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30. Beach House Dreamy Indie Duo
Ages Victoria Legrand is 30; Alex Scally is 29.
Why we love them With little more than an organ, a slide guitar, and Legrand's voice, the two-piece dream-pop band wraps listeners in lush, expansive down comforters of sound. ''These days there's so much stuff getting in the way of actual music listening, of taking something into yourself,'' laments guitarist Scally. ''And that's the most pleasurable thing in the world. We hope people have that experience again.''
What's next The duo's fourth album Bloom, recorded on a ranch in El Paso, is due May 15. After that, Scally says they aim to tour for the rest of the year. ''Live shows are the realest things that can happen anymore. It's a moment — no matter how many pictures you take, it's not the same as being there.''
Essential tracks ''Myth,'' ''D.A.R.L.I.N.G.,'' ''Zebra''
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29. Kimbra Quirky Chanteuse
Hometown Hamilton, New Zealand
Why we love her So far you may know her only as the girl vocalist on Gotye's ''Somebody That I Used to Know.'' But last year's winner of the Best New Female prize at Australia's equivalent of the Grammys is a serious (and seriously charming) artist in her own right. Burbling raptures like ''Settle Down'' and ''Cameo Lover'' are pop songs tweaked into fresh forms. ''It's exciting for me to be a part of this movement where stuff with a greater lyrical depth and musical complexity is rising to the top,'' she tells EW. ''There are many elements of life that are deeply sad, and I think people long to connect with that emotion more in their day-to-day life.''
What's next Her Down Under debut, Vows, gets a U.S. release on May 22.
Essential tracks ''Cameo Lover,'' ''Two Way Street,'' ''Settle Down''
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28. Calvin Harris Dance-Floor Director
Hometown Dumfries, Scotland
Why we love him The producer and artist, already a major star in Europe, crams an entire wild Saturday night into each one of his ecstatic, synth-tastic dance jams. Last year he produced Rihanna's international smash ''We Found Love,'' which hit No. 1 everywhere from South Africa to Finland. Now he's climbing the Hot 100 with his own solo club banger ''Feel So Close,'' and he just teamed up with Ne-Yo to remix ''Let's Go,'' the Euro-disco thumper that's already inspired dance-music fans across America to Google the phrase ''What's that song in the Pepsi Max crowd-surfing commercial?''
What's next His still-untitled third solo album is due later this year. Until then, he's producing tracks for the likes of Kelly Rowland, Leona Lewis, and Scissor Sisters.
Essential tracks ''Bounce,'' ''Feel So Close,'' ''Let's Go''
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27. Gotye Awesome Aussie
Hometown Melbourne, Australia ?
Why we love him The Belgian-born singer's haunting relationship postmortem ''Somebody That I Used to Know'' — and its body-painted PG-13 video — has already topped nearly as many charts as there are countries in the European Union. And the fact that he scratches our secret Sting- and Peter Gabriel-loving itch doesn't hurt.
What's Next He'll be the musical guest on Saturday Night Live April 14, and ''Somebody'' is slated to be covered in an upcoming episode of Glee. The song is still holding strong on the Billboard Hot 100, so he's got some time to figure out how to stretch his success further while he continues his U.S. tour through the end of this month.
Essential tracks ''Somebody That I Used to Know,'' ''Easy Way Out,'' ''Eyes Wide Open''
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26. Beyoncé R&B Goddess
Why we love her As a pop diva — see last year's sparkling R&B opus 4 — actress, and newly minted power mom, she's a triple threat, marching her way to world domination in sparkly heels. No wonder she counts everyone from Adele (a self-confessed Destiny's Child follower since age 11) to Miranda Lambert (''I will always buy every record she makes,'' she told EW) as a fan.
What's next She's already working on her fifth studio album, and is attached to star in Clint Eastwood's update of A Star Is Born. (Rumor has it she's recording for the soundtrack, too.) And she'll perform her first post-baby concerts over Memorial Day weekend in Atlantic City.
Essential tracks ''Crazy in Love,'' ''Countdown,'' ''Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)''
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25. Florence + the Machine Alt-pop Siren
Why we love her Glorious banshee Florence Welch had us at 2009's Lungs, and its signature anthem ''Dog Days Are Over.'' Now she's won us again with the recent Ceremonials.
What's next A U.S. tour through July; a song on June's Snow White and the Huntsman soundtrack; and a recent MTV Unplugged special airing, accompanied by a live album. ''We taped it in a super-old synagogue in New York,'' Welch tells EW, ''and Kanye came and sat literally in the front row. It was amazing to see one of your idols sitting right in front of you.''
Essential Tracks ''Shake It Out,'' ''Dog Days Are Over,'' ''Cosmic Love''
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24. Lady Gaga Mother Monster
Hometown New York City
Why we love her The songs, the videos, the today-a-wombat-tomorrow-a-helicopter headgear?those are all great, but Gaga's singular attribute is her willingness to let everything play out in public, which sometimes means alienating some listeners. ''Once you start to get bigger,'' she told EW in 2009, ''people around you don't know how to filter what you began as into something larger. It takes time, and it takes originality. It takes uncertainty and trusting in your gift. That's sort of my biggest achievement, and something that I really perceive as what will keep me around for a long time in the future.''
What's next She's been lying relatively low, but if even half the rumors about the upcoming Born This Way Ball world tour are true, expect a fittingly bombastic return to form.
Essential Tracks ''Poker Face,'' ''Bad Romance,'' ''The Edge of Glory''
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23. Bruce Springsteen Forever the Boss
Hometown Freehold, N.J. (like you really had to ask)
Why we love him After six-plus decades, the Boss still seems to wake up every day looking to change and challenge the world. That restlessness has kept him vital — see his impassioned new album, Wrecking Ball — and engaged. ''When I look out from my stage these days,'' he told a rapt crowd at his keynote address at this year's South by Southwest music festival, ''I look into the eyes of three generations of people. And still, popular music continues to provide its primary function as youth music, as a joyous argument starter.'' He dares you not to be stirred.
What's next He's in the midst of touring with his freshly reconstituted E Street Band, featuring the late Clarence Clemons' nephew Jake on sax.
Essential tracks ''Thunder Road,'' ''Born to Run,'' ''The Rising''
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22. Coldplay Kings of the Road
Ages Chris Martin is 35; Will Champion is 33; Jonny Buckland and Guy Berryman are 34.
Why we love them As of 2011's Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay may have finally become a better U2 than U2. At the very least, they've become a looser, more colorful Coldplay, slathering on synths and sing-along choruses and reaching for purer pop experiments like the Rihanna-assisted ''Princess of China.'' Martin has also grown steadily more flexible as a performer — in more ways than one. ''The way I move on stage couldn't really be described as beautiful,'' he jokes. ''But it's certainly full of passion.''
What's next A massive international tour, with multiple U.S. dates scattered from late April to mid-August. And we can't lie: We're equally stoked for their Stateside opening acts, including Swedish dance-pop dissident Robyn and stunning U.K. soulstress Emeli Sandé.
Essential tracks ''Clocks,'' ''The Scientist,'' ''Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall''
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21. Azealia Banks Hip-hop Wild Child
Hometown New York City
Why we love her The Harlem-raised high school dropout's gleefully NSFW bass-bomb breakout, ''212,'' has accumulated more than 7 million YouTube views since it first landed online last fall (Kanye and Gwyneth, those two bellwethers of 140-characters-or-less buzz, are both fans). Her talent has already lured both Adele producer Paul Epworth, who helmed the throbbing ''Bambi,'' and cool-kid DJ/beatmaker-to-the-stars Diplo, her collaborator on the caustic, drum-pounding ''F--- Up the Fun.''
What's next Banks is working on her proper debut, Broke With Expensive Taste, pegged for a September release. In the meantime, look for an EP called 1991 (her birth year, if that doesn't make you feel geriatric), due later this month.
Essential tracks ''212,'' ''Bambi,'' ''NEEDSUMLUV''
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20. FUN. Pomp-Rock Breakouts
Ages Nate Ruess is 30; Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost are 28.
Hometown New York City
Why we love them Their strutting, fantastically fist-pumpy single ''We Are Young'' may have taken them to the top of the Hot 100 — the first rock band to do so since Coldplay did it with ''Viva la Vida'' in 2008 — but each member of the trio served time in various nonstarter acts first, lending them a humility and perspective many young stars lack. ''I'm so grateful that I get to enjoy this later on in life,'' frontman Ruess explains. ''After 10 years of being under the national radar, it still feels like it could turn on you at any second.''
What's next Look for the effortlessly hooky title track off their recent sophomore release, Some Nights, to follow in the radio-candy footsteps of ''We Are Young'' soon. (Whether it also lands in a high-profile car commercial and on Glee, as ''Young'' did, remains to be seen.) In the meantime, you can find the band on the road across the U.S. through June, including a stop at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee.
Essential tracks ''We Are Young,'' ''Some Nights,'' ''Why Am I the One''
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19. Jake Owen Nashville Casanova
Hometown Vero Beach, Fla.
Why we love him Traditional country fans may scoff at the drum-machine-driven ''Barefoot Blue Jean Night,'' but the cascading whoas of the chorus helped turn the sun-and-surf-lovin' anthem into a crossover hit — and Owen's first No. 1. His follow-up, ''Alone With You,'' also hit the top of the country charts, proving that we're not the only ones smitten with the impressively maned breakout. (And yeah, it doesn't hurt that he looks like a lost Wilson brother.)
What's next Having toured with Brooks & Dunn, Sugarland, and Keith Urban, Owen is no stranger to rolling with Nashville's A list, but his 2012 gig opening for the Kenny Chesney?Tim McGraw summer doubleheader is a whole other level. ''I've spent the last six years playing anywhere and everywhere,'' he tells EW. ''And I'm going to continue appreciating each day I can grab a guitar and sing.''
Essential tracks ''Barefoot Blue Jean Night,'' ''Alone With You,'' ''Don't Think I Can't Love You''
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18. Kelly Clarkson America's Pop Idol
Hometown Fort Worth
Why we love her She makes her own rules. Recently, the Idol alum jumped ship to the younger, cooler environs of The Voice as a guest mentor, co-wrote a hit for a boy band (One Direction's ''Tell Me a Lie''), and switched teams from pop to country for the Grammys, where she and Jason Aldean performed their soaring crossover ''Don't You Wanna Stay.'' Meanwhile, she managed to knock Adele off the No. 1 perch with ''Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You).'' ''It's a prophetic title,'' Clarkson recently told EW of the song. ''I've been in the industry for a decade now, and I'm a lot smarter about my decisions. I feel stronger overall.''
What's next Now making her second home base in Nashville and regularly covering Shania Twain in concert, Clarkson is aiming to position herself as a country artist, too: She sent a fiddle-and-pedal-steel version of ''Mr. Know It All'' to country radio last week. And this summer she'll serve as a mentor on ABC's new singing competition Duets alongside Lionel Richie, Robin Thicke, and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles.
Essential tracks ''Since U Been Gone,'' ''Already Gone,'' ''Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)''
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17. Fiona Apple Swoony Songstress
Hometown New York City
Why we love her Sure, our 16 years with Fiona have been a rickety roller-coaster ride, but we're willing to put aside all the drama for the music now that she's back with her first release in nearly seven years. From her multiplatinum 1996 debut Tidal to 2005's exquisite but underappreciated Extraordinary Machine, Apple's artistry is never less than enthralling.
What's next She's already in the midst of a(nother) comeback year: Her fourth full-length, The Idler Wheel... — yes, the full title is actually 23 words long; did you expect anything less? — is set to reach eager listeners this June. She's already given fans a taste of what's to come with a handful of sold-out, rapturously received shows this spring, and her performance at New York's Governors Ball Music Festival in June will surely be an alfresco Fiona moment to remember.
Essential tracks ''Criminal,'' ''Parting Gift,'' ''Extraordinary Machine''
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16. A$AP Rocky Mixtape Prodigy
Hometown New York City
Why we love him A self-proclaimed ''weirdo,'' the Harlem upstart jumped to the forefront of rap's mixtape renaissance with his rightfully acclaimed LiveLoveA$AP. The no-filler tape combines Southern production, New York street cred, and Rocky's own refreshingly sober worldview. ''I ain't talkin' 'bout no money, I ain't talkin' 'bout no car / Talkin' 'bout no diamonds 'cause that s--- is a facade / Times is really hard,'' he intones on his loping viral hit ''Wassup.''
? What's next He's secured a major-label deal on the strength of early viral hits, and he's aiming to release a deluxe edition of LiveLoveA$AP titled Long Live A$AP this summer. He'll release a proper studio album later this year. His crew A$AP Mob (collectives are the other inescapable thing in rap right now) is also slated to release another mix tape soon.
Essential tracks ''Wassup,'' ''Peso,'' ''New York ?Bittersweet Symphony''
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15. The Civil Wars Americana All-Stars
Ages Joy Williams is 29; John Paul White is 32.
Hometowns Williams grew up in Santa Cruz, Calif., and White in Muscle Shoals, Ala.; they met in Nashville.
Why we love them The duo (they're only a couple professionally; both are married to other people) has opened for Adele during her North American tour and collaborated with Taylor Swift on the Hunger Games anthem ''Safe & Sound,'' but they're also a top-notch act in their own right. Their gorgeously harmonized debut, Barton Hollow, has won wide acclaim, but it's on stage that the newly minted Grammy winners truly shine.
What's next After a lengthy U.S. tour, they're headed for Europe this fall. ''The ripple effect has started to take place overseas,'' says Williams, ''so over the next couple of months, that's our focus.'' Also on her docket? A baby! Williams will welcome her first child with husband Nate Yetton in June.
Essential tracks ''Barton Hollow,'' ''Poison & Wine,'' ''I've Got This Friend''
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14. Jay-Z CEO of Rhyme
Why we love him In a notoriously fickle industry, Shawn Carter has held on to his mantle as one of hip-hop's greatest for nearly two decades. And judging by how hard he still hustles — see last year's massive Kanye collab, a recent headlining charity gig at New York City's venerated Carnegie Hall, and guest spots on tracks for friends like Rihanna — he's not planning to yield the field anytime soon. Plus, Hova has already proved he's the world's ultimate Cool Dad by putting the coos of Blue Ivy, his new daughter with wife Beyoncé (No. 26), in a song just two days after her birth.
What's next Jay has allegedly been working on his Blueprint IV album for some time now, and he's also hinted at reconvening with buddy Kanye for a Watch the Throne sequel. In the meantime, the pair will play multiple dates in Europe through June.
Essential tracks ''Otis,'' ''99 Problems,'' ''Big Pimpin' ''
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13. Kanye West Mad Genius
Why we love him Never content to leave an envelope unpushed, 'Ye continually takes artistic risks in a mainstream medium. Witness the way he drops out-there opuses (2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) and commercial monsters (last year?s luxury-rap ?Jay-Z collab Watch the Throne) with equal aplomb. ''He set up this big studio in Hawaii,'' Bon Iver's Justin Vernon told EW of working with West on MBDTF, ''and we never spent time anywhere but there. I never went out to a club. We were all there working; Kanye slept on the couch every day. Anytime you watch somebody who's that talented, you learn how to use your own talent.''
What's next He and Jay-Z will wrap their international Throne tour in June, and West is also producing the next release for his own label imprint G.O.O.D. (Getting Out Our Dreams) Music — featuring acts like Kid Cudi and Common from its heavy-hitting roster.
Essential tracks ''Jesus Walks,'' ''Gold Digger,'' ''All of the Lights''
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12. Foo Fighters Hard Rock Royalty
Ages Dave Grohl and Nate Mendel are 43, Taylor Hawkins and Chris Shiflett are 40, and Pat Smear is 52.
Hometown Formed in Seattle, now based in L.A.
Why we love them In a musical landscape dominated by pantsless pop stars and studio dazzle, the Foos continue to raise their analog flag and fly it high. Last year's Wasting Light, their seventh album, took the band back to basics — ?and back to the garage: Recorded in a cleared-out, retrofitted car park in Grohl's L.A. home, Light went on to win them a remarkable four Grammy awards in February. Not bad use of a room that, as Grohl joked to EW, was mainly a storage space for ''a couple of kids' bikes and some old luggage...there's not even a dartboard in there.''
What's next Grohl is working on a documentary called Sound City, about the legendary, now-shuttered L.A. studio where some of music's most iconic artists recorded, including his old band (Nirvana — ?you might be familiar?).
Essential tracks ''Everlong,'' ''Best of You,'' ''Walk''
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11. Bruno Mars Pop-Soul Showman
Why we love him Mars has been on stage since age 3, and it shows: He's an unflaggingly dynamic performer, whether he's strutting like James Brown in gold lamé at this year's Grammys or paying sweet tribute to Amy Winehouse at the 2011 VMAs. And he's a consistently impressive songwriter (he co-penned a little tune for Cee Lo Green called ''F--- You,'' among others). But it's that supple, buttery voice that keeps us coming back. ''We've seen a tiny sliver of what he has to offer,'' says collaborator Claude Kelly, who co-wrote Mars' international smash ''Grenade.'' ''In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Billy Joel. He just has his hand in so many styles: It's pop, it's jazz, it's blues. He's the real deal.''
What's next He's hard at work on his second album.
Essential tracks ''Grenade,'' ''Nothin' on You,'' ''It Will Rain''
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10. Rihanna Dance-Pop Muse
Hometown Bridgetown, Barbados
Why we love her Hardly a week goes by when RiRi isn't sending a new hit up the charts. In fact, she's probably doing it at this very moment. Shhhh — hear that? That's the sound of her breaking another record.
What's next Look for her (literally) splashy big-screen acting debut in Peter Berg's Battleship, out May 18 (naturally, she plays an alien-fighting weapons specialist). But mostly, she's busy collaborating with a gold-plated list of the best pop producers and writers in the business, from Calvin Harris (No. 28), who helmed her recent No. 1 smash ''We Found Love,'' to ''Umbrella''' maestros The-Dream and Tricky Stewart. ''Every week we touch base on what we want to do,'' The-Dream tells EW of his working relationship with the star. ''I don't want to spill the beans, but there's never a lull time when we're not doing anything.''
Essential tracks ''We Found Love,'' ''Birthday Cake,'' ''Umbrella''
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9. Mumford & Sons Platinum Folkies
Ages Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, and Winston Marshall are 25; Ted Dwane is 27.
Why we love them Rarely has a band whose name sounds like an olden-times barbershop and whose sound is built on defiantly uncommercial genres (expletive-laden folk, acoustic rock) and instruments (banjo, mandolin) been so...accessible. Just don't expect them to brag about it: ''Even in the U.K., where we're from, we don't know why people decided to buy our record,'' multi-instrumentalist Lovett insists of their 2010 breakout, Sigh No More. ''It's amazing, really.''
What's next They're playing festivals now and hope to have their much-anticipated second album out later this year. The documentary Big Easy Express, a chronicle of the America-by-locomotive concert dates they headlined last year, just won an Audience Award at the SXSW film festival.
Essential tracks ''Little Lion Man,'' ''The Cave,'' ''Ghosts That We Knew''
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8. Nicki Minaj Radical Raptress
Why we love her Beneath the wigs, the costumes, and a Sybil case study's worth of alter egos is, simply, a born entertainer. Minaj's star rose quickly from mix tapes and guest spots to her 2010 debut Pink Friday; by 2011, she had officially become rap's first female megastar to emerge in more than a decade, and perhaps the first one to ever fully cross over into the pop pantheon. Her chaotic, Catholic Church-baiting performance at this year's Grammys may have been a rare misstep, but her vocal-whiplash talents and riveting show(wo)manship continue to hold us rapt.
What's next She'll be spending most of this summer touring Europe to support Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. And she and Ricky Martin are currently repping for MAC's Viva Glam AIDS Awareness campaign.
Essential tracks ''Champion,'' ''Super Bass,'' ''Moment 4 Life''
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7. The Black Keys Garage Gods
Ages Dan Auerbach (left) is 32; Patrick Carney is 31.
Hometown Akron, Ohio
Why we love them It's rare that one of the coolest bands also ranks among the most popular. But this bluesy twosome's latest album, El Camino, debuted at No. 2 on the charts and still maintained enough vinyl-collector cred that everyone from Neil Young to the Roots' Questlove cites them as proof that rock & roll still matters. But don't worry that stardom has changed them too much: Asked how they celebrated their first Grammy wins, drummer Carney wryly replies, ''I think we stole a bunch of stir straws from the Soho House in L.A.''
What's next They'll spend the summer continuing the first headlining arena tour of their career, which sold out Madison Square Garden in 15 minutes.
Essential tracks ''Strange Times,'' ''Tighten Up,'' ''Lonely Boy''
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6. Jack White Indie MVP
Why we love him After nearly 15 years fronting the most dependably dynamic duo in rock, White retired the White Stripes in 2011 and moved full-time into indie moguldom: His Third Man Records headquarters, located in his new home base of Nashville, serves as a performance venue, recording studio, and unofficial nexus of the city's underground creative scene. Drop by on a good day and you might catch him producing material for '50s rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson or legendary pussycat fan Tom Jones, hosting an impromptu live show, or even loading up the taxi-yellow Third Man Rolling Record Store truck with fresh-pressed vinyl.
What's next White is prepping for the April 24 release of Blunderbuss, his first(!) solo album.
Essential tracks ''Fell in Love With a Girl,'' ''Seven Nation Army,'' ''Love Interruption''
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5. Katy Perry Bubblegum Queen
Hometown Santa Barbara
Why we love her The radio-dominating concoctions of her 2010 juggernaut Teenage Dream, which yielded a chart-boggling five No. 1 hits, are pure pop frosting. But the thing that sets Perry apart from her similarly sugary contemporaries is her complete skill set. ''She's an incredible artist because she's the total package,'' says producer and frequent collaborator Dr. Luke. ''She's a great writer, she has a great vision, she puts on a great live show, and she's got the voice.'' That, and the recently divorced singer's goofball humor and heart-on-sleeve humility, which shine through both on record and in person.
What's next Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection, an expanded collection, came out recently, and this summer will see the theatrical release of the 3-D concert movie Katy Perry: Part of Me.
Essential tracks ''Teenage Dream,'' ''Hot N Cold,'' ''California Gurls''
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4. Carrie Underwood Country Belle
Hometown Checotah, Okla.
Why we love her The country bombshell kicked off her career as a wide-eyed American Idol winner back in 2005, but over the years, she's evolved into a versatile, self-assured crossover star capable of belting out soaring ballads (''So Small'') and done-me-wrong barn burners (how many cars have been gleefully keyed to ''Before He Cheats''?) with equal, rafters-reaching verve.
What's next Her upcoming fourth album, Blown Away, the follow-up to 2009's multiplatinum Play On, is due to hit stores May 1; in the meantime, ''Good Girl'' has already become her fastest-selling single to date. ''I got to take a little more time making this album and I feel like I'm really ready for it to be out there,'' she tells EW. ''It's like the beginning of a relationship — everything is new and exciting.'' Also ahead: summer dates at stadiums, fairs, and festivals, and a full-blown fall tour.
Essential tracks ''Before He Cheats,'' ''Undo It,'' ''Good Girl''
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3. Drake Hip-hop Heartbreaker
Why we love him Because he's not afraid to lift the curtain on his life in a genre generally known for treating emotional vulnerability like kryptonite. The Degrassi star-turned-mega-rapper has built his career on getting personal, peppering his confessional tracks with unfiltered accounts of his relationship to fame, women, and self-doubt. But that's not to say the man lacks swagger; this is the guy, after all, who named his 2010 debut Thank Me Later.
What's next Drizzy's always a team player: He lends his BFF Nicki Minaj (No. 8) an excellent cameo on her latest album, and handpicked underground talents A$AP Rocky (No. 16) and Kendrick Lamar to open for him on tour in Europe this summer. And he recently hinted at a possible posthumous collaboration with the singer Aaliyah — more than 10 years after her death.
Essential tracks ''Marvin's Room,'' ''Headlines,'' ''Best I Ever Had''
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2. Taylor Swift Everygirl Superstar
Hometown Wyomissing, Pa.
Why we love her Ever since Swift's 2006 debut, detractors have predicted her demise — dismissing her as too girlish, too precious, even too pretty to be truly talented. But we have to wonder if those skeptics are actually listening: With every piece of new music, from the sly lyrical kiss-offs of the Grammy-winning ''Mean'' to the nimble sweetness of recent country chart-topper ''Ours,'' Swift proves she's a masterful storyteller, an expert at turning a single moment or emotion into a lush, relatable pop-country postcard.
What's next Since revealing a darker, more stripped-down side with the Hunger Games soundtrack's lead single, ''Safe & Sound,'' Swift continues to show her growth as a songwriter with another Games track soon headed for radio: ''Eyes Open'' — which she describes, in unSwift-y fashion, as a ''haunting, creepy warning.'' Later this year, she plans to release her fourth studio album.
Essential tracks ''You Belong With Me,'' ''Back to December,'' ''Ours''
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1. Adele Undisputed World Champion
Why we love her What's not to love? Yes, she dominated the Grammys and almost single-handedly reversed the music industry's long, slow slide with her massive-selling 2011 sophomore triumph, 21 — a stunning account of heartbreak, loss, and romantic recovery that appealed to everyone from gurgling toddlers to your Sinatra-loving grandma.
What's next After enduring voice-saving surgery on her throat last November and making her triumphant return at the Grammys in February, the singer has the rare luxury of not having to rush: Nearly 60 weeks after its release, 21 has fallen out of the Billboard 200 album chart's top five just once. ''I'm not a brilliant tourer; I don't love it,'' she told EW last year. ''I need to go into the studio, otherwise I'll just explode. But I want to do it on my own.''
Essential tracks ''Rolling in the Deep,'' ''Rumour Has It,'' ''Chasing Pavements''
With additional reporting by Clark Collis and Whitney Pastorek