Future Pop Stars week was a momentous meander under pop's wide umbrella, through a colourful realm of glittered synths, infectious production and relatable lyricism. And all week long, we enlisted icon Nicola Roberts to act as our tour guide and A&R, noting her top picks for pop's future breakout stars. After all, no one knows a pop star like a pop star.

Nicola's picks for pop's next generation includes Liverpool's ray of Sunshine (Tayá), California's Grammy-nominated cool girl (Kehlani), the cheeky soul-pop trio (WSTRN), the Stanford-born authentic rapper (J Hus) and the half-Panamanian/half-Italian rude boy (Kiko Bun.) Her focus was also zeroed in on the importance of future songwriting and producer visionaries, pointing at one budding genre-blending producer in particular (Diztortion.)

To end the week, we've chosen our own promising pop picks that includes eleven talented up and coming acts that blend a little sassy, dreamy, fun, smart, experimental, sexy and a pinch of grit. Because that's just how we like our pop.



This feature wouldn't be possible without the following photographers:

Natasha Aftandilians (Alexx Mack photos)
Jennifer Lo (KLOE photos)
Jae Besorio (Maribelle photos)
Bertrand Bosrédon (Mahalia photos)
Johanna Macdonald (Madeira photos)
Irika Sandqvist (Noonie photo)
Kate Ross (Jones photos)
Harry Hall (Dagny and Lao Ra photos)
Juan Jose Ortiz (Asha photos)
Tom Griffiths (Dua Lipa photos)

A special shoutout to stylist Wilford Lenov, hair stylists Sarah Dougherty / Shea Hardy, and make-up artist Kristen Hasselbach for their work on the Alexx Mack shoot.



Alexx Mack.

• You can visit Alexx Mack by heading over to SoundCloud

In five words, how would you describe your music?

Fun, smart, flirty, sassy, sexy.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in life - relationships, love, sex, media, literature and my surroundings. Honestly, sometimes I'll be walking down the street and an idea will just pop into my head. Inspiration is everywhere, I've found.

What does 'pop music' mean to you?

To me 'pop' music means something that makes you smile. At times something that makes you feel so much, you cry. I'm not really into branding everything so severely. I recently started a Spotify playlist that I update weekly named Alexx Mack Radio, which highlights music I'm listening to today.

What's the most challenging thing you've ever created?

The EP. Only because I was a part of every process. Between picking my vocal comps to snare sounds to artwork to you name it. It was challenging and incredible at the same time.

Lastly, what does 2016 have in store for you?

2016 will hopefully be another year of growth. I look forward to sharing new music with my fans, connecting with them also. I have some fun shows and features coming out too! All updates will come through my website.



Noonie Bao.

• You can visit Noonie Bao by heading over to SoundCloud

In five words, how would you describe your music?

Melodic, videogame, Enya, drums, pop.

Where do you find inspiration?

When it comes to production I find most of my inspiration through movies like Spirited Away, The Fifth Element and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It might sound a bit "hippieish" but I wanna paint pictures and movie scenes with my music. My lyrics always reflect my personal life and feelings. I tend to write a lot when I'm angry, I don't know why really...

What does 'pop music' mean to you?

It means everything. Since I was a kid my dream was to become a pop songwriter. I survived my years in school (didn't like it) because of pop music. I spent most of my time in school writing songs out in the corridors.

What's the most challenging thing you've ever created?

My first album I am Noonie Bao was tough. The creative part was very emotional and after three years when I was done the struggle continued with getting the music out there. I ended up releasing it myself on my own label and borrowed money to go to India and make a music video for the first single. But it was a good experience, I learned a lot.

Lastly, what does 2016 have in store for you?

Can't wait to release my second EP! I'm almost done. I'm also going to Tokyo in a few months which I'm super excited about - traditional Japanese music has always been a huge inspiration.



Maribelle.

• You can visit Maribelle by heading over to SoundCloud

In five words, how would you describe your music?

Versatile, experimental, energetic, passionate, and effortless.

Where do you find inspiration?

Anywhere really - from a heightened sense of smell, touch, feeling to fictional romances on TV. If a producer sends me a beat that is really incredible, that inspires me also. That's why it's so amazing to work with Djemba Djemba - the creativity in his music inspires mine.

What does 'pop music' mean to you?

Pop music to mean means a catchy tune that worked, a song that you annoyingly can't get out of your head. Essentially, your guilty pleasure.

What's the most challenging thing you've ever created?

I don't ever really find writing music challenging. If it's a challenge, and you're forcing it - let it go; come back to it when you're feeling inspired. If a track is different and I'm stepping out of my comfort zone to write it - for some reason my creativity accelerates. I find it challenging to write ordinary music.

Lastly, what does 2016 have in store for you?

2016 has plenty of new music ready for release. I have so many songs that I've written/produced for myself as well as for others that are on its way. Collaborations with some incredible producers and artists like Ganz, Lido, Iamsu! and more are on its way. But mostly I'm excited to drop more of the collaborative tracks with Djemba Djemba. We'll be releasing a lot more on my label Crush Club Records, not just Djemba & Maribelle tracks but some new heat from other artists too.



Mahalia.

• You can visit Mahalia by heading over to SoundCloud

In five words, how would you describe your music?

Honest. Seventeen. Psycho-Acoustic soul.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find my inspiration from a few things. From friends, school, people I meet and my feelings. I also find it sometimes after hearing a great song or watching a good film.

What does 'pop music' mean to you?

I think as a kid, I always thought 'pop' music was the only genre of music! As I've gotten older, I've always just referred to "pop" music as music that people find popular. I wouldn't necessarily call it a genre? I've never really been one to categorise music. Though I think it's important to understand where different types of music has stemmed from. I hope that makes sense?

What's the most challenging thing you've ever created?

Challenging? Hmmmmm... I think I'd say creating 'Borrowers' was very challenging. Though I loved every minute of it, I found it so crazy to be in a studio with my brother and a few of his friends creating a video. It was my first ever time really being at the forefront doing something like that. I love a challenge though!

Lastly, what does 2016 have in store for you?

Well, I'm finishing school for one - which is a bit mad. And I turn 18 - which is even madder. I'm hoping to learn to drive, too! But, in terms of my music, I really just want to get myself out there as much as I can. I'm excited for people to hear my music and I'm excited to be playing it. I'd love to release an album this year. I feel like I'm ready.



Madeira.

• You can visit Madeira by heading over to Facebook

In five words, how would you describe your music?

Dreamy, heartfelt, vulnerable, speculative and (a little bit) funky.

Where do you find inspiration?

I draw lyrical inspiration from my personal experiences and philosophical musings. My Polish grandfather was a lecturer in Philosophy and I'd like to think his quizzical mind was genetic. Musical inspiration comes from interesting sounds I discover whether messing about on synths or out and about. I sample a lot of interesting street noises on my phone. In my single 'Let Me Down' there is sample from a newscast I recorded while in Iceland for the Airwaves festival, and subsequently the track's video mimics the barren landscape of Iceland to mirror this.

What does 'pop music' mean to you?

Pop music is a rather wide umbrella - you get the true 'popular (mainstream) music' - the Beys, Tayswizs and Justins of this world, and the tracks are masterfully crafted to sound simple, intensely catchy and perfect. I think there are many formulas going on under the apparent simplicity of the tracks that have been carefully executed by genius mega producers, but I also like that the tracks seem so effortless and are often based on universal interpersonal experiences that allow so many people to resonate with them, as well as have the collaborating performers really make the tracks their own. And then you get the more indie pop - that doesn't necessarily have the huge production budgets that the mega stars do, but I still think the songs have that element of universal experience to them. They are often painstakingly simple in execution and more upbeat too. I know my tracks deal with some heavy stuff but I try to keep the music lighter and funky for contrast.

What's the most challenging thing you've ever created?

Once I wrote a novel in 30 days. Had to hit at least 1.5K a day. It was over summer so I missed out on a lot of quality beach time. Ironically, it took me a month to write but I still haven't edited it years later. I also did an entire stop clay animation short film in 48 hours having never done one before. Preventing the clay people from falling apart on set was the biggest challenge! I think time-limited competitions are a great way to exercise your creativity under pressure, often resulting in very whimsical pieces. Sometimes I consider trying to write a record this way. Maybe this is the year, who knows.

Lastly, what does 2016 have in store for you?

My debut EP release followed by a tour hopefully!



KLOE.

• You can visit Kloe by heading over to SoundCloud

In five words, how would you describe your music?

Without sounding like a dick - I'd say its cinematic, dark, vibey, emosh and shimmery!

Where do you find inspiration?

Going out in Glasgow, for sure. Just letting life happen. My friends, my upbringing, my social class - and obviously boys.

What does 'pop music' mean to you?

"Popular", and not to be underestimated. There's both an art and a science to making good pop music.

What's the most challenging thing you've ever created?

So far writing my debut album. It's still in the works but it's been a fuck load of blood, sweat and tears already. For me, with working in music, it's either incredible highs or devastating lows - there's no in-between. I'm getting there though!

Lastly, what does 2016 have in store for you?

Tours, more writing and I'm probably gonna make the big move to London. Oh and I'm going to America for the first time in March! I'm going be underage all over again, which is shite.



Jones.

• You can visit by heading over to SoundCloud

In five words, how would you describe your music?

Classic, soulful, ethereal, electronic, and thoughtful.

Where do you find inspiration?

From whatever I'm feeling in my heart, whether that be love, or caring for a friend, or thinking about society and the state of the world. I feel like if you're not writing/singing from that place it's not authentic.

What does 'pop music' mean to you?

I think it means music that is connecting with people on a mass level at any given time. The Beatles would've been considered pop once, but now that style might be more of a niche. I guess whatever is considered 'pop' at any given time usually shares similar production formats and songwriting patterns/trends.

What's the most challenging thing you've ever created?

I'd like to say writing this first album of mine is probably the most challenging thing to date. Challenging but enjoyable. It is such a process... there is so much that need's to happen in order to get to there.

Lastly, what does 2016 have in store for you?

Lot's of travelling, lot's of hard work, and more music being released!



Lao Ra.

• You can visit by heading over to SoundCloud

In five words, how would you describe your music?

Fresh, rebellious, unapologetic, pineapple, and pop.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in powerful women; from Frida Kahlo to Rihanna. Girls doing their thing - that inspires me.

What does 'pop music' mean to you?

The most universal language of all.

What's the most challenging thing you've ever created?

Myself.

Lastly, what does 2016 have in store for you?

Dreams becoming true.



ASHA.

• You can visit by heading over to SoundCloud

In five words, how would you describe your music?

Real, unique, powerful, creative, and gritty.

Where do you find inspiration?

The inspiration for my music always comes from events that I've experienced in my life, so to be honest that's what inspires me a lot of the time.

What does 'pop music' mean to you?

Pop music to me is about being fun, current and for young people. It's always fun for me to write pop stuff because it's so far from what I think I do usually. I get to escape and be somebody else, which is always interesting!

What's the most challenging thing you've ever created?

'Chapters' definitely has to be the hardest song I've ever written. The subject matter was so close to home and the song itself was about a very difficult, physical relationship that I went through, so it was a song that really and truly I never wanted to be out there in the world. It's still hard to listen to sometimes.

Lastly, what does 2016 have in store for you?

2016 is gonna have me writing more than I ever have before, I'm really looking forward to just getting my head down and making more music to put out there. The year's going to have new journeys for me and also my 22nd birthday - so lots of new material to come. (I feel old already!)



Dagny.

• You can visit by heading over to SoundCloud

In five words, how would you describe your music?

Fun pop music with punch/energy.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in people, as it interests me. I get inspired when meeting people I share a chemistry with. And by conversation. I get inspired in nature too and when I work with talented people that I connect with. And music. Oh, so many things. Just life, really.

What does 'pop music' mean to you?

I love good pop music, at the moment my life revolves around it. Music is just brilliant, it makes me feel.

What's the most challenging thing you've ever created?

I get challenged every time I create! The most challenging though, will probably be to make my first album. I'm just so picky.

Lastly, what does 2016 have in store for you?

Time will show!



Dua Lipa.

• You can visit by heading over to SoundCloud

In five words, how would you describe your music?

Hip-Hop influenced dark pop.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find it in my surroundings and things that happen to me.

What does 'pop music' mean to you?

I feel like for so many years 'pop' has been some sort of a swear word. This is now changing, it's finally becoming something that people identify with again, which I think is great - it gives us a chance of making pop cool again, in our own way.

What's the most challenging thing you've ever created?

Red velvet cake.

Lastly, what does 2016 have in store for you?

Loads of shows, new music and new visuals which I am very excited to share with you very soon.



The Playlist.