MIXTAPE: UK Sensations with Little Nikki, 21, Neon Jungle, Lawson, The Vamps

For the past few years, a lot of my time and energy has been spent in the South Korean Idol Scene. This was pulling me away from my first "international" pop love -- the UK pop marketplace. While my interest in KPOP hasn't quite waned, there has been a literal groundswell of good pop over in cheery ol' England, arguably thanks to the skyrocket popularity of One Direction all around the world. Without any further ado, please heed my warm suggestions to these Brit phenoms waiting to happen...

LITTLE NIKKI - "Little Nikki Says"
Little Nikki Says let your heart swing swing side to side
Stop!...Nikki didn't say


In the US, being a teenage popstar usually leads to a formulaic initial bow into the scene, but the kids in the UK don't play by those rules. Fun, fresh and fierce, Little Nikki is a gaining force to be reckoned with. A former member of the short-lived girl group SoundGirl (who during their brief tenure opened for Justin Bieber and The Wanted), Nicole Shortland branched off on her own and re-invented herself as Little Nikki. Her current single, "Little Nikki Says", reads as a 2013 dance version of the childhood game "Mother May I" and was recently released internationally. It pulsates, throbs and is unrelenting. Stop!...Nikki didn't say, is right.



NEON JUNGLE - "Trouble"

Got so many sides/I'm a Gemini
But I don't look for Trouble/Yeah, Trouble looks for me


There's quite a plethora of new British girl groups cropping up but given the fact that Girls Aloud (and, to be fair, Sugababes) have called it a day, this type of thing was bound to happen. A horse you can bet on is this four-piece signed to Sony. They remind me a bit of Mis-Teeq's breakthrough in the early 00's. They're familiar but have a sound that is all their own, completely distinct and in a lane of their own. "Trouble" crackles with fuzzy electro and all of the girls have an almost grime appeal to them. The chorus is petulant and a little rebellious -- it's the new "Sound of the Underground." Still polished, to be sure, but a totally fresh appeal that fits in like the lost puzzle piece in a marketplace that also includes Little Mix, Stooshe and The Saturdays.


21 - "Counting Stars" (OneRepublic Cover)
Said no more countin' dollars
We'll be countin' stars


Dear KPOP nerds, remember when 2NE1 debuted as '21' but had to change their name due to copyright issues? I fear the same may be the fate for this promising Brit girl group but I suppose we'll come to that when we come to it. As far as I know, five-piece 21 is unsigned but is gaining a lot of hype through their social media (32K+ followers on Twitter and growing by the day) thanks to their smattering of YouTube covers. Their latest is of OneRepublic's "Counting Stars" -- a great song in its own right -- broken down into a harmony piece performed with an acoustic guitar. And if you squint, they look a bit like a British version of my Girls Nite Out ladies. Definitely one to watch.



LAWSON - "Juliet"
The way she does it is criminal
Physical/And it's killin' me


Remember when everyone was grumbling about Bruno Mars's "Locked Out of Heaven" sounding too much like The Police? Yeah -- either Lawson didn't get that memo or had a serious lightbulb moment. "Juliet" borrows hardcore from "Message In A Bottle" in the best way possible (right on down to the "ee-oooh oh oh ee-ooh!" bits). I can't really fault them for it -- it's an epic groove. This sounds much more American-friendly than their previous big hit, "Taking Over Me" (as much as I literally adored that one, as well). If the USA is in their sights, I'm A-OK with that.



THE VAMPS - "Can We Dance"
I know I don't know you but I'd like to
Skip the small talk and romance


While the comparisons to One Direction are coming hard and fast, they are much more similar to the likes of McFly and Busted, those other Brit phenoms for a "generation" before. I mean, take away the babyfaces and the coiffed hair and that's pretty much where the similarities end. "Can We Dance" is perfectly polished power pop (say that three times fast) with a healthy dose of humor. It's quite hard to not find them likeable.

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