When you think “music in 2012,” you probably think of household names like Taylor Swift, Rihanna, One Direction, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj, The Wanted, and Carly Rae Jepsen. (Or maybe you just think of “Call Me Maybe.” That’s OK too.) Punk went Pop several times, we discovered some AMAZING breakthrough acts like The Weeknd, Icona Pop, and MGK, but boosting up those massive artists was a foundation of incredibly talented, criminally underrated artists, acts, and bands we couldn’t stop listening to. You know, the artists who probably influence those marquee names, or even more likely, WRITE for them. So, in celebration of those unsung (er, sung?) heroes of 2012, we here at Buzzworthy felt compelled to name names. We pooled our favorite overlooked acts of 2013 and came up with a list of artists with cult followings, or acts just on the verge of developing one.
Here’s the great thing: You still have a few weeks left in the year to get familiar with artists like the über-eclectic Freelance Whales, the darkly dance-able Diamond Rings, and the acid-tongued Angel Haze. So when they finally blow up in 2013 — and we’re confident they will — you can say you were a fan all along.
+ Angel Haze: Razor-tongued D.C. rapper Angel Haze may be young (21, to be exact), but her particular brand of gritty hip-hop already has her in the same league as some professionals twice her age. Recently signed to Republic Records, the BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher alum initially earned internet cred (the best kind, if you ask us) by freestyling to Drake, Beyoncé, and Jamie Foxx. Now she’s already released her Reservation EP as well as a mixtape, Classick, featuring a critically acclaimed rendition of Eminem’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet.” Young, strong, AND musically literate. We’re already fans, but we can’t wait to see Angel Haze’s name — and hear that voice — everywhere near year. — Rachel Brodsky
+ Big Deal: The are-they-or-aren’t-they musical couple is one of the cutest, coolest bands we’ve seen since the xx, all heartbroken harmonies and unrequited feelings. The U.K. duo’s been buzzed about across the pond for a while, but this is the year they brought moody debut Lights Out to the U.S., where they didn’t need a rhythm section to roar through SXSW. Armed with just guitars and vocals, their music should’ve been soundtracking “Pretty Little Liars” rain-kissing scenes months ago. Make that ish happen. — David Greenwald
+ Blackbear: The fact that Blackbear co-wrote Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” but has yet to have a Top 10 record of his own just doesn’t make any sense to us. We’ve been captivated by the underground indie artist also known as Mat Musto, who plays down grimy, moody pop-tinged jams, and his Sex The Mixtape strikes the perfect balance between “slick pop” and “underground cool.” Or, in simpler terms, it kinda sounds like an unofficial mixtape that’s secretly been released by a major label. And did we mention that it features cameos from Mike Posner, James Blake, and T. Mills? Fix this, people! #Blackbeartopten. — Jenna Rubenstein
+ Chad Valley: English electro-popper Chad Valley (real name Hugo Manuel) absolutely slayed us with his understated lush electronica and rich vocals (his sound is like if Calvin Harris chilled out for a second). With songs like “Tell All Your Friends” and “I Owe You This” featuring synth-pop star Twin Shadow, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have had Chad on repeat in 2012 (and there’s nothing keeping you from doing that in 2013). — Michael Depland
+ Charli XCX: She’s been stirring up all sorts of trouble abroad the past few years as a LDN club kid, and now she’s finally begun making a serious splash in the States. The brooding goth-pop princess stole our hearts this year with jagged, unusual cuts like “Nuclear Seasons” (sort of ’80s electro-pop-meets-Kate Bush) and “You’re The One,” an industrial synth-pop ode. And with plenty of experimental mix tapes and features popping up all over 2012, Charli made sure that all eyes were locked on her major 2013 debut. — Brad Stern
+ Cris Cab: When you’ve got a co-sign from Pharrell and Wyclef, and your single features a cameo from Big Sean, you kinda know you’re on the right track. For all these reasons (plus his seriously sultry vox, and, we’re not gonna lie, that face!) we fell hard for Cris Cab. His Big Sean-assisted single, “Good Girls (Don’t Grow On Trees),” was the perfect summer soundtrack, not to mention his equally hooky and serene “Paradise On Earth.” We’re already Team Cris, and we’re rooting for his unique brand of island-infused pop to reign supreme next year. — JR
+ D-WHY: We’ve been on board that D-WHY train ever since he convincingly shouted “devil horns to all my haters” while wearing a perfectly tailored flannel shirt. But it’s not just D’s sartorial sense that landed him on this list (although, note to EVERY GUY EVERYWHERE: Copy that look right now.) Rather, it’s the West Virginia rapper’s slick flow and ability to bend and stretch a phrase that hooked us immediately. And we’re not the only ones hot for D-WHY either: The “One Day After 2 Chainz (Birthday Song Remix)” singer has a fan in Hit-Boy, Boi-1da, Dot, and T-Minus, who produced “Kill Me Now,”one of the standout track’s on D-WHY’s Don’t Flatter Yourself mixtape — which by the way jumped to the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s “Next Big Sound” chart as the FASTEST accelerating artist on the internet. And did we mention you can cop it for free? Happy Hanukkah! — JR
+ Diamond Rings: Brooding synth-pop act Diamond Rings (known also as John O’Regan) already exploded in indie circles, and judging by his glittery Bowie persona and his Billy Idol-meets-Depeche Mode post-punk tracks, we’re frankly a little shocked that he’s still relatively still under-the-radar. Having gained serious internet praise from places like Pitchfork, the Toronto-based singer is currently riding a wave of success from his hook-laden sophomore album, Free Dimensional, a tightly composed dance-pop record featuring tracks such as “I’m Just Me” and “Runaway.” Post-punk jams may always be a thing, but Diamond Rings’ David Bowie/Grace Jones-GLAM schtick makes him a lot harder to miss. Play him at your New Year’s Eve party so you can at least try to pretend you were all over him in 2012 like you should’ve been. — RB
+ DIIV: Not content sprinkling bleached-out guitar vibes all over Beach Fossils, Zachary Cole Smith started this side project in New York City this year as a showcase for his signature happy-being-sad guitar lines, and he promptly began outshining his old gig. While they became a blog-wave favorite since the release of their debut, Oshin, and blissful songs like “How Long Have You Known” became a Tumblr-mixtape staple, there are still way too many people out there who don’t know what it’s like to stare wistfully at the ocean on a sunny day and feel bummed out about how beautiful everything is. — Luke O’Neil
+ Frank + Derol: Admittedly, the Cyrus connection is what caught our eye — Brandi Cyrus, one half of the Frank + Derol duo, is Miley’s sister. But it’s their clever wordplay and heady harmonies (think Tegan And Sara) that caught our ear. Frank + Derol create the sort of intellectual-ingenue pop (no offense, Carly Rae Jepsen) that makes us miss classic ‘90s twee indie acts like Mary Lou Lord. We first fell in love with “Barely Love You Too” this summer, with the act’s signing to Interscope, and we’re living for the prospect of a full-length smart-girl soundtrack in 2013. — Tamar Anitai
Check out more of our favorite criminally overlooked artists of 2012 after the jump.
+ Freelance Whales: Queens-based indie outfit Freelance Whales have been high on our Buzz list since their debut, Weathervanes, first surfaced in 2009. With their gently plucky tracks constructed with basically every obscure instrument in the book (glockenspiel and banjo, to name a few), the PUSH alums made the rounds again this year with Diluvia, a fuzzy album that inspired a “Life Aquatic”-esque video for the single “Spitting Image.” Expect even more quirky sonic adventures from the band next year. — RB
+ The Front Bottoms: They may be from New Jersey, but The Front Bottoms’ songs have more in common with Portland’s The Thermals and Milwaukee’s Violent Femmes than Bruce Springsteen thanks to singer/guitarist Brian Sella’s quirky vocals and delivery and drummer/bullhorn wielder Matt Uychich’s punked-up rhythms. While their self-titled album was released late last year, the band gained momentum in 2012 with an appearance on the World Café, a tour with Motion City Soundtrack, a hilarious video for “Looking Like You Just Woke Up,” and a set at CMJ that even impressed NPR’s Bob Boilen (holla!), who described the sold-out show as “communal and joyous.” — Althea Legaspi
+ The Hounds Below: With their hot-blooded rock riffs, The Hounds Below might be the next fun., which is a very good band to be compared to. The Detroit band that knows how to turn in a piano show-stopper (“Conversations”), bluesy sing-alongs (“You Light Me Up in the Dark”) and high-flying anthems (“Chelsea’s Calling” and”For You And I”) all with the casual ease of drinking a beer. On You Light Me Up in the Dark, the boys brought the Rock City cred, drawing attention from the A.V. Club and Fender — a company that knows a thing or two about guitars — which brought the band in to film a live session. The Hounds Below won’t be staying beneath the surface for long. — DG
+ The Hundred In The Hands: This New York City duo’s been lurking on the edges of crossover success since the release of their 2010 EP, This Dessert, and they expertly encapsulate the type of fetching electro chill that we’ve been obsessed with for the past few years on songs like “Sleepwalkers.” A new record this year, Red Night, upped the ante on both the haunting atmospherics and charging guitar and drums that should’ve propelled them, at least, to Grimes-like buzz, you know? — LO
+ Kate Miller-Heidke: Why do Australians do things (wild animals, Sia, Miranda Kerr) so right when they do them right? Why couldn’t we stop obsessing over Australian chamber pop artist Kate Miller-Heidke and her silky strings and chilling narratives about missing children? Probably because her arresting album, Nightflight, had us spooked out in a really positive, Kate Bush way. Fans of Lykke Li, Bat For Lashes, Ellie Goulding, Tori Amos or Birdy were wise to fall all over the operatic singer’s standout tracks like the arresting “Sarah” or the chilling “The Tiger Inside Will Eat The Child.” So if Gotye’s excellent “Somebody That I Used To Know” hit so hard here in the States this year, why didn’t Kate? — TA
+ Kimbra: How is it possible for someone to have a major hand in one the biggest songs of the year (Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know”) and still be underrated? Well, it defies logic, but Kimbra should DEFINITELY be much bigger than she is. Her debut album, Vows, received a Stateside release this year, crossing genres from pop, electro, jazz, and R&B with songs like the sonic pickaxe of “Settle Down” and “Two Way Street” We’re just wondering, what does a girl have to do to get some big love around here? — MD
+ Lord Huron: Lord Huron’s got the folk-rock scene on lock and as far as we’re concerned, should probably have, like, all other scenes on lock, too. The L.A. act has a knack for nailing the lush, layered, million-part harmonies (PLEASE listen to “Time To Run”) that make a strong showing on their full-length debut, Lonesome Dreams. And sure, although the band just signed to IAMSOUND (who landed Florence + The Machine) we’d kinda like to speed up their fame process a little if that’s at all possible. Perhaps to like, RIGHT NOW. They deserve it. — JR
+ Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: While we’ve had our eye on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis since last year, we were ecstatic that they finally landed hard in 2012. Their breakthrough had a big push from their touching and groundbreaking “Same Love” video, which spoke to same-sex relationships while proving, once and for all and forever, that Macklemore can rap. With their major label debut, The Heist, (along with their hit, “Thrift Shop”), Macklemore & Ryan Lewis saw serious shine in a year when hip-hop was already crowded with a slew of new talented artists. We had to show some “love” for you guys. (Sorry about that. Wait, not sorry.) — MD
+ Marina And The Diamonds: Who can resist a girl with her heart on her cheek? Like, literally. For her second outing, the theatrical Marina and the Diamonds acquired some hair dye and adopted an alter ego (or 10) as Electra Heart, the cold-blooded primadonna on a mission for fame, fortune, power, and control. It’s a genius concept record — from the punishing beats of “Primadonna” and “Power & Control” to the quiveringly vulnerability of “Lies” and “Teen Idle” — but sadly, it didn’t stick the way it should have here in the States. (This is why we can’t have nice things!) Don’t be the dud who missed out — this diamond shines bright. — BS
+ MNDR: MNDR’s been hard at work for years before the release of 2012’s Feed Me Diamonds. (GREAT album name, as you can tell.) And we think they (Amanda Warner and Peter Wade) really deserve some due. Spending their time on singles and other people’s albums (most notably Amanda’s feature on Mark Ronson’s “Bang Bang Bang”), it would be such a shame to overlook absolute dance floor jams like “C.L.U.B.,” which they made a great interactive video for “#1 In Heaven.” But that’s why we’re here: to right pop injustices. — MD
+ Midnight Red: How can you not love a band with a song called “Hell Yeah”? That’s not even rhetorical! HOW CAN YOU NOT? If the shamelessly shimmering (and painfully good-looking) boy band — backed by RedOne and comprising five meticulously cute dudes who are mostly not yet old enough to drink and barely old enough to drive — had only dropped the the aforementioned party-starter this year, it would’ve been enough for us. But then they had to go and cover Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” like five baby bawses, and it was all over. Maybe next year, if One Direction tires of being more famous than Facebook, they’ll make a little room for Midnight Red. After all, One Direction might think they can dance, but Midnight Red actually can. — TA
+ Mika: Mika’s made the world smile over the years with his adorably catchy tunes like “Grace Kelly ” and “Love Today.” With his 2012 effort, The Origin of Love, the British singer-songwriter, in whom Freddie Mercury lives again, teamed up with a bunch of pop’s top power producers — including Benny Benassi and Klas Ahlund — to craft his own hits. The album ultimately clocked in quite modestly at No. 47 on the US Billboard Charts, but with dreamy cuts like title track “The Origin of Love” and “Underwater” at his disposal, Mika truly deserved way more shine this year. — BS
+ Nite Jewel: “I’m a broken record, you have heard this before,” Nite Jewel’s Ramona Gonzalez sang to open ” One Second of Love,” but she shouldn’t be so humble. The band’s minimalist synth-pop hums with the same romantic ’80s vibe as artists like Solange and Jessie Ware. But there’s no mistaking Gonzalez’s voice, a stunning alto that breaks into surreal Fleetwood Mac harmonies on “Mind & Eyes.” Don’t look for dance grooves here. Nite Jewel’s all after-midnight comedowns. — DG
+ Now, Now: Holy s*** this Minnesota trio deserves all of the praise and worship — ALL OF IT, but, like why wasn’t there even more hype over gloomy, gray-day songs like “Thread” off of their Threads album? (If Daria were a real person, and oh that she were, Threads would surely top her album-of-the-year list.) Clearly we weren’t the only ones smitten by their supernatural My Bloody Valentine-esque, aggressively dreamy drones: Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla snatched them up for his Trans Record label (and the dude knows what’s up), plus fun. took them on tour, and they played Fallon. So, if you slept on them this year, wake the hell up in 2013. — TA
+ On An On: Sure, you probably have a cartons of eggs in your fridge that have been chilling there for longer than On An On’s been a band: They didn’t even exist as On An On until they basically accidentally became one around SXSW 2012. (Also: THROW THOSE EGGS AWAY! THEY’RE NO GOOD!). So on one hand, we kinda understand why On An On may have eluded you. On the other, that Psy video blew up in like four minutes. Not that the Midwest indie-pop trio has much in common with the King of K-Pop, but the effortless electro textures and lush layers of “The Hunter” and the lost longing and Beta Band-meets-Fleet Foxes lean of “Ghosts” had us just as hooked as the first time we discovered “Gangnam Style.” Their debut album, Give In, drops in early 2013, so there’s hope for you yet! — TA
+ The Orwells: Sometimes it pays to be literal. Pop-punk quintet The Orwells’ caterwauling “Mallrats (La La La)” is about, well, being a mallrat. Many tracks from their album, Remember When, are even briefer than “Mallrats” and sound like they were probably made by a bunch of lads who preferred singing about teen crushes and other angsty high school concerns than actually going to class. Oh, wait, they ARE a high school band. Despite their ages, songs like the garage rocking “All the Cool Kids,” “Suspended,” and “Hallway Homicide” are informed and passionate — so much so that we sorta hope they never graduate. Unless of course they have some awesome college-themed tracks under their cap and gowns. — Althea Legaspi
+ PK: Rolling Stone called this Cali rock band one of the best unsigned acts in the country, but even without a co-sign like that, the foursome would’ve caught our attention with their earnest, ego-less brilliant blend of Killers-meets-Springsteen-like wistfully cinematic American rock masterpieces like “Some Nights,” with tracks like “London” that hint at lead singer Travis Hawley’s British roots and general bent in the direction of The Clash and The Smiths. This May, the band dropped their Lost Boys EP — shot through with that rare breed of rock that finds beauty in what’s broken — and we’ve barely come up for air since. — TA
+ Swearin’: With an indie-meets-emo sound straight out of 1998, the ecstatic rock of Swearin’ had us feeling all kinds of slightly retro, messenger bag-wearing feelings. If you needed to get over a bad breakup this year, this is the record you should’ve been blasting: From “Kenosha,” which hopes “I hope you like Kenosha so much you stay there forever,” to “Fat Chance’s” rock star eff you, co-singer Allison Crutchfield flipped her diary pages into highly flammable rock poetry. Turn this one up and put on The Promise Ring right after. — DA
+ Tanlines: In a year of club-ready electro-indie — if the “club” is somebody’s house party and “ready” means trying not to embarrass yourself in front of the cute bro with the mustache by the fridge — Tanlines made fidgety, bedroom beats best suited for awkward dancing and dreaming of a Spanish vacation. Judging by their self-deprecating Twitter page, the Brooklyn duo will totally not laugh at you if you trip during the hook. The pair earned high marks from Spin and Pitchfork for sophomore album Mixed Emotions, so expect to listen to it while feeling awesome. — DG
+ Weird Dreams: In a year full of guitar albums as swirly as Yogurtland’s holiday flavors, Weird Dreams’ debut album was easy to miss. But the London band’s Choreography has all the right moves: a thumping rhythm section, enough reverb to piss off half the U.K., and the bright, passionate tenor of singer Doran Edwards. When he sings “I never learned to drive!” we want to buy him a Prius and cruise around listening to The Shins, or at least ask to borrow his guitar pedals for a couple of weeks. — DG
+ Wild Nothing: Dream pop act Wild Nothing (led by Jack Tatum) have been shimmering their way up the indie circuit for a while. They first arrived on the scene with 2010’s self-titled debut, then following up with 2012’s Nowhere, a record that imitated its predecessor’s whirlwind, lo-fi beauty but amped up the hook factor with gorgeous, synth-bred tracks like “Paradise,” the video for which features indie darling Michelle Williams looking the very picture of awesome in a trench coat and wayfarers. That alone should be enough to get Wild Nothing on the mainstream’s radar — because star power’s already on their side. — RB
+ 2:54: For all intents and purposes, 2:54 should be massive. The band, formed by the Thurlow sisters (sultry singer/guitarist Colette and ballsy bassist/backing vocalist Hannah), has been buzzing around the internet, written about by everyone from Buzzworthy to Pitchfork, plus too many other blogs to name, all before they released a full-length album. And as massive as the buzz was, it was equally matched by their massive sound, which reaches My Bloody Valentine-inspired melodic, yet stormy heights. If the atmospheric, moody jewels from their self-titled debut like “You’re Early,” “Revolving,” “Scarlet” and “Creeping” hasn’t made it to your iPod yet, maybe it’s time to fix that. — AL
“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.