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The Hottest Breakout Stars of 2011

Teen dreams, starlets, a Muppet and Lenny Kravitz’s smokin’ daughter

Photograph by Dan Monick

In just four years of acting, Zoë Kravitz has played a teen prostitute (in The Brave One, alongside Jodie Foster), a victim of physical abuse (in Yelling to the Sky, opposite Gabourey Sidibe) and a grief-counseling addict (in The Greatest, with Carey Mulligan). It’s such a grim filmography that we’re kind of surprised when Kravitz, 22, calls from a distinctly ungritty teahouse and goes on spiritedly about her love of Anchorman (quoting the entire “I love lamp” scene verbatim) and her favorite actor of all time, Gene Wilder. “He’s so underrated,” the actress – and daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet – says. “Willy Wonka is such a complex performance; he deserved an Oscar for it.” Why does she get so many troubled-youth roles? “I haven’t thought about it. But I do know I don’t like bubblegum parts.”

Photograph by Dan Monick

Hot Progeny: Zoë Kravitz

Maybe the roles come to her because of her choppy-haired, tattooed, rockerish vibe (she and her dad got matching ink for his birthday last year, and she fronts a punky band called Elevator Fight). Kravitz, who grew up with her mom in L.A. after her parents divorced, and moved to New York with dad in her adolescence, has wanted to act since infancy. “I’d stage performances in my grandparents’ living room, charging them and their friends one-dollar admission,” she recalls. “Real Jewy, huh?” (Part Jewish, she identifies as a secular Jew.) Her highest-profile role yet comes in June, as insecure fly-mutant Angel Salvadore in X-Men: First Class. “I wasn’t a comic-book geek growing up, but I was a giant theater geek,” she says. “Which is just as bad.”

-Jonah Weiner

Photograph by Phil Knott

Hot Import: Tinie Tempah

The walls of the Hollywood night den Teddy’s are thumping to “Frisky,” the electronic dance tune by U.K. rap phenomenon Tinie Tempah. Over its whomping bass line, Tinie won-ders, “If I tell her I’m a boxer/Will she let me down her knickers?” – and the club goes nuts. Only problem is, the MC is stuck outside – his cashmere cardigan isn’t making the grade at Teddy’s velvet rope.

The next day, Tinie shrugs off the snub: “I could still hear them playing my song – sounded like it was working!” He grins, with good reason: Disc-Overy, his debut LP, went straight to Number One in the U.K. last year (“Chris Martin told me it was his favorite album to work out to”), and a U.S. version is due this spring. The banging “Pass Out” was adopted by Snoop Dogg, who performed it with Tinie at last summer’s Glastonbury Festival – and now the 22-year-old is poised to become the first MC from the U.K.’s raucous “grime” scene to climb the U.S. pop charts.

Photograph by Phil Knott

Hot Import: Tinie Tempah

The son of Nigerian immigrants, Tinie (real name: Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu Jr.) credits his hardworking folks for moving their family from a South London tower block to the suburbs when he was 12. “Eminem rapped about 8 Mile, and Jay-Z rhymed about Bed-Stuy,” he says. “So even though I rap about Southampton and Scunthorpe, experiences are universal, and we speak the same language.”

-Peter Relic

Photograph by Theo Wenner

Hot Heartthrob: Thomas McDonell

Thomas McDonell – the ruggedly attractive 24-year-old star of the new movie Prom (out April 29th) – isn’t the most natural choice for Disney’s next High School Musical-style franchise. Since graduating from NYU a few years ago, McDonell, son of Sports Illustrated editor Terry McDonell, has lived a very un-Zac Efron-y downtown bohemian lifestyle – exhibiting artwork at New York galleries and making music with his band, Moon. “They like for their actors to be the characters in the film,” he says of Disney. “Or if they’re not, they try to meld them. They really are feeling the meld.” So how did he get the part? “I tricked them,” he says, laughing. “Just kidding, I didn’t trick them.”

-Doree Shafrir

Photograph by Theo Wenner

Hot Rapper: Wiz Khalifa

T o hear Wiz Khalifa tell it, it didn’t take long to come up with the hook to his career-making hit, “Black and Yellow.” “It wasn’t even 10 seconds,” says the Pittsburgh rapper, 23. “When I heard the da-na-na-na da-na-na-na, ‘black and yellow’ was the first thing that came into my head.” Since its release last September, the song – produced by Norwegian chart rockers Stargate (whose credits include Beyoncé and Katy Perry) has racked up 2.3 million sales, hit Number One on the Hot 100 and been freestyled over by everyone from Lil Wayne to Tom Hanks’ son. Thanks to Khalifa’s hometown Steelers’ Super Bowl run (their uniform colors inspired the track), Wiz has performed at the AFC Championship game and gotten spins from Oakland to New Jersey.

Photograph by Theo Wenner

Hot Rapper: Wiz Khalifa

Born Cameron Jibril Thomaz in Minot, North Dakota, Wiz spent his childhood traveling the globe with his Air Force parents. With an assist from some aggressive social marketing (“Twitter helped out a whole bunch”), his 2010 mixtape Kush & Orange Juice became a viral hit. His major-label debut, Rolling Papers, out March 29th, features guest spots by Rick Ross and Snoop Dogg. A noted herb enthusiast who once claimed to spend $10,000 a month on weed, Wiz has made getting high an essential part of his brand. In November, he was arrested for felony trafficking in North Carolina, but the count was dropped. Now he’s free to enjoy his success, including a relationship with Kanye West’s ex, model Amber Rose – not to mention his ample stash. As Wiz says, “I’m blessed with green!”

-Josh Eells

Photograph by Theo Wenner

Hot Model: Arizona Muse

Could that even be her real name? Desert native Arizona Muse promises it is, and we aren’t going to argue with her. “I was born in Arizona, although I grew up in Santa Fe,” says the 22-year-old. “My mother’s English, and she always was fascinated by the desert.” Jetting from New York to London to Milan to Paris and back to Brooklyn – where she lives with her toddler son, Nikko – Muse has become this year’s undisputed fashion It girl. She’s signed a deal to become the face of Yves Saint Laurent and had an entire issue of British fashion bible Dazed & Confused dedicated to her. So what’s the appeal? Apparently, it’s all about her crazily long, dramatic eyebrows. Duh! But for those of us who don’t have such refined taste in eyebrow length, she has some other good qualities too.

-Jonathan Ringen

Angelo Pennetta/ M.A.P.

Hot Actress: Felicity Jones

As 27-year-old british actress Felicity Jones pushed through the emotionally grueling shoot for the indie drama Like Crazy, director Drake Doremus repeatedly offered a dubious pep talk: “Look, only two people are gonna see this,” he’d say, “but those two people are really gonna like it.” As it turned out, Like Crazy – which traces a tumultuous long-distance relationship between Jones and an American guy – was an instant Sundance smash: Paramount snatched it up, and Jones won a special acting prize for her largely improvised performance, which was based on a 50-page outline rather than a script.

Hot Actress: Felicity Jones

Felicity Jones as Anna in Like Crazy

“It was such a risk, because I knew that in order for it to work we had to be quite exposed,” says Jones, sipping a Bloody Mary during a post- Sundance visit to New York. “It’s nice when your instincts have proved to be the right ones.” Despite her fine-boned beauty, Jones – who studied English literature at Oxford – seems altogether too brainy to be anyone’s idea of a standard Hollywood starlet, citing art photographer Cindy Sherman’s chameleonic self-portraits as a major acting influence. Like Crazy’s success has resulted in a flood of scripts being sent to Jones, some of which might require an American accent. Whatever you do, don’t suggest she try it out for you over drinks: “I don’t want to do it to order,” she says with a smile. “I’m not a performing monkey."

-Brian Hiatt

Hot Pop Sensation: Lykke Li

Swedish pop sensation Lykke Li was born with a broken heart. She knows this because two different psychics told her so. “I’ve been carrying that feeling my whole life,” says the doe-eyed 24-year- old. Her 2008 debut, Youth Novels, turned loneliness into indie-pop gold, winning her fans like Kings of Leon and Drake. It also landed her a gig soundtracking The Twilight Saga: New Moon. But Li seems more like something out of a Stieg Larsson novel: The Girl Who Loved Too Much. For her new album, Wounded Rhymes, Li rented a house in L.A. last winter. “For this record, too,” she says, “my soul was aching.” Girl-group-style laments like “Sadness Is a Blessing” are icy and haunting, delivered in her trademark breathy purr. “I’m actually very unhappy with my own voice,” Li says. “But it’s not for me anyway. I’m not the one who should come when I listen to it.”

-Josh Eells

Andrew MacPherson/©Disney

Hot Muppet: Walter

Meet Walter, the newest Muppet and star of the Jason Segel-conceived The Muppets, out next fall. “The Muppets were my idols growing up,” says Walter (with an assist from Segel). “I’m the ultimate Muppet fan. Other kids had posters of Farrah Fawcett, I had a poster of Miss Piggy.” In the movie, Walter gets the Muppets to reunite and put on one more show. So who was his favorite? “Kermit is exactly who he seems to be: kind, funny, thoughtful, talented and generous,” Walter says. “He’s like a short, green Tom Hanks.”

-Jonathan Ringen

Photograph by Michael Lionstar

Hot Novelist: Karen Russell

‘It’s tidal and weird – a place where even identities don’t feel stable,” novelist Karen Russell says about her native southern Florida – although she could be talking about Swamplandia!, her beautiful, dark and funny debut novel. Russell has been hailed as a writer to watch by everyone from The New Yorker (she made its “20 Under 40” list) to Stephen King, who has called her work “brilliant” and – even better – “creepy and sinister.” Swamplandia! is named for the run-down theme park off Florida’s southern coast where the book takes place. “It’s a frontier, and for a huge part of this country’s history, there were no people down there,” says Russell, 29. “So there’s an outlaw energy, the air of the newcomer, people making up their own stories.”

-Julia Holmes

Photograph by © Gasper Tringale

Hot Memorist: Jon-Jon Goulian

Jon-Jon Goulian went to his prom in La Jolla, California, wearing white tights, black high heels, a red bow tie, a Viking hat and bright-red lipstick – and his classmates didn’t bat an eye. “They had known me my whole life,” he says. But Goulian isn’t gay – he just likes wearing women’s clothes. His life as a “sexually neutered androgyne” is the subject of his new memoir, The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt. Early in the book, Goulian is making out with a girl in a park when kids across the street begin pelting them with hot dogs. “How is it possible,” he writes, “in this world of cruelty, and disease, and mammalian excretions, that people manage to develop normal sex lives? You think you’ve conquered one obstacle, and there’s another one around the corner.”

-Doree Shafrir

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