GUEST SINGERS – Evening Standard, 12 July 2019

Ed Sheeran’s latest album, out today, proves that the two most important letters in pop today are “ft”. His No. 6 Collaborations Project contains 22 guest stars across 15 tracks – pop music’s Avengers: Endgame. Meanwhile, the top three singles in the UK this week are credited to Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes/Camila Cabello and Ed Sheeran ft. Khalid. The subtle politics of those billings are interesting, aren’t they – is an & worth more than a slash, which in turn is worth more than a ft?

  Credits behind the scenes are swelling too. When even Beatles disciple Liam Gallagher is in on it, the idea of a musician writing and performing their song alone is almost a thing of the past. The biggest selling single of the year so far, Someone You Loved, is ostensibly by lone wolf Lewis Capaldi but has five co-writers. According to Music Week, it took an average of 5.34 writers to make 2018’s top 100 singles, up from 4.84 in 2017.

  That means there are more names to watch than ever before. Here are six singers who have recently delivered such impressive spots on the right-hand side of the “ft” , we’ll be more used to seeing them on the left-hand side very soon.

YEBBA

Abbey Smith from Arkansas, whose stage name is her first name backwards, must be the most ubiquitous unknown around in 2019. There she is on today’s Sheeran album singing Best Part of Me, sitting in between superstars Stormzy and Justin Bieber. On another guest-packed album, last month’s Mark Ronson collection Late Night Feelings, she’s on three songs while everyone else is on one each. Listen carefully and you’ll hear her on backing vocals on Mumford & Sons’ Delta, too, and she’s already a Grammy winner – earlier this year she was a joint winner of Best Traditional R&B Performance for her version of How Deep is Your Love with PJ Morton. With a gospel-rooted voice that’s big and powerful but also capable of swooping up to astonishing heights, she’s instantly recognisable in her own right, though her solo career so far consists of just two songs: My Mind, recorded live in late 2016 for the website Sofar Sounds, and the lighter Evergreen in 2018, made in a more expensive video funded by Apple Music’s Beats 1. If it isn’t hers already, the “new Adele” tag is hovering tantalisingly close.

ILSEY

Californian Ilsey Juber has the genes for music. Her English father Laurence Juber was the guitarist in Paul McCartney’s Wings. She’s one of the less recognisable names on the new Mark Ronson album, her heavily digitally processed voice floating over the peaceful closing ballad, Spinning, and has also been the lead voice on a handful of dance tracks by the likes of Robin Schulz, Kaskade and Fairlane. But it’s as a songwriter that her name begins to glitter more fiercely. She has co-writer credits on songs by Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Dua Lipa and Rita Ora, as well as another hand in the Ronson album as a writer of the Miley Cyrus-featuring hit single Nothing Breaks Like a Heart. Her Instagram feed is a fairly steady stream of snaps of her with starry mates. Though there’s no sign of her going solo yet, she’s doing very nicely in the small print.

NORMANI

So far it’s Camila Cabello who has been the breakout star of Fifth Harmony, the Miami girl group who were runners up in the US version of The X Factor in 2012. You might remember their 2016 smash Work From Home, whose video, all sweaty gyrations on a building site, was rather different from most experiences of freelancing. Cabello took the Robbie Williams/Zayn Malik role, jumping ship first for the earliest solo success. Now Normani Kordei Hamilton is on her heels, supporting Ariana Grande on tour and scoring two major hits so far as half of duets. Her Khalid collaboration from 2018, Love Lies, went triple platinum in the US, while the Sam Smith single Dancing With a Stranger spent two months in our top 10 earlier this year. She has also released two songs as a duo with one of the most prolific collaborators of them all, Calvin Harris. Expect some big names to appear on her debut solo album, due later this year.

BECKY HILL

Worcestershire’s Becky Hill currently has two singles on the UK chart: I Could Get Used to This, with house producer Weiss, and I Wish You Well, a bombastic dance track by Sigala that has just cracked the top 10. In fact she’s become such a common sighting in the hit parade since she hit number one as the voice of Oliver Heldens’ Gecko (Overdrive) in 2014, it’s unlikely anyone still remembers her as a semi-finalist in the first series of The Voice. Her gritty vocal has also featured on tracks by Rudimental, MK and Jonas Blue. Solo success has been slower to come by, with a major label record deal with Parlophone coming to nothing before she signed to another major, Polydor, with a view to finally getting her debut solo album out there. In the meantime, she’s at the top of many producers’ lists for a dancefloor-shaking guest spot.

NOONIE BAO

Despite that distinctive stage name, Stockholm’s Jonalli Parmenius seems to be moving further away from the spotlight. Back in 2012 she put out a debut album of kooky, Kate Bush-inspired singer-songwriter pop, titled I Am Noonie Bao. Since then the 31-year-old has been better known in industry circles as a songwriter, with extensive credits including Dance to This by Troye Sivan and Ariana Grande, Charli XCX’s 1999 and Rita Ora’s Let You Love Me. But she still pops up as a guest vocalist here and there, notably on Avicii’s recent posthumous album Tim, and on slightly older dance pop tracks such as Alesso’s All This Love and the Clean Bandit song Rihanna. An ongoing writing relationship with Charli XCX will see her with multiple credits when the album Charli arrives in September.

ANITTA

Anitta is by far the most popular artist on this page, as her 39 million Instagram followers could tell you – just not in this country yet. The singer born Larissa de Macedo Machado in Rio de Janeiro has been massive in Brazil since 2013, and is well placed to capitalise on the fact that five of the top 10 most viewed music videos on YouTube so far this year are Latin pop. On her recent fourth album, Kisses, she sings some songs in English for the first time, and she’s also using strategic guest spots to ensure her international breakthrough. There she is singing Faz Gostoso on Madonna’s new album, Madame X. Predictably she can also be found on the new single by global fusion specialists Major Lazer, Make It Hot. Last summer she headlined the Albert Hall and on August 6 she’s back in London as part of Nile Rodgers’ Meltdown festival at the Royal Festival Hall. Who can imagine how huge she’ll be come summer 2020?

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