WXPN Best of 2023: Artists To Watch - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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XPN’s mission is to connect artists and audiences, with a particular emphasis on new and significant artists and music. One of the ways we do that is through our monthly “Artist To Watch” programming. Since 2003, Artist to Watch has shone a spotlight on up-and-coming performers, helping audiences deepen their discovery of new music and helping artists find new fans.

This year’s Artist To Watch Class of 2023 featured punk revivalists, groovy pop artists, classically-infused disco funk with three-part harmonies, velvety crooners, fulk grungers, indie guitar pop swooners, and more. Take a look back at this stellar group of artists.

WXPN Artist to Watch Class of 2023

January 2023: Genesis Owusu | Artist To Watch

We kicked off this year with the electrifying presence of Genesis Owusu, a punk/rap sensation hailing from Australia. Genesis embarked on a journey that saw him ascend to stardom, culminating in the release of his highly-anticipated sophomore album, STRUGGLER, just last month. Known by many as a beacon of artistic brilliance, his new album has earned accolades from both discerning critics and passionate music enthusiasts. Notably, he was recognized during the prestigious Australia Music Prize nominations, where he stood shoulder to shoulder with the remarkable Troye Sivan, who himself enjoyed an exceptional year in music.

Genesis Owusu - NON-COMM (Full Set)

 February 2023: Danielle Ponder | Artist To Watch 

Danielle Ponder, an artist driven by a relentless pursuit of her dreams, took a bold leap in 2021 by leaving her job to fully embrace her musical journey. Fast forward to 2023: while captivating audiences across the United States as the opening act for Lucius, she garnered well-deserved attention as a February “Artist to Watch” upon releasing the deluxe edition of her debut album, Some Of Us Are Brave. In just a matter of months, Danielle’s trajectory reached new heights as she joined Warner Chappell Music, a subset of Warner Music Group, and embarked on an exhilarating spring European tour, earning a coveted spot on the lineup for this fall’s One Music Fest, sharing the stage with luminaries like Kendrick Lamar and Janet Jackson.

Danielle Ponder - Free At Noon Concert (Full Set)

March 2023: Black Opry Residency | Artist To Watch

Reflecting on our March, the “Artist To Watch” segment – or perhaps I should say, the “Artists To Watch” – was truly exceptional. March stood out as a month that celebrated the talent of several artists hailing from distinct regions: Philadelphia, Nashville, and Boston. We approached this feature differently from our usual artist showcases, aligning with Black Opry’s mission to uplift and amplify Black singer-songwriters within the Americana genre. We shined a spotlight on five remarkable artists, dedicating a post to each on the XPN website and delving deep into their artistry on our podcast. Since then, two of the spotlighted artists, Tylar Bryant and Denitia, have graced us with new singles this year. Meanwhile, the fourth artist in the spotlight, The Kentucky Gentleman, has garnered over 20,000 streams with their recent single, “Leave Right Now.” Grace Givertz and Samantha Rise continue to nurture their musical passions within their respective cities, contributing to the music scene through performances and community events.

Black Opry Revue - NON-COMM (Full Set)

April 2023: The Heavy Heavy | Artist To Watch

The Heavy Heavy, a dynamic pop duo that brought us back to the groovy ’60s and ’70s with the talents of Georgie Fuller and Will Turner, were our April “Artist to Watch.” Their music effortlessly channels the nostalgic charm of the records that fueled their own musical journey. Throughout this year, their monthly listenership has skyrocketed, surging from 100k to several million listeners, boasting an impressive total of 2 million fans. The duo has truly thrived this year, treating fans to an extended edition of their EP Life and Life Only, embarking on a captivating tour spanning the United States, and gracing the stages of esteemed festivals like High Water, where they shared the limelight with artists such as Noah Kahan, Hozier, Fleet Foxes, and many more! 

The Heavy Heavy - NON-COMM (Full Set)

May 2023: Stephen Sanchez | Artist To Watch

In 2023, Stephen Sanchez soared to new heights, gracing the pages of The Washington Post and captivating late-night audiences with his 1950s-inspired charm. He took his timeless swagger on a whirlwind tour, and the pinnacle of it all was the release of his sophomore album, Angel Face. The album is a masterpiece that showcases his velvety croon and classic chord progressions, complemented by the haunting melody of an electric guitar. With a backlog of introspective tracks like the gold sensation “Until I Found You.” Stephen continues to show you the beauty of the world through his eyes in the new album. Join him in a city near you next year for a journey back in time.

Stephen Sanchez plays Franklin Music Hall in December | photo by Ben Wong for WXPN

June 2023: Hannah Jadagu | Artist To Watch 

In May 2023, Hannah Jadagu achieved a milestone in her career, releasing her highly-anticipated debut album, Aperture, worldwide under the renowned Sub Pop label, and we were thrilled to name her Artist To Watch for the the month in June. The album, comprising 12 tracks, included standouts like “Say It Now,” “What You Did,” and “Warning Sign.” Aperture garnered critical acclaim, with accolades from Stereogum and The New York Times. Jadagu’s music showcased a unique blend of indie pop, folk, and grunge influences, characterized by her distinctive melodies and honest lyrics. Her NON-COMM set notably coincided directly with her finals at NYU, so she had to hustle back on Amtrak immediately after the set. To celebrate the album’s release, she held an unforgettable hometown show in Brooklyn and embarked on a headlining US tour, marking a significant step in her evolving musical journey.

Hannah Jadagu - NON-COMM (Full Set)

July 2023: Wednesday | Artist To Watch

In 2023, the Asheville-based band Wednesday achieved remarkable milestones. Following the release of their acclaimed album Rat Saw God in April, the band garnered global attention and was even mentioned by NME as creators of “one of the year’s defining rock albums.” They showcased their versatility with the covers album Mowing the Leaves Instead of Piling ’em Up, and made waves for their social activism, delivering an anti-Amazon rant during the Primavera Sound Festival. Despite their growing success, Wednesday remains grounded and humble. We were lucky to get them on the stage during our festival this year and we know there are more great things to come from this band next year, beginning with a January 17th gig at Union Transfer.

Wednesday - Bull Believer (Indie Rock Hit Parade live session)

August 2023: Slaughter Beach, Dog | Artist To Watch

In September, Slaughter Beach, Dog released Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling, their fifth and strongest album to date. Born from a period of reflection and growth, the record showcases their signature blend of melodic rock and indie folk influences, as well as songwriter Jake Ewald’s literary approach to lyrics. The band found much success from tracks “Float Away,” “Strange Weather,” and “Summer Windows,” where the band explored themes of personal and universal connection, offering listeners a chance to drift through their beautifully crafted sonic landscapes. They followed this release with a fall/winter tour announcement — which featured their biggest Philly headliner to date at The Fillmore — and a few months later a solo tour in the spring. As they continue to evolve, Slaughter Beach, Dog will remain an Artist To Watch for months to come, with fans eagerly anticipating what they’ll create next.

Slaughter Beach, Dog - Full Set (Free At Noon Concert)

September 2023: Blondshell | Artist To Watch

It took Sabrina Teitelbaum some time to find her voice as an artist, but now that she’s found it, she’s not afraid to use it. Teitelbaum performs as Blondshell, and her self-titled debut album has found an adoring audience in fans of her ’90s-inspired rock sound and her often confessional, straight-to-the-point lyrics. Released this past April this year to widespread acclaim, hits like “Kiss City” and “Veronica Mars” strike a perfect balance between blazing indie rock, catchy pop, and honest singer-songwriter introspection. 

Blondshell - Salad (Free At Noon concert)

October 2023: Say She She | Artist To Watch

Singers Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik, and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham got together in early 2022 looking to recreate the iconic sound of late 70’s girl groups, paying homage to acts like The Pointer Sisters and Sister Sledge with sparkling disco grooves and mesmerizing three-piece harmonies while retaining the emphasis on lyrics that are personal as well as political. They released their highly-anticipated sophomore LP Silver this past September, doubling down on all the sounds that define Say She She as one of the hottest new acts in the industry. Disco grooves, soaring vocals, funky guitar, and tight low end anchor each song as the trio effortlessly weave classic pop hooks onto songs like “Echo In The Chamber” and “Forget Me Not.”

Say She She - NON-COMM (Full Set)

November 2023: Laufey | Artist To Watch

Just a mere month ago, we had the distinct pleasure of inducting the multi-talented artist, composer, and social media maven, Laufey, to our Artist to Watch class of 2023. This rising pop sensation has ingeniously blended her jazz roots into the genre. Laufey embarked on an extraordinary journey in 2022, gracing the stage of Jimmy Kimmel live! in support of her debut album, Everything I Know About Love. Her sold-out tours traversed North America, Asia, and Australia, and she made history as the most streamed jazz artist on Spotify. This year she ventured further with Bewitched, her second album, drawing inspiration from jazz legends and classical maestros while infusing a contemporary 21st-century perspective. The album’s monumental debut on Spotify, coupled with a 2024 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, cements Laufey’s status as a musical luminary who seamlessly bridges the gap between classical, jazz, and chart-topping pop. We can’t wait to see what she will achieve in the new year.

Laufey: The World Cafe Interview

December 2023: Deeper | Artist To Watch

Rounding off this year, is Chicago guitar-centric indie rock band, Deeper. The band is musically in the school of post-punk traditionalists and you might hear familiar touchpoints like Robert Smith of The Cure, a bit of Echo & The Bunnymen, and some Talking Heads, yet they are pushing those revivalist post-punk metaphors to creative and expansive places with excellent songwriting and playing. They recently released Careful!, their third record (and Sub Pop Records debut).

Deeper | photo by Alexa Viscius | courtesy of the artist

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