2023 was another wild year where conversations about algorithms, A.I., and TikTok posting strategies reigned supreme. We’ve been here before. Flash in a pan moments of virality can aid A&R in finding potential breakouts, but are these artists setting culture or definitively finding a business for themselves?
The artists on this year’s list have excelled at doing what the best artists have always done – patiently pursued their craft, pushed culture forward, relentlessly told their story, and fostered a genuine connection with fans.
At the end of the day, art is and always has been about what makes us human. The beauty and the imperfection of it is the magic of artist development… and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
We’ve chosen not to rank our list this year, because each one is thriving in their own lane. Everyone is a winner here. So, without further ado, welcome to our ode to the “long game” – this year’s best artist brands. Enjoy.
Lana Del Rey
When Lana Del Rey first emerged on the scene in late 2011 and early 2012 with her self-made music videos for “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans,” as well as her rather infamous SNL performance, mainstream culture just didn’t get her world of self-mythology, manufactured melancholy, and psycho-americana. Fast forward just over a decade and Del Rey’s masterful Did You Know There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard has earned five GRAMMY nominations, she recently wrapped up a sold-out tour, currently holds the second-most hits of all time on Billboard’s Rock chart, and has landed on countless best albums of 2023 lists. Beyond these well-deserved accolades, what inspires us most about Del Rey is her relentless and unswerving commitment to her artistic vision over the past decade and the intimate and vulnerable space she creates with her audience (i.e. sharing her naivete around how the GRAMMY nomination process even works or popping up to pour coffee and hang with fans at a Waffle House in Alabama). Clearly, culture has caught up to recognizing and celebrating Del Rey for the true visionary she is.
Wow, Reneé Rapp appeared out of nowhere and shot to the top of the pop world this year. Just kidding! In classic “superstar overnight” fashion, Rapp has in fact been sharpening her entertainer chops for years. She previously landed acting roles including Regina George in the Tony Award-nominated Broadway adaptation of Mean Girls and Leighton Murray in Mindy Kaling’s HBO Max hit, Sex Lives of College Girls, and released her debut EP, Everything to Everyone, in 2022. Now, with several successful tours behind her, 2023’s album release of Snow Angel, a just-dropped single with Megan Thee Stallion, and a hot-off-the-press announcement she’ll be 2024’s first musical guest on SNL, this long-time coming “overnight sensation” is obviously here to stay. What we love most about her? Rapp knows her brand balancing relatability with true queendom. She’s a master of creating snort laugh-inducing TikTok content for her largely Gen-Z fanbase, has been incredibly open around her coming out journey, and inspires her fans to constantly be their wildest, weirdest, and most vibrant selves across her platforms.
Some bands are just the coolest due to a certain ineffable quality, and this year, that band is boygenius. A supergroup composed of indie heavyweights Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker, “the boys” have been completely unstoppable this year in dominating both the charts and our hearts. They sold out the Hollywood Bowl, made their Madison Square Garden and SNL debuts, were Stereogum’s “Artists of the Year,” and their gorgeous, harmony-filled album debut, The Record, is nominated for six GRAMMY awards. We especially love how the boys are turning male-dominated rockstar culture on its head with their subversive plays on masculinity, their queer activism on stage, and the way their wholesome and heartfelt friendship shines in every performance, interview, and social post. Rock on, boys!
Similar to Rapp, Chappell Roan is suddenly everywhere this year. That said, this queer pop queen has been working hard for years and holds a spot on our list thanks to her grit, willingness to reinvent herself, and her relentless commitment to empowering her fanbase made of, in her own words, “the girls, the gays, and theys.” Originally releasing broody, dark pop in the late 2010s, Roan entirely reinvented her project with 2020’s “Pink Pony Club,” a dazzling pop confection and ode to WeHo’s beloved gay club, The Abbey. Embracing her new vision has wildly paid off for Roan in 2023, as her album, The Rise and Fall of a Midwestern Princess, is a pop masterpiece, she’s now slated to open for Olivia Rodrigo in 2024, and Amazon dubbed her their 2023 Breakthrough Artist. Brand-wise, we’re endlessly inspired by her uplifting local drag queens as openers throughout her tours, how she fosters community through turning her concerts into costume parties, and her undeniably iconic “thrift store pop star” aesthetic.
Back on our list again for the second year in a row is Noah Kahan, the genre-defying folk artist from Vermont who has continued to turn his TikTok-launched rise into a full-fledged career. Amidst the company of artists like Jelly Roll and Zach Bryan (both also on last year’s list!), Kahan has risen to the top of the rootsy rock revival moment. But how, exactly? Aside from obviously just being an incredibly gifted songwriter and performer, Kahan truly knows his audience and how to resonate with them. For instance, he keeps it so real while also subtly encouraging engagement 24/7 across his social platforms, launched relevant partnerships with The Busyhead Project and Ranger Station, and crafted an impeccable release strategy full of collabs with hot artists like Post Malone, Gracie Abrams, Lizzy McAlpine, Hozier, Kacey Musgraves, and even Zach Bryan. He also continues to squeeze juice from his breakout hit, with this year’s Stick Season (We’ll All be Here Forever) deluxe edition release. Phew! Now with an SNL performance under his belt, Billboard Hot 100 charting, and sold-out shows set for the likes of Madison Square Garden… we can’t wait to see what the future holds.
With her totally singular pop-infused jazz sound and a year full of milestones, Laufey has earned a firm spot on this year’s list. Though the Iceland-born artist has been immersed in music since childhood (she performed as a cello soloist with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at 15!) and released previous records, 2023 proved pivotal. Having accumulated a steadily growing following across platforms over the past few years through teasing music, being highly responsive to fans, and hosting weekly live sessions performing lullabies (Billie Eilish reshared her cover of “My Future”), Laufey was poised and ready for the moment her track “From the Start” took off on TikTok. The buzz turned into a roar when her newest album, Bewitched, dropped in September. It broke the all-time record as the biggest debut for a jazz album on Spotify in the platform’s history and reached No.1 on Billboard’s Independent Albums Chart! We salute Laufey for trusting her gut and following her heart to breathe new life into a seemingly stagnant genre and are eager for what’s ahead.
Okay honestly, is Miley Cyrus ever not the moment?! This entertainment powerhouse shows, possibly more than anyone else on this list, that she really just doesn’t. give. a. fuck! But don’t let her attitude fool you into thinking she’s not truly a pop and pop culture mastermind. Cyrus let us know 2023 would be a major year of reinvention with her cryptic billboards placed in major cities all over the world stating, “New Year, New Miley,” and we think it’s safe to say she very much delivered. Cyrus launched a more mature (but still biting!) visual world for her Endless Summer Vacation album cycle, and savvily released singles that perfectly matched the vibe and messaging around entering and embracing a new chapter of womanhood that really spoke to her fanbase. Her self-empowerment single “Flowers” has gone on to become her biggest charting hit to date and is Spotify’s top-streamed track of the year and “Used to be Young” left fans posting all over social media saying things like “This is our grown woman version of ‘The Climb,’.” Cheers to our beloved pop phenom for continuing to break boundaries and influence culture time and again like no other.
Entering the world of music as a producer for acts like Ed Sheeran, Charli XCX, Stormzy, and Demi Lovato, Fred again..’s solo project blending house music with more mainstream pop and hip hop elements started to gain traction in 2021 and has now fully taken off. Beyond brilliant music, Fred again.. proves it’s cool to be the nice guy and fans love feeling a true sense of camaraderie with him. Equal parts savvy and free-spirited, he fosters this feeling of friendship and frenzy through sharing snippets of his day-to-day life and in-process music with his following, creating extremely limited-release merch drops, and hosting pop-up raves fans will drop everything to attend. As a result, he’s gone repeatedly viral on TikTok, has a Best New Artist GRAMMY nomination (among others!), launched a historic 8-show residency at The Shrine in Los Angeles, and will soon headline Reading and Leeds festivals. Go Fred.., go!
While Atlanta-raised Latto first made a splash (as a ten-year-old!!) on 2016’s reality television show The Rap Game and fully broke out with her 2019 hit, “Bitch from Da Souf,” 2023 has shown she’s bound for the stratosphere. For instance, Latto was the first rapper of the year to score a No.1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Seven,” a sexy collaboration with BTS star Jung Kook. She also landed a well-deserved spot on Forbes 30 Under 30 list, had her acting debut on Grown-ish, and now has two GRAMMY nominations! One stop on her Instagram or TikTok shows how Latto’s star power is undeniable given her fierce sense of humor, as well as her fearless and playful attitude around breaking sexual boundaries in her lyrics and visuals. Fans also love her for authentic and heartfelt generosity, and this year her Win Some Give Some Foundation donated $500,000 in gifts for members of her hometown community. We’re confident 2024 holds big things for this brilliant, big-hearted, and bold AF rapper.
Formed in 2015 in Richmond, VA, metalcore rockers Bad Omens went viral on Tiktok in 2022 with their track “Just Pretend,” and their reach has expanded at an incredible rate ever since. A testament to the band’s talent and daring sensibility, we love how “Just Pretend” didn’t emerge from flashy songwriters or producers, but simply with Noah Sebastian (lead singer) and Joakim Karlsson (lead guitarist) trusting their vision and completing the track themselves. The track has now gone on to become the band’s biggest release to date, charting at No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart and going on to become certified gold. Along with working on new music, the band has kept busy increasing their fanbase with sold-out tour runs across North America, the UK, and Europe, with more tour dates ahead this coming January. We deeply admire their persistence and preparation to take a viral moment and harness it, proving once again that sustainable success rarely, if ever, emerges truly “out of nowhere.” With Sebastian recently announcing the band has not one, but two, new records on the way, we eagerly await what’s next from these inventive and dedicated rockers.
Think we missed the mark this year? Let us know. Also feel free to take a trip down memory lane and check out our top artist brands from previous years!
Top Artist Brands of 2022
Top Artist Brands of 2021
Top Artist Brands of 2020
Top Artist Brands of 2019
Top Artist Brands of 2018
Top Artist Brands of 2017
Top Artist Brands of 2016
Top Artist Brands of 2015