Korina Lopez, USA TODAY
USA TODAY's weekly On the Verge writers Brian Mansfield and Korina Lopez aim to predict which artists and bands will break into the mainstream. Sometimes they're right; sometimes they're wrong. But focusing on the positive, here's a look back at 2012's most impressive success stories, all profiled in On the Verge.
Less than two years ago, the five members of One Direction were headed back to a life of anonymity after being kicked off the British X Factor. To the joy of millions, yes, millions (they've sold 15 million records), of tweens around the world, they went from soloists to a full band, and soon became a force of nature in pop music. MTV just named 1D artist of the year, and the group won three VMAs and three Teen's Choice awards. Both the band's 2012 and 2013 tours sold out, and they were featured among Barbara Walters' 10 Most Fascinating People of 2012. The guys made history when single What Makes You Beautiful became the highest debut on Billboard's Hot 100 for a U.K. group, beating the record set by the Spice Girls in 1997.
Who's who? There's Niall Horan, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik and Liam Payne. They're all cute. They all have cool gravity-defying, swirly hairdos. Could they be the next Justin Bieber? It's possible. After all, there are five of them and just one of him.
In one year, Wally De Backer has gone from someone no one knew to someone everyone knows. Pronounced Got-ee-yay, the Belgian-Australian is the man behind the irresistibly catchy Someone That I Used To Know, off his third album, Making Mirrors. Some pessimists call him a one-hit wonder, and he's OK with that. "Maybe it's going to have some aspect of a one-hit wonder to a lot of people -- cursory music listeners or people who have never heard what I've done in the last seven or eight years. And probably rightly so," he told USA TODAY.
Now that De Backer is up for record of the year and best pop duo/group performance at the Grammy Awards, his fame may not be so fleeting. Even if De Backer doesn't bring home any trophies, he'll always have this: Somebody That I Used to Know has sold 6.7 million downloads, putting it on track to be 2012's top-selling song, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The band's moniker puts a whole new meaning to the word. After tossing around names like "Ice Cream," the trio agreed that Fun would work. But after doing a Google search, they realized that the name needed a little tweaking. "When you search on 'Fun,' you get go-karts and porn," frontman Nate Ruess told USA TODAY. "And there was a Swedish death metal band (with) the same name. So we added a period and lowercased the f."
Since sophomore album Some Nights was released in February, the group has surged into the mainstream with hits Some Nights and We Are Young featuring Janelle Monae. Sure, some critics (including USA TODAY's) say the album is overrated, but with six Grammy nominations, including the top four categories, the band just might have the last laugh.
Kendrick Lamar, also known by his rapper name K-Dot in his hometown of Los Angeles, is one of those Cinderella success stories. In Compton, he grew up surrounded by gang activity. Determined to be the "good kid" in a "mad city" (hence the album name, good kid, m.A.A.d city ), Lamar's single-minded focus paid off. At this year's BET Hip-Hop Awards, he was named lyricist of the year. The album, released in October, peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's album chart behind Taylor Swift's Red. His album met with critical raves and just passed the 500,000 sales mark.
But for him, one of the most memorable moments of his career so far was during a 2011 concert in L.A., where rap royalty Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Game dubbed him "the new King of the West Coast."
"It was a big surprise," he told USA TODAY. "It was exciting that all that hard work and dedication paid off. That night represented all the days I was locked in a studio. All the time I had to sacrifice. All the time my family sacrificed. That was not just my moment, but their moment, too."
His success story isn't exactly the kind that parents want their kids to know. When he was 16, the British singer dropped out of school and played anywhere he could, traveling the U.K. with just his backpack and guitar. In 2009 alone, he played 300 gigs.
Luckily for his fans, and the royal family, Sheeran's ambition has made him a star. "I hear that one of the royal grandkids is a fan of mine," he told USA TODAY. That connection landed him a gig to play alongside Elton John, Jay-Z and Stevie Wonder at Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee this year. With two Brit Awards to his name and his album, + , a platinum hit in the U.K., the red-haired artist has his sights set on something else. "My goal for 2012 is to make it in America," he says. And that he has: Single The A Team is No.. 12 on USA TODAY's top 40 airplay chart and No. 10 on the Hot AC chart. He co-wrote and recorded Taylor Swift's Everything Has Changed and will guest on her Red tour, starting in March.
The Denver-based trio of Wes Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites and Neyla Pekarek honed its brand of wistful Americana after years of DIY tours, crashing on people's couches and playing open-mike nights. The result: a hit song (the sweet, jangly Ho Hey) and two Grammy nominations, one for best new artist and the other for Americana album. "It's pretty surreal," lead singer Schultz told USA TODAY. "We've had the benefit of failure for about seven years, so when something finally hits, it feels weird. We don't know what to make of it, given all the time we spent where no one heard of us. Fans are a new venture for us."