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The 5 most unexpected hits of the past year

Many pop hits are penned and sung by artists with devoted followings and long track records of success in the industry. Artists like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé have been churning out chart-toppers for years now, and people have come to expect their releases to get wide acclaim and even wider airplay. Sometimes, however, an artist bursts through out of nowhere to capture everybody's attention. It's always exciting when this happens - not only for the singer, who gets the chance to have a whole new audience experience their work, but also for the public, who have an opportunity to get to know a dynamic new sound. Here are five artists who made the leap from "Who?" to "Whoa!" in the past year. 

DNCE's lead singer, Joe Jonas, was already well-known for his eponymous brotherly band, but there were serious questions as to what he would do for a follow-up. His solo project, released in 2011, debuted to mixed reviews, and few knew what to expect from DNCE, a pop-rock collaboration from Jonas and his bandmates Jack Lawless, Cole Whittle and JinJoo Lee. 

What wound up happening? The group burst onto the scene in a major way with its lead single, "Cake by the Ocean." A rollicking, cheeky ode to beach fun, it shot to the top of the U.S. Adult Top 40 rankings, where it has been for the past 25 weeks. With one song, the band went from a forgettable second act for a former pop star to a dynamo in its own right.

2. Desiigner
For 19-year old rapper Desiigner, things have been moving fast for the past couple of years. Less than 12 months ago, he released his debut commercial single, the trap-inspired "Panda." By April, he had his first No. 1 single, making him the youngest artist to do so since Lorde in 2013. Since it has been available, the song has sold over a million copies and been heavily sampled by the likes of Kanye West. 

The West-Desiigner connection didn't end there, however. Kanye would go on to sign the up-and-comer to his GOOD Music imprint under the aegis of Def Jam Recordings, setting the stage for even more collaborations in the future. In an interview with Fader, the rapper admitted that while he didn't see success coming quite so soon, he has no intentions of ending his substantial momentum:

"I couldn't say I could have possibly imagined this, but I see myself going further. I always see myself at a greater platform," said Desiigner to the source.  

3. Shawn Mendes
One of the most interesting things about this new era of social media is the way that it gives artists a platform that they might otherwise never have had. Canadian singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes might be the poster child for that power, as he was able to use shortform video app Vine to gain a following. In 2013, Mendes began performing covers of his favorite songs, a practice which attracted some attention and interest. Over time, more and more Viners became interested in what he was doing, leading him to be the third most-followed musician on the service. 

It was this springboard that he would use to gain widespread acclaim, with his fourth major single, "Stitches". In October 2015, it reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, making it his first top-five hit and solidifying his status as a major artist to watch. Now certified three-times platinum, the success of "Stitches" shows that a lasting career can be built off of fleeting videos. 

4. Charlie Puth
Like Mendes, Charlie Puth cultivated a following on social media before breaking into the mainstream. He originally started his career by posting songs on YouTube, blending a background in classical music with a strong ear for the pop zeitgeist. That, combined with reportedly perfect pitch, set him apart from other artists on the site, leading him to a collaborate with rap star Wiz Khalifa on a song called "See You Again," a tribute to late actor Paul Walker.

"See You Again," which was featured on the soundtrack of Furious 7, was written and co-produced by Puth, who also adds vocals. The song reached the top of the charts and stayed there for 12 weeks, eventually nabbing a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original song. It also marked Charlie Puth as a young artist to watch, and his debut album, Nine Track Mind, reached No. 6 on the Billboard charts in 2016. 

5. Alessia Cara
Another former YouTube sensation, Alessia Cara started her career by uploading covers to the website. Her voice, at once silky and earthy, garnered her a following, which only blossomed after she released her debut EP, "Four Pink Walls." That project contained her first single, "Here", which resonated with listeners not only for its smooth, alluring vocals but also for its introspective lyrics. 

Based on the success of "Here," Cara was awarded the Breakthrough New Artist award at the 2016 Juno Awards. The song would find commercial success, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 List, as well as a great deal of critical success. Rolling Stone ranked it one of the best songs of 2015, and The NY Times was similarly effusive, writing:

"Ms. Cara sings deeply in the pocket, landing heavy on syllables as if she were shifting her weight from one hip to the other, and delivering the hook — "I'll be over here" — with sass and cool, emphasizing that final word in a manner both rebellious and cocksure."

Interested in keeping up with all the hottest new artists on iTunes*? When you take paid surveys, you can supplement your music-buying income.  

*iTunes® is a registered trademark of Apple Inc. All rights reserved. Apple is not a participant in or sponsor of this promotion.

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