20 under 20: music’s teenage talent

From hip-hop to punk, yacht rock to indie: our list of the best young music artists creating waves around the globe

Kweku Collins

Kweku Collins

Kweku Collins never really stood a chance. “I come from a family of musicians,” he says. “My father is a percussionist and we had drums all over the house – and shakers and tambourines and maracas strewn everywhere. Music was very accessible for me. It was something that I picked up super-quick.”

He tried to resist it for a while. In his early teens, he “stopped regarding music as such an adamant passion – skateboarding took over”. But music soon reinstated itself, and at 15 he decided to throw all his energies into pursuing it as a career.

Since then, Collins, who grew up in the city of Evanston, north of Chicago, has been honing his skills as a rapper and producer – and his debut album, Nat Love, which came out last April, suggests he made the right move. A confident, engaging record, it tips a cap to the local hip-hop scene but draws inspiration from all over – Tame Impala and Black Sabbath were influences as well as Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. Collins produced most of the album himself, and its hazy, soulful sound complements his delivery, which can shift from laidback introspection to complex wordplay in a beat.

The title refers to a black folk hero from the old west; one track, Death of a Salesman, nods to both Arthur Miller and Edgar Allan Poe. Was Collins an attentive student? “No, I was really bad,” he says, wincing. His mind was elsewhere. “I can make all my music in my bedroom. Which is nice, but it’s also really distracting and it took its toll [on school work]. Graduating was definitely a relief.”

Collins still lives at home in Evanston and seems perfectly happy there, but he’ll probably move to Chicago soon to be closer to his record label (he signed to Closed Sessions in March 2015, just before graduating). New tracks are forthcoming and he’ll be touring later in the year and might even make it to Europe for the first time.

Does he feel, at 19, that he has enough life experience to feed his music?

“Yeah, I think so,” he replies. “That being said, I still have a lot of living to do. What you’re hearing now is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve no idea what’s coming next, but I’m really excited to find out.” Killian Fox

Key track: Stupid Rose


Ebony Oshurinde (AKA WondaGurl)

Hip-hop is as male today as it’s been since the Wu-Tang sausagefest arrived in ‘93. Serious female MCs like Angel Haze haven’t crossed over, and some of her less-talented peers would rather win Twitter beefs than rap battles. In theory, the trap era and its quantity-first, quality-later mixtape culture should encourage a diversity of voices. In practice, its ponderous, doomy sound is increasingly insular, the same gruff stripper-obsessed rappers appearing as interchangeable “features” on each other’s tracks. In this hyper-macho world, the studio is the most male refuge of them all, so WondaGurl’s success has been remarkable. An experimental Canadian producer (real name Ebony Oshunrinde) with influences from techno to Timbaland, she got a break aged 16 with a writing credit on Jay Z’s Magna Carta, thanks to mentors like Boi-1da and Travi$ Scott. Wonda had already been producing in her bedroom for seven years, and never heard a Jay album before she was on one.

Since then, she’s worked with or supplied ideas to Drake, Young Thug and Juicy J among others, and is now mentoring other young producers to follow her advice: “I try to do something that no one else is doing,” she says. “Or I do something that someone else is doing and do it 100 times better.” Damien Morris

Key track: Rihanna – Bitch Better Have My Money, co-produced with Deputy, Kanye and Travi$ Scott

Billie Marten

Billie Marten

Seventeen-year-old Billie Marten has her grandparents’ living arrangements to thank for where she is now: on the cusp of releasing a major label debut album of gossamer light, Ed Sheeran-endorsed folk, Writing of Blues and Yellows. Born in Ripon, North Yorkshire, Marten was eight when her mother suggested she record some songs so they could send them to her grandparents in France via YouTube.

Four years and numerous grandparents-only videos later, Marten was asked by popular YouTube channel Ont’ Sofa to perform a cover of Lucy Rose’s Middle of the Bed, which resulted in nearly half a million views. It was around this time that her mother asked if she’d like to do music full-time. “At that point I realised I couldn’t really do anything else,” she told Teen Vogue. With her songwriting evolving at a startling pace, 2015’s acclaimed EP, As Long As, was written in-between studying for her GCSEs.

Inspired by the lyrical dexterity of Nick Drake, Laura Marling and Loudon Wainwright, Marten’s songs have delicacy and warmth. An air of melancholia underlies her bewitching vocal, and her guitar-playing is often augmented by distant strings or pitter-patter drums. Keen to let her music gently do the talking, Marten – who appeared on the BBC Sound of 2016 long-list – doesn’t seem overly concerned with shouting about her brilliance. “I’ve always said to myself that I’d like to be quietly happy,” she says. Michael Cragg

Key track: Lionhearted

The Goon Sax

The Goon Sax

It’s tempting to ascribe the Goon Sax’s gentle indie melodies to the fact that frontman Louis is the son of Go-Betweens cofounder Robert Forster, but their fresh sound and playful lyrics stand on their own. Formed in a Brisbane high school in 2013 with guitarist James Harrison and drummer Riley Jones, there’s is something vintage about their sound: Talking Heads and Galaxie 500 are listed as influences, and there are clear echoes of Television, but it’s updated with a modern detachment (their Facebook page description is “music inspired by Aldi”) and anxieties (“I hate those telephones, they hurt me every day, and if you call me today I think I’ll go insane”).

The pains of growing up – wanting a boyfriend, embarrassing haircuts, eating ice-cream on your own – are livened up by a backdrop of jangly, shimmering pop: think fellow Aussie Courtney Barnett’s lo-fi slacker rock infused with the tart poppiness of the Prettiots. Released this year, the debut album, Up to Anything, was described by the Guardian’s Everett True in a five-star review as “like living inside a great Australian coming-of-age movie... sun-blinded wonder and trembling insecurities hidden under rapidly shedding layers of confidence”.

The songs are vignettes: in a recent interview, Forster said, “Most of our songs aren’t really about one thing or another … that’s why they can sometimes feel a bit stream-of-consciousness.” The trio, aged from 17 to 18, tour Europe in September, including four UK dates. Prepare for an evening of tranquil shuffling and teenage awkwardness. Kathryn Bromwich

Key track: Up to Anything



Denmark has a reputation for churning out brilliantly surly teen punk bands, from Iceage to Yung, Lower and Lust For Youth. Which makes Liss an anomaly: the Aarhus four-piece bring an avant-garde mentality (think Arthur Russell or Scritti Politti) – to the sound of early 90s boybands and West Coast R&B, their percolating jams deconstructing the tropes of En Vogue, Blackstreet and even the Backstreet Boys, without losing the hooks.

Their existence seems stranger still when you remember that they are aged about 19 to 20 – not that teenagers never look back to the past, but that they’re looking to this fairly maligned bit of it.

“I don’t feel we’ve ever really been part of a scene in Aarhus,” explains frontman Søren Holm. “So I guess it was quite easy for us to push towards another sound. When we started, we didn’t talk about how our music should sound. This is just what you get when you put the four of us in a room without any expectations.”

At the age of 12, guitarist Vilhelm Strange was in a punk band called Psykisk Hårdt. It was a short-lived venture, but the energy lives on in Liss’ pop confections, in the “very clear attitude and feeling”, says Strange. “I still aim to capture this when we’re recording. It’s important that you can hear the emotion.”

Liss rose swiftly: Holm started playing with drummer Tobias Laust in school, bonding over graffiti, Portishead and Massive Attack. One day they met Strange and bassist Villads Tyrrestrup in a rehearsal space and decided to merge bands.

Jittery funk single Try was the first song they wrote together, and an instant online hit. XL Recordings signed them the day of their first London gig, and as a perk, took them to see Adele. (“So much to learn from her,” says Holm.) Despite their inauspicious DIY beginnings, Liss are already breaching Adele’s world, breaking into mainstream Danish radio. They definitely have common DNA with The 1975, and Sorry, the flickering vocoder-laden lead track from their debut XL release First, shares its name with Justin Bieber’s massive 2015 hit. Whose is better? “It’s hard to compare our music,” says Holm. “We are saying sorry for different reasons though.” Key track: Good Enough

Sam Gellaitry

am Gellaitry performs at Veld Music Festival at Downsview Park on July 30, 2016 in Toronto, Canada

Sam Gellaitry is a hotly-tipped Scottish electronic producer who got hooked on music production software at 12, released very promising early work and is now, at 19, signed to a big independent label in London with a glittering future ahead. Sound familiar? Maybe it’s because his story recalls two other Scottish pioneers of woozy, hip-hop-inflected electronica, Hudson Mohawke and Rustie, who cut their teeth on the Glasgow scene as teenagers and started putting out music on Warp Records half a decade ago.

Gellaitry hails from Stirling and has signed to XL, not Warp, but his sound owes a debt to his neighbours. Listen to Temple from his February 2015 EP Short Stories, or Long Distance on the Escapism EP, which followed last November, and you’ll hear menacing horns, a la Hudson Mohawke, and complex, skittering beats and weird effects that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Rustie record. Yet Gellaitry is no mere imitator. He has deft control over his material, which can be intricate, with an exuberant globetrotting aesthetic, but rarely feels cluttered. His Escapism EP contains middle-eastern strings, pitch-shifted dancehall vocals, snake-charmer woodwind, harps and EDM drops. You’d expect these to clash horribly on a 17-minute EP, but somehow they make complete sense. Gellaitry’s new EP, Escapism 2, was released last month. KF

Key track: The Gateway

Harsh Crowd

Harsh Crowd

Teenagers hate stupid questions, and New York punks Harsh Crowd have experienced plenty. Yes, duh, they’re all feminists, and no, they don’t want to talk about their age or gender. “So what? We’re 14, but we’re gonna play an awesome set and you’re gonna forget that,” guitarist Dea Milo told Brooklyn’s Northside Festival in June. Their confidence isn’t surprising – they formed (aged 11) at 2013’s Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, which empowers young women to make music. They’ve been gigging for two years, supporting the likes of Hurray For The Riff Raff and Sharon Van Etten, and Gloria Steinem is a fan. Last September, they released debut EP Don’t Ask Me, five nuanced punk blasts inspired by Led Zeppelin and Kathleen Hanna – and on their theme tune, Queen, turning the refrain of We Will Rock You into “We are, we are the Harsh Crowd”.

Despite their sophistication, Harsh Crowd have maintained a refreshing teen perspective. Dirty Rotten Parents channels Joan Jett’s attitude, and on Four Walls they encourage other girls to “keep standing up tall.” “This is an age where people are really self-conscious and shy about things and they just really care what people think,” said drummer Lena Fask. “This song is important, especially if we have an audience of people who are the same age as us. I think they can relate to it a lot more than adults probably.” Plus, they don’t have the same hang-ups about selling out as OG punks: they’re currently “seeking sponsorships from Pop Chips and Gummy Tummy Penguins.” LS Key track: Four Walls

Let’s Eat Grandma

Let’s Eat Grandma

The thing people forget about 17-year-old girls is how funny they are. “We were last influenced by this creepy story about a woman who was bleeding from the face,” begins Let’s Eat Grandma’s Jenny Hollingworth, brightly. Or it might be Rosa Walton: both are on the phone at the same time, their happy, Norwich accents bouncing all over each other. “She was a mannequin,” says JennyRosa (they give me this name to describe them). “She had a cat wedged into her jaw,” adds RosaJenny. “Then someone sedated her…”

“People take us so seriously,” one says later, apologetically. The other, naturally, agrees: “A lot of the time we’re not being serious. It’s just the stuff going on in our brains!”

With their cascading curls, eerie, vocals, and songs that recall Broadcast, Joanna Newsom, Tom Tom Club and the Ting Tings, often at the same time, Let’s Eat Grandma are a distinctive pop offering. On their debut album, I, Gemini, they’re playing recorders and ukuleles one moment, sounding like witchy sisters captured on an obscure early 70s psych-folk album; the next, they’re messing with dubby electronics, and doing raps about bubblegum on their trainers.

Hollingworth and Walton’s hometown of Norwich has helped their uniqueness, they say, because it’s “quite isolated …with a reputation for inbreeding”. (They mentioned other local inspirations in another recent interview: “USA Nail Parlour: where we get our claws sharpened”.) They met at four, and have been inseparable since, writing songs in Hollingworth’s attic (“because it’s quiet”) and rehearsing in her bathroom. Unlike many other young talents, there are no musicians in their families; both talk enthusiastically about how writing songs gives them power. “They can change things in the world, and help you express yourself when you don’t know what to say…” “And they’re all about our friendship, too, of course,” says the other. Both of them squeal.

They like the idea of a 20 under 20 list: “It’s really good for two 17-year-olds to be on it. It’s not good when you’re being patronised about your age, though.” This has happened lots: photographers have tried to make them look sweet and gentle in magazine shoots, while one reviewer on 6 Music said there must be a male Svengali behind them. “We were like … errrrr … no!”

Their reaction to things like that? To be louder and wilder, JennaRosa/RosaJenny agree. “We just want to shake people.” Jude Rogers

Key track: Eat Shiitake Mushrooms

Pretty Vicious

Pretty Vicious: Brad Griffiths, Elliot Jones, Jarvis Morgan, Tom McCarthy

Pretty Vicious are four Welshmen who started writing songs about what they knew best – hanging around Merthyr Tydfil, waiting for life to happen. “You can get into drugs or drink, or you can pick up a guitar and form a band,” singer Brad Griffiths has said of the group’s beginnings in 2014. One Soundcloud upload got them a record deal, and a first gig followed last year.

The best rock can be divided into two categories: songs of attraction or repulsion. Some of the greatest songs encompass both opposing emotions. What’s most important is feeling something, anything, and Pretty Vicious understand this visceral hunger for sensation better than any band of their generation. The music they’ve released so far is reminiscent of Arctic Monkeys’ teenage reportage, lacking their arched-eyebrow lyrical voyeurism, but unleashing a grungy fury that’s breathtaking to behold. Brash lead riffs buzzsaw around twitchy guitar rhythms, the subterranean basslines are more menacing than a pool of fresh blood at a bus stop, and apocalyptic drums summon thunder to Griffith’s curled-lip cawing.

Some may gripe that the music is as subtle as a lobotomist’s drill; it’ll be interesting to see if they want, or are able, to get deeper on their upcoming debut album. Cave Song, their most recent single, is 140 seconds about drinking in a cave. Crucially, it also sounds like a cave – something built by implacable, unconquerable super-heavy rock. DM

Key track: It’s Always There

Chloe X Halle

Chloe x Halle
Chloe x Halle by Delphine Diallo for Parkwood Entertainment. Photograph: Delphine Diallo/Parkwood Entertainment

The first time Atlanta sisters Chloe, 18, and Halle Bailey, 16, encountered Beyoncé was in a dingy warehouse during a video shoot. “She was wearing a white jumpsuit and walked in looking like an angel,” remembers Chloe. “We were like ‘oh my god!’.” This wasn’t some hysterical meet and greet; the sisters signed to Beyoncé’s Parkwood label after the superstar was alerted to their YouTube cover (12m views and counting) of Pretty Hurts. They’ve since supported her on tour, appeared in the Lemonade videoalongside Serena Williams, Amandla Stenberg and Zendaya, and released the Sugar Symphony EP, an intoxicating blend of leftfield R&B and electronic experimentation. “Originally our goal was to put out music and make people happy – not to sign to a label, but when Beyoncé came knocking it was ‘oh absolutely, of course’,” Chloe says. “She knows what it’s like to be creative and let your voice be heard.”

The Bailey sisters have been making their voices heard since Chloe harmonised to Mary Had a Little Lamb while their mum did the housework. Later they entered talent shows around Atlanta, before someone suggested they put their covers on YouTube. They posted Pretty Hurts and watched in shock as it went viral. They also started writing their own songs, learning to play instruments via YouTube tutorials. Once signed to Parkwood, the pair worked on the EP in their home studio. “Trying to find our sound was a process of us just writing songs every day and really digging in to see what would come out,” Halle remembers. “We tried everything. There were no limits.”

Led by the woozy minimalism of Drop and the pulsating Thunder, Sugar Symphony is an EP that manipulates genres into bold new shapes. Inspired by female artists/producers like Grimes, Missy Elliott and Imogen Heap, it also finds Chloe handling production on three of the five songs. “I love technology,” she beams. “It’s at the tip of your fingers and you can do so much of it on your own in your bedroom.” Like their mentor, the sisters challenge the music industry’s status quo. “Women get overshadowed, but our music is more complex than guys’ sometimes, and I love that.” MC

Key track: Drop

10 more to watch

Kodak Black
Despite a few recent brushes with the law, Dieuson Octave (19, from Pompano Beach, Florida) is a rapper on the rise, with four vivid, hard-hitting mixtapes already under his belt.

Declan McKenna
He may resemble trad-rock’s next saviour, but the 17-year-old’s easygoing guitar and lyrics tackling LGBT issues and football corruption are more Courtney Barnett than Jake Bugg.

This teen from rural Sweden has been in major‑label development since she was 13, and recently emerged with a raft of immaculate, sultry pop dramatics.

Lily and Madeleine
These Indianapolis sisters have released three LPs of strikingly simple harmonies, as magical as anything that First Aid Kit or the McGarrigle sisters ever did.

Hannah Gill and the Hours
North Carolina’s Gill (18) has a voice to raise the dead: a deep, brassy power and infectious impishness that recalls Amy Winehouse.

Rich Chigga
Is Brian Imanuel’s rap creation a serious musical proposition or a viral prank? Either way, it’s fascinating to watch this 16-year-old from Jakarta riff on the oddities of US hip-hop culture.

Gothenburg producer Tove Agélii (18) makes hype songs for dystopian pep rallies, littered with samples of smashing glass, industrial clatter and, on Xic, Britney Spears’s gasps from Toxic.

Lil Yachty
This much-hyped rapper from Atlanta, 19, blends trap bravado with light-hearted goofiness accentuated by heavily Auto-Tuned vocals.

Bloom Twins
Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes will produce 19-year-old Ukrainian sisters Anna and Sonia Kuprienko’s debut of “dark pop” – haunted, glitchy slow jams evoking Sia and Lorde.

Not the sixth Kardashian sister, but a 19-year-old Glaswegian tearaway whose intense, choppy pop could see her crowned the next Tove Lo.

20 under 20: the playlist


Killian Fox, Damien Morris, Michael Cragg, Kathryn Bromwich, Laura Snapes, Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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