The Nashville band's slow-build finally exploded in 2009, with its platinum-selling album "Only By the Night" pushing the alt-rock quartet to arena-headlining status. "I always felt that people would look at me as a guy who dropped out of high school and point out everything I said that wasn't proper," frontman Caleb Followill admitted to Billboard. "I was writing these melodies that I felt were so deserving to be heard [that] I just said, sing the way you know how to sing. Just try it for one record, and, if it doesn't work, you can go back to your shelter."
Katy Perry went straight to the top 10 with three smash singles, including the No. 1 anthem "I Kissed a Girl." The California Girl embraced her success with open arms. "I can't wait to be super-mainstream," Perry told us last year. "But, take all the production away, and I'll play on an acoustic guitar and sing by myself. I'm not a puppet, I don't need strings. There need to be pop girls other girls can aspire to, like Cyndi Lauper, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar. We need those women again."
Flo Rida had a monster 2008 thanks to "Low," which reigned as the year's No. 1 song. But 2009 wasn't too shabby for the Sunshine State rapper either; "Right Round," the, first single from his sophomore album "R.O.O.T.S." sat on the top of the Hot 100 for six weeks beginning in February. "I'm happy to be stepping it up," he told us earlier this year. "I didn't know this record would be this big. I just love making music."
After taking a much-publicized stand to follow her own creative muse on 2007's "My December" (which only yielded one Hot 100 hit after her previous album, "Breakaway," afforded four top 10s), Clarkson returned to her winning chart formula in 2009. "My Life Would Suck Without You," from "All I Ever Wanted," became her first Hot 100 No. 1 since "A Moment Like This" in 2002.
In 2009, singer-songwriter Jason Mraz rewrote Hot 100 history with "I'm Yours," which remained on the chart for a record 76 weeks. "That's a song about generosity, giving yourself or your time to someone else, and countries all over the world are singing it, loud... really loud," Mraz told Billboard. "I'm really stoked that that's the kind of song people want to hear right now. It makes me want to keep writing songs like that."
The Fray boasted a huge Adult Pop Songs hit this year, "You Found Me," but the band also enjoyed unexpected airplay with an organic remake of Kanye West's "Heartless," which stemmed from a performance on BBC Radio. "They ask guests to cover a current artist and just gave us a list of artists they were playing at the time," says drummer Ben Wysocki. "It was either 'Heartless' or 'Circus' by Britney Spears."
Ne-Yo, who did big things on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart this year, respects those who paved the way for his success. "Years ago, if you weren't wearing the right suit or (didn't) have a correct crease in your pants, you couldn't even get in the door, let alone on stage to perform," he told Billboard last year. "For me, the sharpness of Sammy (Davis, Jr.) and Sinatra is the kind of style I strive for in clothes and music. (Ne-Yo's 2008 album) 'Year of the Gentleman' is named in honor of those guys."
The N'awlins rapper made 21 trips to the Hot 100 in 2009, more than any other solo act. "I think this album is going to be one of my best," he declared to Billboard last year ahead of the release of "Tha Carter III." "I got one of them Beyonce(-type) albums; everything's hot. I might have to work out a deal with Universal to shoot a video for all these songs, that's how crazy they all are. Every one of them is a movie!"
The Ohio trio made its debut on Billboard's Country Songs chart in March 2000 and has since become a cornerstone of the format. With 38 chart appearances this decade, including a pair of No. 1s in 2009 ("Here" and "Here Comes Goodbye"), the gang trails only Kenny Chesney (47) and Toby Keith (41) for most visits to the survey in the 2000s.
Country is accepting of newer sounds, as well, especially when they're as carefree and catchy as the Zac Brown Band's recent No. 1 "Toes." "(Co-writer Wyatt Durette) called me (at) about six in the morning on my home phone," Brown recounted to Billboard, "which either meant that something was wrong or that somebody was up late partying. He said, 'I got my toes in the water, ass in the sand and we gotta write a song about it.'" Not only was the tune a hit, it helped the band earn a 2010 Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.