This year is flying. Next week marks the beginning of the Holy Week that is CMJ -- five days of artist showcases, industry panels, networking, and a lot of fun. I was honored to attend the festival for the past two years and this coming year we'll be my third time running around from venue to venue, catching some of my favorite up and coming artists live and discovering a whole slew of fun new faves.
Before we get to who I'm most excited to see this year, I figured it'd be pretty fun to do a little Then and Now with my favorite acts that I caught during CMJ week in the past two years. Read on to refresh your memory. Click on the artists' names to hear more...
Catching this British firebird perform her live set in 2013 will go down in the history books as one of my most famous concert moments ever. Neon was smack in the middle of an incredible moment for her career. She'd released a handful of delicious pop singles with major label Warner Bros: "Bad Dog", "Gold" (co-written by Bruno Mars, thank you), "Get Over U" (co-written by Sia, thank you), and "F*ck U Betta". She'd also had a minor hit with the Gym Class Heroes via "A** Back Home". Despite all this, it was basically radio silence when it came to her own album. On stage, Neon was as theatrical as ever (in full Marilyn Monroe regalia) and brutally honest about her own career -- having to start over, essentially, as an independent artist artist in order to be truly herself. It was that night that she premiered a handful of new material, including the phenomenal "Some Like It Hot" which was later featured on her 301 to Paradise mixtape, which saw the light of day a few months later. Now, Neon has released a few more mixtapes, the stellar single "Yard Sale" (one of my faves of 2014), and is prepping for the imminent release of her true debut album, Eleutheromanic.
I have a long history with Alexz Johnson, mostly because I loved and adored the Canadian teen drama Instant Star, which she starred in. Despite being a fan of her talent, I had never seen her perform live until CMJ Week in 2014, which she was coincidentally spending promoting her then brand-new album, Let 'Em Eat Cake. Since then, she has been criss-crossing the countr(ies) promoting said album and finished a month+ long residency at The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood. Hopefully a new album is in the cards soon.
You can file brother band AJR as a "favorite surprise". They were tacked on as a late addition to a showcase I had already planned on attending but they won me over as a fan almost instantaneously. The group's charisma and appeal was totally contagious, hinging on the fact that despite being so young, they were all multi-instrumentalists, writing and recording their own music in their own apartment while still pursuing school. Since first seeing them live in 2013, AJR has had a crazy run. Their Spongebob Squarepants-sampling single "I'm Ready" (which they were promoting at the time that I saw them) made the viral rounds, earning them rotation on Sirius XM, iHeartRadio, MySpace, you name it. They opened for Demi Lovato and Fifth Harmony. Middle brother Ryan did some writing and production work on Andy Grammar's latest record. They released their full album, Living Room, was released this past March and "I'm Ready" was a key element in the trailer for the Amy Schumer film vehicle Trainwreck.
Sigh. CMJ 2013 was the first of my two times seeing the fabulous Betty live. She was the headliner of her showcase and it wasn't really a surprise as to why. At the time, "Somebody Loves You" was a viral hit that was a mere hint at the pop greatness that was to come -- in fact, she signed to RCA Records a mere month before I saw her perform live. Her set was one of the first times she performed her single, "Heartbreak Dream", live. Since then, she's released her album, Take Me When You Go, opened for Kylie Minogue and Katy Perry, and toured with the equally fabulous Kiesza. As if that wasn't enough, "Somebody Loves You" and "All Of You" both hit #1 on the Billboard Dance charts and the former was covered/featured in a poignant episode during the final season of Glee.
Kudos to this lady for somehow managing to stay independent despite putting out what was arguably the most pop-friendly, hooky EP of 2014 -- Echo. Since then, NYC's own pop revolution that calls herself VERITE has dropped a second, stellar EP (Sentiment) and has jumped aboard MS MR's live tour (which will include a stop at Terminal 5 here in NYC).
Damn, does Australia have some sexy, talented men. Strange Talk is the perfect example of this. While I was somewhat familiar with their jam of a song "Climbing Walls" before seeing their set, it was seeing them perform in a live setting that really solidifying my fanship of them. Since seeing them live during CMJ, the group released their stellar debut album Cast Away and I was able to catch them live again -- also in a small, intimate setting -- at the famed Mercury Lounge while they were promoting their stellar single "Young Hearts". Currently, the group has re-branded a two man band. They are touring the States via their E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N. tour with new music.
Sweden is known as home of the good pop for a reason. NoNoNo's "Pumping Blood" should have been a much bigger single than it was, but no matter. I managed to catch NoNoNo twice during the same week during CMJ (a feat I've yet been unable to replicate with any other artist) and both times were separately and equally amazing. Their debut album, We Are Only What We Feel, was released in 2014 and just this past July, a remix compilation album (admittedly mostly of the already flawless, aforementioned "Pumping Blood") hit the streets. The group is currently still performing around the world and have been in and out of the studio working on new music.
I couldn't have been happier to have caught this talented lady live when I did. Now, Elle King is the hot ticket in town, mostly thanks to her single "Ex's & Oh's" that is currently rising up the charts as we speak. Her album, Love Stuff, was released via RCA this past Valentine's Day.