Collage of five Southeast Asian music artists: Alextbh, Ruby Ibarra, Sinead Harnett, Sophia Laforteza, and RINI.

5 Southeast Asian artists to Watch in 2024

From pop to R&B, these artists are ready to rep the excellence of Southeast Asia in the new year

From left, Alextbh, Ruby Ibarra, Sinead Harnett, Sophia Laforteza, and RINI.

Illustration by Ryan Quan

Southeast Asians have been making prominent steps in achieving more representation in music for our communities in the last decade. This new year we’re in luck, as the Southeast Asian domination continues, with a number of these artists releasing new music this year. So, whether you’re looking to diversify your Spotify Wrapped for 2024 after a potentially embarrassing outcome in 2023, or if you’re just looking for more powerhouse, game-changing artists to follow this new year—we’ve got you covered. Across genres from sultry R&B to queer indie pop, Alextbh, RINI, Ruby Ibarra, Sinead Harnett and Sophia Laforteza are five Southeast Asian artists to look out for this new year. Here’s a rundown on these artists and what we know so far, and hope to see, from their upcoming 2024 releases.

Alextbh

Queer Malaysian singer/songwriter Alextbh has stolen, then healed, our hearts ever since his entry into the music industry in 2016. A pivotal figure in queer Asian representation in music, Alex has openly sung about love and loss of his male lovers, groundbreaking when his melodies came at a time when the visibility of the queer Asian community was rarely seen in the industry. On Nov. 24, 2023, he released his debut album, It’s All Good, which fans have been patiently waiting for for years. The new album brings a genre-weaving approach to music. Singles like “Heaven’s Gate” and “Never Enough” bring a fresh perspective of what Alextbh can offer as an artist, experimenting with retro-inspired and pop-synth heavy musical elements. “My Love” is my personal standout in the 10-track album, a single featuring dialogue between two queer friends discussing the importance of chosen families in marginalized communities and even a mention of PrEP (we love queer sex positivity!), all alongside Alex beautifully singing his lyrics about the process of loving after living a lifetime of pain. Although his album came out late last year, I’m looking forward to this new year with hopes of more music videos and international performances from our queer Malaysian music icon.

RINI

RINI reigns as the Philippine prince of R&B. The “thrilla from Manila” has had an illustrious career nothing short of a masterclass in how to effortlessly create a distinct smooth and seductive sound in music. Ever since his introduction into the music industry in 2016, RINI has been a pivotal figure in bringing Southeast Asian voices to the genre. It’s hard to not fall in love with RINI’s music when he addresses the double-edged sword of falling in love so well in his music—from the sultry highs of love and intimacy featured in songs like “Aphrodite” to the gut-wrenching spirals of losing a partner featured in songs like “Haunt Me.” Eight years and more than 100 million streams later, the Manila- and Melbourne-raised singer has become a worldwide hit with his discography. RINI just completed his “Past The Naked Eye” international tour in late 2023. Fresh off of touring late last year, RINI announced via Instagram that his new album was completed and primed for release in the new year—even teasing one of the album’s tracks, a heavenly heartbreak-heavy song fittingly titled “Miracle.” This year will bring us more heartbreak-era RINI, and I can’t wait to heal my own wounded heart with more music from our favorite R&B game changer.

Ruby Ibarra 

When thinking of Filipino excellence in music in the modern era, you have to think of Ruby Ibarra. A perfect example of how music can give power to the people, Ibarra is a figure at the forefront of Filipino representation, using rap as a mechanism of bringing about conversations on the ongoing issues Filipinos face—from the United States and its imperial violent force abroad to the effects of colonialism on our community today. No matter the occasion, music always seems to be a tool of cultural resistance for Ibarra ever since her first mixtape drop in 2012. If you need a quick reminder of the power Ibarra has, I’d suggest listening to her freestyle she added to one of Doja Cat’s recent singles (that was named after a Filipino delicacy, balut). But beyond talent, Ibarra is a game changer, especially after creating the Bolo Music Group in 2023—Ibarra’s new label supporting Filipino talent. Through the label, Ibarra announced she is planning to release her sophomore album in 2024. But while fans await the upcoming album, Ibarra promised fans in late November that she’d release new uploads on Spotify in the meantime, while we wait to be fed this new year. When Filipino history has been erased and written over for lifetimes, it’s a blessing we get to witness Ibarra combat precedence with each bar she writes with her own pen—and I can’t wait to see the fires she starts with her release this year.

Sinead Harnett

Thai Irish goddess Sinead Harnett is no stranger to creating an R&B masterpiece. Her second studio album released in 2021, Ready Is Always Too Late, is an 11-track album that creates a soundtrack to the ebb and flow of love. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time, standing as a masterpiece that I believe is part of this ongoing revival of the R&B genre from badass women of color over the last decade. She went viral on TikTok in 2023 due to her 2017 single “Unconditional” becoming one of the most used songs on the app, as it was the background audio for a trend where users would share their stories of finding love after loss or abuse. After a monumental year, last October in a birthday post, Harnett promised her new year of life in 2024 would bring her fans a new album and a tour. Harnett's been feeding her fans with teasers to a new album called BOUNDARIES, including a surprise drop of a potential album cover that features her in a field of flowers, as well as a photo dump of album teasers. Harnett is a force to be reckoned with, and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with in the new year with her incoming era—and I will be seated at her concert crying profusely to every new bop she releases.

Sophia Laforteza

Looking for a Filipina queen to stan who can sing, dance, and lead a global girl group to world domination? Look no further than to the triple threat who is Sophia Laforteza. Major music labels HYBE and Geffen Records began a mission to create the world’s first global girl group through a competition program called Dream Academy. The girl group would be made up of members from across the world to be trained under a K-pop idol system, who would then compete in performance challenges, while fans voted on their favorites every episode. With thousands of girls applying and competing, only six made the cut for the final girl group—one member of the iconic girl group being Sophia Laforteza. Laforteza constantly ranked in the top three in each challenge, making her a standout contestant that fans knew would be locked into the final lineup early on in the competition. It was evident that her singing chops and performance quality were the makings of a superstar. The group, officially named KATSEYE, has already reached more than 200,000 followers on Instagram and is set to release their highly anticipated album this year. Fans this year can also expect a Netflix documentary to be released about Laforteza and her group members’ journeys to the final lineup. With Laforteza as the rumored leader of KATSEYE and her many years of training successfully leading her to this moment in the spotlight, I cannot wait to see what she brings in this new year, especially as an artist that holds her Filipina culture so close to her heart.

Published on January 9, 2024

Words by Andre Lawes Menchavez

Andre Lawes Menchavez (he/him) is a Filipinx, Indigenous and queer community organizer who uses journalism as a tool of activism, constantly seeking to lift up marginalized communities through his work. He received his bachelor of arts degree in law, societies and justice at the University of Washington and his master of arts in specialized journalism—with a focus in race and social justice reporting—from the University of Southern California. Find him on Instagram at @itsjustdrey.

Art by Ryan Quan

Ryan Quan is the Social Media Editor for JoySauce. This queer, half-Chinese, half-Filipino writer and graphic designer loves everything related to music, creative nonfiction, and art. Based in Brooklyn, he spends most of his time dancing to hyperpop and accidentally falling asleep on the subway. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanquans.