Ryan Gibbs’s Top Ten Breakout Artists of 2015
1. Courtney Barnett
The Australian singer-songwriter’s witty songs has made Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit one of year’s best debut albums, full of idiosyncratic humor and wonderful lyricism. Her surprise-but-well-deserved Grammy nod for Best New Artist only solidifies her excellent year
2. Lin Manuel Miranda
Even before his Hamilton opened on Broadway this August, Miranda was only an Oscar away from completing an EGOT; his musical Into the Heights had won a Tony for Best Musical in 2008 and was even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Hamilton, however, has become a phenomenon unmatched on Broadway since The Book of Mormon. Its cast album has received critical acclaim and entered the Billboard charts higher than any Broadway album in over 50 years. The success to the show has brought Miranda – who wrote the music, book and lyrics to the play, in addition to performing the lead role – the rare distinction of a Broadway auteur becoming a household name. A cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens only solidified a great 2015 for Miranda.
3. Toby Fox
Toby Fox’s endearing game “Undertale” is one of the best RPGs ever made, with a unique play dynamic and incredibly memorable characters. It’s a great example of the kind of wonderful game, story and world that can be built by a single person. It’s easy to say that many are anticipating what he does next.
4. Daisy Ridley
Out of the four new leads in The Force Awakens, Ridley is the one complete unknown. As Rey, she’s impressive, confident and easily slides into the world of Star Wars. Her strength in the role makes you wonder she hadn’t had her big break before she was cast in a Star Wars movie.
5. Girl Band
This Irish noise rock band’s album Holding Hands with Jamie is one of the year’s strongest debut albums and the band’s singles “De Bom Bom”, “Paul” and “Pears for Lunch” are loud, invigorating and even a bit menacing. The delivery of singer Dara Kelly recalls Stephen Malkmus and Mark E. Smith without sounding derivative of either. The band had to cancel a slew of tour dates this year, but with dates rescheduled for 2016, it will be a good year for the band as they finally build on the goodwill of their fantastic full length.
6. Skylar Spence
A few years ago, Skylar Spence (aka Ryan DeRobertis) was well known as SAINT PEPSI, one of the architects of the infamous and quietly brilliant vaporwave genre. Now rebranded as Skylar Spence, he’s added his own vocals his music to great effect. Songs like “Can’t You See” and “Fiona Coyne” are the kind of neo-disco floor fillers that bigger EDM singer/producers like Calvin Harris seem to be no longer capable of. If EDM isn’t going away, then Spence should be easily able to become a major star in years to come.
7. Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah has done well in the near impossible task of following in Jon Stewart’s footsteps as host of The Daily Show. The South African comedian’s approach to the show is different enough from Stewart’s to establish himself as a unique voice, but similar enough that the show is still recognizably The Daily Show. Every late night host needs a few months to iron out the kinks, but Noah has become progressively more solid at the desk as time goes by.
8. Years & Years
Years & Years won the BBC Sound of 2015 poll, and immediately set out to prove themselves worthy of that title with a string of British hits. Although the band hasn’t being quite as successful over to the pond — only “King” became a minor hit — it’s only time before the band’s R&B influenced synth-pop catches on in America big time.
9. John Maclean
Slow West director John Maclean isn’t an entirely unknown name if you have followed British indie music for the past 20 years. He was the keyboardist and sampler for the acclaimed group The Beta Band (of “Dry the Rain” fame) and directed most of the band’s visually distinct and eye-catching music videos. He brings his talent for visuals to Slow West, one of the year’s best directorial debuts that injected new blood in the Western genre. Following such an impressive debut feature, it will be interesting to see what he does next in both film and music.
I’m know I’m kind of cheating with this one, but it was really interesting to see the roll out (no pun intended!) of this character throughout the year. The marketing for BB-8 wasn’t so over-saturating that we became sick of the spherical orange droid before we even saw it in action in The Force Awakens; The Sphero toy in particular was a great way to fully introduce the character. In the movie itself, BB-8 stole the show — I had already been made aware of most of the “spoilers” in the film (I put that in quotes because I did not feel spoiled by knowing them in advance), but I was not prepared for how integral BB-8 was to the plot and how wonderful a character it was. It was also really nice to see a character with such an unusual gimmick be portrayed through practical effects instead of being a CGI construct. I can’t wait until 2017 to see more of this droid.