Whoa. Don’t know about you guys, but we’re a little bit out of breath. In 2012, it seemed nothing could slow down music (except maybe a cool, soulful Frank Ocean jam), and as this year draws to a close, we’re reminded of a reckless, wild, turbo-speed 2K12 that had us partying, dancing and solidifying the fact that, yes, “We Are Young.”
Not only did Fun.’s inescapable track remind us of our millennial status, but a certain late-breaking Ke$ha hit encouraged us to go hard in case we “Die Young,” while One Direction echoed the sentiment with “Live Like We’re Young.” All told, this past year was a whirlwind that propelled everyone forward at 100 mph — unless you were in Rihanna’s 777 Boeing, in which case you flew quite a bit faster. Even country sweetheart Taylor Swift got in on it, amping up her rock vibe and delving into some dubstep for “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
And then there were the infectious, viral hits, which caught on quicker than Ryan Lochte could swim the 200 meter IM. Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” fueled the go-getter attitude in all, while Psy’s “Gangnam Style” had everyone from Madonna to David Hasselhoff embracing their young-at-heart outlook. Even Flo Rida got in on the viral action, becoming one of the best-selling rappers of all time with the catchy “Whistle.”
But if “Jersey Shore” has to end, so does 2012. MTV took a break from partying to narrow down the top 10 artists. And while it wasn’t easy for our panel — Yomi DeSalu (MTV Music and Talent), Tamar Anitai (MTV Buzzworthy) and James Montgomery (MTV News) — to hand-select this year’s top talent, they were up to the task. Here are the Best Artists of 2012!
10. Flo Rida
With both “Wild Ones” and “Whistle,” the often-shirtless rapper proved that if you’re going to only wear half an outfit all the time, then you need to provide fully-dressed, hard to get out of your head hooks. And, the Florida-native did just that becoming a top-selling artist of the digital era . And while Sia’s hook on “Wild Ones” still stands an unforgettable, it was the chart-topping “Whistle” that may go down as one of the most addictive tracks of the year. He also added his muscular rapping abilities to J.Lo’s “Goin’ In.” You Flo, girl! — Jocelyn Vena
Here’s the thing about one-hit wonders: yeah, they’ve only got one hit. But it’s usually massive … and it’s one more than you’ll ever have. Out-of-nowhere South Korean pop stampede Psy shocked the world with “Gangnam Style,” the ear-candy smash that’s on the cusp of a record-smashing one billion YouTube views and a solid place on the playlist of every bar mitzvah, wedding and office holiday party for all eternity. He got the world (and Madonna ) to sing his song and do his horsey dance, convinced Justin Bieber’s boss to sign him and poured the mold for every Internet star from here to eternity. Oppa! — Gil Kaufman
8. Nicki Minaj
Is there anything Nicki Minaj can’t do? In 2012, everyone’s favorite Barb not only released her genre-splitting sophomore LP Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (and its re-issue The Re-Up), Nicki also signed major endorsements with Pepsi and Adidas, dropped her own fragrance and secured a judging spot on “American Idol.” OK, she’s reloaded. — Rob Markman
7. Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen came out of nowhere and quickly became one of pop’s biggest stars thanks to “Call Me Maybe,” which ranked as our Best Song of 2012 . Jepsen ruled the charts, the radio and, most notably, our hearts. But Bieber’s discovery proved to be more than a one-hit wonder. She partied the night away with Owl City on this summer’s anthem, “Good Time,” and got us dancing with her cute take on club hook-ups on “This Kiss,” which is kinda weird because she probably always gets carded by bouncers. — J.V.
6. Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean’s first solo show in late 2011 was an awkward affair for the shy singer/songwriter, but stage-fright is but a blip on his radar now. Ocean’s Channel Orange album debuted at #2 on the charts this year, spawning a full tour, a memorable VMAs performance and earning him a whopping six Grammy nominations. Studio time with Jay-Z and Pharrell was just a bonus in his big breakthrough year, which he’s humbly described as “peaceful but active.” — Nadeska Alexis
5. 2 Chainz
Five years after collaborating with Lil Wayne on the hit “Duffle Bag Boy,” as part of Playaz Circle, 2 Chainz found his solo mainstream swerve, releasing Based On a T.R.U. Story and joining Weezy for a headlining performance at the 2012 VMAs. His hilarious ad-libs, endless features and contributions to G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer compilation — mostly notably a killer verse on “Mercy” — made the Atlanta rapper hip-hop’s standout personality of the year. Not to mention that Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album that left him feeling “extremely blessed.” — N.A.
If you thought this good girl had gone bad years ago, Princess Rih Rih got even naughtier in 2012. Riding high off the success of last year’s Talk That Talk, she decided this would be the year she’d fight aliens on the big screen and shine bright like a diamond, lighting up Billboard with her latest release, Unapologetic. But she seemed to spend as much time on the gossip pages as she did on the charts. Her friendship with Chris Brown culminated in lots of speculation, one funky collaboration and many raised eyebrows. Rih wants the world to know she’ll do whatever she wants whenever she wants. No apologies necessary. — J.V.
Music wasn’t always this enjoyable for rocker Nate Ruess, who saw his group the Format breakup in 2008. But ever since he hooked up with guitarist Jack Antonoff and keyboardist Andrew Dost, the spirited vocalist has been having a blast. Fun. ruled in 2012 with their Grammy-nominated LP Some Nights. And whether you’ve ever raised a drunk and shaky glass to “We Are Young” or pondered your place in the world while wailing along to the deep and powerful “Carry On,” it’s no doubt these guys make rock fun — period. — Rob Markman
2. Taylor Swift
If you’ve caught Swift in concert, you know she sees her life as the equivalent of riding a unicorn to prom wearing a glittery dress with the cutest boy in school on her arm. Well, 2012 was like that, but even better. Her risk-taking fourth studio album, Red, sold 1.2 million copies in its first week, spawned massive hits like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” she dated a Kennedy and a One Directioner and continued packing houses across the globe. She topped it off with three Grammy nominations and one Golden Globe nod and a place in the gossip-mag hall of fame as one-half of the power couple Haylor. — G.K.
1. One Direction
If you haven’t heard of Harry, Zayn, Liam, Niall and Louis, there are millions of onesie-sporting, Tumblr-blogging, poster-kissing, lyric-memorizing, Union Jack-manicuring girls who could fill you in. With not one, but two #1 albums in less than a year, Brit boy band One Direction has made 2012 their year. The guys have gone from Simon Cowell’s pet “X Factor” project to worldwide superstars, and here’s proof: They’ve won big at the VMAs, rocked “Saturday Night Live,” buddied up with Sasha and Malia Obama, sold out NYC’s Madison Square Garden in 10 minutes, closed out the Olympics and even met the queen! — Emilee Lindner