Rihanna, Ariana, The 1975 and more: The most anticipated new music of 2019

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Some of the artists on the road next year (clockwise from top left: Stormzy, The 1975, Rihanna, Madonna, Ariana Grande, Emma Bunton, Sir Elton John, Taylor Swift and Geri Halliwell)

With 2018 still ringing in our ears, thoughts turn to the year ahead and whether George Ezra will win the Brit Award for Best British Male (hint: he definitely will).

But that’s not the only treat 2019 has in store. From Stormzy to The Spice Girls, the next 12 months will see the return of the planet’s biggest pop stars, and a few exciting new names taking their first steps into the big league.

Here’s a not-entirely-comprehensive preview of the year ahead.

10 Albums we can’t wait to hear

2018 was a fallow year for most of pop’s A-listers – with a knock-on effect on album sales, which fell by an estimated 25%. But the new year promises a crop of major releases that could reverse that trend.

1) Rihanna – To be confirmed

It’s been three years since Rihanna last graced fans with new music, but the long wait for a follow-up to Anti may soon be over.

In response to a fan asking “When is the album dropping?” on Instagram, the star simply stated: “2019”. Her long-term vocal producer Kuk Harrell also teased details about Rihanna’s ninth album, telling fans: “R9 is great. R9 is amazing. It’s incredible, And that’s all I’m going to say.”

That’s about all we know – although it’s likely RiRi will also appear on the soundtrack to Guava Island, the mysterious film she’s been shooting with Childish Gambino in Cuba.

2) Lana Del Rey – Norman Rockwell

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Back in November, Lana Del Rey released two singles that updated her trademark sound with a washed-out psychedelia. The highlight was the 10-minute-long Venice Bitch, a dreamy love song evoking faded summers, Robert Frost and Norman Rockwell – after whom she’s named her sixth album.

It’s being produced by Jack Antonoff, whose work with Lorde, Taylor Swift and St Vincent has resulted in some of the most complex, intelligent pop of the last five years.

The album is due in March, preceded by (uh-oh) a book of poetry.

3) The 1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form

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Recorded at the same time as 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, The 1975’s fourth album is due in the summer – part of singer Matty Healy’s plan to combat the constant-consumption culture of modern pop.

“Very early on, [Matt] noted that the promotional window on music is shorter than ever, and the time that people consume it is infinite,” the band’s manager Jamie Oborne told Music Week. “If we have a tour cycle that’s going to last 18 months to two years, we have to release two records in the time that we would have previously have released one.”

Matty’s father, actor Tim Healy, confirmed the band had recorded one of his songs for the album.

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4) Dua Lipa – To be confirmed

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Like The 1975, Dua Lipa knows attention spans are getting shorter, so she’s plugged the gap between her Brit Award-winning debut and her in-progress second album with a clutch of collaborations with Mark Ronson, Diplo, Calvin Harris and… er, Andrea Bocelli.

Meanwhile, she’s been hitting the studio with the likes of Max Martin (Britney, Taylor Swift) MNEK (Little Mix, Beyonce), Andrew Wyatt (Lorde, Bruno Mars), Sarah Hudson (Katy Perry, Camila Cabello) Justin Tranter (Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez) and Swedish pop star Tove Lo.

The singer told Rolling Stone she’d been listening to Prince, Outkast and Gnarls Barkley in the studio, explaining the album “has some throwback elements, which I’m excited about ‘cause it’s a new direction for me”.

5) Stormzy – To be confirmed

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They told me back in summer I should drop a summer tune/But I’ve been working hard, the second album’s coming soon.”

Stormzy teased his new album in a freestyle, 4pm In London, earlier this year. And with a Glastonbury headline slot on the horizon, we should expect new material sooner rather than later.

Like his debut, Gang Signs Prayer, the album’s been recorded with producer Fraser T Smith, who said the star had reached new levels with “his singing voice, the delivery of his raps [and] his musicality”.

He told Music Week: “There’s no way he’s going to be just recycling Gang Signs Prayer.”

6) Foals – To be confirmed

Foals’ first album since 2015’s What Went Down is also their first without founding bassist Walter Gervers, and the indications are that it will see the band make a big sonic shift.

“It’s evolution versus extinction,” frontman Yannis Philippakis told the Oxford Union last year. “What we need to do is go through some sort of violent change and make sure, whatever the next record is, it’s not friends with the last two.”

7) Ariana Grande – Thank U, Next

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Ariana Grande’s Sweetener – which came sixth in our best albums of 2018 – was only released in August, but the pop star has already hit the studio to record the follow-up.

That’s partly because life has moved on – the love affair that inspired Sweetener’s most romantic moments has ended – and partly because she’s fed up with the music industry’s relentless album-tour cycle.

“My dream has always been to be – obviously not a rapper, but, like, to put out music in the way that a rapper does,” she told Billboard. “It’s just like, ‘Bruh, I just want to talk to my fans and sing and write music and drop it the way these boys do.”

The first single, Thank U, Next, topped the charts for six weeks in the UK, pushing back plans to release the album before the end of 2018, but it seems likely Ariana’s fifth album will be out before her Sweetener World Tour kicks off in March.

8) Madonna – To be confirmed

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Madonna’s 14th studio album [discounting her various soundtrack albums] is ready to roll, ahead of a rumoured Glastonbury appearance in June.

Tentatively titled Magic, it sees the star back in the studio with French “disco god” Mirwais, who co-produced Music and American Life; and Mike Dean, who’s best known for working with Kanye West and Frank Ocean.

She deliberately restricted her pool of collaborators after the anything goes approach of 2015’s Rebel Heart, writing on Instagram: “Remember when I made records with other artists from beginning to end and I was allowed to be a visionary and not to have to go to songwriting camps where no-one can sit still for more than 15 minutes?”

9) Mark Ronson – Late Night Feelings

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Trailed by the monumental Miley Cyrus collaboration Nothing Breaks Like A Heart, Mark Ronson’s fifth record is a classic break-up album, prompted by his divorce from French model and actress Joséphine de La Baume.

Describing the project as a collection of “sad bangers”, the producer told the BBC: “I tried doing some other music, whatever I could do not to relive Uptown Funk, but the only stuff that started to stick was the stuff that moved me and made me feel melancholy.”

10) Taylor Swift – To be confirmed

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The three-year gap between Taylor Swift’s 1989 and Reputation was the longest she’d ever made fans wait for new music. But with a new recording contract signed and sealed, it looks like TS7 could be on its way by the end of 2019.

Although nothing’s confirmed yet, the star told Perez Hilton her seventh album “will definitely be out before I’m 30” next December, while fans are convinced she’s teasing a new album via the medium of Scrabble tiles.

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And that’s not all… We’re also expecting new albums from Vampire Weekend, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, Childish Gambino, The Chemical Brothers, The Cure, Ellie Goulding, The Strokes, James Blake, Tame Impala, The Weeknd, Maren Morris, Missy Elliott, Run The Jewels, Solange, Grimes, Weezer, Marina and Bastille.

The year’s biggest gigs

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With Charli XCX singing about 1999 and Anne-Marie reminiscing about 2002, nostalgia for the turn of the millennium is in full swing – so it only seems appropriate that The Spice Girls are heading off on their second reunion tour – without the help of Posh, who’s apparently got a global fashion empire to oversee.

Their 13-date stadium tour kicks off in Dublin on 24 May and rattles around the UK before landing in Wembley Stadium for three nights in June.

If that’s not enough 90s nostalgia for you, the new year will also see tours by Take That, Boyzone and Backstreet Boys.

Massive Attack will also be back, staging an ambitious 21st anniversary production of their 1998 album Mezzanine, which they describe as “our own personalised nostalgia nightmare head trip”.

Over in Las Vegas, Lady Gaga ushers in the new year with a game-changing residency that juggles two shows – a greatest hits extravaganza and a more intimate piano-jazz soiree.

Former Vegas stalwart Cher, meanwhile, hits the road in the autumn for her first world tour in 14 years. With wry self-awareness, the show is titled The Here We Go Again Tour, and will focus on her recent album of Abba covers.

The actual Abba are, for the 26th year in a row, refusing to reform, although a “hologram tour” is supposedly in the works, as is a TV special featuring two new songs from Sweden’s finest.

And palaeontologists will be pleased to hear that 2019 is a bumper year for rock dinosaurs – with Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, Sir Elton John, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton all touching down in the UK.

Catch them while you still can…

Film soundtracks ahoy

After the success of The Greatest Showman, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born this year, Hollywood is scrambling to capitalise on the apparent appetite for musicals.

2019 will see new film adaptations of Cats, The Lion King and Aladdin, but the most-anticipated of the lot has to be the Frozen sequel, which is due in December.

There’s also a lot of buzz around Teen Spirit, which stars Elle Fanning as a shy Isle Of Wight teenager who enters an X Factor-style music contest.

After its premiere in Toronto, Deadline said the film was “reminiscent of a new-age Flashdance, only with the emphasis on singing instead of dancing”.

Sir Elton’s back catalogue will get an overhaul in Rocket Man – starring Taron Egerton as the bespectacled pianist; and directed by Dexter Fletcher, who rescued Bohemian Rhapsody from the scrap-heap when Bryan Singer was fired.

And rounding out the year is Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by Wham’s holiday hit, which will also feature unreleased George Michael music.

Newcomers, awards and Brexit

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Ones to watch for 2019 include Jade Bird, whose rip-roaring country-rock songs have lit up playlists on both sides of the Atlantic; and 17-year-old Billie Eilish, who currently gets 24 million monthly listeners on Spotify for her ominous tales of angst and obsession.

Tyneside’s Sam Fender has already won the Brits Critics’ Choice Award for his emotionally-charged indie rock (check out Dead Boys, which tackles the issue of male suicide) while the longlist for the BBC’s Sound of 2019 includes flamenco star Rosalía, RB singer Ella Mai and queer pop songwriter King Princess. The winner will be revealed on 11 January.

Nominations for the Brit Awards are announced a day later – with George Ezra locked on for best male and best album for Staying At Tamara’s, the UK’s best-selling new release of 2018. Arctic Monkeys, Clean Bandit and Florence + The Machine should also grab a nomination or two.

At the Grammys, British star Dua Lipa is a frontrunner for best new artist, while Kacey Musgraves could be the first country act to win album of the year since 2010. Elsewhere, Childish Gambino, Cardi B, Janelle Monae and Drake all have multiple shots at the night’s big prizes.

But the biggest question mark hanging over the music industry in 2019 is the impact of Brexit.

How will the visa situation affect touring musicians? Will there be a price hike for vinyl and CDs, which are largely manufactured in Europe? And will Damon Albarn be forced to write another album about the political fallout?

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