As our 2015 year-end coverage continues this week, we've revealed our Artists of the Year, 15 acts who either broke out this year or made a significant impact on music over the past 12 months.
While it's likely some may find even greater success in 2016, they undeniably had a big 2015 and we couldn't help but take note.
Photo of Leon Bridges performing on 'SNL,' by Dana Edelson
The Fort Worth, Texas, singer captured our hearts earlier this year at SXSW and we never looked back.
In just a few short months, the retro-soul singer has gone from buzz artist to becoming Oscar-eligible with his contribution to the soundtrack for Will Smith's new film Concussion.
He's also closing out the year with a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album after having made his debut last week on Saturday Night Live alongside host Ryan Gosling.
The beauty of Bridges' music goes beyond the nostalgia factor, as his first full-length Coming Home proved. It's the fact that in 2015, he's making some of the most honest and authentic music sans fluff or gimmicks.
While he's certainly made a mark on this year, he's just getting started.
Photo of Grimes performing at Made in America 2015, courtesy Live Nation
Claire Boucher had everyone thinking 2014 would be her year. And then she kept us waiting for most of 2015 before delivering Art Angels, one of the most important and jarring pop albums of the year. Whatever your perception of what pop is or should be, Ms. Boucher is challenging it. And this year, she pushed music forward.
Photo of Drake at Austin City Limits Festival 2015, by Cambria Harkey
His "mixtape" If You're Reading This It's Too Late turned out to be the biggest-selling rap album of the year. He also had the year's biggest beef thanks to Meek Mill. But the Toronto transcended all of that, as his single "Hotline Bling" conquered top 40 radio (just shy of his first No. 1 hit). And if he wasn't already omnipresent enough, his collaborative mixtape with Future, What a Time to Be Alive, also debuted at No. 1. It sure was good a time to be Drake in 2015.
Photo of Sam Hunt by John Shearer
The Georgia native, who got his start writing songs for other artists, told us earlier this year, "Country music is in a different place now." And he was right. Fusing his eclectic music tastes—soul, Gospel, pop, hip-hop and R&B—into his own material, he's proving country has room for more than honky tonk and bro songs.
Photo of Tame Impala performing on 'Late Show,' by Jeffrey Staab
Kevin Parker started the year strong, having contributed heavily to Mark Ronson's own standout album Uptown Special. But his winning streak was far from over, as we learned when Currents arrived. Not only was it our Album of the Year, it cemented the fact that Tame Impala is the best they've ever been.
Photo of Ryan Adams by Paul Thomas
He could have enjoyed a nice year off after his acclaimed self-titled album in 2014, but instead, he ventured into some extremely risky territory—covering Taylor Swift's entire juggernaut album 1989. Perhaps he could have been a fool for daring to go there at first, but it was an ultimately genius move. He had one of the biggest pop stars in the world gushing over him, he won over some new fans and he pleased his existing ones all at the same damn time.
Photo of Hudson Mohawke performing, by Barry Brecheisen/Invision
Mark Ronson declared at the start of the year the Scottish producer is "the future" of music, explaining that he's "bending the very fabric of what we think is a song." And when Lantern arrived, HudMo left no room for argument. He is indeed pushing the boundaries of music, and while he perhaps didn't receive enough credit for it, he's got a long career ahead of him, which will give him plenty of time to continue wowing us.
Photo of The Weeknd performing at Lollapalooza 2015, by Dan DeSlover
Abel Tesfaye finally made his big leap this year into the mainstream realm, where he both tampered down his smoky persona for the sake of making pop hits, but he managed to hold on to much of the mystery and the fans who supported him long before he signed to a record label, before he was headlining festivals and winning big awards.
Photo of DeJ Loaf performing, courtesy BET
The 24-year-old Detroit rapper built the momentum last year of her breakout single "Try" and her appearance on Eminem's "Detroit vs. Everybody" with collaborations with the likes of Lil Wayne, Big Sean and Future. Then while supporting Nicki Minaj's summer tour, she released ...And See That's the Thing, her first official EP and an appetizer for her upcoming debut album on Columbia Records. While much of this year's hip-hop conversation consisted of the usual players, DeJ Loaf was building her own empire brick by brick.
Photo of Tori Kelly performing at MTV VMAs, by Kevork Djansezian
After years of chasing her dreams through singing competitions, a failed record deal and YouTube covers, the young songstress finally released her major label debut album this year. While it was certainly a benchmark in her own career, she's also breathing new energy into pop music with singles like "Should've Been Us" and "Hollow." And she's doing it on her own terms, which is that much much more refreshing.
Photo of Courtney Barnett performing at Bowery Ballroom, by Pip Cowley
After breaking out at CMJ a couple of years ago, the Australian singer-songwriter's debut album this year was one of our favorites. Putting unapologetic indie-rock front and center while candidly singing about her relationship with fellow singer Jen Cloher, Barnett proved to be a much-needed voice in music—a true poet.
Photo of Chris Stapleton performing at 2015 CMA Awards, courtesy Image Group LA
Not only did his debut album Traveller skyrocket to the top of the charts after six weeks outside of the top 200, he won Album of the Year and New Artist of the Year at the CMAs, where he stole the show performing a mammoth duet with Justin Timberlake. In the middle of country's love affair with stadium hits, Stapleton won over America with old-school country and a George Jones cover, proving sometimes all the flash is just a farce.
Photo of twenty one pilots performing at Austin City Limits 2015, by Joe Gall
TWENTY ONE PILOTS
Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun triumphed over alternative radio with their first No. 1 "Stressed Out," a new album and a busy touring schedule, including some of the biggest festivals in America. And they've already announced a full summer 2016 tour, which shouldn't come as a surprise, considering they put on one of the year's best live shows with just the two of them.
Photo of Halsey performing on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live,' by Randy Holmes
After gaining traction on YouTube and opening for The Kooks, Ashley Frangipane signed to their record label Astralwerks and emerging briskly this year as one of 2015's most promising acts. While many in the industry and media have torn over the singer's time in the spotlight, there's something to be said about how quickly fans have embraced her. "New Americana" was destined to be a hit, and even though she's clearly still figuring out who she is as an artist, she's well-positioned for a pop-takeover.
Photo of Kehlani performing at SXSW 2015, by Greg Noire
The California native may not have achieved massive mainstream success this year, but she quietly became one of R&B's brightest stars, as 2015 marked her television debut as a solo artist and her You Should Be Here mixtape topped iTunes. And collaborations with the likes of Chance the Rapper and BJ the Chicago Kid have only solidified her role as a formidable force in music right now.