Disclosure may have put Sam Smith on the map, but the soul singer ripped that map up and blazed his own path in 2014. With a soulful voice and sorrowful heart, "Stay With Me" became one of the biggest hits of the year, and it propelled In the Lonely Hour as one of the best-selling albums of 2014 alongside Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and the Frozen soundtrack. Let's not forget that Smith just nabbed an astonishing six GRAMMY nominations, tied for the most noms with none other than Beyonce. More unrequited love, please! —Jonathan Stern
Dijon McFarlane has been slapping his "Mustard on the beat, ho" tag and his sparse keyboard stabs and jubilant "hey!" punches onto tracks since Tyga's "Rack City" three years ago. But 2014 was the year Mustard got all over everything. The DJ hit the Billboard Hot 100 nine times, with fire singles like Tinashe's "2 On," T.I. and Iggy Azalea's "No Mediocre" and, most recently, Fergie's "L.A. Love (La La)." Plus he handled almost every song on YG's throbbing debut My Krazy Life. As if that wasn't enough, Dijon also released his own debut album, 10 Summers, in August. It featured more than 20 rappers, including 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne. —Zach Dionne
Sometimes you spend a long time at the lame table before you get to sit with cool kids. But then there are the young Ariana Grandes and Carly Rae Jepsens of the world, the ones who just walk up to the popular table, say "I'm here" and take a seat. England's 22-year-old Charli XCX pulled that move in 2014, co-writing and singing the hook to Iggy Azalea's summer-dominating "Fancy" and scoring her own searing single with "Boom Clap" at the same time. Her latest single "Break the Rules" is burning up the Billboard Hot 100, too.
Previously, Charli co-wrote and sang on Icona Pop's 2012 smash "I Love It," and she released her debut full-length True Romance to little fanfare in 2013. While her sophomore album will arrive on December 15, she's already gotten the ultimate seal of pop approval: landing on Lorde's The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 soundtrack alongside established cool kids like Kanye West and, yes, Ms. Grande. —Zach Dionne
Tinashe's debut album Aquarius dropped in October, but "2 On" featuring ScHoolboy Q has been getting spins from us all year long. Along with Nick Jonas' "Jealous (Remix)," Calvin Harris' "Dollar Signs" and Kid Ink's "Body Language," Tinashe's sultry voice was everywhere this year. (And that's not a complaint.) —Jonathan Stern
Yes, it is possible for a young dude from Ireland to sing as soulfully as an experienced Delta Blues player from the South, and Hozier spent most of 2014 proving it. The dramatic "Take Me to Church" made for one of the most talked about hits of the year, grabbing the attention of everyone from Taylor Swift to Ed Sheeran, who offered up his own cover of the track for BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge. In short, if the biggest pop stars in the world are throwing Hozier on repeat, chances are you should be doing the same. —Hilary Hughes
Compton's 26-year-old YG has been putting out mixtapes since 2008, building a sound with DJ Mustard (also a 2014 Breakout Artist) from the ground up. But his 2014 debut album, My Krazy Life—set almost entirely to Mustard's vaguely evil, synth-laced beats—put him on everyone's map. Coming off the momentum of 2013's double-platinum single "My N***a," YG kicked 2014 off with the undeniable, Drake-featuring "Who Do You Love?" The year ended up being dominated by his go-to producer's refreshingly minimalist sound, and YG found himself co-captaining rap's newest ship. —Zach Dionne
After writing a dozen or so tracks for other pop divas like Lea Michele, Cher Lloyd and Icona Pop, the Swedish singer-songwriter found the solo spotlight with her slow-building single "Habits (Stay High)" that peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Ensuring she won't be a one-hit wonder, the 27-year-old lined up a booming collaboration with Alesso, "Heroes (We Could Be)," that's rising on radio as "Habits" remains on heavy rotation. We don't anticipate the public growing tired of Tove Lo's quirky, real-life lyrics (e.g. "I eat my dinner in my bathtub / Then I go to sex clubs / Watching freaky people getting it on" on "Habits") anytime soon. —Jeff Benjamin
This year Jhene Aiko's "The Worst" was, ironically, one of the best, climbing to the top of Billboard's Mainstream R&B/Hip Hop chart. Between burning down the Saturday Night Live stage and nabbing the No. 3 spot on the Billboard 200 for Souled Out, we can say (in Larry David's voice) that 2014 was a pretty, pretty, pretty good year for the R&B chanteuse. —Jonathan Stern
Out of nowhere, Meghan Trainor appeared in a candy-colored cloud of beats, booties and self-lovin' lyrics that shortly took the world by storm via her debut single "All About That Bass." The hit—which ruled at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks—is just as infectious as it is thought-provoking, with Trainor turning ideas of conventional beauty and desire on their heads over a doo-wop hook. She may be young (she turns 21 on December 22), but her talent is mighty. With her debut full-length dropping in 2015, it'll be a minute before the world isn't all about that bass. —Hilary Hughes
In part thanks to One Direction booking them as openers on two world tours, 5 Seconds of Summer found a rabid following all their own in 2014. Spurred by their debut EP She Looks So Perfect unexpectedly hitting No. 2 on the Billboard 200 without any major radio support or TV exposure, 5SOS took America head on, earning a No. 1 album, five Top 40 singles and the hearts of fans everywhere. On top of that, the guys led a mini punk-pop resurgence, held their own convention, Derpcon, and landed at No. 2 on Fuse's Top 40 of 2014. Not bad for the youngest stars on our list.
"We're not really from much, so to have this opportunity, it all comes back to our fanbase," the band told Fuse this year of their initial breakout. "They do so much for us and it's amazing." —Jeff Benjamin
After winning the South Korean reality competition show Who Is Next: WIN, the K-pop boy band has since lived up to their name. The quintet was K-pop's international breakout as their debut album 2014 S/S hit No. 1 on Billboard's World Albums chart and went Top 10 on the Heatseekers Album chart—the latter being a rare ranking for any Korean act, much less a completely new act. The YG Entertainment boys are already teasing new projects in 2015, and we expect them to keep on, well, winning. Can we make an early request for a 2015 U.S. tour? —Jeff Benjamin
Yet another star on the rise from XXL's 2012 freshman class (which included Iggy Azalea, Macklemore and Future), Kid Ink really came into his own with "My Own Lane" this year. Chris Brown and DJ Mustard helped "Show Me" grab some RIAA gold for the Top 40 contender and recent single "Body Language" put Tinashe and Usher on the same track. Nice work, Kid! —Jonathan Stern
Five words: "No Type," "No Flex Zone." Rae Sremmurd—the Atlanta duo featuring 19-year-old Swae Lee and his 20-year-old brother Slim Jimmy—smashed the year with those two rap anthems, climbing the Billboard Hot 100 both times. Master producer Mike WiLL Made-It wrote both beats, and he'll executive produce the duo's debut album Sremmlife, set for a January release. Plus "No Flex Zone" got a remix with an ice-cold Pusha T verse and a lava-hot Nicki Minaj appearance.
"There's other stuff going on in the hip hop community," Swae told Fuse in September. "We're trying to show that we still have culture. We still have new stuff. It's not all negative. There's still good things making it universal." —Zach Dionne