If we learned anything in 2019, it’s that fans invested in the narratives behind the artists they listened to more than ever. Don’t get us wrong, the music still mattered — but the personas behind the music were just as important. The artists that stood in a league of their own were the ones that took their narratives into their own hands. It didn’t really matter what the messaging was, as long as it was real, transparent, and accessible.
So as the year comes to a close, we look back at the artists that embodied all of these qualities and more to define 2019. Take a look at the artists that owned every aspect of themselves and landed a spot on our Annual Top Artists Brand List.
8: Dominic Fike
Following the release of his debut EP in 2018, 2019 marked a turning point for newbie Dominic Fike. While last year saw him securing a $4 million record deal with Columbia, 2019 was just as eventful for the Florida native. It saw the release of four distinct singles that confirmed Fike’s talents as a composer and artist. But sound aside, it was Fike’s persona that landed him a slot on our top brands on 2019. The candidness by which he speaks about his past substance abuse and complicated family life is as disconcerting as it is compelling. And there’s a calmness to Dominic despite the chaos that surrounds his life, with his boyish qualities rising to the top of it all.
7: Dreamville/J. Cole
J. Cole’s Revenge of the Dreamers III steals the show for 2019’s best-executed album. Featuring 34 different artists and 27 producers from Dreamville, the 18 track album serves as a glowing example of how to release an album in 2019. While we would expect nothing less from J. Cole, Revenge of the Dreamers III set a new standard for collaborations. Each track held its ground among an endless list of rising rappers and producers and the flawless compilation stands as a reminder that uplifting other artists is just as important as promoting your own brand. Revenge of the Dreamers III proved that Dreamville is much more than a record label; it’s a reliable and innovative artist-centric brand.
6: Dan + Shay
One of country music’s most genuine yet polished acts, Dan + Shay continued to elevate their brand in 2019. The duo wasn’t afraid to push the envelope, especially when it came to collaborating with other artists this year. Their hit “10,000 hours” featuring Justin Bieber became the highest charting non-holiday country song its first week of release. But Dan + Shay’s biggest strength this year lain in remaining relevant. In a genre heavily dominated by traditional album and single releases, the pair relied on social media and touring to engage their fans and retain their influence. Their branded social clips and shareable behind-the-scenes footage are perfect examples of how to remain active on socials without an album release.
Characterized by a series of well-crafted, socially aware songs and stylized visuals, 2019 was Grandson’s best year to date. The 26 year old rock artist released two EPs, concluding his a modern tragedy series. The coinciding releases (volume 2 and volume 3) encapsulate all that rock music is — political, polarizing, and a little on-edge. But it’s grandson’s visual brand and narrative that truly distinguished him from other rock acts this year. He found his sweet spot on socials, with a healthy balance of curated content and authentic, relatable posts. Inspired by rock artists that came before him, Grandson encouraged his fans to start the conversation and create the change they want to see in the world.
DaBaby redefined what it means to be an ever-present artist in 2019. He released his debut album Baby on Baby in March of this year which garnered critical acclaim and included the hit “Suge,” followed by his second studio album Kirk only 6 months later this September. Utilizing today’s streaming landscape to his advantage, DaBaby also delivered a constant slew of singles, remixes, and collaborations throughout the year. Thankfully, he has the personality to match this bold release schedule. DaBaby is as evergreen on socials as he is with his releases and shares organic, in-the-moment content daily with his fans. Oh, and in his spare time, he also toured this year – go figure.
3: Lil Nas X
In years past, the song of the summer has been up for debate. This year, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” stole the show as the indisputable winner. The genre-defying, 2-minute-long track became the longest running number one single in Billboard Chart history. But a song that could have very well turned any new artist into a one-hit wonder evolved into something much greater than that for the up-and-comer. By leveraging the song’s virality, his distinct personality, and high quality visuals, Lil Nas X made a name for himself beyond “horses in the back…”
2: Lewis Capaldi
Lewis Capaldi owned social media this year as no artist has ever before. While he admits his incredibly good looks have taken him pretty far in his career, one look at his Instagram account tells a different narrative – that of his incredibly good personality. Striking a balance between self-deprecating, sarcastic humor and wholesome content, Lewis’ Instagram reads as the little brother you always wished for and will never stop rooting for. He stole our hearts with his debut album Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent featuring the hit single “Someone You Loved” and kept us coming back for more with his exceptional dance moves and modeling skills.
1. Hot Girl Summer: Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, Summer Walker
Led by Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, and Summer Walker, 2019 was undeniably the year of Hot Girl Summer. Take a look at how these three powerhouses left us feeling good as hell all year long, preaching radical self-acceptance and body positivity.
2019 was, without a doubt, Lizzo’s for the taking. While she seemingly arose out of nowhere, Lizzo has been on the scene for almost a decade. Her infamous single “Truth Hurts” spent seven weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 this year — nearly 2 years after its initial release. Basking her fans (and haters) in loud, unapologetic, body positivity messaging, Lizzo was the hero we needed this year. Whether she was fluting and twerking, in full glam or completely naked, Lizzo’s confidence is entirely contagious. She is the body positive Bop Star the world always needed but wasn’t always ready for, and we’re grateful that 2019 was finally her year.
Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion brought a whole new meaning to the term breakthrough artist. Whether you had heard her hit “Hot Girl Summer” or not, you at least knew about it. There was no escaping Hot Girl Summer, with the song becoming its very own standalone phrase in popular culture and inspiring thousands of memes and Instagram posts alike. Our fearless hot girl reinvented the age old saying “sex sells,” to sell us something way sexier: confidence and independence. Teaching us that there’s no right or wrong way to celebrate being a hot girl, Hot Girl Meg was the hero we needed this summer — and all year long.
Speaking of Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion, let’s not forget about this iconic post.
Summer Walker completes our hot girl trifecta. Her debut album Over It broke records, marking the largest streaming release week for an R&B album by a female. But record breaking aside, Summer Walker gave us something even more impressive this year: her real self 100% of the time. She has made a name for herself as a mental health advocate, transparently sharing her personal struggles with social anxiety and bringing awareness to the topic. There’s something incredibly relatable about Summer’s ability to live her best life while remaining honest about her day to day struggles, and her dedicated and understanding fans are proof of it.
In Memoriam: Nipsey Hussle
Earlier this year, we lost an incredible father, husband, artist, and friend. We all felt the impact of Nipsey’s death and it’s saddening that it took him passing for the world to give him the recognition he deserved while he was still with us. Moving into 2020, we remember Nipsey as the advocate he was for his community, the mentor and supporter he was for artists, and the loving father he was for him family.
Honorable Mentions: BTS & Tyler, the Creator
BTS graces our list for a second year in a row as our honorable mention. The boy band sensation engaged their devoted fanbase with an endless list of accolades, releases, sold out tour, and televised appearances this year. Their record breaking sales and unparalleled fanbase arguably warrant them a spot in our top 8, but maybe next year…
In a dramatic series of events, Tyler, the Creator beat out DJ Khaled for the number one slot on the Billboard 200 with the release of IGOR (and rightfully so). He is the epitome of a true artist and his visuals, social narrative, and music are always on point. IGOR is a perfect example of how to turn an album into a brand, and while he made our list last year, Tyler, the Creator undoubtedly deserves a spot this year as well.
Hot Boy Summer: Jonas Brothers and Other Nostalgia Tours
2019 was the year of owning your past. Between the Jonas Brothers’ unexpected reunion and The Backstreet Boys’ record breaking tour, nostalgia was the underdog that won this year. Whether you were a childhood fan of either band or not, it didn’t matter. It was impossible to avoid seeing or hearing about their returns. The Jonas Brothers’ new album Happiness Begins hit number 1 on the Billboard 200, while The Backstreet Boys sold over 1 million tickets on their DNA tour. Backstreet’s back alright!
Think we missed the mark this year? Let us know. You can also check out our top brands from previous years below.