reaching number eight in the UK Albums Chart and was listed by Billboard as one of the Top New Rock Artists of 2020. Her style of ‘bedroom pop’ evokes a nostalgia for teen movies of the early noughties, which is no surprise as Beabadoobee cites the soundtrack to cult-indie film Juno as an inspiration and has plans to make film soundtracks in the future.

The Snuts

The Snuts by Gary Williamson.

The Snuts are a Scottish indie rock band formed in 2015, made up of school friends Jack Cochrane on vocals/guitar, Joe McGillveray on guitar, Callum Wilson on bass and Jordan McKay on drums. The band were influenced by Scottish Ned culture growing up, a term to describe hooligans or ‘chavs’, and like many teenagers in the mid-noughties, found inspiration in The Libertines and Arctic Monkeys. Their debut EP reached number 14 in the UK charts in March 2020 but, like every artist, their release schedule and touring dates were halted by coronavirus. Now, we can look forward to The Snuts releasing their debut album W.L. on 19 March 2021, and fingers crossed, the four-piece will soon be touring across the UK.

Arlo Parks

Arlo Parks via DJ Mag.

Arlo Parks, born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, chose her stage name in a nod to the attention-grabbing personas of her childhood heroes, Frank Ocean (inspired by Frank Sinatra) and King Krule (inspired by King Creole). In 2018, Parks began uploading demos to BBC Music Introducing, catching the attention of BBC Radio 1 DJ Jess Iszatt who distributed the demos to Ali Raymond of Beatnik Creative, who soon began managing Parks. Dubbed as the voice of Gen Z, Parks sings of heartache, anxiety, depression and yet an optimism for the future. Parks’ debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, is scheduled to be released on 29 January 2021.

Listen to our Ones to Watch playlist here.

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