World Cafe 30th Anniversary: 30 Under 30
Updated May 11, 2022 at 3:37 PM ET
World Cafe has been on the air for 30 years this year. To celebrate, every week for the next 30 weeks, you can join us while we look back into the archives. But let's be clear: We also want to look forward to the future of music.
We've chosen 30 artists who are 30 years old or younger who we believe are poised to be the next generation of World Cafe stars. Each week, we'll reveal one of the artists on that list.
Based in Philadelphia, Shamir first made waves in 2014 with a pop song called "On The Regular," resulting in his being pointed to as a potential new pop star. And then, as quickly as that success had arrived, Shamir swerved.
Ever since, over seven records, Shamir has been experimenting and exploring, working to construct a sound entirely his own. His most recent album, appropriately self-titled, feels almost like a creative rebirth – and sounds like it.
Before Arlo Parks broke out in the US, she was already bubbling up in her home city of London a few years ago when her debut song, "Cola," was streamed millions of times. But it was her recent debut LP, Collapsed in Sunbeams, an album that reflected the isolation and quiet of pandemic lockdowns through thoughtful musicianship and honest lyrics, that took her to the next level. She graced the cover of NME, she won the breakthrough artist award at the 2021 BRIT awards, and last month, that debut album won the Mercury Prize. It's just the beginning for Arlo Parks, but what a beginning.
Years ago, Marcus King was already being hailed as a guitar prodigy. He started playing in bands when he was a teen, first getting attention in the blues and Americana world with The Marcus King Band. But things really kicked into high gear a couple years ago when he started working with Dan Auerbach in Nashville. In 2020, King released his debut solo album, El Dorado, which was nominated for best Americana album at the Grammy Awards. Oh, and did I mention he's only 25? He's already had an exciting career – and there's lots more to come.
I'll never forget the moment the team rushed down to the performance space to see Ondara perform. We all knew we were witnessing something special.
Ondara was born in Nairobi, Kenya, but had big dreams to become a musician in the U.S. As a teen inspired by Bob Dylan, he moved to Minneapolis — in the dead of winter. At first he didn't even know how to play an instrument, but since then he's put out a debut album, the Grammy-nominated Tales of America, and has become a rising star in Americana. We're thrilled to share this mesmerizing performance of "American Dream."
Katie Pruitt released her debut album Expectations in 2020. It was a candid reflection on her experience growing up gay in the South – with the clarity of her voice echoing the clarity and honesty she brings to her understated songwriting. That songwriting talent and musical skill is something she's been honing since childhood, and Expectations earned her a nomination for Emerging Act of the Year at the Americana Honors & Awards last year. Recently, she's opened for one of her heroes, Brandi Carlile, and started her own podcast called The Recovering Catholic. She visited World Cafe in March 2020 – from that session, enjoy this live performance of "Expectations."
Clairo shot to viral fame at the age of 19 after her homemade video for her song "Pretty Girl," filmed in her bedroom, racked up tens of millions of views on YouTube. Things accelerated quickly – she released her debut album, Immunity, a couple years later, and her single "Bags" made many best-of-the-year lists in 2019. These days, she's a long way from that bedroom where she started; she recently released an album co-produced by hitmaker Jack Antonoff. That album, called Sling, sees her maturing and growing ever more confident as an artist while still keeping the trademark vulnerability and honesty that made her a viral star in the first place. Watch her performance of "Bags," recorded live during her 2019 World Cafe session.
Billy Strings grew up in Michigan, learning to play traditional bluegrass alongside his stepdad. Later, he thrashed in local VFW halls playing in the metal scene, before discovering his own sound after hearing bands like The String Cheese Incident and Greensky Bluegrass.
Now, Strings is a bona fide phenom, blending old-school bluegrass with rock, psych and beyond. Hear a live performance recorded for the World Cafe that shows how he's a can't-miss concert experience.
2020 was a challenging year, but Joy Oladokun was ready to meet the moment. She has a unique perspective as a queer Black woman who was brought up going to church in Arizona by her Nigerian immigrant parents. That experience informed songs like "Who Do I Turn To?" which Oladokun released around the time of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. Her album in defense of my own happiness, which was released in full this past July, displays a great talent for introspective songwriting. With her guitar in hand, Oladokun is able to dissect and explore complex feelings in a welcoming, open way. It's a talent that has attracted attention from some of Nashville's heavy hitters – Maren Morris appeared as a guest on that record, and Oladokun recently toured as support for Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. She's an unprecedented folk music breakout star in unprecedented times.
Listening to Lucy Dacus is like spending time with a close friend, someone who understands you, who listens and who is unafraid to share their most intimate thoughts. That intimacy and willingness to tackle tough subjects won Lucy a devoted fanbase when she released her debut album, No Burden, back in 2016 — not long after she was signed to a record deal, and playing late-night TV and large festivals like Lollapalooza. (She's also found collaborative success with friends Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers in the trio boygenius.)
On her most recent solo album, Home Video, Dacus mined her school year journals for inspiration, while continuing to sharpen and develop her substantial talent as a songwriter, able to make even the most specific personal detail feel totally universal.
Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram
When Christone "Kingfish" Ingram first visited World Cafe in 2019, we asked a simple question: "Is Kingfish the future of the blues?" The answer, it turns out, is a resounding yes.
His debut album was critically acclaimed, picking up numerous awards, including a Grammy nomination for best traditional blues album. He's also made appearances in the Marvel television show Luke Cage and in the massively popular video game Red Dead Redemption 2.
Ingram is deeply connected to the tradition and history of the blues, yet is unafraid to push the genre into the 21st century. Enjoy this full World Cafe At Home Session performance.
In 2017, Molly Tuttle became the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association's Guitar Player of the Year award. That, on it's own, would be pretty exciting — but then she won it again, in 2018, at age 25.
After receiving such high recognition, twice, she released her second album, ...but i'd rather be with you, a covers album recorded during the pandemic designed to let her impressive range shine. Clearly Tuttle, now gearing up to release her new bluegrass album, is one of the most exciting guitarists going.
For our 30 Under 30 list, watch her performing "Take This Journey," live from the World Cafe.
Beabadoobee's career took off after the first song she ever wrote, called "Coffee," went viral in 2017. But just because "Coffee" was her first song doesn't mean her success wasn't a long time brewing. Her parents, who had moved her family from the Philippines to London when Beabadoobee was three years old, had encouraged her musical ability with violin lessons from a young age, and she'd taught herself to play guitar as a teen using YouTube videos. Her unexpected success quickly blossomed into a career: a handful of EPs, touring with artists like Clairo and The 1975, as well as awards and recognition from NME and the BBC. You can expect a new full-length album from her coming in 2022.
Geese, the Brooklyn indie rock band, had a very good 2021, with its album Projector receiving rave reviews. The band has also gotten the New York Times feature treatment, and for good reason. We hear a lot about solo artists making music as teenagers in their bedrooms and hitting it big. Geese, in some ways, is a throwback: a group of students who met freshman year in high school, and by the time they graduated, they were not only still together, but had hit their stride.
Julien Baker made her debut back in 2015 with an album she made over just a couple of days. Called Sprained Ankle, it's raw, intimate and heartbreaking. It was a breakthrough that attracted tons of fans and a record label bidding war, all when Baker was just 20 years old. Since then, she's released two more solo albums, and has been a part of the group boygenius with her friends and fellow artists Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers. On her most recent album, Little Oblivions, Baker continues her journey of self-discovery and her examination of topics like addiction, religion and identity – boldly questioning, boldly delving into the unknown and clearly delighting in the act of learning and growing not just as an artist but as a person.
At just 25 years old, Toronto-raised singer-songwriter Mustafa has already been a nationally recognized poet in Canada, a documentary filmmaker and a member of a hip-hop collective called Halal Gang; he has also co-written songs for artists like The Jonas Brothers and the Weeknd. And that was all before releasing his debut full-length album, When The Smoke Rises. The album is a tribute to the friends he's lost to violence, and to the housing project in Toronto where he grew up. Nominated for Canada's Polaris Prize in 2021, When The Smoke Rises is eloquent, honest and bracingly beautiful. Mustafa knows the power of his voice, and it's only getting louder.
Multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz made a name for herself as a bluegrass prodigy, releasing her debut album, Song Up in Her Head, in 2009 at the age of 18. After taking a brief detour from her burgeoning career to study at the New England Conservatory of Music, she remains one of the most exciting young voices in folk.
You might have heard of Jarosz through her band, I'm With Her, which she shares with Sarah Watkins and Aoife O'Donovan, or from performing with the house band on Chris Thile's former radio show, Live From Here. She's released six solo albums; her latest is last year's Blue Heron Suite.
Jensen McRae has been a prolific writer ever since she started dreaming of being a musician when she was a child. Her way with words and her perceptive ear are evident in her song that became a surprise viral hit early last year – a Phoebe Bridgers parody called "Immune." McRae later released an EP called Who Hurt You? that proved she's a unique new voice who is much more than just an online sensation. This spring, she's set to open for Amos Lee, and according to her producer, Rahki – who has worked with artists like Kendrick Lamar and Eminem – McRae has recently been in the studio working on new music.
Legend has it, Wet Leg was formed when longtime friends Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers were sitting at the very top of a Ferris wheel overlooking their hometown of the Isle of Wight. And Wet Leg is a band that fulfills the promise of those whimsical beginnings. The duo turned up last year seemingly fully formed with the infectious, funny and irresistibly cool song "Chaise Longue," and followed up the runaway success of that track with a handful of singles – and a debut album is expected this spring.
Here's a hypothetical: Would you drop out of a prestigious school to pursue a music career? What if there was a huge buzz around your high school bedroom recordings — lush atmospheric pop with some of the most incisive lyrics about love and loss — that you never expected anyone to hear, but when people did hear them, they loved them?
This is the decision Sophie Allison, who goes by Soccer Mommy, had to make. She dropped out of NYU in 2017 and signed to Fat Possum Records.
Since then, she's released two albums that showcase her incredible talents.
Despite her youthfulness, when you talk to Allison, it's immediately clear that she's an artist who is in control. Allison has a keen understanding of how music works – not just the technical intricacies, but how it all fits together, too. And above all else, she's unafraid to share her very personal vision.
In 2020, Phoebe Bridgers released her album Punisher, and almost instantly, it became a sensation: a personal, intimate, Elliott Smith-inspired album that listeners connected with and found solace in during the early, lonely, frightening months of the pandemic. That album earned her four Grammy nominations and made Phoebe Bridgers a household name. Before that, though, she was already an indie music darling known for working with Conor Oberst as the duo Better Oblivion Community Center, playing in the band boygenius with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker and from her earlier solo work, like her critically acclaimed debut, 2017's Stranger In The Alps.
In July 2021, U.K.-based artist Dylan Cartlidge released his debut album. It's called Hope Above Adversity – and that's a phrase that really means something to him. Dylan grew up in foster care in rural England, started writing raps when he was 13 and, at 16, moved to the English seaside town of Redcar. For several years he was releasing tracks, but it was when he became one of the subjects of a BBC documentary called The Mighty Redcar that things really took off. It followed his efforts to make a career in music while living in a place where there aren't a ton of opportunities – and guess what? He did. Dylan's now signed to Universal and his unflappable charm and optimism have made him scores of fans.
British R&B star Celeste has had a remarkable last few years. She won BBC Music's Sound of 2020 poll and picked up the BRIT's rising star award — an accolade equivalent to the Grammy's Best New Artist. Her debut album, Not Your Muse, was shortlisted for the prestigious Mercury Prize and is a worthy addition to the 21st-century R&B canon. More recently, her song "Hear My Voice" — which she co-wrote with Daniel Pemberton for the Aaron Sorkin-directed The Trial of the Chicago 7 — was nominated for best original song at the 2021 Academy Awards. The British singer performed the track at the Oscars as well.
Back in 2019, Nilüfer Yanya released her debut album, Miss Universe. It got a lot of love from critics, with much of the praise focused on Yanya's rich, expressive voice. She's been writing songs since she was a kid, and found the confidence to use that voice thanks to an early guitar teacher of hers. The guitar continues to be a central part of her indie rock sound, and her experiments with tempo and mood have gotten even more interesting and unpredictable on her latest album, Painless.
The Linda Lindas
Most teenage bands never make it out of their parents' basements, but The Linda Lindas are an exception. The members of the group range in age from 11 to 17. They've been playing together for a while, but became sudden celebrities when a video of them playing their song "Racist, Sexist Boy" at the Los Angeles Public Library went viral in May 2021. Their music, which is catchy and incredibly fun — but also has something to say — caught the attention of major music stars and scored them a spot on the Epitaph Records Roster. Their debut full-length album, called Growing Up, comes out next month ... but they've already dropped a couple of singles from it.
When Mikaela Straus, who records as King Princess, says "I've never been subtle; I don't think now is the time," she means it. Straus is a producer, multi-instrumentalist, writer and emerging gay icon with incredible confidence charisma and the musical chops to back it up.
Straus literally grew up in a NYC recording studio built by her dad, Oliver, and would sleep there on the couch as a kid. She learned about the music industry from people who were immersed in it and used that knowledge when setting up her own career.
Since releasing her debut album, Cheap Queen, she's played SNL, Lollapalooza and Coachella, plus opened for Harry Styles and Kacey Musgraves.
You might expect an artist who goes by Snail Mail to take things slow — but Lindsay Jordan was already playing guitar at the tender age of 5 years old. And since then, she's never really stopped — she was even booking her own shows by the time she was 12 and recorded and released her first EP when she was a teenager. That determination — combined with skill and talent — is evident on her 2018 debut album, Lush. It's an album that felt fully-realized — full of creative production and risk-taking that could only come from an artist who knows exactly what she wants to make — but the endless touring and attention that followed took a toll. In 2020, after a breakup and some time in rehab, Lindsay finally did slow down. She took a break — before returning with her latest album, Valentine.
Sofía Valdés has music in her blood. She was born in Panama to a musical family. Her great-grandfather was legendary Cuban musician Miguelito Valdes, her great-grandmother Silvia De Grasse was a singer who performed with Louis Armstrong. So it should be no surprise that at 8, she was playing guitar; by 13, writing songs. Then she took a turn, leaving her home to attend art school in Michigan, and then overseas at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. All of that travel, experience and ambition was audible on her debut EP, Ventura, that she released in 2020. It was a collection of songs that blended her Panamanian roots with the cultures she'd absorbed abroad. You can look forward to another EP coming next month, called In Bloom.
Jade Bird wowed me when I first saw her perform at a festival — no band, just her and a guitar — bringing down the house with her energy, powerful delivery and magnetic personality. Her new album, Different Kinds of Light, really puts a spotlight on Bird as a lyricist, exploring what it's like to fall in love. Much like Bird in real life, the songs are accessible, thoughtful and nuanced.
These days, it's not uncommon to hear new artists being dubbed "TikTok sensations." It was a title bestowed on Lizzy McAlpine when one of her songs went viral on the platform in 2020 — but her success isn't some fluke of the algorithm. Lizzy's been working toward this moment since she started writing songs in 6th grade in Philadelphia — before enrolling in songwriting at Berklee and releasing her debut album at the age of 21. She's also a natural performer who weaves her lifelong love of acting and theatre into her music videos, which are more like short films. In 2020, she dropped her second album, Give Me A Minute, and last year, she put out another album called five seconds flat, which came with an accompanying short film and featured FINNEAS, a producer, musician and the brother of Billie Eilish.
Indigo De Souza
Warm. Safe. Accepted. Those are powerful words, aren't they? And you could use any one of them to describe how Indigo De Souza's music can make you feel. Indigo grew up in a small North Carolina town and started playing guitar at age 9 and never stopped, releasing a couple of self-produced EPs and an LP called I Love My Mom before being picked up by Saddle Creek Records. Her latest album is called Any Shape You Take — and she says that's a nod to her own shapeshifting musical style, but it also ties into her songwriting themes of growth and non-judgmental acceptance and love. It's music that hugs you tight while still giving you the space to be whoever you need to be.
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