In 2015, the musical playground seemed to be more level than ever before. While reigning stars like Taylor Swift and Drake further tightened their grip on existing mainstream chokeholds, there was still plenty of room for undeniable rising stars like Fetty Wap and Tori Kelly to make grand introductions, and an audience waiting for cult-favorites like The Weeknd and Future to elevate to pop star status.
And let's not forget about comeback king Justin Bieber, or Queen Adele's grand return. Coming off a rocky couple of years, Biebs pulled off a miracle by silencing naysayers with his Purpose album, while Adele swept in during the ninth hour to make history with 25. Ladies and gentlemen, let's hear it for the Best Artists of 2015 -- and if you disagree, don't forget to vote for your own choices.
Dresses crafted from raw beef sirloin, bras that dispense whipped cream or, well, no bra at all. Tori Kelly deploys none of the gimmicks or all-eyes-on-me costume tricks that have been a staple of pop music divas for the last half-decade, and maybe that's why some of you still don't know her name. But the 22-year-old California native of mixed Jamaican, Puerto-Rican and Irish ancestry spent the summer making sure you would know that voice the next time you heard it. Whether it was the MTV VMAs or the BET Awards, the Internet collectively lost it each time the "Hollow" singer took to a televised stage, with posts like this one clogging up my timeline: "Who is this Tori Kelly and why did I not hear about her earlier? Amazing voice." If the pop gods are just and manager Scooter Braun has his way, you won't be asking who she is for much longer. — Rebecca Thomas
If One Direction's five-year career has been a NASA-launched rocket blazing skyward, 2015 was the moment the blasters finally detached. Zayn jumped ship. They announced a hiatus. But before they reached cruising altitude, Harry, Liam, Louis and Niall dropped a series of stellar goodbye (sorry, "see you later") transmissions. "Perfect," "History" and "Love You Goodbye" sound final in their own ways, but every track on their fifth album, Made In The A.M. reminds us there's still plenty of space left to explore up there. In the stars or on Earth, nobody can drag them down. -- Patrick Hosken
Calling Future an underdog would be inaccurate, because the Atlanta rapper has had a massive and loyal following for years, especially off the strength of his mixtapes. But 2015 was his year to prove that he could wade further into mainstream waters and he didn't disappoint. His third album Dirty Spite 2 debuted at #1 and set off a wave that found Future's influence cresting far and wide. He had a monster hit with "F--k Up Some Commas," and performed at sold out shows across the country, including a set at the Made in America Festival, where he drew a crowd that was equivalent to some headliners. And, if we're still marking Drake's co-sign as a badge of honor, how about the fact that the Toronto rapper linked with Future for an entire mixtape, instead of a one-off feature or remix. What A Time To Be Alive, indeed. -- Nadeska Alexis.
Let’s get straight to the cold, hard facts: Adele swooped in just a couple months before we were ready to call it a wrap on 2015, with the hypnotizing single “Hello,” and a music video that got people to care about flip phones for the first time in a decade. Then, a few weeks later, she released her much anticipated third album 25, and made history, with 3.38 million copies sold in just one week. Let that sink in for a moment. Most artists tease music for an entire year in hopes that they could sell of fraction of those records, but for the Brit singer, it was as simple as a cell phone without a camera or web browser. Not even Beyoncé and Taylor Swift have been able to pull that off. Never underestimate the power of Adele. -- NA.
Kendrick Lamar was powerful with a purpose in 2015. He tackled race, suicide and self-love on the poetic and funky To Pimp A Butterfly. His Kunta’s Groove Sessions brought all that to life and his major collabs — including “Bad Blood,” “Classic Man” and “LA” — were infectious bangers. Behind the scenes, K. Dot was directing videos as one half of The Little Homies (he won a Best Direction Moonman, btw). And all of this resonated outside of music, too. In a tumultuous year when police-related tragedies fueled the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, Kendrick’s “Alright” became an anthem for justice. See? Power with a purpose. -- Andres Tardio
2015 will be remembered as the year Justin Bieber came back strong. The singer finally released his Purpose album, and with 18 tracks he silenced the haters, turned doubters into Beliebers and regained his seat on the pop music throne. Justin kicked off this new chapter of his career on an apology tour (who could forget the ”Bieber Roast”), but after that he let the music do the talking. He shocked everyone by crossing over to EDM with “Where Are U Now,” before teaming up with Skrillex once again for his first Billboard #1 hit, “What Do You Mean.” He cried at the VMAs, transformed the way artists release albums with social media (having 77 famous friends countdown to your single doesn’t hurt), and capped it off by beating out One Direction in album sales, selling over 649,000 copies in week one. Bow down to the Biebs. -- Christina Garibaldi
2015 was the year The Weeknd has been on the cusp of ever since his debut in 2011. His trio of breakout mixtapes catapulted him to the status of mysterious newcomer, critical darling, and leader of a new wave of R&B, all in one nine-month swoop. But neither his 2012 Trilogy compilation nor his official debut album, 2013’s Kiss Land, brought the destined status of superstardom. This year, Abel carried momentum from 2014, with tracks like “Often" and “Earned It," and stepped into his proper place among pop music’s elite. “The Hills” and “Can’t Feel My Face” both hit No. 1, as did his Beauty Behind the Madness album, and the Toronto native torched stages from the VMAs to the AMAs. We're still getting to know the man behind the madness, but something tells me we’ll have plenty of years ahead to figure that out. -- Adam Fleischer
Drake did it again. His two 2015 projects (If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and What A Time To Be Alive with Future) alone were enough to land him on this list, but he also did way, way more. His epic Meek Mill battle and his "Hotline Bling" video inpsired an insane amount of memes, GIFs and Vines, proving that basically everything Drizzy does takes on a life of its own. From album cuts, to singles, to remixes, to disses and beyond, he clearly had the Midas touch. And he did all of this while taking a break from Views From The 6? He might just kill it again next year, and go back-to-back. - AT.
"You are not someone else's opinion of you. You are not damaged goods." Every night of the 1989 World Tour, before launching into "Clean," Taylor Swift would echo these words not only to her fans, but also for herself. Despite being previously known as "the jaded girl who writes sad breakup songs," Swift used 2015 to turn everything we presumed about her around. She became not only a songwriter, but simply a musical FORCE. She got Apple Music to change their streaming policies with one open letter, showed us that women should stick together when she included all of her friends in the "Bad Blood" video, and solidified that pop music isn't dead when her album, 1989, went five-times platinum. -- Emilee Lindner.
When you heard “Trap Queen,” in late 2014 or early 2015, you probably played it again because it was so damn catchy, but you also couldn’t help but wonder if this Fetty Wap guy was going to be a one-hit wonder. But then, after his breakout, he hit us over and over -- there was “My Way,” which was remixed by Drake; “679” and, fittingly, “Again” -- and it became obvious that this kid from New Jersey was here to stay.
And those were just the singles that helped him round out his record-breaking year, as the only artist to ever have their first four songs crack the top ten on the Billboard Hot Rap Songs chart. His self-titled September album debuted at No. 1, and also included could-be hits like “RGF Island” and “Jugg.” But it wasn’t just about his catchy songs. Fetty, who has congenital glaucoma, also served as an inspiration, setting an example of how to be confident and pursue your goals no matter how others may look at you. -- AF
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