Meet the guitar-playing singer-songwriters making acoustic music cool again

From Noah Kahan and Lizzy McAlpine to Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift, pop music seems to be entering its folk era. Now a new wave of songwriters are using the power of Tiktok to breathe new life into acoustic-driven music.

Annika Kilkenny with an acoustic guitar

Annika Kilkenny

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Perhaps it’s because of the time of year, and the persistently gloomy weather, but everyone seems to be in their folk era right now. Ever since the success of Noah Kahan’s Stick Season (both the stratospheric single and album), music fans seem to be finding solace and comfort in softer sounds. In the UK, particularly, Brits seem to be finding warmth in their headphones in the midst of a national cost-of-living crisis – as Kahan’s recent Wembley Arena headline shows attest.

Maybe it’s the taste for nostalgia, or a quest for relative quiet within a world full of conflict, but Kahan’s meteoric success is far from the only example. Lizzy McAlpine’s heart-breaking Ceilings was huge in early 2023, as was Labour by Derbyshire-born alt-folk artist Paris Paloma; the misogyny-tackling track became an unexpected viral hit. And, at the tail end of 2023, Olivia Rodrigo’s Can’t Catch Me Now gave a folk-rock edge to the soundtrack for the latest Hunger Games movie.

What’s interesting about the recent surge in popularity of acoustic sounds is the fact that the sound was once pithily dismissed as ‘stomp clap hey’ music. In fact, artists like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers were once derided and criticised for it.

Cordelia, whose single ‘A Little Life’ became a viral hit on TikTok
Cordelia, whose single ‘A Little Life’ became a viral hit on TikTok

That’s no longer the case, however: at Kahan’s second of two Wembley Arena shows, he brought out genre forebearers James Bay and Ben Howard, bridging the gap between decades.

Meanwhile, a new wave of guitar-playing singer-songwriters are doing huge streaming numbers – and TikTok is playing a huge part in driving them. “Great music is about great storytelling, which is why indie and folk music works on TikTok and we’re seeing an incredible resurgence as a result,” says Sheema Siddiqi, who leads #AltMusic at TikTok. “The community love lyrics they can share, connect and relate to. Whilst folk music has a rich history with emotional lyrics, fans on TikTok can make a piece of content that connects it with their own experiences, which is what’s special about the community and short-form content.”

One such folk-centric artist using storytelling to make connections is Cordelia, whose emotive single Little Life has, says TikTok’s A&R lead Josh Mateer, “taken on a little life of its own.” There’s also Myles Smith’s track Solo – recently given a further leg-up as BBC Introducing’s Track of the Week – and newcomers Good Neighbours, whose independently-released debut single, Home, is one of the biggest debuts in ages.

Myles Smith
Myles Smith

The sentimental song quickly took over FYPs after an early demo went viral on TikTok, with creators using the sound to share slideshows of their loved ones through the years. Since then, the duo have enjoyed enormous success on and off the platform, with the track becoming the duo’s first Official Chart Top 40 entry and clocking up 60 million streams on Spotify alone in just two months. Its success is unprecedented.

On the heavier side of the scene, 21-year-old Washington-born Benson Boone’s viral smash Beautiful Things currently sits at number two in the UK singles chart. Spotify’s ever-growing official ‘Folk Pop’ and ‘Lost In The Woods’ playlists are treasure troves, too, giving a platform to plenty more artists and bands.

It doesn’t look as if the acoustic trend is slowing down any time soon, so here are 10 guitar-playing singer-songwriters and bands that you should check out.

Benson Boone
Benson Boone

Get to know: 10 fast-rising acoustic singer-songwriters and bands you need to check out

Myles Smith

An acoustic guitar player from the age of nine, this Luton-born singer-songwriter is the voice behind huge self-released hits Solo and My Home. He began his journey by singing covers of Marcus Mumford, Chris Martin and Ed Sheeran online and at open mic nights. But it was his rendition of The Neighbourhood’s Sweater Weather which really took off online, in early 2022. Fusing elements of folk, Americana and pop, he has since grown a dedicated fanbase and sold-out tours in the UK, Europe and US. Even more impressive is the fact that, until recently singing with RCA, he’s done it all as an independent artist.

Good Neighbours

Aiming to rekindle the early-2000s scene and bands like Passion Pit and MGMT, these “two London boys with lots of spare time” have only released one song to date, but their nostalgically whistling debut is an undeniable anthem. A heartfelt, cinematic ode to friendship with a stadium-sized singalong chorus, Home is massive on TikTok right now, Zane Lowe was an early fan and the track is rapidly ascending the UK singles charts.

Michael Marcagi

Having built up buzz independently, this Cincinnati, Ohio-based singer, songwriter and guitarist recently signed to Warner Records to release his tambourine-and-piano-featuring debut EP, American Romance. Lead single Scared To Start – an ode to would-be adventurers frightened about taking the leap – is taking off on TikTok and has very quickly become a fixture of daytime British radio playlists.

Chance Peña

After building a following by writing and performing in his hometown of Tyler, Texas, this singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer initially found fame by competing on season nine of The Voice US, working with coach Adam Levine aged just 15. Having been gigging and writing songs for the better part of a decade, fans of emotional, honest folk-pop will love the now-23-year-old’s tear-jerker i am not who i was.

Sarah Julia

On the more ethereal side of the spectrum, this Amsterdam-based sister duo have been hotly-tipped ever since their first intimate live appearance in the UK in late 2023. Intertwining elements of pop and folk with spine-tingling harmonies, the release of their poignant debut single Cairngorms led to them signing with AWAL. Now, they are gearing up for the April release of their debut EP, How Do We Go Back To Being Normal?.

Essence Martins

Having swapped a potential tennis career for music after learning the piano and guitar via YouTube tutorials when she was a teenager, this 22-year-old British-Nigerian singer-songwriter blends the genres of indie-folk, pop and soul. With a love for mixing organic and synth sounds alongside ethereal harmonies, her simple yet evocative songs and cover topics ranging from family, friendships and love, to spirituality and philosophical ideologies. She’s also been touring and performing as a backing vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist for the artist Birdy since March 2023.

Esme Emerson

Growing up together in their Suffolk family home, British-Chinese siblings Esme and Emerson Lee-Scott began writing songs together during Emerson’s final year at university and quickly realised how well their creative ideas aligned. Now, they write their enchanting music together at home and, sonically, everything begins at folk, before the pair build their songs out with experimental electronic production inspired by Bon Iver.

Dream Scene

With a darker, more ominous take on folk and acoustic music than the aforementioned artists, this Dutch duo only released their captivating pandemic-created debut EP in late January but, off the strength of tracks like Early Defeat, it’s sure to gain them a lot of attention.

rainbow frog biscuits

Influenced by dodie, Kate Bush and The Divine Comedy, this Leicestershire-based singer-songwriter blends their lyrical storytelling abilities with a love for quirky instrumentation to produce fun, upbeat songs that speak on how it feels to find ourselves as we navigate our current world.

Annika Kilkenny

Having introduced herself to the world through a series of heartfelt, captivating singles, Irish songwriter and musician was personally invited by GRAMMY-winning musician Laufey to open her London show last week.

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