The Hawaiian smoothie started the year as a sought-after songwriter-for-hire (Travie McCoy's "Billionaire," B.o.B's "Nothin' on You") and finished it as a smash artist in his own right, when his "Just the Way You Are" topped the charts for four straight weeks.
In the space of a few months, the coolest Trinidadian since Billy Ocean went from hustling her mixtapes for free on Twitter to recording with Will.i.am and slaying Kanye on his own track. Not bad for a former waitress at Red Lobster.
• Best Songs of 2010: #25, Nicki Minaj, "Did It On'em"
• Gallery: Nicki Minaj's Best Looks
• Album Review: Pink Friday
• RS Plus: Nicki Minaj: The New Queen of Hip-Hop (Subscription Only)
Like a druggier, beardier Arcade Fire, this troupe of 10-odd Laurel Canyon bohos was the toast of the festival circuit, drawing rapturous crowds and earning blissed-out raves, all without the aid of shoes.
• Video: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros Live at Austin City Limits 2010
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Proof that even a half-Jewish boy from the mean streets of Toronto — most famous for playing an 11th-grade paraplegic — can become a platinum hip-hop megastar, provided he's ridiculously talented, insanely well-connected and really good-looking.
• Album Review: Thank Me Later
• RS Plus: Drake: How the Lady-Killing Lil Wayne Protégé is Dominating Radio in 2010 (Subscription Only)
A London girl with a colossal voice drops out of art school, records an album of eerie goth pop about coffins and sacrifices, and winds up stealing the VMAs and attracting fans like Chris Martin and Jay-Z. Congratulations, Flo — you win 2010!
• Watch: Record Shopping With Florence And The Machine
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Imagine the White Stripes fronted by Meg, powered by a malevolent drum machine, and bred on metal and hip-hop. Then pump your fist, bitch.
• Best Songs of 2010: #21, Sleigh Bells, "Infinity Guitars"
• Gallery: Sleigh Bells Live at HARD NYC Festival
• Album Review: Treats
• RS Plus: M.I.A.'s Favorite New Band: Sleigh Bells (Subscription Only)
Florida kids mix button-down indie rock with dirty reverb and shimmering riffs; think Vampire Weekend with sand in their board shorts.
You can hear why Emmylou Harris endorsed this Louisiana fingerpicker: His haunted tenor veers between Southern soulman and honky-tonk crooner.
The Brooklyn rappers behind the "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" lark put their smarts and chops on display for a bong-rattling mixtape.
The South African hip-hop crew spit in both Afrikaans and English while managing to sound frightening in any language.
• Best Songs of 2010: #32, Die Antwoord, "Enter the Ninja"
• Gallery: Die Antwoord Live at HARD NYC Festival
• RS Plus: Hot Breakthrough: DIe Antwoord (Subscription Only)
This Alabama MC looks like Travis Barker, raps like a moonshine-fueled Eminem.