Photo of Childish Gambino by Dan DeSlover/Variance
Our 2014 year-end coverage continues with the 15 acts who made a made a significant impact over the past 12 months.
Some were just breaking through, while others were finding new life. But for one reason or another, they were the best of the year.
01 /// CHILDISH GAMBINO
When Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) set out to release an album last December, his label had serious doubts. Who releases an album in December!? But that was before Beyoncé changed the industry’s perception on that, mind you.
In the months that followed, Glover quietly took over the Internet with his appropriately titled Because the Internet. The album proved to be a grower, solidifying his base and attracting new praise from those who had been cautious about the actor-rapper’s aspirations in music.
Glover didn’t have a big machine behind him. In fact, he openly jabbed his label Glassnote Notes about needing more support, specifically on radio. But even without a big radio hit, there was hardly a stretch of time over the past 12 months when Childish Gambino wasn’t making waves.
From his busy festival circuit to his film production schedule (including the Magic Mike sequel), it seems he’s finally found a way to balance his multiple creative passions while also receiving the recognition he deserves.
Sure, there were plenty of breakout stars in 2014. And some will have great careers, while others will fizzle out in time. Donald Glover’s may have taken the long road, but he’s on the highway now, so look out.
02 /// SAM SMITH
If there had to be one breakout star this year, the British singer-songwriter was probably it. Championed by some as the “male Adele,” Smith carved out a great space for himself in music with songs about heartache and unrequited love. As a result, a lot of people fell in love with the material and the artist. Maybe he’s not so Lonely after all.
03 /// DIPLO
At 36, Mississippi native Thomas Pentz (aka Diplo) already has a lofty résumé, but this year he took his place as one of the leaders in EDM pushing the genres forward. Part of what makes Diplo great is that he doesn’t always have to be front-and-center. But even when he’s behind the scenes, he’s pulling strings. He truly is one of the best in the game.
04 /// BANKS
Jillian Banks has been hard at work over the past couple of years building her debut album. 2014 was the year she finally unleashed her full prowess for the world to see (and hear). She may not have had the marketing dollars some other breakout artists had, but there’s no denying she’s a star with a knack for creating irresistible art.
05 /// SIA
She’s spent the past few years making hits for superstars. This year, she finally owned the spotlight for herself. Even if she isn’t exactly plastering selfies all over social media, she’s still this year’s pop queen.
06 /// CHANCE THE RAPPER
We didn’t get an album (at least not yet) but Chance the Rapper spent the year on the road and releasing new music at his leisure. This is an artist who’s clearly working on his own terms, setting a standard not only for himself for others in the industry.
07 /// CHARLI XCX
The young songstress went from featured guest to leading lady, rocketing to the top with solo hits such as “Boom Clap” and “Break the Rules.” While many artists are featured on others’ music without ever finding mainstream solo success, Charlotte Aitchison “broke the rules” and did just that.
08 /// HOZIER
A year ago he was an unknown. Today, he’s on a sold-out North American tour with another already set for next year due to demand. He’s unexpectedly become an ally for equal rights while storming the charts with music unlike anything else in the top 40.
09 /// THE CHAINSMOKERS
Drew Taggart and Alex Pall have proved to be masters at creating viral hits, with a number of remixes over the past two years. They’ve channeled their energy into a pair of originals—the satirical “#Selfie” and equally savvy “Kanye”—and have literally traveled the globe. Having signed with a major label earlier this year, the “bro-ducer” duo should have a bright future ahead. (P.S. They also have one of the best Twitter feeds in the industry.)
10 /// RUN THE JEWELS
Our 2014 Album of the Year recipients didn’t only release a stunning record, they pushed the limits of what a hip-hop album could be. In a year with important human and civil rights issues at the forefront of American discussions, they’ve taken a stand in music and in society. They’re not just music-makers, they’re leaders.
11 /// TOVE LO
Swedish singer Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson (aka Tove Lo) isn’t just another Soundcloud success story. Instead, she’s an example of patience and the power of the unexpected. A remix of her 2013 single “Habits” flipped the script and has since gone platinum around the globe.
12 /// CHROMEO
David Macklovitch (aka Dave 1) and Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg) created some of the best dance music of the year, showing the world they belong on top. While they experienced their greatest mainstream success to date, they’ve stayed true to their roots and insisted they’ll “forever be a blog band.” Get these guys a GRAMMY already!
13 /// FKA TWIGS
Tahliah Barnett (aka FKA twigs) proved this year the hype was well-earned. She transitioned easily from a background dancer to a star. It’s safe to say she’s only getting started.
14 /// SOHN
Toph Taylor not only helped BANKS create a handful of remarkable tracks, but the British producer-vocalist released one of the most enchanting albums of 2014. Additionally, he set himself apart with a hauntingly beautiful live show. If you haven’t seen him perform, you haven’t lived.
15 /// FUTURE ISLANDS
A decade into their career, the Maryland outfit has finally taken their rightful place in music. Perseverance paid off, for the band and for listeners, as the Samuel T. Herring-led group has realized its full potential, perhaps signaling this is only the beginning for them.