The world of pop music is both a monarchy and a meritocracy. On the one hand, you have your queens and kings pop royalty who need no last name, artists like Madonna and Rihanna and Beyonce who we will probably always pay attention to, even if they stop dancing or start talking with fake British accents. But even the most established thrones are almost always in jeopardy, at risk of being usurped by hungry up-and-comers who are talented enough or hot enough or just new enough to entrance the audience (kind of like what the old guard once did themselves). Think of it like high school: sure, sure, S-E-N-I-O-R-S, seniors, seniors are the best, the most popular, the most famous. But they're also gonna graduate someday, and the new kids are gonna take over. In the last year or so, the pop world has seen some pretty bold, driven new kids come onto the scene talented, scrappy artists who are either taking a page from their elders (and doing it in a slightly more interesting way) or trying out totally new, game-changing ideas. We present to you: Pop's New Class of 2011. You may not know their names yet, but you will.
Voted: Most Likely to Succeed/Most Likely to End Up Singing for Spare Change in the N.Y.C. Subway System (wait she already did that).
Claim to Fame: " Do It Like a Dude," her scathing and yet scorching hot takedown of boy posturing in pop culture.
Style: This British up-and-comer is a little bit hip-hop, a little bit rock 'n' roll, a pinch of singer-songwriter confessional and a whole lot of pure, unadulterated diva. Think Rihanna crossed with Pink crossed with a drag queen. (In other words, see below.) Her debut shows off killer pipes and a fierce attitude (softened by a sensitive earnestness), and there's that flamboyant, beglittered look she's rocking. In a just world, the kid oughtta make it big.
Role Model: Christina Aguilera.
Voted: Prom queen, but instead of a date, she rolled in deep with a posse of fierce gay queens, all of them decked out in glittery eye shadow and roller skates, and instead of a coronation, they staged a drag production of Xanadu.
Claim to Fame: Glistening, magical wonderlands of electro-pop like "Starry Eyed," the likes of which Europe scoops up with a big old spoon and America usually ignores. BUT thanks to the likes of La Roux and Lady Gaga, she just might make a delicate little splash on this side of the pond.
Style: Well, there are the glistening, magical electro-pop wonderlands, but Ms. Goulding also dabbles in frosty Euro dance pop, mournful alt rock, slightly creepy gothic pop, Elton John covers and even a wee bit of rom-com-soundtrack-ready adult alt. All of it is very, very pretty.
Role Models: Kylie Minogue. La Roux.
Voted: Heartbreaker (with a Heart of Gold)
Claim to Fame: Currently, it's her lushly layered, old-soul sophomore effort 21 (yes, that is also her age) and, especially, the rafters-shaking, revival-ready, brokenhearted kiss-off " Rolling in the Deep." She does, however, also have an equally impressive, critically acclaimed debut (19) under her belt.
Style: You know the kids in high school who spent all their free time digging through dusty record bins and racks of vintage clothes (either in shops or their parents' attics) and ended up coming off like otherworldly time-travelers who were way cooler than you could ever hope to be? That's kind of what Adele's like. Only if those kids also had one of the most resonant, distinctive voices of their generation.
Role Models: Amy Winehouse (well, Amy wishes). Dusty Springfield.
Claim to Fame: His complex, comprehensive debut, All I Want Is You and its sticky, scratchy, soul-drenched title track. Neither of which have exactly made him "famous" yet.
Style: As our own Mosi Reeves put it, Miguel "subverts urban pop with music not normally heard on an R&B record": old-school keyboards, funky drummer beats, organ hooks, a cappella vocalizing. Think contemporary R&B filtered through a '70s lens and an '80s video.
Role Models: Erykah Badu. Raphael Saadiq.
Voted: Shyest/Most Likely to Become a Professional Dominatrix
Claim to Fame: Weirdo, goth-leaning electro-pop like "Zombie" that caught the attention of will.i.am and Perez Hilton, among others. Now signed to Interscope/Cherrytree, she's moved in a distinctly more Gagariffic direction with cuts like "Mirrors" and new single "Wonderland."
Style: Well, let's put it this way: "Wonderland" sounds like a slightly darker "Just Dance" (or maybe a slightly lighter "Disturbia"), and the video features Natalia dressed like an S&M Red Riding Hood, crawling in stiletto boots across the Mad Hatter's table and licking her fingers while messages like "There are no happy endings" flash across the screen. So yeah, it's freaking hot.
Role Models: Um, we're gonna go with Gaga and Rihanna.
Voted: Class Revolutionary
Claim to Fame: She grew up making ends meet by selling jewelry and street performing with her mum. She trained as a trapeze artist and worked as a circus performer. And then she began a music career, impressed Kara Dioguardi enough to get signed to Warner Brothers, and started making music videos involving strange, elaborate headdresses.
Style: Electro-dance both hipsters and pop fans can love.
Role Models: La Roux. Madonna.
Voted: Class Clown
Claim to Fame: The kicky kiss-off "Skinny Genes," which isn't so much ha-ha funny as it is slightly sassy and built around a sort of dumb yet compelling pun.
Style: Quirky, cutesy, retro. Think girl groups, Hairspray, Ruth Brown (minus the voice), a whole lot of Lily Allen (like, we can't believe Lily hasn't been trash-talking her more). She's like the kitschy vintage store of music. I mean, " Pack Up" literally has an entire bridge of bird tweets.
Role Models: Lily Allen. Amy Winehouse (for real this time). Duffy.
Voted: Homecoming queen, but she showed up barefoot, stoned and drenched in red paint, then during the coronation, she staged a performance-art reworking of the pig's-blood scene from Carrie.
Claim to Fame: Being Danish. Making strange, epically pretty electro-pop soundscapes like " Sun of a Gun."
Style: As our own Stephanie Benson put it, the Nordic beauty is "like half fembot, half hippie chick" who lures you into her electro pop wonder world with shiny drum machines, crystal coos and heavy beats. Kind of like if Natalie Portman's multiple personalities and hallucinations from Black Swan formed a '60s girl group.
Role Models: ABBA. Robyn. Nico.
Claim to Fame: Providing hot songs (she cowrote, for instance, Eminem and Rihanna's "Love the Way You Lie") and cool hooks ( Diddy's "Coming Home," Lupe Fiasco's "Words I Never Said," Dr. Dre and Eminem's "I Need a Doctor") for people who are (so far) more famous than she is.
Style: Well, beyond winsome, wistful vocals that lend any hip-hop cut depth and a female presence, we don't really know yet. But we're excited to find out what she can do on her own! Role Models: Ke$ha. Bruno Mars. Nicki Minaj. (Not aesthetically, but in terms of going from behind the scenes and on the side to front and center.)
Voted: The Coolest Frosh
Claim to Fame: Haven't you heard? She whips her hair back and forth, she whips her hair back and forth, she whips her hair back and forth. Also, she's a " 21st Century Girl."
Style: Tween swagger that's fiercer than anything you'll ever serve. Worship. Submit. Whip your hair.
Role Models: Mom. Dad. Bro. Lil Mama. Roxanne Shante. Janet Jackson.
Voted: Most Likely to Get "Mean Girled" in the Hallways and then have the last laugh when the bullies flunk out.
Claim to Fame: Being publicly skewered for the terrible (though, frankly, not as terrible as people like to claim. Have you listened to some of the "real" pop stars lately?!) vanity song (and video) "Friday" and making fat bank off the infamy.
Style: Hmmm ...
Role Model: Um, Vanilla Ice maybe? Heidi Montag.