Best Artists Of 2014

Taylor Swift taught us to "Shake It Off," Beyonce was "****Flawless," but one artist made a brilliant, breathtaking debut.

2014 wasn’t just a great year for music. It was an AMAZING year for it. Not only did we have 12 months of Beyoncé blowing our minds with the unending gems from her surprise late 2013 album, but we had Taylor Swift practically destroying the music business with her first foray into pop, 1989. Perhaps you’ve heard “Shake It Off” or “Blank Space”... 10 million times?

After years of waiting for her debut, Iggy Azalea finally made it into our hearts (and playlists) and Ariana Grande, well, we hope those cat ears are perked up, because if they are then AG is clearly feeling the love for her platinum My Everything. Which is ours, too.

We got sledgehammered by Fifth Harmony, fell in love with Charli XCX 100 times over and spent most of the year ogling Nicki Minaj’s… Pinkprint teasers and, um, some of her other work.

But in the end, it was Sam Smith's lovestruck, heartbroken and breathtaking debut that, well, stayed with us all year. Check out an essay by Sam Smith himself detailing his meteoric rise from unknown to the Best Artist of 2014, and get the full list of MTV's 10 Best Artists of 2014.

  1. Fifth Harmony
    MTV News

    Like some kind of pop music Bat Mitzvah, this was the year that Fifth Harmony transformed from girls to grown women -- and I'm not just talking about their mature new makeover. The "X Factor" alums truly got on their Michelle Obama shhhh these past 12 months, to paraphrase their Billboard-charting 2014 single, "Bo$," spreading their gospel of female empowerment to Harmonizers nationwide as they picked up accolades left and right, including Best New Artist at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. With the release of their debut album, Reflection, this January, the ladies are assuredly set to drive a sledgehammer into 2015. L'chaim. -- John Walker

  2. Charli XCX

    Charli XCX started out the year with a "Boom Clap” -- her contribution to "The Fault In Our Stars" soundtrack. Her influence just kept reverberating from there as she dropped more singles from her long-awaited punk-tinged album Sucker. From the Ramones-dipped-in-sugar "London Queen" to '90s girls group-esque anti-break-up jam "Breaking Up" to the I-don't-give-an-eff blazer "Break The Rules," Charli set the scene for a stadium-filler of a record -- one she's primed to break out when she tours with Katy Perry in 2015. -- Brenna Ehrlich

  3. Drake
    MTV News

    Who says you need an album to stay musically relevant? Drake may not have dropped an LP this year, but he went on the Drake Vs. Lil Wayne Tour with Weezy, hosted the ESPY Awards, did a couple of features, established his OVO Sound label and dropped a number of free tracks online, keeping himself hot for the past 12 months. Doubters need to look no further than the “0-100/ The Catch Up.” -- Robert Markman

  4. Ed Sheeran

    It's too bad about Ed Sheeran's sophomore slump. Um, you know... that sophomore slump HE NEVER HAD. The 23-year-old Brit's second studio album, X, skyrocketed to the top of the Billboard 200 upon its release in June. And now, following a string of hit singles like "Sing" and "Don't," the LP's been nominated for Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards. -- JW

  5. Nicki Minaj
    MTV

    Nicki Minaj was firing on all cylinders in 2014, and you shouldn’t waste time debating this. She started strong with gritty freestyles and tracks like “Lookin’ Ass” for her core rap fans, and when it was clear that she could still spit like the best of them, Nicki followed with radio-ready singles, “Pills N Potions” and “Anaconda.” Her “Anaconda” cover art alone almost broke the Internet, and coupled with her provocative music video and VMA performance, Queen Barb definitely reigned supreme. -- Nadeska Alexis

  6. Ariana Grande

    This was the year that Ariana Grande broke into the mainstream, taking over headlines nationwide like never before. If we weren't talking about one of her four Billboard Hot 100 top 10 singles ("Problem," "Break Free," "Bang Bang" and "Love Me Harder"), her sophomore album, My Everything, which debuted at #1 and was just recently certified platinum, or her two Grammy nominations, we were obsessing over her relationship with Big Sean, her elegantly stacked ponytail game or her cat ears. Ariana was clearly our everything in 2014. -- JW

  7. Iggy Azalea

    Iggy Azalea spent quite some time fine-tuning her debut album The New Classic, and she struck gold when the project finally dropped this year. Her collaboration with Charli XCX on the Grammy-nominated “Fancy” made her a household name and gave her one of the most popular songs of the year. Her feature on Ariana Grande’s “Problem” was icing on the cake, and her contribution to Jennifer Lopez's "Booty" remix video had us coming back for more. After all of that and her "SNL" debut, it's no wonder Iggy found herself racking up VMA and EMA nominations and taking home two 2014 AMAs. -- NA

  8. Taylor Swift

    Over the past 12 months, Taylor Swift wrapped up her Red Tour, cut her hair, got a new cat , bought a New York City apartment and prepped her us for her 1989 pop era, which resulted in first-week sales of over 1 million albums. The singer seamlessly made the inevitable move from country to pop by dropping a song even the haters couldn’t hate, hate, hate: the Grammy-nominated “Shake It Off.” Her mission became to befriend all her fans, inviting hundreds of Swifties to her homes for the 1989 Secret Sessions to hear the album before its release. Top it off with a crazy “Blank Space” persona and another upcoming tour, and we’re fully entranced by Taylor. Bring it, 2015. -- Emilee Lindner

  9. Beyoncé
    MTV

    “Surfboardt.” “I woke up like this.” “Flawless.” Not only did we listen to Beyoncé this year, but we spoke Beyoncé this year. She dominated our conversations. Our thoughts. Our text messages. Our dreams. She performed one of the most thrilling live shows of the year on her On The Run Tour. There was that stunning, instantly iconic 16-minute VMA performance. Oh yeah. And a Grammy-nominated eponymous surprise album that, sure, came out at the tail-end of last year but was all anyone talked about (and pretty much listened to) all of this year, which demonstrated her mastery as a vocalist, brilliant self-promoter and marketer, feminist, her unparalleled artistry and owner of the cultural conversation and zeitgeist. -- Tamar Anitai

  10. Sam Smith
    MTV

    There are many times that we Americans have had to flag a major #latepass to our friends in the U.K. Sam Smith is a prime example. Brits have been jamming to his vocals since 2012, thanks to the breakout success of Disclosure's "Latch.” The 22-year-old singer even began the year atop the BBC’s coveted Sound of 2014 shortlist, though he remained a slow-boiling breakthrough overall as the year began. Considering his debut album, In The Lonely Hour, is holding steady at #5 on the Billboard 200 more than 20 weeks after its initial release -- and is nominated for an astonishing six Grammys -- I can only assume that this is no longer the case.

    The tear-stained agony of a love unrequited on "Stay With Me" captured the imagination of heartbroken Americans like it was the second coming of Adele's "Someone Like You." Still, the most remarkable part of that success might be that this relatable message was communicated by a gay man. The most well-known LGBT narratives in music were still mostly being sung and rapped by straight artists in 2013, so I'd say Sam's rise to prominence is incredibly significant, to say the least. -- JW

Check Out The Rest Of MTV's Best Of 2014:

The Best Songs Of 2014

The Best Movies Of 2014

...And Vote For Your Own Best Of 2014:

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