When we think about the year in music that was 2012, the first things that come to mind are Taylor Swift’s GINORMOUS Red takeover (and her killer bangs), Rihanna’s Unapologetic reign and her controversial “777” tour, Nicki Minaj flying her “Starships” all over the airwaves, One Direction’s record-breaking crowds and “SQUEE”-inducing live performances, plus Justin Bieber’s Believe album and, of course, his abs.
But what about the artists who broke through in 2012? Like, the ones that we’ll be writing “Best Moments” stories about this time next year? The artists and acts we watched grow from the infancy of relative internet obscurity to “OMG can you believe they’re playing Japandroids at the GAP!?” Or the bands who’ve been on their grind for years and finally took off in 2012. Buzzworthy’s writers, editors, and contributors took a good, hard look at some of the most-buzzed-about bands and acts of 2012, from future Justin Bieber pop princes and future Florence Welches to hardcore post-punk outfits to lyrical lightweights who became hip-hop heavyweights and came up with a list of our favorite breakthrough bands of the year. Need a few examples? We’re talking everyone from artists like Rita Ora, MGK, and Kendrick Lamar to Grimes, Purity Ring, and Icona Pop. Read on for more!
+ Asher Monroe: We spent most of this year crushing on actor, singer, and dancer Asher Monroe. And for good reason — not only is the 24-year-old artist a boy band vet (remember V-Factory?), but he even hit the Broadway stage as a kid in “Beauty And The Beast” (AWW). And that’s not even counting the 1 million plus YouTube views Asher’s accrued for his “Like I Do” video. On top of THAT, Asher’s been in the Buzzworthy studio to serenade us with an acoustic version of his pop jam “Here With You,” a track that we may or may not have had stuck in our heads for days afterwards, and probably will WELL into the new year (we’re onto your tricks, Asher). That bone structure doesn’t hurt either! — Rachel Brodsky
+ Austin Mahone: There’s really not that much that 16-year-old pop singer Austin Mahone hasn’t accomplished this year, making him one of the most obviously additions to this list. After racking up streams and fans of his YouTube covers of pop and R&B songs, the “Say Somethin” singer met Justin Bieber, signed a massive record deal with Chase/Universal Republic, and worked on his fitness. What’s more, his brand-new single, “Say You’re Just A Friend,” features Flo Rida, and the biggest clincher of them all? He’s OPENING FOR TAYLOR SWIFT. Breakthrough boy wonder. — Jenna Rubenstein
+ Azealia Banks: The Harlem-bred artist Azealia Banks earned and OWNED 2012. Every electrified futuro-throwback track (Crystals Waters/ Salt N Pepa, what UP?) on her potty-mouthed 1991 EP was pretty much a banger, and her Fantasea mixtape (along with mermaid cover) continued her searing hot streak. She has us begging her for her studio full-length debut… oh, and did we mention she might appear on ARTPOP with Lady Gaga? And she’s only just getting started. — Michael Depland
+ Cher Lloyd: One Direction wasn’t the only big thing to come out of the “X Factor” U.K.’s seventh season. After delivering one knockout audition with “Turn My Swag On,” the bawdy brat known as Cher Lloyd came swinging week to week with her bossed-up, snearing style, making her a quick hit in the U.K. and beyond. Most recently, she’s been making waves with her BFF Becky G on “Oath,” which she just performed as a guest on — wait for it! — “X Factor” U.S. Full circle! — Brad Stern
+ Cloud Nothings: After a couple of albums of noisy, catchy indie rock, Cloud Nothings ditched the basement for a legend: Steve Albini, the producer behind Nirvana’s In Utero, among dozens of other pummeling rock classics. The result was Attack On Memory, an album that combines the band’s bouncy hooks with tracks full of brutal guitar blasts. Going for the best of both worlds scored Cloud Nothings nothing but killer reviews, and their battering ram of a live show has left our ears ringing since March. (Uh, making a New Year’s resolution to get that checked out.) — David Greenwald
+ Conor Maynard: Catapulting into the pop scene with his remarkable covers of Usher, Ne-Yo and Rihanna, Conor Maynard suddenly found himself with more than 68 million YouTube views — including 3.8 million for his original track “Vegas Girl.” Now, riding out the success of his debut record, Contrast, the MTV PUSH alum has more than proven his chops as a serious pop/R&B crossover artist — since his YouTube days, he’s worked with everyone from Rita Ora and Ne-Yo to Frank Ocean and Neptunes vet Pharrell Williams. — RB
+ Ed Sheeran: If you’ve ever seen PUSH alum Ed Sheeran live, you probably noticed that the British singer’s charms lie in his unassuming manner. He doesn’t fit the typical pop star bill, coming off as just a regular guy who happens to effortlessly flow between genres and musical worlds, whether it’s folk (“The A Team”), R&B (“Grade 8”) or rap-singing (“You Need Me, I Don’t Need You”). So it’s no surprise his + debut album bowed at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 (and was No. 1 on iTunes) when it was released Stateside over the summer. The ginger-haired boy-next-door’s diverse songwriting has served others well, too, like with One Direction’s “Little Things,” which Ed wrote, and his co-written duet with Taylor Swift, “Everything Has Changed” (the pair also dueted on Ed’s “Lego House”). — Althea Legaspi
+ Emeli Sandé: Scottish-born Emeli Sandé is about as talented as you can get without being a genetically modified talent robot or some sort of cybog. Her voice seems to come from heaven (get it?), and she’s not “just a voice” — she co-wrote Alicia Keys’ brand-new record, “Not Even The King,” so there’s that. Emeli’s debut disc, Our Version Of Events, landed at the No. 1 spot on the U.K. charts, not to mention the fact that she won the Critic’s Choice Award at the 2012 BRIT Awards, which is basically like winning the most coveted Grammy. Oh, and lest we forget, the “Heaven” singer performed at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. And that’s probably just her version of a warm-up. — JR
+ Frank Ocean: Frank Ocean’s excellent Grammy-nominated R&B Channel Orange debut is destined to top many a Best Of 2012 list from music critics to fans alike. From his jaw-dropping Lollapalooza performance — easily the best of the fest (even fellow Lolla performers The Afghan Whigs have covered “LoveCrimes”) — to his 2012 MTV VMA performance of “Thinkin Bout You,” with its achingly heartfelt falsetto, Frank Ocean emerged not just a brilliant lyricist but a breathtaking performer. Couple his immense talent with his bravery, having revealed his same-sex relationship in an arena where homophobic lyrics are prevalent, it’s almost impossible to overstate his significance in popular culture. Both personally and professionally, he’s a breakthrough artist and icon deserving of each and every accolade. — AL
+ Grimes: Grimes’ Claire Boucher records her own music, designs costumes Bjork would probably be jealous of, and directs her own videos — including “Genesis,” which literally racked up millions of views. And she goes to the beach with a sword in it! Girl tours with Skrillex and makes beats for Canadian rappers. We’re not even this cool in our coolest fantasies. It helps that Visions is full of deep beats as danceable as they are mysterious. — DG
+ Icona Pop: Last year we obsessively consumed Icona Pop’s “Manners and “Nights Light This” glittering synth-pop gems. But in 2012 they dropped one of the best kiss-off jams of the year (no offense, Taylor Swift) — their smash hit, “I Love It.” Penned by Charli XCX, it’s a liberating track that sees the girls going on a BFF destructive revenge spree. DJs Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt first bonded in 2010 at a party over heartbreak, shared some wine the next night, and within 24 hours they had written their first song. And if you weren’t listening all year, you’ll probably be partying to them in 2013 and well into the future. — AL
Check out more of Buzzworthy’s Favorite Breakthrough Artists Of 2012 after the jump!
+ Japandroids: The power of two could be a theme for 2012 with so many duos breakthough, and Japandroids is probably the most adrenaline-fueled of the deserving bunch. Their sophomore album, Celebration Rock, packs an eight-song wallop of indelible sing-along choruses and blazing melodies and hooks. From the opening firecracker blasts of “The Nights of Wine and Roses” on through the final roaring “Continuous Thunder,” it’s 35 minutes of an invigorating (yet oddly cleansing) ass-kicking. — AL
+ Jessie Ware: GOD we wanna BE British soul songstress and Buzz On alum Jessie Ware. She’s totally stunning, truly talented, and an obvious pick for any year-end best-of list. Jessie first made her mark on the music scene when she lent her sophisticated and smooth vocals to SBTRKT’s electro debut record. And now, the rapidly rising Sade-esque songbird has emerged as a bona fide solo artist. Jessie’s debut disc, Devotion, earned her a coveted spot on the Mercury Prize short list, and as England goes, so goes the States. We just wish we could call her our own. — JR
+ Kendrick Lamar: When there’s buzz that your debut studio album will also probably be one of the best albums of the year, it’s fair to assume we’re saving you a spot on that list. Kendrick Lamar topped off a busy year of working closely with Dr. Dre with his fiery debut, good kid, m. A. A. d city, an expertly rapped portrait of his coming of age in Los Angeles. With summer jams like “The Recipe” and collabos like “B—- Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Partynauseaous” with Lady Gaga, every sign points to Kendrick as owning both rap and breakthroughs in 2012. — MD
+ Kitty Pryde: The “rap game Taylor Swift” went “viral” before she went viral, getting a New York Times write-up before “OK Cupid” even had half a milli YouTube views. Not that our favorite redheaded rapper didn’t deserve it. Kitty Pride’s funny, whatevs-flow (and crazy honest Tumblr) sounds like your best friend whispering secrets in your ear over the world’s chillest cloud-rap beats. Plus she totally rhymed over “Call Me Maybe,” which we didn’t hear happening on any rap dudes’ mix tapes. Get with it, Rick Ross. — DG
+ Meek Mill: If you listened to hip-hop at all this year, you know there have been two unalienable truths: 1.) 2 Chainz and 2.) the untouchable Maybach Music Empire was THE most dominant crew this year. Meek Mill (anyone paying attention in 2011 knew he was obviously on the come-up) was that dude in 2012 with HUGE hits like “Amen,” “Burn,” and “House Party.” In a crew as eclectic as MMG, it can be hard to stand out, but Meek somehow manages to shine even among the brightest diamonds, literally and figuratively. — MD
+ MGK: PUSH alum MGK (aka Machine Gun Kelly) is clearly one of the hardest-working kids in the music business. When the “Stereo” rapper isn’t off learning trade secrets from his main bros Diddy and Waka Flocka Flame (FYI, MGK is signed to Diddy’s Bad Boy label), he’s busy beating out 2 Chainz, A$AP Rocky, Mac Miller, Big Sean, and Tyga for the “U.S. Artist About To Go Global” award at the 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards. Plus, he’s never not riling up the Lace Up nation on Twitter, and he already won this year’s “Breaking Woodie” award (his performance of “Invincible” at the 2012 Woodie Awards is also up for best 2012 MTV Live Performance!) so really, you guys chose this for us. Also, how could we deny a man with SUCH an inventive grilled cheese recipe? — JR
+ Miguel: Is it possible that we may have nearly broken our keyboard hitting repeat on Miguel videos? Because “Adorn” was stuck in our heads for seriously months. The soulful singer/producer created his own buzz with the self-release of his Art Dealer Chic EPs, which made everyone take notice of his unique style. Then with the official studio album, Kaleidoscope Dream, there was no denying that our Miguel love was a “Sure Thing.” — MD
+ Olly Murs: If you’re an “X Factor” fan, and you probably are, you caught British import Olly Murs on the U.K. version’s sixth series. Not only did Olly nab second place on the show, but he got hugely hooked up with a major label deal and has released two highly successful albums since then. It’s now the end of 2012, Olly’s stock keeps going up — he’s sold more than 5 million records worldwide (including 2010’s self-titled debut and 2011’s In Case You Didn’t Know), had four No. 1 singles, he’s opened for fellow Brits One Direction, he’s busy co-presenting spin-off show “The Xtra Factor,” AND his autobiography, “Happy Days,” was published just this past October (just in case you wanted to know what to get us for Hanukkah). — RB
+ Pierce The Veil: 2012 was, undeniably, a excellent year to be Pierce the Veil. Their Collide With the Sky album sold almost 30,000 copies its first week and opened at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 chart in July 2012 (by comparison, Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded The Re-Up sold 36,000 copies in its first week in November). Pretty impressive numbers for a hardcore act these days. They made headlines on the main stage at Warped Tour and on their own headlining tour, and next year they’ll set out for Europe and Australia, and you’ll probably see their names splashed across the internet and charts even more than you did this year, which is saying a lot. — Tamar Anitai
+ Purity Ring: You know you’re onto something when you captivate fans around the world from a packed field in Chicago (Pitchfork Music Festival) to causing pandemonium at the Reykjavík Art Museum at Iceland Airwaves Music Festival. Oh, and you’re from Canada. Purity Ring did just that this year on the strength of their solo debut, Shrines. The synth-pop unit’s hip-hop-tinged beats buoy Megan James’ sweet vocals on tracks like “Fineshrine,” which is laced with vivid imagery like “Cut open my sternum, and pull my little ribs around you.” We have, and we will. — AL
+ Rita Ora: Jay-Z signed her Rita Ora and released her soulful, R&B debut, Ora, big-time producers like Diplo and The-Dream worked with her, and Coldplay brought her on tour. While the Kosovo-bred, London-dwelling singer’s first No. 1 charting track was as a guest on DJ Fresh’s “Hot Right Now,” she’s No. 1 in her own right: Ora hit No. 1 on the U.K. album charts and her Drake-penned single “R.I.P.” featuring Tinie Tempah, also went straight to No. 1 (are you sensing a pattern here?). Another album gem is “How We Do (Party)” (yep, No. 1 in the U.K., too), which she brilliantly nailed on MTV’s “Unplugged” stage. And we haven’t even gotten to those model-perfect looks. — AL
+ Set It Off: Plenty of dudes trying hard to impress can be all like “Yeah, I like Fall Out Boy AND Beethoven AND Earth Wind And Fire” while you’re like “excuse me… hashtag eyeroll.” But Set It Off has the musical chops — and the balls — to actually synthesize multiple dissimilar genres into a compulsively listenable orchestral pop-punk Frankengenre that would make just as much sense in an opera house as it does in an all-ages rock club. After several EPs, the band dropped their debut LP, Cinematics, this year, featuring the so-hooky-it’s-almost-unhealthy single “Swan Song,” and were suddenly the internet’s favorite pop-punk band. We’ll admit, we’re impressed. — TA
+ Sia: She’s had her fair share of success under the radar for years now — from “Breathe Me” to “Buttons” to “Clap Your Hands.” But in 2012, Sia exploded. The ever-effusive Aussie singer-songwriter ran away with not one, not two, but FOUR Top 10 hits this year, including her ubiquitous club smash “Titanium” with David Guetta and (the now Grammy-nominated!) “Wild Ones” with Flo Rida. Oh, and that “Diamonds” song resting on top of the charts this month by Princess Rihanna? You guessed it: Sia. — BS
+ Sleeping With Sirens: Sleeping With Sirens hasn’t exactly been slacking the past few years, but 2012 saw the release of their most successful musical effort to date — their If You Were a Movie, This Would Be Your Soundtrack acoustic EP hit No. 17 on the Billboard Top 200 chart and outsold their 2011 LP. “Roger Rabbit” and their cover of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” showed us the softer side of the usually hard-edged pop-punk act while “Do It Now, Remember It Later” made us wonder why these guys don’t have their own comedy variety hour. Oh, probably because they were too busy playing all of Warped Tour before heading back on the road for a two-month tour supporting Pierce The Veil. Before heading to Australia next year. — TA
+ Sky Ferreira: Indie darling Sky Ferreira has been tiptoeing her way in between genres for a few years now — from electro-pop Lolita to grunge goddess to lounge singer. And in 2012, she decided to bare her soul on her Ghost EP, a solid collection of raw, acoustic ballads, electro gems, and one of the best songs of the year: “Everything Is Embarrassing,” crafted by Dev Hynes. What to expect from her long-awaited debut in 2013? It’s anyone’s guess, but it’s going to be damn good. — BS
+ Timeflies: Boston duo Timeflies is still unsigned. How, we’re unsure after their cover of “Ass Back Home” went viral, their Adele and Katy Perry remixes were absolutely everywhere AND they dropped beats like Justin Timberlake all year long in addition to releasing One Night and Under The Influence this year. There was also that bit about their eponymous EP landing at the No. 1 spot on iTunes. They sound like they’re from the future, and if they’ve visited the future, they’re probably No. 1 there, too. — JR
+ Walk The Moon: The indie-pop foursome of Walk The Moon continually impressed us this year, song after song, show after show. Not only did we fall in love with “Anna Sun,” but the boys beat out acts like The Wanted, Rihanna, Wiz Khalifa, and Rita Ora for MTV’s official “Song Of The Summer.” But then they dropped their self-titled debut, and “I Can Lift A Car” and “Tightrope” became our songs of fall… and winter. Then they floored us with their “MTV Unplugged” performance. Every time these guys show up, they somehow surpass our already high expectations. Breakthroughs and overachievers. — MD
+ The Weeknd: 2012 truly has been Abel Tesfaye’s (aka The Weeknd) year. While the indie mixtape master was laying the groundwork for his commercial success with three critically acclaimed R&B mixtapes, House Of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence, Abel has more recently made his major-label debut via Republic Records, who released his full-length, Trilogy in November. Not only has he been dominating music blogs and selling out shows with his trademark dark, brooding R&B, but Abel’s been churning out emotionally chilling tracks and collaborating with a number of other major players, like fellow Canadian rapper Drake and Wiz Khalifa. He may have had a breakout year, but dude hasn’t forgotten his indie roots — Abel loves giving out his music for free, a move that can only increase his visibility in 2013. — RB
“The Big & Best of 2012: A Year End Celebration Presented by T-Mobile” goes LIVE at 12 p.m. ET on 12/12/12. Watch at BigAndBestOf2012.com for eight hours of live performances from stars like Bruno Mars and Miguel, special editions of “RapFix Live” with Ma$e and A$AP Rocky, “Big Morning Buzz Live,” “MTV After Hours” with Norman Reedus, “You Oughta Know,” surprise guest appearances, prize giveaways and much much more!
Stick with MTV as we count down the Best of 2012, including the Best Songs of 2012, Live Performances, Movies and EDM Videos of the year.