I'm never at a loss for invigorating new music, but few emerging artists I encountered last year entranced me like Chicago bedroom-pop singer-songwriter Serena Isioma. The idiosyncratic and fully evolved aesthetic of their March 2020 EP, Sensitive, fulfills the promise of our allegedly "genreless" future, incorporating signifiers from across the pop spectrum: its radio-ready songs combine sensitive R&B singing, sophisticated indie-rock riffs, suave hip-hop rhythms, and featherweight synth-pop melodies, deploying every element for maximum immediacy. Isioma sounds as self-assured as a star who's been headlining arenas for years, and I felt certain their music would break out eventually—which it did before the end of the year. On December 8, their knockout single "Sensitive" reached number three on Spotify's U.S. Viral 50 chart, remaining there for nearly a week; by the start of this month, it had amassed more than 26 million plays on the platform. I don't think Spotify should have such monolithic power in the music industry, particularly since its per-stream payouts are so stingy they make the federal minimum wage seem humane. But I'm glad to see Isioma's rise on that platform, even though the metrics that generate Spotify's viral charts remain opaque to me. I'm happier to see their growing popularity outside Spotify, though, because it's an even clearer indication that their stardom is closer than I imagined.
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