The 10 biggest breakthrough artists of 2017, from 21 Savage to SZA

This year saw several No. 1 hits from performers most Americans had likely never heard of before 2017 -- including a former stripper and the creators of what would become the most streamed song and most watched YouTube video in history. 

With the rise of streaming platforms and social media in recent years, it's become far more viable for under-the-radar acts to get noticed without being signed to a major label. Musicians can suddenly rise from obscurity into the public consciousness since they can now expand their reach by addressing their listeners directly and uploading their music to Soundcloud and other audio distribution sites. 

Billboard announced in October that its charts would begin to weigh streaming listens, giving the online community more influence on an artist's commercial success. So don't expect the phenomenon of "out of nowhere" artists to stop anytime soon. 

Click through the gallery below to learn more about 10 artists who could be here to stay after experiencing huge breakouts in 2017.

Best Breakthrough Artists of 2017
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Best Breakthrough Artists of 2017

21 Savage

Best 2017 song: "Ric Flair Drip" ft. Offset and Metro Boomin

In July, the Atlanta rapper dropped his debut LP “Issa Album,” which spawned the hit song “Bank Account.” Then, he teamed up with producer Metro Boomin and Migos member Offset for “Without Warning,” a surprise album released on Halloween that shot up the charts to No. 4.

But his biggest accomplishment on the charts came via his collaboration with Post Malone -- “rockstar,” which broke the single-week streaming record on Apple Music with over 25 million streams and has reigned on top of Billboard’s Hot 100 for six weeks.

Oh, and he’s also dating Amber Rose. That alone would make 2017 a big year for Savage, let alone his newfound status as an international superstar.

Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images


Best 2017 song: "Cola" ft. Elderbrook

This British DJ duo had perhaps the most surprising No. 1 stateside song of 2017 with “Cola,” an out-of-nowhere hit featuring indie singer Elderbrook that topped Billboard’s Dance Club songs chart -- a ranking whose top all-time artists include Madonna, Rihanna and Beyoncé. The fast-paced house music tune is now nominated for a Best Dance Recording Grammy alongside legendary acts like LCD Soundsystem and Gorillaz, giving Dave Whelan and Mike Di Scala a piece of recognition they admit they never predicted they’d receive as a partnership born in nightclubs in Liverpool, England.

Indeed, “Cola” is the rare crossover hit that gained traction on the dance floor rather than the radio, topping Shazam’s list of most-tracked songs in dance music haven Ibiza, Spain this summer. It then spent three months on top of Beatport’s Hot 100, a bellwether for underground dance music. DJ Robin Schulz, who's a bigger name in the U.S., just released a remix of it on December 8, so “Cola” might still have some room to grow in the U.S.

Photo: Facebook

Cardi B

Best 2017 song: "Bodak Yellow"

The former stripper, who became an internet celebrity on Instagram and parlayed that into a role on VH1’s “Love & Hip Hop: New York,” completed her compelling rags-to-riches story this year. Her debut single “Bodak Yellow” was the rap banger of the summer, staying at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks -- the longest reign atop the chart ever by a solo female rapper, and the first to do it since Lauryn Hill with “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” in 1998. The song also nabbed two Grammy nominations in the rap categories.

In a year full of promising freshmen in the rap scene, Cardi B's infectious personality, confident Bronx-bred flow and sexually charged, empowering lyrics helped her stand out from her peers.

(Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

Julia Michaels

Best 2017 song: "Issues"

The accomplished songwriter -- who's written hits for Demi Lovato, Gwen Stefani, Haliee Steinfeld and Fifth Harmony -- rightfully earned some spotlight for herself this year.

The 24-year-old’s first solo single “Issues” was reportedly wanted by a bunch of big-name artists after it was written by a group at a songwriting camp, but Michaels fought to keep the song for herself. It was a smart move -- “Issues” is now nominated for Song of the Year at the Grammys, where Michaels also earned a nomination for Best New Artist. 

Michaels’ days of writing for other musicians are likely over if she wants them to be -- now, she’s a star in her own right.

(Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)


Best 2017 song: "Location"

Teenagers catch a lot of flak from older generations, but 19-year-old Khalid Robinson’s debut album “American Teen” represented a triumph for millennials who are tired of being held down by the constraints of their elders. His single “Young Dumb & Broke” gave them an anthem for the ages (“What’s fun about commitment/When we have all life to live/Yeah we’re just young, dumb and broke/But we still got love to give”).

Khalid was recognized as a potential voice of his generation by the industry folks in charge of the Grammys, receiving five nominations including Best New Artist, Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best R&B Song for “Location.” Throw in slick features on smash hit songs by Logic (“1-800-273-8255”), Marshmello (“Silence”), Calvin Harris (“Rollin”) and Lorde (“Homemade Dynamite”), and Khalid is quite clearly no longer broke -- and his work shows he was probably never all that dumb, either.

Photo by C Flanigan/FilmMagic


Best 2017 song: "1-800-273-8255" ft. Alessia Cara, Khalid

Born Sir Robert Bryson Hall II in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Logic isn’t like most rappers. He got his first mainstream profile boost from the 2015 release of “The Incredible True Story,” a sci-fi-themed epic album that landed Logic and the rest of the vocal cast on their own panel at New York Comic Con. He’s also a half-black father who witnessed his siblings selling crack cocaine to his dad growing up and called out his mom for being a hypocritical racist in one of his most personal songs, "Take It Back." He carries an air of compassion and takes an anti-drug stance not commonly seen in rap.

It’s that sort of unique vision that sets Logic apart from his contemporaries, and led to the idea for “1-800-273-8255” -- a track named for the national suicide hotline that serves as a heart-wrenching yet ultimately hopeful anthem for people suffering from depression. Out of nowhere, the song rocketed to No. 3 on the Billboard 100 and received Grammy nominations for Song of the Year and Best Music Video. Logic sent his fans into a tizzy in May after he claimed in an interview that he’d released his last album, but don’t expect someone with a voice this important and inspired to slink into the background of the music landscape.

Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/WireImage

Luis Fonsi

Best 2017 song: "Despacito" ft. Daddy Yankee, Justin Bieber

This proud 39-year-old Puerto Rican has been a presence in the Latin music world for nearly two decades since his debut album “Comenzaré” peaked at No. 11 on Billboard’s Top Latin Album in 1998. But he’d never come close to breaching the global consciousness like he did this year with mega-hit “Despacito,” which became the world’s most streamed song of all time and the most viewed YouTube video ever.

Fonsi’s magnum opus featuring Daddy Yankee perfectly fused Latin and urban rhythms, and got an undeniable boost from the remix version featuring Justin Bieber. In July, it was reported that tourist interest in Fonsi’s native Puerto Rico had increased by 45 percent since the song’s global success. Though that boost was cruelly wiped out by the tragedy of Hurricane Maria, “Despacito” showed that music could make a tangible difference by uniting people on the dance floor.

Photo by Mindy Small via Getty Images


Best 2017 song: "Silence" ft. Khalid

The anonymous producer was already a massive figure in the EDM scene entering 2017, but he smashed into the mainstream this year by collaborating with some of music’s biggest names.

Marshmello matched up with Selena Gomez for “Wolves” and fellow 2017 breakthrough artist Khalid for the platinum certified-record “Silence,” then finished off the year by releasing “Danger” with rap trio Migos for the soundtrack for “Bright,” a Netflix movie coming out later in December.

Marshmello’s ability to craft crowd-pleasing beats spanning pop, trap and other EDM subgenres makes him a unique talent in an industry that’s putting producers in the spotlight more than ever.

Photo by Erika Goldring/WireImage

Portugal. The Man

Best 2017 song: "Feel It Still"

Portugal. The Man churned out seven albums between 2006-2013, with 2013 single “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” being the band’s most successful track -- and it didn't even reach the Top 10 of Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart. The band originally hailing from Alaska then held off four years to release seventh album “Woodstock.” It was worth the wait.

Lead single “Feel It Still” spurred the band to newfound mainstream popularity as one of the biggest rock crossover hits in recent memory. It spent 20 weeks at No. 1 on the Alternative Songs chart, becoming the first song in the airplay chart’s 29-year history to do so.

Guitarist Kyle O’Quin lamented that “rock is f------ dying” in a recent interview with The Independent, and the chorus of “Feel It Still” pokes fun at the uppity hipster vibe that can pervade indie rock (“I’m a rebel just for kicks now”) -- but Portugal. The Man proved the right rock song can still make a massive impact in 2017.

(Photo by Desiree Navarro/WireImage)


Best 2017 song: "The Weekend"

SZA’s music combines R&B, soul, hip-hop, pop and chillwave. That airy mixture carried her debut album “Ctrl” to widespread critical acclaim, with a pair of platinum singles (“The Weekend” and “Love Galore,” featuring rapper Travis Scott) to boot. Time Magazine ranked “Ctrl” as its best album of 2017, and the LP also helped SZA garner five Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Album.

The 27-year-old has spoken out against being limited to genres typically associated with solo African-American artists, however -- she was featured on Maroon 5’s single “What Lovers Do” in August, and she also announced this year that she’s working on a joint album with producer Mark Ronson and alternative rock band Tame Impala. The sky seems to be the limit for this sultry-sounding star on the rise.

(Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)


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