Everybody says it, but music has genuinely been an extremely pivotal force in my life since before I was born. My dad was going on tour with his punk band when I was a baby, and now we sit in front of Logic files and my sampler board as we try to figure out how any of it works.
I grew up singing bad pop and Paramore. I still do. But as I got older, I started paying a lot more attention to lyricism and creativity. I would say it started when I heard “Chocolate” by The 1975 on the radio for the first time. My 13-year-old self was in awe. I had never heard a voice like Matty Healy’s, I’d never heard guitar licks like the ones in that song, the melodies were unreal—it was like something clicked in my head. I wanted more of whatever it was. I looked the band up and became a fan immediately. I don’t want to say they changed things for me, but they did. As I listened to them more, I realized I’m really good at picking out all the different components of a song. I can isolate the bass from the drums and the drums from the guitars and guitars from the harmonies from the main vocals from the lyrics. Learning to pay attention to all of these things caused me to appreciate them, too. I was slowly but fortunately emerging out of my emo-screamo rock music phase at this point, so from then on, it was like a clean slate. The 1975 (and whoever else could make me feel like they did) was my new type.
Fast forward five years and music is completely intertwined with my identity. I can still appreciate a catchy pop song, but it’s safe to say that I get all inspiration—for not only my music and my writing but also my lifestyle—from people I feel are revolutionizing the business today. It’s not their sounds that are inspiring. I don’t listen to them and think, “I want to create something exactly like that.” It’s more the individuality I want to emulate. I want to write a song or a story and feel confident that every single aspect of that creation is saying something important just like the artists below do.
This is not the first nor the last time a Lithium staff member will rave about BROCKHAMPTON, and I’m not upset about it. The “boy band” and rap collective from Texas who met through a Kanye West fan site will undoubtedly be one of my favorite groups until the day I die. These boys are actual legends, and I mean that as seriously and genuinely as possible. Releasing three full length albums in one year, the SATURATION trilogy, the main rappers (Kevin, Matt, Ameer, Dom, Merlyn, and Joba) tackle topics like homosexuality, dropping out of college, drug abuse, black identity, and mental health. What’s interesting, though, is that even their heaviest songs are still easy and fun to listen to. The production is subjectively the most creative and innovative I’ve ever heard, as unconventional samples and sounds are prominent in all three records (with thanks to producers Remil and Q3). While they’ve collected a dedicated following, the boys and their iconic blue makeup are sure to continue rising in the ranks.
My dad and I found Declan by accident. We randomly clicked on the “Paracetamol” video and unanimously decided that he was brilliant. The keyboard in that song stands out in a first listen, but the provoking lyrics quickly push their way to the frontline while the video explores nonbinary gender identities and LGBT relationships. At 19, Declan stands as a strong voice for young adults and is a strong force in the industry, writing other songs like the FIFA protest “Brazil” and the rebuttal against modern stereotypes against teenagers in “The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home.”
Lorde made a name for herself at just 17 years old with her chart topping single “Royals.” As for the rest of the Pure Heroine album, it’s almost like she wrapped up the feeling of being a teenager with the most cathartic and honest bow. Somehow, both times Lorde has dropped an album have been times in my life in which I needed to hear what she had to say. Her music is charming, intelligent, and clever, while her lyricism and utilization of all instruments (like the iconic trumpets in “Sober”) create something cinematic. She alludes to her own lyrics from her previous record and tells stories with her words, even painting an image of a car crash in the most elegant way possible (“We’ll end up painted on the road / Red and chrome / All the broken glass sparkling”) At the end of the day, Lorde does her own one-of-a-kind thing and doesn’t let anybody stop her. When critics began making a mockery of her eclectic dancing, she attended the 2017 VMA’s and performed an entire dance routine with no vocals.
At just 15, Billie acted as her own writing credit with her brother Finneas on production of her first EP, don’t smile at me. Her lyrics are entirely driven by her personality, as she’s often stated that she doesn’t find it necessary as an artist to only write about things to which she can relate. We see that in the song “bellyache,” written from the perspective of a serial killer. The EP showcases her individuality and charisma as a musician, with a sarcastic voicemail introduction on “party favor” and “Alright dude, go trip over a knife” spoken in the bridge of “my boy.” Not only does Billie maintain a unique identity in her music, but her online presence is unmatched. She’s solidified a look with her oversized clothing and silver hair, exuding a refreshing self-confidence and security for such a young and eccentric character.
Few artists have the ability to sound better live than recorded, and Jessie is one of them. The heart-wrenching vocals and lyrics of “Figures” made for an impressive debut, but “Gatekeeper” honestly made my jaw drop. The raw and blunt song challenges the music industry and its expectations of women, and the music video illustrates an unfortunate reality for not only Jessie but countless other women trying to succeed in the business. She nods to Colombia in other songs like “F*** It” and “Colombian King and Queen,” adding a cultural layer to her work. Jessie used her first EP as an emerging artist to talk about what’s important with no bounds, and I think that’s the best first impression she could have made.
If I’m going to exist at the same time as any modern lesbian musician, I am so glad it’s Hayley Kiyoko. We’ve had LGBT musicians before, and Hayley isn’t the only one we have today (Syd from The Internet! Halsey! Troye Sivan! Kevin Abstract!), but I’ve never seen anybody do it how she does it. The thing about her is that she’s completely unapologetic. Her songs talk about real feelings, and her music videos (which she always directs or co-directs) showcase real situations that we don’t normally get to see no matter how much we want or need to. She doesn’t shy away from pronouns or using diverse women in all of her videos. She doesn’t shy away from talking about or alluding at female sexuality. Somehow, in her short but budding career, she’s found a way to give us all of the representation we’ve been looking for from an LGBT artist.