This year, scores of new artists were putting themselves out to the public--releasing songs, albums and videos--in hopes of standing out from the crowd in an ever-volatile music scene. Some did stand out, some didn't. In this HNGN exclusive, here are 12 stars that left their competitors in the dust. These special artists drew upon their unique, unfettered and boundless talents--on the charts and in their performances--to elevate themselves to new star status.
The former Nickelodeon star's "My Everything" album landed at No. 1 and generated four Billboard hits, including two Top 5 songs--"Problem," featuring Iggy Azalea, and "Break Free," featuring Zedd. By August, Grande's work made up 30 percent of the U.S. Billboard Top 10 with "Problem," "Break Free" and "Bang Bang," another UK No. 1 by Jessie J, on which Grande is a featured vocalist alongside Nicki Minaj. The only other female artist to match that triple feat is Adele. "Problem" earned a Grammy nomination and has been certified platinum, marking sales of more than 1 million copies. Grande's performances, rampant with kitty ears and go-go boots, propelled the 21-year-old to pop star status.
With "Stay With Me," a fragile ballad about finding comfort in the arms of a stranger, this 22-year-old London native slowed down the tempo of U.S. radio. Smith performed his soulful song at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. "Stay With Me" is from his debut album, "In the Lonely Hour," which has sold more than one million copies in both the UK and the U.S.--making him the only artist in the world to accomplish that remarkable feat this year. Smith exploded onto the Stateside scene after a buzz-creating appearance on "Saturday Night Live" in March. By the end of the year "In the Lonely Hour" had become the second-biggest-selling album released in 2014, behind only Taylor Swift's "1989." Now Smith is up for six Grammys!
The 24-year Australian rapper is up for four Grammys at the 57th annual Grammy Awards-Best New Artist and Record of the Year, plus Best Rap Album and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. In addition to her Grammy nominations, among Azalea's other 2014 accolades is that she surpassed Lil' Kim as the female rapper with the longest-leading single in Billboard's Hot 100 chart history with "Fancy." She also became the first act since The Beatles to secure both the No. 1 and No. 2 spots when her Ariana Grande collaboration "Problem" was released alongside "Fancy."
Nico & Vinz
When this Norwegian duo's "Am I Wrong" single made its American radio debut in April of 2014, it was the No. 1 most added record at the Top 40/mainstream format with 90 adds, a rarity in first-week airplay for a new artist. "Am I Wrong" continues to skyrocket up both streaming and download charts--Top 5 iTunes Singles Charts (#2 peak on iTunes Pop), Top 5 on Billboard Hot 100, and Top 5 on Spotify US and Worldwide charts with 135 million global streams to-date. After catching a sneak peak of the upcoming film "The Good Lie," which portrays Sudanese refugees taken in by Reese Witherspoon's character, the two penned an uplifting song, "Find a Way," featured in the official trailer and soundtrack.
In 2012 and 2013, FKA Twigs--Tahliah Debrett Barnett--surprised the Internet with a series of music videos that radiated an electronic weirdness not seen since Björk. She is a former professional dancer who reportedly earned her stage name because of how loudly she could crack her bones. This year, the British singer carved out an avant-garde-like niche with her slinky songs about love and sex that feature pop hooks an intensely erotic lyrics. Her debut album, "LP1," was released in August 2014 to critical acclaim. In October, FKA Twigs released the official music video for her "Video Girl" single. She made her American TV debut on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" on Nov. 4.
"Take Me To The Church," a bluesy folk anthem, is the debut single from Irish artist Hozier, a.k.a Andrew Hozier-Byrne. The song, a gorgeously crafted tune that bravely critiques organized religion, and its companion music video went viral toward the end of 2013. "Take Me to Church" then made its mark in the United States through a Beats by Dr. Dre ad featuring LeBron James. Hozier followed that exposure with performances on "Saturday Night Live" and at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. The song eventually hit the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hozier's self-titled first album, released in September 2014, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
After four years of playing college football at Middle Tennessee State University and then at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Hunt moved to Nashville and had songs cut by Keith Urban ("Cop Car"), Kenny Chesney ("Come Over") and Billy Currington ("We Are Tonight"). Then he unveiled his own sound with his first album, "Montevallo," released on Oct. 27. Now, with a chart-topping debut song, "Leave The Night On," and a critically-acclaimed No. 1 country album, the singer-songwriter is certainly on a roll. His genre-bending follow-up single is "Take Your Time." Hunt kicks off his headlining Lipstick Graffiti Tour on Jan. 29 in West Hollywood, Calif.
5 Seconds of Summer
This Australian boy band has been causing teen hysteria since One Direction's Louis Tomlinson tweeted his support of the new band. Tomlinson's message sparked 83 million Twitter mentions. Then One Direction invited 5 Seconds of Summer to be a part of their Take Me Home Tour. In February 2014, 5SOS released the single "She Looks So Perfect" as their debut worldwide release. It topped the charts in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The band's self-titled album was released in June and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Formed in Sydney in 2011, the band consists of Luke Hemmings (lead vocals, guitar), Michael Clifford (guitar, vocals), Calum Hood (bass guitar, vocals) and Ashton Irwin (drums, vocals).
Pop princess Katy Perry may be among her fans, but 25-year-old Jillian Banks prides herself on making boundary-pushing R&B that blends electronic, trip-hop, and dream pop. This artist's rise began with a support slot on the Weeknd's tour and the release of the exquisite "This Is What It Feels Like" in February. Her work fuses futuristic electronica with heavy doses of pain and passion. With a critically lauded album in 2014, "Goddess," Banks fused genres and styles with songs that range from perfect balladry ("Brain") to amazing simplicity ("Stick"). By the time she played in the UK capital in November, her show sold out in just two hours.
This Nantucket, Mass., native is in high demand since her body-acceptance anthem "All About That Bass" made her a YouTube sensation. The song celebrates woman power with lines such as:
Yeah, my momma she told me don't worry about your size
She says, boys they like a little more booty to hold at night
You know I won't be no stick-figure, silicone Barbie doll
Songs written by Trainor have been recording by Rascal Flatts, Macy Kate, Common Kings and Sabrina Carpenter. She will release her full-length debut album, "Title," on Jan. 13 and kick off her first headlining tour in North America on Feb. 11 in Vancouver, B.C. She is up for two awards at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards: Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
Charli XCX started out the year with a "Boom Clap"--her contribution to the soundtrack for the movie "The Fault In Our Stars." Her influence just kept reverberating as she dropped more singles from her punk-tinged album "Sucker"--songs like "London Queen," "Breaking Up" and "Break The Rules." A lot of people first heard Charli XCX on Icona Pop's "I Love It" (which she wrote), and this year she made it to the charts on Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" She's already toured with big names such as Paramore and Coldplay, and in 2015 she'll be supporting Katy Perry on her Prismatic world tour.
Maddie & Tae
Madison "Maddie" Marlow and Taylor "Tae" Dye got the idea for their hit debut single "Girl In a Country Song," off their self-titled EP, after listening to the radio and taking note of the demeaning words some men use to describe their women. So, the young duo--both 19--wrote "Girl in a Country Song" as a criticism of the bro-country trend of 2013 and 2014. The song reached No. 1 on the charts at the end of 2014. It became the first debut single by a female duo to reach No. 1 since The Wreckers did it in 2006 with "Leave the Pieces" and only the second in history. Their full-length debut album is slated for a spring 2015 release.