Everyone knows Adele and Katy Perry crushed the music game this year, with some help from Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga and big names like Jay-Z, Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa. Oh, and there were all those “Now That’s What I Call Glee” albums. Even your mom knows that, and she only listens to Michael Bublé. (Not hatin’, just sayin’.) But what about those underrated musicians who quietly put out albums so good that we practically fell to our knees and turned us into freaking EVANGELISTS? Why did some of our favorite artists and albums get slept on, if we’re talking charts and streams and sales and all of those pieces of mainstream music’s equation? We were all over these artists. You were too, and so was the internet. So why weren’t these artists bigger? We honestly have no idea. (I don’t know whether to shake you or just SMDH.) So in honor of those talents and treasures, we here at Buzzworthy gathered up some of our favorite most overlooked artists of 2011. Fortunately there are still two weeks left in the year so you familiarize yourself with these hidden gems so you can at least be civil and lie when someone asks if you were into Anna Calvi or Nicola Roberts this year. You’re welcome.
Active Child: Pat Grossi’s Active Child project showcases his classical vocal training. He performed in the Philadelphia Boys Choir, and that’s evident in his spine-tingly, soulful falsetto that serves as the backbone for his ethereal You Are All I See full-length debut album. And while his lyrics reveal more with earthly yearnings, his voice points to the skies. Coupled with harp melodies, stuttery rhythms and electronic blips and bleeps — “Diamond Heart” is a perfect example — the luscious soundscape buoys straight heavenward. — Althea Legaspi
Allen Stone: You have to wonder after hearing Allen Stone‘s 24-year-old voice what exactly it was about growing up in the backwoods of Washington that made him so damn emotional. His self-titled sophomore album dropped (and instantly charted) in October, and his direct and confessional lyrics — listen to “Sleep” THIS SECOND — combined with his traditional ’70s soul sound (influenced by a childhood listening to Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin) makes us think he was born 40 years too late (and should have been signed to Stax). On second thought, that’s our generation’s gain. No offense, Justin Timberlake, but if you don’t get on that music thing fast, you’re gonna wake up one morning and find yourself replaced, I sweartahGOD. — Nicole James
Anna Calvi: OH MY GOD, America. You are making me SO sad right now! England gets it. Why don’t you? Seriously, WHAT is wrong with EVERY SINGLE PERSON who hasn’t yet listened to Anna Calvi? And if you did listen, particularly to “Suzanne And I” or “Blackout” but don’t yet worship at her altar, what is DOUBLY wrong with you? OK, setting aside histrionics for superlatives, Anna Calvi’s eponymous debut was easily one of the most fascinating releases of 2011. It landed her on the short list for a Barclaycard Mercury Prize Album of the Year award (which went to PJ Harvey, but STILL). She sounds like Lykke Li and Jenny Toomey on six pots of coffee and packs more theatrics than three Lady Gaga shows combined. But in a good way. She just released a cover of TV On The Radio’s “Wolf Like Me,” so go listen. I’m holding you personally accountable if you don’t. — Tamar Anitai
ARMS: Our favorite rockers named for an appendage have risen from the ashes of past indie greats Harlem Shakes (miss you) with Summer Skills, their long-awaited follow-up to 2009’s Kids Aflame. It’s a catchy, high-energy album about doomed romance and a miserable summer — we wish we’d had it back in our mega-awkward sleepaway camp days. Just try not to get lost in “Heat And Hot Water,” which they generously gave away for free! If life were fair, they’d be as popular as Death Cab For Cutie or Vampire Weekend, so catch ‘em now before their tickets cost more than your phone bill. — David Greenwald
Check out more of Buzzworthy’s Most Criminally Overlooked Artists of 2011 after the jump!
Austra: Austra singer Kate Stelmanis weaves an otherworldly vibe with her operatic (classically trained, btw) vibrato voice against an electro backdrop on debut album, Feel It Break. There’s a gothic undertow on songs such as the aptly named “Spellwork” and the industrial-tinged “Beat And The Pulse,” but their danceable drive and palpable emotive choruses inject some warmth into their pleasingly haunting iciness, like the stunning “Lose It.” At a recent show the band was backlit, adding intensity and drama to their dark, shimmery world. — Althea Legaspi
Big Troubles: Big Troubles play gooey, gushing guitar pop that makes us want to head for the beach with an ice cream cone in one hand and a relatively safe-seeming person who asked us out via Twitter in the other. (Are we the only ones who do that?) New album Romantic Comedy, particularly the sunny, shimmering “She Smiles For Pictures,” recall the band’s Slumberland label mates The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart as well as ’90s underground heroes like the Field Mice and Tiger Trap, but we think the quartet will be causing trouble themselves for years to come. Also: Dudes have awesome hair! Not that I’m jealous or anything. — David Greenwald
Darren Hayes: Darren Hayes is best-known in the States as one half of amazing millennial pop duo Savage Garden, but truly (not to mention madly and deeply), his solo work since the group split a decade ago has been magnificent, especially his searingly brilliant electro-gloom magnum opus of an album, The Tension And The Spark, back in 2004. But this year, Darren’s usually-sprawling work felt more restrained and accordingly more brilliant than ever with new album Secret Codes and Battleships, bringing soaring melodies and wrenchingly beautiful lyrical turns — especially in “Bloodstained Heart,” which is possibly the best song of his illustrious — though perpetually underrated — career. — Sam Lansky
EMA: Erika M. Anderson, who performs under her initials, dropped her Past Life Martyred Saints debut this year, and it smacked harder than her pleading chorus lament on “Marked.” From the sprawling epic build of “Grey Ship” to the spitfire spoken-word-like rant of “California,” where she gives her adopted home state a kiss-off from the word “f***,” her emotions are palpable and evocative. With her succinct lyrics, smart melodies and from-whispering-to-shredding voice, full of vulnerability and venom with equal aplomb, EMA’s PLMS is one of the best debuts and albums of 2011. — Althea Legaspi
Gold Panda: Even though U.K. electronic producer and solo artist Gold Panda’s (his real name’s Derwin Schlecker) debut album, Lucky Shiner was released in late 2010, it should have carried you all the way through 2011 without losing an ounce of steam. This is beat-driven electronic music, but with heart and stinging melancholy. While the album was critically acclaimed by indie outlets all over the internet and his Marriage EP and DJ Kicks compilation were ambitious, they only left us wanting more and left us wondering why the world hasn’t caught on to his plugged-in perfection. — Nicole James
Icona Pop: If you listened to Swedish pop songcrafters/ DJ/ mashup duo Caroline Hjelt & Aino Jawo, best known as Icona Pop, this year and you didn’t instantly fall in love with them, then I’m personally seeing to it that you receive a lump of coal for Christmas. And one for January too. They reference La Roux and The Knife, toured with Oh Land (makes sense) and released their Nights Like This EP in October, and the title track feels like being born forever young. If their version of Chiddy Bang’s “Manners” or their “Nights Like Bonita” Madonna mashup don’t convince you these girls make perfect dance pop, then get your hearing checked. Actually, get your taste checked. — Tamar Anitai
Jessie And The Toy Boys: Armed with a warbling bubblegum-coated voice and fierce, fresh ’80’s-gone-electro beats that would have Gwen Stefani gagging with delight, Jessie And The Toy Boys is by far one of the most exciting new under-the-radar pop acts on the scene. And we’re not the only one’s who noticed: She’s already had a whirlwind adventure after opening for Britney Spears on the “Femme Fatale” tour. While her dizzyingly delicious dance single “Push It,” featuring Yelawolf, made moderate waves on the charts, it never really lifted off the way it should have for the up-and-coming pop princess. But don’t worry: By this time next year, the sassy singer’s going to be headlining her own shows when she unleashes her full-length debut. — Brad Stern
Melanie Fiona: Melanie Fiona generated a ton of buzz with her 2009 debut, The Bridge, and its smash single “It Kills Me,” which topped the R&B charts and earned the Canadian-born chanteuse a Grammy nomination and a slot opening for Kanye West on his European tour. But things have gone inexplicably quiet on the hype front, despite her tracks doing the seemingly impossible and actually improving in quality: If any song deserves accolades, it’s her most recent single, “4AM,” a slow-burning jam that sees Melanie totally dragging her no-good, cheatin’ man through the mud over a pulsating, minimalist beat. Sexy, sultry, and savage: Just the way I like it. — Sam Lansky
Minks: If The Cure, leather jackets, greasy hair, model-gorgeous backup singers and songs about cemeteries are your thing, Minks should’ve been all over your playlists this year. The Brooklyn band records for Captured Tracks, the coolest label in the borough, and dropped a debut full-length way back in January. Tracks like “Out Of Tune” opt for oddball experimentation, but when the band goes full New Wave on “Funeral Song” and “Cemetery Rain,” they sound so good they’d make Robert Smith blush. — David Greenwald
Nicola Roberts: Nicola Roberts is the closest thing we have to Gwen Stefani (the voice) circa 2004. The former Girls Aloud member slayed me when I heard “Beat Of My Drum,” which felt like a “Hollaback Girl” re-up. Her debut album, Cinderella’s Eyes, was released September 2011, and it’s packed with electro-pop secret sauce, from production assist by Diplo, Metronomy and Dimtri Tikovoi to tweaky, twee dance tracks like “Lucky Day” or “Yo Yo.” It’s a shameless dance-around-your-room soundtrack, and Nicola is gorgeous, and I’m a huge Stan, and, like, you need this album in your life or else your 2011 will have been considered a total bust. — Tamar Anitai
North Highlands: We have to give New York’s North Highlands credit for writing the best-ever song about my dad (“Bruce”), not to mention the best-ever song about hiking (“Hiking”) and almost the best-ever song about Chicago. (It’s called “Chicago,” but Sufjan Stevens and Frank Sinatra still got that one on lock.) North Highlands, driven by Brenda Malvini, play quirky folk-pop with huge hooks — think a female-fronted Peter Bjorn and John. We dig their colorful video for “Benefits,” which could only be more perfect with a JT/Mila cameo. — David Greenwald
Tennis: Tennis is one Sophia Coppola soundtrack away from earning a spot on every iPod within 50 miles of a vintage shop. The Denver-based husband and wife duo sound part ’60s girl group, part lo-fi garage rock, and it’s warm and fuzzier than a pair of dice in the rearview. Oh, and Tennis actually has nothing to do with sports. (Which only makes me love them harder.) If 2011’s Cape Dory, featuring the 2010 single “Marathon,” isn’t in your music collection, maybe their Patrick Carney-produced forthcoming second album Young And Old will grab your attention. — Nicole James
The Head And The Heart: I’m not quite sure why the incredible Seattle based folk outfit The Head And The Heart didn’t blow the hell up in 2011. I mean, “Lost In My Mind” alone!! The only thing a tiny bit wrong with them I can find is that they wear typically “indie” clothes and sometimes the “grunge look” is a turnoff? I don’t know. I’m into that look, but I’m grasping at straws here! Or, maybe it’s due to the fact they didn’t solidify their official lineup until January 2010. It couldn’t possibly be a result of the band’s soaring four-part harmonies, moving lyrics and melodic depth because really, what’s not to like about that? — Jenna Rubenstein
The Sound Of Arrows: It’s an established truth that literally every piece of music ever recorded in Sweden is pure pop flawlessness, and Sweden’s finest export this year was surely The Sound of Arrows, a two-piece act from Gävle (a remote town in northern Sverige where I’ll be celebrating Spring Break 2012, thanks) who make the kind of head-spinningly gorgeous synthpop that evokes the Pet Shop Boys at their best. The boys of The Sound of Arrows always get shown love for their reliably dope remixes of quaint little acts like, y’know, Lady Gaga (among others), but their original material got overlooked on many end-of-year lists. Funny, because their entirely self-released (!!) debut LP, Voyages, featuring “Wonders,” is a galactic pop masterpiece that’s easily one of the best albums of the year, and the relative drought of Stateside press covering their brilliance is nothing less than a travesty. — Sam Lansky
Sunday Girl: The blogosphere has honed in on Sunday Girl, born Jade Williams, for her startling beauty and impeccable style, which is fine and all, since the willowy chanteuse does look perpetually like she’s just wandered out of a Vogue Italia shoot (Franca Sozzani, if you’re reading this, I worship you). But it sort of ignores the fact that her music is COMPLETELY CRAMAZING. In particular, her latest single, “Love U More,” a cover of Sunscreem’s 1992 cult hit, is a ravey house single that would wear out any self-respecting clubgoer’s dancing shoes. Frosty and decadent and lush and euphoric, Sunday Girl’s songs combine electrifying beats with her gorgeously wispy vocals for songs that make you want to dance and cry at the same time — which (fun fact!) is exactly what I do every Saturday night in my bedroom while listening to her music. — Sam Lansky
Tiffany Page: Tiffany Page should be a household name by now: The London-based singer-songwriter’s raspy voice and guitar-driven pop-rock earned her comparisons to Garbage‘s Shirley Manson and Courtney Love, with whom Tiffany toured — no big deal or anything (OH WAIT IT’S A HUGE DEAL). Her striking first two singles, “Walk Away Slow” and “On Your Head,” got solid hype, but everybody slept on her finest work, the stunning heartbreak anthem “You Won’t,” which belongs with “Someone Like You” and “Skyscraper” as one of the most devastating ballads in recent memory. Reportedly, she’s no longer working with her label, so somebody better swoop in and sign this chick quick, since she has WAY too much talent to go unheard. — Sam Lansky
Wynter Gordon: Wynter Gordon is a spunky singer-songwriter simply waiting to burst at the seams: Earlier this year, the NYC-bred diva released With The Music I Die in the United States, a slammin’ EP chock-full of genius dance gems that deserved WAY more widespread lovin’, including “Buy My Love” and her most successful single “Dirty Talk”–the naughty-minded dance floor stomper that managed to climb to No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Charts. But she’s got way more to offer, and as an already accomplished singer-songwriter (she’s crafted tracks recorded by Mary J. Blige, Danity Kane and Jennifer Lopez), Gordon’s already proven that she’s far from being a run-of-the-mill dance diva — she’s ready to be a solo star. — Brad Stern
That’s Buzzworthy’s take on the most overlooked artists of 2011. Who do you think was criminally overlooked this year? Tell us in the comments! And check out more of MTV’s Best of 2011 music, TV show, movies and news coverage.