the breakout stars who shined brightest this year

Best New Artist

Alabama Shakes

Mixing blues-rock and Southern soul, Alabama Shakes began building major buzz following a glowing New York Times review about its 2011 performance at the CMJ Music Marathon. In the months leading up to the April release of its debut album, Boys & Girls, the Athens, Ga., band -- vocalist/guitarist Brittany Howard, guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson -- played sold-out club gigs across North America. With a Zales commercial synch and a push of its single "Hold On" to triple A and noncommercial radio, Boys & Girls peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard 200.

Best New Artist


fun. was born following the 2008 breakup of frontman Nate Ruess' previous rock band, the Format. For his new pop-leaning project, Ruess recruited bandmates Andrew Dost and Jack Antonoff, who respectively played in the bands Anathallo and Steel Train. The trio released its debut album, Aim and Ignite, in 2009, but it wasn't until three years later with second album Some Nights that fun. started making waves. In addition to spending six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, the group's breakout single, "We Are Young" (featuring Janelle Monáe), was the third-biggest-selling digital song this year with 5.9 million downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Best New Artist

Hunter Hayes

Hunter Hayes had three top 30 hits on the Hot Country Songs chart this year: "Storm Warning" (No. 14), "Wanted" (No. 1) and "Somebody's Heartbreak" (No. 20 at press time). The 21-year-old country newcomer's self-titled album on Atlantic peaked at No. 4 on Top Country Albums and has sold 419,000. In addition to writing or co-writing all the songs on the set, Hayes served as its co-producer and performed all vocal and instrumental tracks. He's also up for best country solo performance ("Wanted") and best country album.

Best New Artist

The Lumineers

Buoyed by synchs of their song "Ho Hey" in a Microsoft Bing ad and the "Silver Linings Playbook" movie trailer, recent Billboard cover act the Lumineers have crossed the half-million sold mark of their self-titled debut on indie label Dualtone. The Denver-based alternative folk trio released second single "Stubborn Love" at the end of the eligibility period following up on the top five Hot 100 single "Ho Hey," which had sold more than 1.7 million downloads. The Lumineers are also vying for best Americana album.

Best New Artist

Frank Ocean

A member of Los Angeles hip-hop collective Odd Future, New Orleans-born R&B singer Frank Ocean originally worked as a songwriter for such artists as John Legend and Brandy before breaking out with his acclaimed debut mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, in 2011. He later appeared on the track "No Church in the Wild," from Jay-Z & Kanye West's Watch the Throne, which earned Grammy nominations this year for best short form video and best rap/sung collaboration. But it wasn't until this year that Ocean truly made a name for himself with his first album, Channel Orange, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The singer is also nominated for record of the year ("Thinkin Bout You"), album of the year and best urban contemporary album.


Photo Credits (from top): Autumn de wilde; lindsey byrnes; warner music nashville; scarlet page; nabil elderkin