10 of the Biggest Breakthrough Artists of 2020 - Rolling Stone
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Year in Review: 10 of the Biggest Breakthrough Artists of 2020

Doja Cat, Jack Harlow and Don Toliver lead our list of the biggest breakthrough acts of 2020.

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images; Christopher Polk/NBCU/Getty Images; Rich Fury/Getty Images

It goes without saying that, for just about everyone, 2020 was a no-good, very-bad year. But for a handful of artists, it was, numbers-wise, actually a very good year indeed – the year they rose from obscurity to stardom, all without leaving their homes.

But who had the best year? We can get a good idea by looking at who had the biggest growth in audio streams from January through November compared to 2019, the same methodology that powers Rolling Stone’s monthly Breakthrough 25 Chart. These are some of the artists who saw the biggest streaming gains in 2020, a group that includes emerging artists who finally broke through to the top of the charts for the first time, or total unknowns who saw overnight success on TikTok.

1. Doja Cat

While Doja Cat had been in the mainstream consciousness for a couple years — ever since the brilliantly funny “Mooo!”in 2018 — 2020 was the year she fully found her footing. After the relatively muted response to her debut album Amala, the L.A.-born rapper and singer made quite a bit more noise with her sophomore album Hot Pink. While it entered the RS 200 at Number 19 in November 2019, it hit its peak in 2020 thanks to “Say So,” the glimmering disco-pop jam released as a single at the top of the year. “Say So” was a streaming and radio darling in early spring, catching the attention of Nicki Minaj, who jumped on a remix and helped take the song to Number Two on the RS 100. Hot Pink went on to Number Eight on the albums chart, and Doja Cat reached Number 17 on the weekly Artists 500. From January through November, Doja Cat saw nearly 1.2 billion on-demand audio streams in the U.S., up nearly 300% from 2019.

2. Jack Harlow

Kentucky-born rapper Jack Harlow streams started simmering in 2019, aided by the release of “Thru The Night” featuring fellow Louisville native Bryson Tiller. But things reached a boiling point with the bouncy, swaggering “Whats Poppin,” a piano trap tune that proved to be Harlow’s ticket to star status. The track was a near-instant hit on streaming platforms when he released it in January, so undeniably so that DaBaby, Tory Lanez and Lil Wayne all hopped on a remix. With their support, “Whats Poppin” went on to reach Number Two on the RS 200 and helped Harlow reach Number 34 on the artists chart. Overall, Harlow saw around 840 million on-demand audio streams from January through November, nearly ten times as many streams as he saw in 2019.

3. Don Toliver

Like Doja Cat, Travis Scott signee Don Toliver has been known by hip-hop fans for a couple years — he was featured on Scott’s Astroworld and The Scotts before he finally dropped his debut album, Heaven or Hell. The album, which features Scott and Quavo, among others, made a Top Ten debut on the RS 200, and helped the Houston rapper launch two songs to the top 40 of the RS 100 and reach Number 14 on the Artists 500. By late September, Heaven or Hell had seen half a billion on-demand audio streams, but Don Toliver wasn’t done: He was also featured on Internet Money’s “Lemonade,” which reached Number One on the RS 100 in October. Overall, Don Toliver increased his streams by 650%, to nearly 800 million in 2020.

4. The Kid Laroi

Seventeen-year-old Kid Laroi is a rare hip-hop success story from Down Under. The Sydney-born rapper’s success in large part due to a co-sign from Juice WRLD, who was his mentor and friend before his death at age 21 in late 2019. Laroi’s, debut mixtape, F*ck Love, entered the RS 200 at Number Eight and standout track “Go,” a collaboration with Juice WRLD, hit Number 27 on the RS 100. The album later climbed as high as Number Three on the chart after he released a deluxe edition with seven new tracks. Overall, The Kid Laroi saw more than 550 million on-demand audio streams in 2020, exponentially larger than his 2019 total of just over 4 million.

5. Natanael Cano

Natanael Cano is one of many Regional Mexican artists who broke through in the U.S. in 2020. The 19-year-old Sonora native is a leader in the corridos tumbados movement, which is a hip-hop take on the traditional Mexican corridos. His streams started to pick up in mid-2019 with the release of his album Corridos Tumbados, and he kept the momentum going in 2020 by releasing three albums and an EP.  While Cano’s songs are most streamed in Texas, Arizona, and California, he made gains in 2020 in East Coast cities like New York and Raleigh, North Carolina. “I’m very proud to be giving this genre to the world,” he told Rolling Stone. “We’re not going to stop.” – Lucas Villa

6. Saint JHN

Four years after it was released, Saint JHN’s “Roses” got a second life thanks to Kazakh DJ Imanbek, who released a  remix of the track that went viral on TikTok. Saint JHN’s “Roses (Imanbek remix)” was a summer hit — one could argue, as I did, that it was the summer hit — peaking at Number Three on the RS 100. It also drove many listeners to explore the rest of the Brooklyn rapper’s discography. Saint JHN saw more than 625 million on-demand audio streams through November, more than tripling his streams from 2019, and songs like “Trap” racked up streams in the tens of millions. In November, he released his third studio album, While the World Was Burning, which included features from Future, Kanye West, DaBaby and more, and debuted in the top 40 on the RS 200.

7. Gabby Barrett

Often, it isn’t the winner of American Idol that sees the most commercial success. See Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, and, most recently, country singer Gabby Barrett, who finished third on the 16th season of the singing competition. Two years later, Barrett became a charts mainstay with “I Hope.” The track, which was the lead single from her debut studio album, Goldmine, reached the top 10 on the RS 100, which is a notable feat for a country single. She entered the Artists 500 Chart for the first time in January, and didn’t drop off the whole year, reaching the top 200 in November. Overall, Barrett saw close to 500 million on-demand audio streams in 2020, nearly quadrupling her count from 2019.

8. Eslabon Armado

Another regional Mexican artist to go international in 2020 is trio Eslabon Armado, who formed in California, but play traditional Mexican sierreña music. The group made RS Charts history with their album Vibras De Noche, which entered the RS 200 at Number 24, the biggest debut for a Regional Mexican group so far. Their song “Con Tus Besos,” off Tu Venemo Mortal, has emerged as a fan favorite, with 64 million on-demand audio streams this year. From January through November, the trio saw nearly 350 million on-demand audio streams in the U.S. — a staggering 47,000% increase from their 2019 total of under 1 million

9. J.I. the Prince of N.Y.

There’s been no shortage of new rappers coming out of New York over the past few years, from melodic MCs like A Boogie wit da Hoodie and Lil Tjay to Brooklyn drill rappers like the late Pop Smoke and Sheff G. Among the latest is J.I. the Prince of NY, who broke through in 2020 with sing-songy “Need Me.” The song helped the Brooklyn Native reach Number 215 on the Artists 500 Chart, and pull in over 350 million on-demand audio streams in 2020, a 450% increase from 2019.

10. Tate McRae

While TikTok is most widely known for launching chirpy tunes like Arizona Zervas’ “Roxanne” and Curtis Waters’ “Stunnin” to the charts, every once in a while a moody indie-pop song has its moment of virality. Tate McRae had such moment in early 2020 with her breakup song “You Broke Me First,” which has seen over a million TikTok videos so far. “You Broke Me First” debuted on the RS 100 in August and has stuck around ever since, helping the Canadian singer-songwriter reach the top 200 on the Artists 500 Chart. Overall, McRae pulled in over 300 million on-demand audio streams in 2020, increasing her streams by more than fivefold compared to 2019.

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