meta-scriptAlana Springsteen Isn't Just Living Her Teenage Dream. She's Speaking To An Entire Generation. | GRAMMY.com
Alana Springsteen Isn't Just Living Her Teenage Dream. She's Speaking To An Entire Generation.
Alana Springsteen

Photo: Lily Nelson

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Alana Springsteen Isn't Just Living Her Teenage Dream. She's Speaking To An Entire Generation.

Budding country star Alana Springsteen details how her debut album, 'TWENTY SOMETHING,' completes a journey of self-expression — and helps others do the same.

GRAMMYs/Aug 23, 2023 - 07:28 pm

By the time Alana Springsteen was 9 years old, she knew she was destined to be a singer/songwriter — so much so that she wrote a song about it.

"It was called 'Believe,' as cheesy as it sounds," the rising country star recalls with a laugh. "It was about believing in myself and how my parents believed in me, and knowing, even from that young, that I was going to do this and I could do this. I remember playing it for my parents and they were in tears. They were like, 'Okay, we get it. We're gonna do this. We're gonna take you to Nashville.'"

Sure enough, that November, Springsteen and her family headed to Nashville, meeting with folks at Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) and Broadcast Music Inc (BMI). Instead of brushing off the then-10-year-old, each person she met invited more people to come hear her, and eventually got her set up with some writing sessions. At 14, she moved to Nashville, and officially began her career with her first publishing deal.

Now 22, Springsteen just released her debut studio album, TWENTY SOMETHING. The album carries the same conviction and authenticity that she showed in those rooms when she was 10. Over its 18 tracks, TWENTY SOMETHING intricately details the woes of growing up in three parts: messing it up, figuring it out and getting it right.

A major theme on TWENTY SOMETHING is also one of Springsteen's mantras: "we don't chase, we attract" (a line that sneaks its way into the flirty "look i like"). While that sentiment can seem ironic for someone who has been chasing her dream for 13 years, it's a perfect portrayal of who she is as an artist — one whose confidence radiates and resonates.

Whether she's owning her own faults on "if you love me now" and "hypocrite," expressing insecurities on "chameleon" and the title track, or reclaiming her narrative post-breakup on "you don't deserve a country song" and "tennessee is mine," Springsteen's self-awareness is remarkable for someone so young. Her perceptive storytelling and pop sensibilities make for a captivating kind of country reminiscent of young Taylor Swift (who is, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of Springsteen's biggest inspirations, as she details in "taylor did").

One of her most powerful statements comes on album closer "amen," an acoustic tune in which she gives herself permission to navigate life on her terms. At her album release party in Nashville on Aug. 15, Springsteen closed her set singing "amen" on her own, stepping out into the crowd to declare its final verse a cappella: "And no I ain't got all the answers/ But I'm finding mine for damn sure/ And I mean it, so I'm sayin' it again/ Amen."

"The best thing that I ever did was double down on my truth and my story," Springsteen says. "Never giving up on that vision that I had in my gut, listening to that. My blind faith and blind confidence has been my superpower."

One of the biggest factors in Springsteen's decade-plus journey to TWENTY SOMETHING was the struggle to find the right team, which she's now found in people like her manager, Basak Kizilisik. But even before she felt things were completely right, others around her could feel her star power — including superstar songwriter Liz Rose, with whom Springsteen co-wrote two songs on the album.

"I've known her since she moved to town, and we never really wrote until the last year and a half. I was like, 'Why the f— am I not writing with Alana Springsteen?'" Rose says. "She knows who she is as an artist, and she's spent a lot of time not taking anything for granted. She just knows that she doesn't know everything, [which makes her] a fantastic songwriter."

Country star Mitchell Tenpenny — who co-wrote and features on "goodbye looks good on you" — has seen that same spark since he began working with Springsteen in 2021, and especially while they were on tour together in early 2022. "I watched her control the crowd with just an acoustic guitar. And that's when you know, man," Tenpenny says, referring to Springsteen as a "little sister." "She is just the total freaking package." 

Springsteen is the lead songwriter on all 18 tracks and co-producer on all but two, with guitar and piano credits across the album as well. Not only does that add to the intention behind her music, but it's an indication of the growth that she's felt — and presented — with TWENTY SOMETHING.

"The entire goal of this record, for me, is to really get to know myself for the first time," she says. "It was about acceptance, growth, empowerment, learning to trust myself again. And that's a journey that I hope everybody has the courage to go on when they listen to this album."

While the numbers show that she is certainly making an impact — with more than 100 million career streams to date — Springsteen's autobiographical style and knack for catchy melodies resulted in a slew of recognition even before TWENTY SOMETHING arrived. Along with being honored as part of 2023's CMT Next Women of Country Class and MusicRow's Next Big Thing, the singer was also one of eight rising country stars selected to perform at Nissan Stadium during CMA Fest in June.

And accolades aside, the fan reaction is enough evidence that she's achieving her goals. "As someone who just turned 18 and about to go to college this album to me is like a guidebook on how to navigate this part," one fan wrote in an Instagram comment. As another added, "This is what new + upcoming artists should be aiming for on debut or sophomore releases."

As she continues to grow her budding career, Springsteen will likely also continue hearing the inevitable question, "Are you related to Bruce?" The answer is no — but she's also not keeping the name for clout.

"I never wanted it to feel like I'm just taking advantage of that name and using that as, like, clickbait or anything," she asserts. "That's the opposite of what I'm trying to do." 

Though Springsteen says that she's "definitely thought about" a stage name in the past, using her birth name is the only way her music would feel as true as she's always intended it to be. And as she's proved so far, she knows she has what it takes to compete with big guns like The Boss: "I'm making my own name."

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Why 2024 Is The Year Women In Country Music Will Finally Have Their Moment
(L-R) Brittney Spencer, Mickey Guyton and Maren Morris perform on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" in November 2023.

Photo: Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images

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Why 2024 Is The Year Women In Country Music Will Finally Have Their Moment

Between Lainey Wilson's first-ever GRAMMY nominations and Brittney Spencer's highly-anticipated album arriving Jan. 19, female country artists are making bigger statements and waves than they have in decades — and there's plenty more where that came from.

GRAMMYs/Jan 18, 2024 - 06:46 pm

Country music has long felt like a boy's club.

From the genre's humble beginnings of Hank Williams, Roy Acuff and Jimmie Rodgers, through the outlaw movement of Johnny Cash, George Jones and Merle Haggard, to more modern day giants like Garth Brooks, George Strait and Tim McGraw, men have been dominating the genre for nearly a century.

Even now, megastars like Morgan Wallen, Luke Combs and Zach Bryan have comfortably inherited the position, virtually ruling the airwaves of country music and beyond for the majority of 2023. Those three have almost single-handedly helped the genre become arguably the biggest it's ever been — and it's finally opening the door for women to join in.

As the genre has boomed over the last year or so, it's created an opportunity for female artists to get in on a bigger slice of the pie. While the guys were out there wooing the mainstream, a handful of ladies were making their own fair share of noise with superstars Lainey Wilson, Kelsea Ballerini, Kacey Musgraves and Carly Pearce showing the genre what girl power is all about, and representing at the 2024 GRAMMYs as a result.

Of course, a handful of female artists have been able to push through the cracks through the years, from Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton to Shania Twain and Carrie Underwood. But historically, women have largely been chasing equal stature in the country music limelight. The genre's gender gap came to a head with 2015's "Tomato-gate" controversy, when radio consultant Keith Hill compared radio airplay to a salad, with the men as the lettuce and women as a tomato garnish.

Although airplay hasn't necessarily grown (a recent study found that female artists received an abysmal 11 percent of airplay in 2022), that hasn't stopped women in the genre from making an impact. In the last few years, a growing group of women have been rewriting the rules, nabbing major award nominations and wins, selling out headlining tours, notching No. 1s and breaking records — and they only seem to be gaining speed.

As a new year begins, take a look at a few of the ways women are breaking through in country music.

GRAMMY Representation

For the past few GRAMMYs ceremonies, we've been seeing more and more female names in country music listed among the nominees.

The shift was first really felt at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards in 2021, when women dominated the nominations thanks to the colossal successes of Best New Artist nominee Ingrid Andress, country stalwart Miranda Lambert and female supergroup the Highwomen (comprised of previous GRAMMY winners Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires).

Female artists have continued to carve out their spot in GRAMMY history with nominations and wins. One of the most notable wins came in 2023, when Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde's history-making duet, "Never Wanted To Be That Girl," claimed Best Country Duo/Group Performance.

Pearce is once again nominated in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category at the 2024 GRAMMYs, this year for her chilling duet with decorated tunesmith Chris Stapleton, "We Don't Fight Anymore," which could find her claiming the prize for a second consecutive year.

While women don't dominate the Country Field nominees at the 2024 GRAMMYs, Pearce isn't alone. There's plenty of success stories throughout the categories, and one of the people leading that charge is Lainey Wilson.

More than a decade after moving to Nashville, Wilson's fourth studio album, Bell Bottom Country, has been propelling her to the forefront of the genre. The album helped earn Wilson a nomination for Best Country Album — one of her first two career GRAMMY nominations, the other for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for "Save Me," her evocative collaboration with country-rap trailblazer (and 2024 Best New Artist nominee), Jelly Roll.

One of the genre's most enduring duets of 2023, Zach Bryan and Kacey Muscgraves' "I Remember Everything," is also in the running for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. Along with debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reigning atop Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart for 16 weeks as of press time, the collab continued Musgraves' GRAMMY success. Also nominated for Best Country Song, "I Remember Everything" brings Musgraves' nomination total to 13; as of press time, she's won 6 GRAMMYs, including the coveted Album Of The Year in 2019 for Golden Hour.

Seasoned singer/songwriter Brandy Clark secured the most nominations of all the female country artists, with 6 nods across the Musical Theater, Americana and Country categories. Notably, her twice-nominated "Buried," included on her self-titled LP, nabbed nominations for both Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance.

Dolly Parton earned her 54th GRAMMY nomination this year, for Best Country Solo Performance for her solo version of one of her earliest hits, "The Last Thing On My Mind." First released in 1967 as her debut duet with Porter Wagoner, the 2023 version of the song features Parton's signature, soulful vocals and was included in the I Am a Pilgrim: Doc Watson at 100 tribute album.

Elsewhere in the 2024 GRAMMY nominations, pop-country darling Kelsea Ballerini is nominated alongside Wilson in the Best Country Album category with her Rolling Up the Welcome Mat EP. The triumphant and soul-bearing project led to one of her most commercially and critically successful years to date (more on that later).

Growing Success At Country Radio & Beyond

As her two GRAMMY nominations indicate, Lainey Wilson was arguably country music's woman of 2023. Notching four trips to the top of the Mediabase Country Airplay chart in 2023, she set two records: most No. 1s by a female country artist in a calendar year and most No. 1's on Billboard's Country Airplay chart by a female artist this decade. This was thanks to her own "Heart Like A Truck" and "Watermelon Moonshine," as well as her HARDY collaboration "wait in the truck" and the aforementioned Jelly Roll team-up "Save Me."

Beyond her profound radio success, 2023 also saw Wilson nab four ACM Awards and five CMA trophies; at the latter, she won Female Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year and the coveted Entertainer of the Year, whose last female winner came in 2011 with country-turned-pop superstar, Taylor Swift.

Wilson's fellow Best Country Album nominee, Kelsea Ballerini, also had a banner year. While her nominated Rolling Up the Welcome Mat EP didn't spawn a radio hit, it made quite an impression on streaming and social media. Due to its raw account of her public divorce from singer Morgan Evans, Ballerini's latest project helped her sell out her headlining tour, receive an invite to perform on Saturday Night Live, and earn an array of major award nominations.

Another proven hitmaker, Carly Pearce, nabbed her fourth No. 1 with her heartbreak anthem, "What He Didn't Do," which reached the top of the Country Aircheck/Mediabase chart last March. Newcomer Megan Moroney topped the same chart in June with her 2022 debut single, "Tennessee Orange," which helped her have a remarkable breakout year including her first award and a sold-out tour.

Rising country star Priscilla Block also secured a No. 1 on Mediabase's Country Airplay chart with her Justin Moore duet, "You, Me, and Whiskey," while more veteran act Gabby Barrett — who scored back-to-back No. 1 hits on Billboard's Country Airplay chart in 2020 and 2021 — reached the top 10 of the chart in 2023 with her single "Pick Me Up."

Female Artists On the Horizon

In the last 12 months, rising female country artists hit their stride, bringing a lot of promise to tackling the genre's gender gap. Hailey Whitters landed her first chart entry on both Billboard's Country Airplay and Hot 100 charts with her breakthrough single, "Everything She Ain't," which broke the top 20 on the former tally. Sister duo Tigirlily Gold saw their debut single, "Shoot Tequila," surge into the top 40 on country radio while they also juggled making their Opry debut, a loaded touring schedule and the release of their acclaimed Blonde EP.

Aside from the radio dial, women also had massive years on the road, earning major touring slots with some of the genre's big hitters. Big Loud prodigy Ashley Cooke put out her debut effort, Shot in the Dark, which propelled her onto Luke Bryan's Country Again Tour and Jordan Davis' Damn Good Time Tour. Meanwhile, Ella Langley, a country-rocker in the making, spent her year alongside Riley Green and Jon Pardi, as songs from her debut EP, Excuse the Mess, garnered millions of streams.

Beyond commercial success, there are a slew of burgeoning female singer/songwriters who are also poised to break through. Alana Springsteen, who released her three-part twenty something project in 2023, is establishing herself as one of the newest (and most relatable) voices in the country-pop world. Meanwhile, Lauren Watkins — who doubled down in 2023 with two EPs, Introducing: Lauren Watkins and Introducing: The Heartbreak — is reinventing the neo-traditional, retro country music of generations past.

Similarly, "The Voice" alum Emily Ann Roberts is out to make traditional country cool again as demonstrated on her debut LP, Can't Hide Country, while Catie Offerman, a powerhouse multi-instrumentalist, is bringing her Texas charm and clever turns of phrase into the country mainstream one infectious single at a time.

Next up is Brittney Spencer, who will release her debut album, My Stupid Life, on Jan. 19. As her glistening, genre-bending music continues to gain commercial traction, she's already loved by critics and artists alike; Maren Morris just recruited her for a dynamic performance of "The Tree" on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" alongside Mickey Guyton.

While it's impossible to mention all of the country women out there making moves, it's more than evident that female artists are ready to take up more of the country music landscape than ever before — and 2024 might just be the year that women finally get their due.

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Country Music

GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Doja Cat & SZA Tearfully Accept Their First GRAMMYs For "Kiss Me More"
(L-R) Doja Cat and SZA at the 2022 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Doja Cat & SZA Tearfully Accept Their First GRAMMYs For "Kiss Me More"

Relive the moment the pair's hit "Kiss Me More" took home Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, which marked the first GRAMMY win of their careers.

GRAMMYs/Mar 1, 2024 - 06:11 pm

As Doja Cat put it herself, the 2022 GRAMMYs were a "big deal" for her and SZA.

Doja Cat walked in with eight nominations, while SZA entered the ceremony with five. Three of those respective nods were for their 2021 smash "Kiss Me More," which ultimately helped the superstars win their first GRAMMYs.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, revisit the night SZA and Doja Cat accepted the golden gramophone for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance — a milestone moment that Doja Cat almost missed.

"Listen. I have never taken such a fast piss in my whole life," Doja Cat quipped after beelining to the stage. "Thank you to everybody — my family, my team. I wouldn't be here without you, and I wouldn't be here without my fans."

Before passing the mic to SZA, Doja also gave a message of appreciation to the "Kill Bill" singer: "You are everything to me. You are incredible. You are the epitome of talent. You're a lyricist. You're everything."

SZA began listing her praises for her mother, God, her supporters, and, of course, Doja Cat. "I love you! Thank you, Doja. I'm glad you made it back in time!" she teased.

"I like to downplay a lot of s— but this is a big deal," Doja tearfully concluded. "Thank you, everybody."

Press play on the video above to hear Doja Cat and SZA's complete acceptance speech for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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Listen: Miley Cyrus & Pharrell Reunite For New Song "Doctor (Work It Out)"
Miley Cyrus performs at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Listen: Miley Cyrus & Pharrell Reunite For New Song "Doctor (Work It Out)"

Ten years after their first funky single, Miley Cyrus and Pharrell Williams strike again with "Doctor (Work It Out)," which arrived on March 1. Hear the new track and watch the spirited music video here.

GRAMMYs/Mar 1, 2024 - 04:31 pm

On the heels of her first GRAMMY wins, Miley Cyrus is feeling good — and she's ready to be your cure.

The pop superstar unveiled her new single, a lustful, funky dance track titled "Doctor (Work It Out)," on March 1. The track is her latest collaboration with Pharrell, and their first in 10 years.

Over a pulsating bass guitar-driven beat, Cyrus opens with the punchy chorus (“I could be your doctor/ And I could be your nurse/ I think I see the problem/ It's only gon' get worse/ A midnight medication/ Just show me where it hurts," she sings) before erupting into a dance break as she declares, "Let me work it out… Imma work it out…”

So far, 2024 is feelin' fine for Cyrus. At the 2024 GRAMMYs, her 2023 smash, "Flowers," took home two awards, for Best Pop Solo Performance and Record Of The Year. Following her first win, she delivered a knockout performance featuring the unforgettable ad lib, "I started to cry and then I remembered I… just won my first GRAMMY!" 

Less than a month later, "Doctor (Work It Out)" serves as another groovy celebration of Cyrus' achievements in life and music so far.

The song's music video is reminiscent of her 2024 GRAMMYs performance, too. Not only is she wearing a similar shimmery fringe dress, but the entire video is a jubilant, blissful solo dance party.

Though Cyrus first teased "Doctor (Work It Out)" just a few days before the song's arrival, Pharrell first gave a sneak peek in January, at his American Western themed Fall/Winter 2024 Louis Vuitton Men's fashion show in Paris. It was Pharrell's third collection for the luxury house, and the bouncy single served as a fitting soundtrack. 

The song marks Cyrus' first release in 2024, and her first collab with Pharrell since 2014's "Come Get It Bae" from his album G I R L'; Pharrell also co-wrote and produced four tracks on the deluxe version of Cyrus' 2013 album, Bangerz.

Watch the "Doctor (Work It Out)" video above, and stay tuned to GRAMMY.com for more Miley Cyrus news.

Miley Cyrus' Big GRAMMYs Night: Why Her Two Wins Were Monumental

11 Women Pushing Amapiano To Global Heights: Uncle Waffles, Nkosazana Daughter, & More
(Clockwise) Khanyisa, Boohle, Kamo Mphela, Uncle Waffles, DBN GOGO, Pabi Cooper

Photos: Fundokwakhe Majozi, Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images; Courtesy of the artist; Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for UnitedMasters; Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images; Leon Bennett/WireImage

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11 Women Pushing Amapiano To Global Heights: Uncle Waffles, Nkosazana Daughter, & More

While Tyla may have brought amapiano to 2024 GRAMMYs stage, a vast network of women are responsible for bringing the South African sound to the world. Get to know 11 of the artists at the forefront of amapiano music.

GRAMMYs/Mar 1, 2024 - 04:15 pm

After South African singer Tyla won the inaugural golden gramophone for Best African Music Performance at the 2024 GRAMMYs award show, many likely wondered why her international breakout single "Water" garnered such global appeal. 

Beyond the R&B sensibilities that made its sound approachable to Western audiences, what really drew crowds to "Water" was the vitality of South African dance and elements of amapiano — a subgenre of house and a child of kwaito, South Africa’s post-Apartheid freedom sound. Punctuated by amapiano’s log drums and insistent shakers, brought to life through the frantic backside movements of bacardi  and Tyla’s aquatic theater, "Water" used genre fusion to carry South African sound across global airwaves.

What’s more, Tyla is part of a vast network of women propelling amapiano to the world. Zimbabwean singer Sha Sha’s breakout in 2019 created a monumental shift in a genre that was largely the terrain of boys and men, and since then the amapiano scene has seen many other women follow in her wake. The likes of Mawhoo, Ami Faku, Bontle Smith, and Nobantu Vilakazi consistently emphasize the genre's soulful heart through dreamlike vocal work, grounding the very hits that have made amapiano the widespread phenomenon that it is today.

Everything from the skillful improvisations of dancing schoolgirls, to lively performances from women DJs and vocalists has allowed amapiano’s essence to be communicated clearly to the world. A vast web of women are pushing the genre both within and beyond South African borders; read on for a list of 11 influential women who are key in elevating amapiano to global heights.

DBN Gogo 

It’s not that controversial: everybody loves Gogo. Born in the city from which she derived her name, Durban, DBN Gogo has steadily become one of amapiano’s most sought-after acts. From her 2021 smash hit "Khuza Gogo" featuring amapiano stars such as the late Mpura, to later hits like "Possible," "Bambelela," and "Bells," Gogo has made a name for herself as a highly-dependable hitmaker and an equally compelling performer. It was her, of course, who created the viral dakiwe dance challenge, inspiring countless dance variations and solidifying her position as amapiano’s queen of cool.

Even while she has offered the genre mass mainstream appeal, DBN Gogo's personal projects reveal her lasting dedication to preserving amapiano’s authenticity. Her 2022 debut album, What’s Real, is a warm, rich body of work, while her newest EP Click Bait is a genre-diverse wonder that transcends the boundaries of ‘piano itself. 

Since her breakout years ago, she has not even remotely backed down, taking over multiple AfroNation stages yearly, performing at Coachella in 2022, and featuring twice on the GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack. Dropping the Shakes & Les-assisted "Funk 55" in 2023, a track that is still dominating South African nightlife as we speak, Gogo is on an unending mission to take the world by storm.

Nkosazana Daughter

With a spiritual sound and an angelic voice to match, it’s safe to say that Nkosazana Daughter is amapiano’s sweetheart. Breaking out via an Instagram Live with DJ Maphorisa and Mpura during lockdown, the 23-year-old has proved that her ethereal vocals can impart a distinct sense of purity to any song she features on. 

She has since voiced dreamy hit singles like "Dali Nguwe" and "Sofa Silahlane" with frequent collaborator Master KG, and worked with continental artists including Tanzania’s Harmonize and Nigerian Afropop stars Mr. Eazi, Omah Lay, and Young Jonn. Last year, she asserted herself in a big way, releasing her debut album Uthingo Le Nkosazana

"Uthingo," meaning "rainbow" in Zulu, communicated to the world the vast color and love she had to bring to the scene. Nkosazana Daughter called amapiano’s greats to her world, working with the likes of Kabza de Small, Maphorisa, and Sir Trill throughout the project as well as Master KG on the lead single, "Amaphutha." She has already started the year with a bang via her successful hit "Keneilwe," proving her determination to come into 2024 with an unrelenting force.

TXC

Tarynn Reid and Clair Hefke are the dj duo that have proved the importance of intentional performance while pushing ‘piano. The pair are known for mixing amapiano party hits while clad in matching sets; Clair often holds down the fort while Tarynn drives crowds wild with impassioned dance moves. 

The duo has become a symbol of amapiano’s global appeal, ruling the Piano People stage at AfroNation in Miami, closing Boiler Room’s Soulection stage in London, and taking on Qatar’s 2022 Fifa World Cup stage alongside acts like Lil Baby. What’s more, they have consistently shown dedication to growth, expanding their title from DJ duo to production duo, including producing their debut EP.

That release, 2022's A Fierce Piano is a rich collection of tracks featuring assists from some of the genre's smoothest vocalists: Daliwonga and Murumba Pitch. Following up with "Vuka Mawulele" and their latest single "Turn Off the Lights," TXC have shown that their future as creatives in amapiano is limitless. 

Babalwa M

While the amapiano scene is fraught with disagreements surrounding origins, dates, and pioneers, all unanimously agree that Babalwa M is the queen of private school amapiano. Known for its deeply jazzy, soulful approach to amapiano, "private school" is a distinct subgenre that Babalwa’s vocals have refined throughout the years alongside its king, producer Kelvin Momo.

Listening to the transcendental vocals laced through tracks like "Aluta Continua" from her debut album of the same name, it should come as no surprise that Soweto’s own Babalwa M found her voice through the church choir.

Babalwa M's most infamous contributions to the private school archive come in the form of collaborations with the aforementioned Momo. Her near-spiritual vocals on tracks like "Feza," "Sukakude" and, most recently, "Amalobolo" from his newest project, have made even the most surface level consumers invested in the beauty of private school. Coming off of the heels of her most recent track "Maye Maye," Babalwa M is determined to continue sharing the sublimity of private school with the world. 

Uncle Waffles

Nobody quite epitomizes amapiano’s globalization in the way that Uncle Waffles does. 

It all boils down to one fateful day: a DJ booked for a 2021 club night in Soweto was unable to make their set, so Uncle Waffles was called in. She played Young Stunna’s "Adiwele," gyrating with incomparable cool as she responded to the crowd’s impassioned cries. A video of her dancing at this set went viral, generating a dance challenge that can still be seen at club nights today and converting her into an overnight sensation. Suddenly, Swaziland’s own Uncle Waffles was juggling bookings from all over the world. 

Since then, the cosmos has become the limit  — she has shut down Coachella, sold out US and UK headlines shows, and received cosigns from Drake, Kelly Rowland, and Ciara. Waffles' hit single "Tanzania" was even featured in an amapiano-influenced set during multiple stops of Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour. What’s more, she has proved that her talents transcend the stage with three projects in her catalog: Red Dragon, and 2023’s Asylum and Solace. 

With global hit singles "Yahyuppiyah" and "Peacock Revisit" from 2023, and her constant re-definition as a style icon, dancer, and creative director, Uncle Waffles continues to show the world that she cannot be confined to any one creative medium.

Chley

Slick-tongued Chley is widely understood as a secret weapon for any producer looking to cook up an amapiano anthem. Taking on music as recently as 2021, she’d already collaborated with prominent amapiano producers Mellow & Sleazy, Konke, and Musa Keys a year into her music career - voicing hits like "Kancane" and "M’nike." Chley was catapulted to a new level of fame once featured on Uncle Waffles’ "Yahyuppiyah," offering a rapid-fire verse that netizens all over the world fought hard to replicate.

Since then, she has featured on bangers such as "Vuma" with Felo Le Tee and Mellow & Sleazy, "Shu!" with Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz, Gogo’s "Funk 55," and Ggoldie’s "Asambe." With a discography bound to make even the most conservative of listeners get up and dance, Chley is certainly one to watch in the midst of amapiano’s ever-evolving scene.

Kamo Mphela

Kamo Mphela burst onto the scene after one too many videos of her dancing went viral — an expected outcome for a girl who consistently danced and MCed at block parties on the streets of Joburg. Her rise to fame fatefully coincided with amapiano’s nationwide popularization, allowing the multi-talented dancer to latch on to the township sound and never let it go. 

She soon jumped on tracks like "Sandton" alongside Kabza and Maphorisa in 2019 and "Amanikiniki" with Major League DJz in 2021, then released her own tracks "Percy Tau" and "Nkulunkulu" on her debut EP the same year. She’s since released smash hits, featured on the Wakanda Forever soundtrack, and offered a thrilling performance ahead of Davido at London’s O2 arena.

Throughout her career, Kamo Mphela has redefined the role of the dancer in amapiano’s landscape, not confining herself to the sidelines but instead positioning dance as a central component of any amapiano performance worth its salt. This radical ethic has allowed her to become widely regarded as one of amapino’s most notable performers, and she consistently ensures that her music embodies this weighty title. Her 2023 singles "HANNAH MONTANA" and "Dalie" came with expert dances — the latter with a viral dance challenge that has kept the song at a steady position on South African charts. 

Boohle

Hailing from the Vosloorus township of Johannesburg, Buhle Manyathi is all about soul. Kicking off her career as part of a gospel troupe in 2016, she later transitioned to Afro house and amapiano, releasing a multi-genre debut album, Izibongo, in 2020 and EP Sfikile in 2021. It was only a matter of time before she became the vocalist behind some of ‘piano’s biggest hits, voicing "Mama" with Josiah de Disciple (and its gorgeous Afro house remix from De Capo), "Siyathandana" alongside rapper Cassper Nyovest, and the glorious "Ngixolele," produced by Busta 929. 

Several top charting positions and awards later, she came out with arguably her most global single, "Hamba Wena" alongside Deep London. Igniting a global dance challenge created by South African steppers Hope Ramafalo and Hlongi Mash, "Hamba Wena" captivated the globe  and reasserted Boohle’s seemingly endless ability to produce ‘piano anthems.

Lady Du

Music was always in the cards for Lady Du, but it was amapiano in particular that changed the scope of her career. Reared in a family of influential DJs and producers, she kicked off her career as a Hip-Hop DJ before pivoting completely into ‘piano. 

Dropping both "Catalia" and "Woza" in 2021 — both with production from ‘piano pioneer Mr JazziQ — Lady Du suddenly had 2 gigantic hits under her belt, the latter becoming one of the biggest songs in the early days of amapiano’s globalization.

She has since offered roaring vocals on Busta and Mpura’s "Umsebenzi Wethu," hard-hitting rap on 9numba and TOSS’ "uMlando," and Mzansi flare on international features such as "I Did It" with Nigeria’s Niniola. 

Lady Du reaffirmed her centrality in the scene in 2023, dropping her debut album Song is Queen and later, the Megadrumz-produced single "Tjina." The percussion-heavy tune quickly turned global club nights upside down, secured high positions on South Africa’s streaming charts, and emphasized Lady Du’s centrality in amapiano’s sprawling ecosystem.

Pabi Cooper

or Pritori princess Pabi Cooper, winning is easy. Hailing from South Africa’s administrative capital Pretoria, Pabi broke out as a 21-year-old with the party-starting "Isphithiphithi," a hit produced by Busta 929 in 2021.

2022's "Banyana Ke Bafana" was a widely popular hit, propelled by irresistible verses from the Pritori trifecta of Pabi, vocalist Ch’cco, and rapper Focalistic. Her debut EP, Cooperville, introduced audiences to a vast world of her making, with soulful numbers like "MAMA," alongside more street-centric jams like "Waga Bietjie" and "Angeke." 

Today, Cooper has solidified herself as a symbol of youth power, mesmerizing South African crowds through her concert series Cooper FC and snagging a BET nomination in 2023 for Best New International Act. She also carries her hometown on her back wherever she goes; last year saw her release "Jukulyn" alongside Pretoria’s Jelly Babie, a track dedicated to a township of the same name and rooted in the city’s bouncy, infectious sound bacardi. 

Khanyisa

Khanyisa may have started off her career as a social media influencer, but she has seamlessly evolved into an amapiano star. Performing covers and skits to the millions of followers she amassed on TikTok, Khanyisa wielded relatability and humor as her social media superpowers. 

It wasn’t until her irresistible breakout "Bheka Mina Ngedwa" with Lady Du and her official debut "Ungangi Bambi" in 2021, both delivered with the same vitality that offered her acclaim online, that Khanyisa formally secured popularity within the amapiano space.

Since, Khanyisa has featured on popular tracks such as "Vuka Mawulele" with TxC and the  danceable "Zula Zula" with Villosoul. In 2023, she proved her role as an undeniable hitmaker, releasing the log drum heavy "SUKA" and "NGIMOJA" with producer of the year Tyler ICU. With her successful pivot to musical fame, it is clear that Khanyisa’s future as a player in amapiano is incredibly bright. 

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