Editor’s Note: Find all of The Atlantic’s “Best of 2018” coverage here.
Among the watershed cultural moments of 2018, Americans can count plenty of tearjerkers: the addictively heartwarming makeover magic of Queer Eye, say, or the squeal-worthy teen romance that gave the actor Lana Condor her first lead role. Some artists, such as the comedian Hannah Gadsby and the performer Mj Rodriguez, made powerful statements both on and off the stage. Others, such as the figure skater Adam Rippon, captivated through sheer, unapologetic joy. The non-comprehensive list below includes not only people who have become household names, but also those whose time in the spotlight has likely just begun. Meet a few of the actors, singers, directors, and other stars whom we admired this year—and whose work we’ll be looking out for in 2019.
The Kane Brown album that debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200—an achievement matched by only two (far more established) country stars this year—is titled Experiment, which would seem to advertise songs that challenge mainstream Nashville’s sameness just as Brown’s biracial identity does. It’s savvy exaggeration: The 25-year-old Tennessean’s real knack is for lightly updating cherished clichés in the way that the genre’s breakouts always have. Equipped with good looks, tattoos, and a stout-beer-savory baritone, he pulls off such feats of tweeness as turning his own wedding into a music video or telling his girl to lose her “good-for-nothing phone” for something more authentic. With traditionalist goodwill thus engendered, he’s also able to attempt a statement such as “American Bad Dream,” which laments brutal cops and school shootings—a mild provocation that, with courage, might foretell greater ones.