Welcome to 2022, where an unpredictable TikTok algorithm combined with 100,000 songs uploaded daily to DSPs has made artist development either a treacherous mountainous trek or an endless walk through the desert. Irrespective of path, one thing is clear: It’s hard to know when you will arrive.
As much as things may change on the surface in the industry, artist development is and always has been built on fans who really care. While social virality and high streaming numbers can certainly open doors (as we acknowledged in our 2021 List), metrics alone do not make an artist.
Building a loyal audience is not harder than ever – it’s always been hard. There are no shortcuts, TikTok or otherwise. The artist and their story are the only things that have ever endured. They drive the marketing, not the other way around. Extreme patience is the key.
This year, our list consists of artists (big and small) who fearlessly share their story(ies) and relentlessly put their fans first. We celebrate you.
10: MEGHAN TRAINOR
Pop icon Meghan Trainor is having a Gen Z-fueled renaissance year, and we are very here for it. Celebrating her biggest Hot 100 hit in five years with the catchy doo-wop inflected jam “Made You Look” off her latest album, Takin’ It Back, it’s the star’s savvy and creative marketing for the album that’s caught our attention. Meghan, a true TikTok aficionado, created a viral dance for “Made You Look”, premiered said single and its accompanying music video in exclusive partnership with Candy Crush Saga, a mobile gaming app (what?!), and is the face of e.l.f. Cosmetics’ latest Gen Z-targeted campaign. Furthermore, her TikTok presence has helped drive new discovery throughout her catalog, with her 2014 hit “Title” now used in over 11 million videos on the platform. Go Meghan, go!
9: KID CUDI
A cultural mainstay for nearly two decades, Kid Cudi was nothing short of prolific in 2022. We saw him release not one, not two, but three (?!) albums, including the artist’s first “greatest hits” album, with The Boy Who Flew to Moon, Vol 1.and Entergalactic, released in conjunction with a Netflix animated film featuring a cast of Hollywood’s finest. His evolution into film is set to continue in 2023, as Cudi has secured his directorial debut with the Netflix feature, Teddy, produced by Jeymes Samuel and Jay-Z. While rumors surfaced he would soon retire from music completely, Cudi recently revealed a prolific period of songwriting, penning 11 songs in just five days. Whatever this versatile icon does next, we’ll of course be watching.
8: WET LEG
On the list list, on the list list, on the list list this year is Wet Leg. Composed of Isle of Wight natives Rhian Teasedale and Hester Chambers, the indie rock duo broke out in 2021 with their infectious hit “Chaise Longue,” but it was in 2022 they proved that, sometimes, you can in fact believe the hype. Their self-titled debut album from Domino has earned accolades on both sides of the pond with both a spot on the Mercury Prize shortlist and multiple Grammy nods. They’ve also secured opening slots with the likes of Florence and the Machine and Harry Styles (who recently covered their track “Wet Dream” for BBC Radio 1), while regularly selling out their own shows around the globe. As much as we love their music, we’re equally charmed by the instantly memorable “cottage core sweet meets post-punk bite” brand persona they execute across music videos, social media, and live shows. Clearly, you don’t have to be serious to be seriously, seriously beloved musicians.
7: SELENA GOMEZ
Multi-hyphenate queen Selena Gomez had a powerhouse year, and it’s no small achievement she continues to stay relevant as ever. She rolled out the second season of Only Murders in the Building to rave reviews, let down her guard entirely in the intimate and raw AppleTV+ documentary, Selena Gomez: My Mind and Me, and paired it with a powerful accompanying song release. She also found a moment to host SNL for the first time (she was a musical guest in 2016), and is topping the year off with a Golden Globes nomination. Whew! Well-earned accolades aside, it’s Selena’s personality our team can’t get enough of. We laugh with her on TikTok, find hope in her mental health advocacy work, and can’t help but root for whatever this superstar does next.
6: OMAR APOLLO
While genre-bending alt/R&B artist Omar Apollo skyrocketed to another level of success this year with his single “Evergreen” blowing up on TikTok, he was more than ready for the propulsion. In a rare feat for artists who transition from indie traction to a major label debut, Omar has managed to stay as fresh, cutting edge, and vulnerable as ever across both his music and persona. He continues to grow his fanbase through consistently honoring his Mexican roots (don’t miss his hypnotizing NPR Tiny Desk featuring a full mariachi band), celebrating his queer identity with humor and candor, and crafting haunting artwork to accompany his sonic world. With an opening slot on SZA’s upcoming S.O.S. tour, plenty of his own dates and festivals lined up, and a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, we wouldn’t be surprised if he lands a spot on our 2023 list, too.
5: ZACH BRYAN
To say Zach Bryan has had a busy year would be an egregious understatement. His major label debut, American Heartbreak, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums, Top Rock Albums, and Folk Albums charts, as well as No. 5 on the all-genre Billboard 200. He became Spotify’s first RADAR US country artist, wrapped a sold out tour and, as if that weren’t enough, was recently nominated for a Grammy. Zach is also pioneering a new way of releasing music, with his latest single, “The Greatest Day of My Life,” going from written to released within a four day time period(!). Releasing music in what’s essentially real time is a compelling, gutsy, and potentially industry-shaking move. Will it start a trend for 2023?
4: JELLY ROLL
Nashville’s genre-defying Jelly Roll is, well, on a roll this year. While he broke out with his 2021 single “Son of a Sinner,” Jelly Roll reached new heights this year reigning as No. 1 on Billboard’s emerging artist chart for 15 weeks. He also recently played a completely sold out show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, and will soon join the Country Radio Seminar’s New Faces class of 2023. All that said, it’s Jelly Roll’s persona that places him near the top of this year’s list. His candor around mental health has drawn a loyal fanbase who find hope in his story, and he was able to impact tangible change by releasing his new single “She” in partnership with Shatterproof, a nonprofit raising awareness on the addiction crisis.
3: NOAH KAHAN
Noah Kahan, a rising folk-infused pop artist, reached new heights this year with his latest album release, Stick Season. Finding and refining his lane on TikTok since 2020, Noah really leaned in to embrace the virality of Stick Season through duetting fans, showcasing shows, and sharing snippets of the album-making process – all framed in his tender, self-deprecating personality. Taking the time to genuinely connect with fans on social media has proven potent for Noah, as he’s now selling out bigger shows than ever with a massive Summer ‘23 Stick Season tour on the way.
After opening a new door to the world of hardcore with their 2021 album Glow On, Turnstile seems to be everywhere this year… and it’s easy to see why. In a musical space with a historically male-identified following, everything Turnstile does – shows, social media, their “nothing is off limits” DIY visual identity – is built around inclusivity and an ode to being your loudest, most honest, and free self. The band consistently creates a world where truly everyone feels seen and safe to experience the explosive euphoria of their music, and how could that not catch on?
2022 is the year of FLETCHER. With a relentless commitment to embracing her narrative and intimately knowing her fans as a genuine bestie (i.e. a recent Instagram caption reads, “miss u. tell me something cute. how’s your cat?”), she continues to rise in an oversaturated indie pop market. A year full of milestones, FLETCHER essentially broke TikTokthrough name-dropping her ex’s new lover in the ultra-relatable single, “Becky’s So Hot,” released her debut album, drove fans crazy with “Better Version” ft Kelsea Ballerini, raised $50,000 for GLAAD during Pride Month, and sold out shows around the globe. We can’t wait to see what 2023 holds.
ON NEXT YEAR’S LIST?
Michael Wilson Hardy, known mononymously as HARDY, first appeared on our radar with his 2018 “grunge country” EP This Ole Boy. He’s since continued to keep our attention with his 2020 album debut, A ROCK, countless hits co-penned with the likes of Georgia Florida Line and Blake Shelton, and a harcore but earnest brand identity far removed from the prototypical male country persona. With his latest series of singles leaning far more into Southern Rock territory, a fresh set of moody visuals, a new album on the way in 2023, and a very compelling TikTok presence, we look forward to seeing what 2023 brings this singular artist on the rise.
After the more or less literal overnight virality of a TikTok video teasing her song “Complex”, Katie Gregson-Macleod is well on her way to becoming a folk-pop heavyweight. Within weeks of the song’s virality, Katie signed a deal with Columbia Records’ British arm and “Complex (demo)” was released, promptly becoming a staple on tastemaker editorial playlists. While Katie didn’t suddenly emerge out of absolutely nowhere (her previous single, Second Single Bed caught the attention of BBC Music Introducing, Radio 1, and BBC Scotland), the runaway success of “Complex (demo)” clearly marks a turning point. With her just-released songs written for piano EP, will Katie be able to translate her virality into sustained and growing success? Time will tell.
Think we missed the mark this year? Let us know. You can also check out our top brands from previous years below.