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20 Biggest Breakouts of 2015

Halsey, Kygo and more of the year’s new stars

The Weeknd

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In 2015, Alessia Cara and Shawn Mendes went from social media celebs to traditional stars, Fetty Wap scored three Billboard Top 10 singles and Chris Stapleton had a surprise smash based on one night of TV. Here's the year in moving up. 

Tobias Jesso Jr.

JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - Emmy Award-nominated "Jimmy Kimmel Live" airs every weeknight (11:35 p.m. - 12:41 a.m., ET), packed with hilarious comedy bits and features a diverse lineup of guests including celebrities, athletes, musicians, comedians and humorous human interest subjects. The guests for MONDAY, AUGUST 24 included actor Bob Odenkirk ("Better Call Saul"), actress Patricia Clarkson ("Learning To Drive") and musical guest Tobias Jesso Jr. (Photo by Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images)

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Tobias Jesso Jr.

Adele didn't just shatter sales records this year: She was so powerful that a single tweet from her account could launch another artist's career. That was what happened when she touted Tobias Jesso Jr., the Canadian singer-songwriter behind Goon, an album of emotionally arresting ballads that evoked great singer-songwriters of the Seventies like Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman. Jesso accompanied himself on piano masterfully, despite having just learned the instrument (he was a bassist through his mid-20s). By the end of the year, Jesso had come full circle, placing one of his signature wistful ballads ("When We Were Young") on Adele's 25.

Kehlani

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08: Kehlani performs at Heaven on December 8, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

Joseph Okpako

Kehlani

Kehlani Parrish's 2014 mixtape As I Am made her a cult fave for a lot of R&B lovers. The 20-year-old Bay Area singer's follow-up, You Should Be Here, is making her a star — just ask the Recording Academy, who nominated the mixtape for a Best Urban Contemporary Album Grammy. Kehlani's songs chronicle her struggle to get past all kinds of romantic fuckery — even "Wanted," the track where a dude finally treats her right, is addressed to a no-good ex. ("I'd hate to be you watching him touch me," she gloats.)  But whether working with Chicago hip-hop notables like Chance the Rapper and BJ the Chicago Kid or pop biggies like Justin Bieber and Charlie Puth, her sound is her own, steeped in the romanticism of Nineties R&B.

Kygo

LAS VEGAS, NV - SEPTEMBER 27: DJ Kygo performs onstage during day 3 of the 2015 Life is Beautiful festival on September 27, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

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Kygo

The hottest mainstream dance sound of 2015 was tropical house, a sun-splashed bath of rhythmic Balearic ripples that felt far more soothing than the ecstatic build-and-drop of most festival EDM. This 24-year-old Norwegian DJ didn't invent the genre, but he sure did take it to the bank. Kygo first gained attention for his reworking of Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire," along with a remix of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" that's slower yet somehow breezier than the original. Soon superstars like Avicii and Coldplay came calling. After a heated bidding war, Kygo signed with Sony International and Ultra Records, and scored a deal to compose the Ultra Music Festival's official 2015 anthem. How's that for a victory lap?

Shawn Mendes

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Shawn Mendes

Shawn Mendes hit the big leagues this year by fusing the charm of a Justin Timberlake with an Ed Sheeran-ish musicality. The teenage heartthrob and talented singer-songwriter initially gained fame on Vine, becoming a megastar in 2013 for sharing six-second covers on the video app. He nearly crossed over in 2014 with single "Life of the Party" — but 2015 was truly Mendes' year, as his full-length debut, Handwritten, debuted at Number One and spun off a Top Ten single in the soulful, catchy "Stitches." Now he's dueting with members of Fifth Harmony and prepping for a headlining show at Radio City Music Hall in March.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 16: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white.) Lin-Manuel Miranda during the 'Hamilton' Original Broadway Cast Q & A and CD signing at Barnes & Noble on October 16, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)

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Lin-Manuel Miranda

Composer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda conquered Broadway back in 2008 with his Pulitzer-nominated and Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights. This year, he went even further with his next smash musical, Hamilton — an across-the-board triumph that revolutionized Americans' ideas of theatre and history. With a cast composed of mostly non-white performers and a libretto that was equal parts Jay Z and Sondheim, Miranda created a historical show that reflects what our country looks and sounds like. It was no surprise when Miranda earned a coveted MacArthur "Genius Grant."

OMI

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OMI

Way back in 2008, this genial Jamaican singer wrote a little ditty called "Cheerleader"; four years later, he recorded it with producers Specialist and Sly Dunbar. The song became a small hit back home, and OMI went on with his career. But in 2014 Ultra Records commissioned German DJ Felix Jaehn to remix the bubbly ode to female subservience, and the trendy tropical house sheen he overlaid on the all-but-forgotten tune catapulted it to the top of the charts in America. OMI capitalized on his newfound fame by releasing his debut full-length, Me 4 U, in October; Salaam Remi, known for providing Nas and Amy Winehouse with sleek funk tracks, acted as executive producer. The follow-up single, "Hula Hoop," hasn't gotten as many spins — but few pop stars know as well as OMI that success can take a while.

Poo Bear

PHOTO MOVED IN ADVANCE AND NOT FOR USE - ONLINE OR IN PRINT - BEFORE OCT. 18, 2015. -- The songwriter Jason Boyd, better known as Poo Bear, in Los Angeles, Oct. 6, 2015. Poo Bear has struck up an unlikely partnership with Justin Bieber, one of the world?s biggest pop stars in need of a new direction. (Bryan Sheffield/The New York Times)

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Poo Bear

Adults aren't ashamed to listen to Justin Bieber any more and Jason Boyd, who co-wrote the lyrics to "What Do You Mean?" and "Where Are Ü Now," can take more than a little credit for that. Better known as Poo Bear, Boyd first made his name writing for R&B softies 112 back when the other, older Justin was still in 'N Sync. He and Bieber met in Las Vegas two years ago at a time when the jerky public behavior of the awkwardly aging pop star was attracting more attention than his music. The two hit it off and Poo Bear became the Bieb's chief collaborator. He had a hand in most of the tracks on Purpose, helping nudge Justin toward R&B sensitivity.

R. City

R. City

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R. City

Of course you immediately recognized the plaintive lead voice on the chorus of the Top Ten hit "Locked Away" — Adam Levine, duh. But what about those Caribbean accents crooning and toasting during the verses? Those belonged to R. City, a.k.a. Theron and Timothy Thomas. Born and raised in the Virgin Islands, the Thomas brothers spent nearly a decade co-writing hits for other artists, from Sean Kingston's "Take You There" in 2007 to more recent smashes like Usher's "I Don't Mind" and Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop." In 2015, the two finally got the chance to step out on their own.

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 19: Nathaniel Rateliff (R) and Mark Shusterman of Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats perform in concert at Historic Scoot Inn on November 19, 2015 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images)

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Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

When Denver folkie Nathaniel Rateliff's career stalled out, he threw a hail mary pass, putting together a new backing band with a classic R&B sound straight out of Stax Records circa 1966. "I wanted to make that music for such a long time," he told Rolling Stone, "but I couldn't figure out how to do it without being cheesy." Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats swings and stomps, and the band's live shows got as crowded as a late night at a juke joint. The breakthrough single, "S.O.B." was an unlikely anthem about wrestling with a drinking problem. "Son of a bitch," Rateliff swore over a funky groove, "if I can't get clean I'm going to drink my life away."

Travis Scott

INGLEWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 08: Rapper Travi$ Scott performs onstage at The Forum on December 8, 2015 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

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Travi$ Scott

Travi$ Scott has been building his rep for a while now. First discovered by T.I., he signed to Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music as a producer back in 2012. But what this guy really wants to do is rap, and after a couple of buzzy mixtapes, the shirt-avoidant Houston artist completed his first full-length commercial project this year with Rodeo. Loaded up with guests — the lead single "3500" featured both Future and 2 Chainz — it was the kind of big money rap record that's too big to fail. No one was surprised to see Rodeo hit the top of the rap charts in 2015. And when he wasn't off becoming a star on his own, Scott kept up his side hustle as a producer, gaining a credit on Rihanna's "Bitch Better Have My Money."

Chris Stapleton

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Chris Stapleton

Chris Stapleton might have seemed like an overnight Nashville sensation when his debut album, Traveller, topped the Billboard 200 and nabbed an Album of the Year nomination from the Grammys. But before he released that rough-hewn, rootsy solo debut in May, Stapleton spent years paying his dues as one of Music City's most prolific songwriters, as well as fronting bluegrass band the SteelDrivers. Traveller is full of songs about country-music staples like drinking, life on the road, and ugly breakups — but Stapleton always made them feel like reality, not open-mic-night clichés. After he performed at the CMA awards show in November, harmonizing with Justin Timberlake, America realized that Stapleton was a star.

Justin Tranter

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Justin Tranter

The Semi-Precious Weapons singer and Lady Gaga pal has gone from sleazy NYC glam rock to sleek, bubbly teen-pop hitmaker, notching songwriting credits on Selena Gomez's "Good for You," Justin Bieber's "Sorry," Hailee Steinfeld's "Love Myself" and Gwen Stefani's "Used to Love You," to name a few of his many contributions to 2015's pop charts. Up next: He's working with frequent writing partner Julia Michaels on Britney Spears' next LP.

Twenty One Pilots

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 11: Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun from Twenty One Pilots perform at Le Trabendo on November 11, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Wolff - Patrick/Redferns)

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Twenty One Pilots

After years of slowly building an enthusiastic teen fanbase on the onetime emo label Fueled by Ramen, this Columbus, Ohio band topped the Billboard album charts with their fourth album, Blurryface. The songs are blunt and catchy, with plenty of atmospheric synths, but the real selling point is Tyler Joseph's vocals — conversational, rap-inflected monologues that nod at anxiety without wallowing in it. "Stressed Out" is a startling anthem for anyone who wants to retreat from adulthood: "Out of student loans and tree-house homes, we all would take the latter." Kid's got a point.

Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: Lyor Cohen (L) and Kevin Liles attend Out of Print Tribeca Film Festival Premiere And After Party on April 25, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for 2013 Tribeca Film Festival)

Ben Gabbe/Getty

300 Entertainment

In the Eighties and Nineties, Lyor Cohen played a crucial role in transforming hip-hop from an underground phenomenon to a major commercial force — he's the guy who landed Run-D.M.C's Adidas endorsement. With his latest venture, 300 Entertainment, formed with two other former Warner Bros' execs, Todd Moscowitz and Kevin Liles, alongside Roger Gold, proved he's still one of the industry's most important businesspeople. 300 first established its reputation as the home of excitingly ragged-voiced yet commercial rap by signing brilliant up-and-comers Migos and Young Thug, then proved it could sell albums when it landed out-of-nowhere sensation Fetty Wap.

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