From rising stars like Rihanna and Feist to reigning hitmakers Kanye and Justin to icons like Prince and Porter Wagoner, see whose praises we're singing this year


Caribbean Queen

WHY HER She’s been a fledgling pop star for the past two years, but now, with her third disc shaping up to be a career maker, 19-year-old Rihanna could hit a whole new level of celebrity. On June 13, Good Girl Gone Bad entered Billboard‘s top 200 chart at No. 2. Two weeks earlier, the ubiquitous first single, ”Umbrella,” topped the Hot 100, Pop 100, and Hot Digital Songs charts — and set a record for digital downloads in a debut week.

BABY STEPS Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty, the singer grew up working-class on the lush Caribbean island of Barbados. Though painfully shy, Rihanna formed a girl group with two of her classmates in her early teens. They didn’t have a name or any material, but the trio landed an audition with veteran music producer Evan Rogers (Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Milian) in 2004. ”The minute Rihanna walked into the room, it was like the other two girls didn’t exist,” says Rogers. ”She carried herself like a star even when she was 15.” In January 2005, Rogers began shopping Rihanna’s four-song demo, which included what would become her first No. 1 hit, ”Pon de Replay.” Within weeks she inked a deal with Def Jam, which fast-tracked the August release of her debut CD, Music of the Sun. Eight months later, the label rushed out her second disc, 2006’s A Girl Like Me. Propelled by the Soft Cell-sampling smash ”SOS,” the album sold more than one million copies.

TAKING CONTROL With songwriting contributions from Justin Timberlake and Ne-Yo and tracks produced by Timbaland, Tricky Stewart, and Rogers and production teammate Carl Sturken, Rihanna’s Good Girl is a daring emancipation proclamation, fusing ’80s pop and rock with dancehall, hip-hop, and R&B. ”She’s a young artist stepping into the adult world,” says Timberlake, who penned the lovesick ballad ”Rehab.” ”To me, that song is the bridge for her to be accepted as an adult in the music industry.” Def Jam president and CEO Shawn ”Jay-Z” Carter likens the album to Janet Jackson’s 1986 career-defining masterpiece, Control. ”She’s found her voice,” he says. ”That’s the best thing for any label — to have an artist step in and take control of their own career. She’s left the nest.”

NEXT? Rogers is confident that his protégée will continue to ”represent herself with class,” but Jay-Z is all too familiar with the pitfalls of fame and fortune. ”The biggest advice I can give her is to keep her circle tight,” he says. ”She can’t control people’s opinion of her records or what’s being said on the blogs…. But if she has the proper friends, she won’t get caught up in the wildchild lifestyle. They will bring her back and be like, ‘You might wanna pull your skirt down.”’

HOW ”BAD” DO YOU WANT IT? Arriving for an appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in early June, Rihanna is dressed in black from head to toe, looking every part the Hollywood bad girl in skinny jeans, a fitted T-shirt, and towering Christian Louboutin stilettos. But the cherry on top of Rihanna’s sartorial sundae is her sleek asymmetrical haircut, which is dyed jet black, of course. It’s a symbolic reflection of her newfound autonomy. ”I always wanted to cut it,” she says, ”but I was never allowed. Now I don’t give a damn. I think every teenager has a point in their life when they go into their own world and shut out everybody’s opinion. That’s what I’m doing.” Consider it done.

This was excerpted from the EW 100 special issue. Click here for Margeaux Watson’s full profile of Rihanna