NEXT’s top breakout artists made 2021 their year

Locked out of live shows, our breakout artists found new ways to reach audiences with exciting new music.

While 2021 wasn’t the best year for going out, it was still an amazing year for break outs with these exciting new artists making their mark on music. Many of these crafty performers found their audiences performing in front of their laptops rather than in front of audiences. Did somebody say pivot?

Here are the best breakthrough artists of 2021. Unlike our other Best Of lists, these artists are in alphabetical order because they’re all number one to us.

Exmiranda posing in snow

Exmiranda

Merging funk and hip hop in an intoxicating blend, based in Toronto’s Rexdale, this Ghana-born rap dynamo saw the 2021 drop of her debut album, FuNk BrEak, shoot her Spotify streams past the million mark, grow her TikTok following over 100k and land track Steam a spot on the Gossip Girl reboot soundtrack. A community activist who’s been in the rap game for a few years, this break is long overdue and well-deserved.

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Indigo posing in red

Indigo De Souza

Indie-rock innovator Indigo De Souza isn’t new to the music scene, but 2021 has definitely been her year: Her sophomore record, Any Shape You Take, is art-school indie at its finest. The album’s lyrical candour and experimental spirit propelled her into the countercultural spotlight, and she’ll be touring with powerhouse Lucy Dacus this spring.

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Mustafa posing in the street

Mustafa

This Toronto artist and poet has been celebrated locally for years — but in 2021, he finally received the international recognition he deserves. At only 25 years old, the creative released his debut album, When Smoke Rises, a delicate, folk-inspired collection about love and loss. With songwriting credits for The Weeknd, Jonas Brothers and Camila Cabello, we expect this is only the very beginning of Mustafa’s success.

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Olivia Rodrigo posing

Olivia Rodrigo

In 2021, nobody took over the cultural consciousness quite like Olivia Rodrigo. In the span of a couple months, the teenage sensation went from Disney Channel actor to one of the biggest voices in pop music — and her debut album, SOUR, used earnest lyricism and nostalgic vibes to speak to our inner high-schoolers like almost no one before her.

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Omega Mighty posing

Omega Mighty

Dynamic Toronto artist Omega Mighty has been training for a music career since the ripe age of four, when she began classical piano lessons, and she hasn’t slowed down since. She and her sister, rising star rapper Haviah Mighty, fought like hell to become an indomitable force in Toronto’s music scene — and their spitfire energy and expertly controlled power have made them irreplaceable.

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PinkPatheress posing in the dark

PinkPatheress

British bedroom-bound e-sensation PinkPantheress’s first mixtape, to hell with it, is a remarkable debut — she uses elements of jungle, drum and bass, and bedroom pop to create an unmistakable new-nostalgic vibe. After her DIY tracks blew up on TikTok, her unique sound quickly became so iconic that it’s become synonymous with the genre.

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Prado posing in red

Prado

Vancouver-born artist Prado is royalty in the underground scene, and for good reason: She exudes the energy of a pop star. Her addictive debut EP, Prado Monroe, uses innovative production and sweet, sophisticated vocals to elevate infectiously catchy tracks. Simply put, she’s cool — and her music radiates a kind of self-aware braggadocio that makes you want to see her win as much as she does.

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Remi-Wolf posing

Remi Wolf

Flying to the top of the internet’s consciousness in a whir of kooky colours, quirky avant-pop sensation Remi Wolf has been on the rise since 2019 with viral hits like Photo ID and Disco Man. With the drop of her wonderfully bouncy debut album Juno, her bold redefinition of pop music and the announcement of her opening spot on tour with Lorde, 2021 marked her whirlwind breakout year.

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Tate McRae posing

Tate McRae

Tate McRae has performed at Madison Square Garden, impressed both late night Jimmys, been slated as the opener on Shawn Mendes’s Wonder tour, headlined the festival circuit and amassed the most 2021 streams for a female Spotify artist — and that’s just this year. The 18-year-old Calgarian is shining brighter than any other global popstar on the rise.

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Wolf Castle posing in front of green wall

Wolf Castle

Based in the Papineau First Nation in New Brunswick, 24-year-old Mi’Maq rapper Wolf Castle — born Tristan Grant — had a breakout year delivering on early promise with impressive new EP Da Vinci’s Inquest. Wolf Castle’s upbeat-yet-honest tracks head up a fresh wave of Indigenous rappers who have updated their sound. He picked up Indigenous Artist of the Year and Recording of the Year honours at 2021’s New Brunswick Music Awards, and his track Get Lit is a staple on NEXT’s virtual office playlist.

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