Thanks to the relentless hype machine that is the internet, it's never too early to start speculating about which artists will make it big in 2014. Artists are increasingly buoyed by buzz and blogs over traditional factors like radio play and record deals, which means it's not uncommon for a mega-star to pop up seemingly out of nowhere (who had heard of Lorde last February?).
From rising rappers to quiet folk singers, here are nine promising musicians poised for a breakout year:
Los Angeles-based vocalist Jillian Banks makes sultry, futuristic R&B that's turning the heads of listeners and producers alike. While each song on her London EP was produced by a different beat-maker, Banks' songs are always moody and rich with emotion. Called "the most plainly obvious pop star you're ever likely to see" by VICE, it doesn't take many listens to realize Banks is headed somewhere big.
For fans of: Jessie Ware, Little Dragon
Listen: "Waiting Game"
2. The Orwells
Garage-punk band The Orwells may be fresh out of high school, but don't call them amateurs. The Illinois quintet recently made waves and won the praise of David Letterman (who called for an encore!) when they powered through a restless, thrashing performance on The Late Show in January.
For fans of: The Stooges, Arctic Monkeys
Listen: "Other Voices"
3. Sam Smith
You may not know his name, but you'll likely recognize U.K.-born singer-songwriter Sam Smith's powerful, emotive voice. Smith gained attention for his soulful guest spot on Disclosure's 2012 smash hit "Latch," and followed up with a handful of impressive acoustic performances and a solo EP last October. His versatility, pop appeal, and undeniable vocal prowess have already led the BBC to crown him the winner of its yearly Sound of 2014 poll.
For fans of: Disclosure, Adele
Listen: "Money on My Mind"
4. Vic Mensa
If you like your rap off-kilter and hyper-verbose, Chicago native Vic Mensa is your guy. A good friend of 2013 rising star Chance the Rapper, Mensa shares a similar flow with the Acid Rap mastermind — but he's more streetwise, and "100 percent talent," says David Drake at Complex. His criminally underrated mixtape, Innanetape, was released in September.
For fans of: Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar
Listen: "Orange Soda"
5. FKA Twigs
Ethereal, dark, and supremely sexual, Britain's FKA Twigs (née Tahliah Barnett) makes sensual R&B with an experimental twist. On her latest EP, Twigs' breathy vocals fit effortlessly into producer (and recent Yeezus collaborator) Arca's free-floating, constantly shifting beats. The result is a group of tracks that sound like they were recorded underwater.
For fans of: Massive Attack, Jamie xx
Listen: "Papi Pacify"
6. Courtney Barnett
On the lead single off the Australian slacker-rocker's The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, Courtney Barnett has a panic attack while attempting to do some gardening. The song itself, however, doesn't sound panicked at all. "The paramedic thinks I'm clever 'cause I play guitar / I think she's clever 'cause she stops people dying," Barnett sing-mumbles in a Lou Reed-esque drawl. When she makes it big, Courtney Barnett will probably be the one who cares the least.
For fans of: Kurt Vile, Bob Dylan
Listen: "Avant Gardener"
"Long hair, don't care" may well be Karen Marie Ørsted's m.o. The Copenhagen native, who has made a braided ponytail her signature look, combines irresistible pop hooks with her distinctive voice to create electropop that is at turns raucous, icy, and soulful. If her stellar collaboration with producer Diplo is any indication, producers will soon be lining up to work with MØ.
For fans of: Lorde, Lykke Li
Listen: "XXX 88 (feat. Diplo)"
8. Angel Olsen
Singer-songwriter Angel Olsen is constantly blurring the line between minimalist folk, country, and indie music. But no matter what genre her music shifts to, Olsen's effortlessly devastating voice and intimate lyrics make any song she touches an emotional powerhouse.
For fans of: Leonard Cohen, Bill Callahan
Listen: "White Fire"
9. Speedy Ortiz
Between their grungy guitars and DGAF attitude, it's no surprise that this Massachusetts quartet nurses an affection for '90s alt-rock heroes like Liz Phair and Pavement. But this is more than a well-done tribute, as frontwoman Sadie Dupuis' oddball lyrics reliably prove that the band is more personality than pastiche.
For fans of: Pavement, Built to Spill
Listen: "No Below"