Owen Pallett (left) doesn't do small. And Heartland, the acclaimed album he released last January, was no exception, containing the Toronto singer-violinist's most vibrant, ambitious songs to date. The work was as captivating as it was metaphysical, so much so that it was short-listed for Canada's 2010 Polaris Music Prize. The performer formerly known as Final Fantasy followed the record in September with his multi-instrumental EP, A Swedish Love Story, and a national tour with the Dirty Projectors and the National.
This summer, Aussie singer-songwriter Sia (full name: Sia Furler) (center) shelved her token soulful balladry and strapped on her dancing shoes for We Are Born, her album with producer Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, Ke$ha). But she's still adept at crafting quality pop tearjerkers, as she proves on the recent tracks she wrote for Christina Aguilera: four for her latest album, Bionic, and one for her role in the movie-musical Burlesque.
Multihyphenate Alan Cumming's varied choice of projects makes it hard to classify the charismatic performer (right) and keeps his fans on their toes. In addition to his work as an actor, singer, and writer, Cumming is an activist for LGBT organizations, including GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign, and he received the Point Foundation's 2010 Courage Award. This year, he was nominated for an Emmy for his performance on ABC's The Good Wife and returned to the big screen, costarring with Cher and Christina Aguilera in Burlesque and Helen Mirren and Russell Brand in Julie Taymor's adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest.
With his unnaturally perfect grin and matinee-idol good looks, Cheyenne Jackson (third from right) could have easily avoided questions about his sexuality in exchange for a more traditional career path. Instead, the performer chose to blaze a unique course for himself'and he's now reaping generous rewards for his candor. In addition to his vigorous concert schedules, he's made the leap from stage to screen by guest starring on some of the most adored shows currently on TV: 30 Rock, Glee, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
In 2010, Bloc Party front man Kele Okereke (far right) dropped both his last name and his postpunk sound for his first solo project, The Boxer. From its butch, moody cover art to its electro-rave tracks 'Walk Tall' and 'Tenderoni' to the singer's newfound frankness about his sexuality while he was promoting it, the album was Kele's big personal statement. 'I've always tried to break down boundaries,' he says. 'With this record, it was important to show that there were other things I could do and that there's more than one way of seeing the world.'
A piece for the New York Philharmonic, works for the English National Opera and New York's Metropolitan Opera, a collaboration with Benjamin Millepied for the Dutch National Ballet, contributions to new records from Sigur R's's J'nsi and Antony and the Johnsons'is there anything Nico Muhly (second from right) didn't do this year? The 29-year-old classical composer, conductor, and performer also wrote the ballet score for Stephen Petronio's 2009 Joyce Theater production of I Drink the Air Before Me and this fall released A Good Understanding, his new album of choral music for Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.