The 16 Biggest Breakout Stars of 2016

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It feels like every year, there’s a new kid on the celeb block that we all fall in love with — they seemingly come out of nowhere, or they’ve been around a while/have been part of a group, and have finally made a name for themselves. But 99% of the time, these stars have done their due diligence and put in the long hours, hard work and dedication it takes to truly maximize their star power and potential.

Still, you can’t help who you fall in love with or why, and these 16 celebrities captured our hearts, minds, eyes, and ears as they broke out of their former molds and into the industry as stars in their own right. It’s up to the following years to judge whether they’re here to stay or whether their star will fizzle out. Read on to see our picks for the 16 biggest breakout stars (or groups) of 2016:

Zayn Malik

While his 2015 breakup with his former bandmates from One Direction was a tad messy, we think it's safe to say he came out on top; with a hot model GF in Gigi Hadid, a bestselling new solo album, Mind of Mine, and a Best New Artist of the Year win at the 2016 American Music Awards, Zayn sans 1D seems like he's here to stay.

Photo: RCA Records

Camila Cabello

It's official — Camila Cabello has left the building! Or at least, she's left Fifth Harmony. The buzz swirling around the gorgeous singer's departure, however, cannot overshadow her bomb single with Machine Gun Kelly, "Bad Things." Camila can clearly stand on her own two feet sans a girl group backing her, and according to her Instagram, 2017 is only going to bring out the best in her career.

Photo: Instagram (@camila_cabello)

Bella Hadid

It can't be easy to scratch and crawl your way out of your older sister's shadow, but that's exactly what Bella Hadid did with her explosive stomp down the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2016 runway, past her ex, The Weeknd. While seemingly on friendly terms, it can't be easy to see your VS model ex walk past you like she could care less — no wonder Bella got turned into a meme. And if her now-meme-dom is any indication, we think the girl has a bright and long future in the industry ahead of her.

Photo: Instagram (@bellahadid)

The Shadowhunters Cast

So sue us, we couldn't choose just one. From Katherine McNamara to Isaiah Mustafa (yep, that guy from the Old Spice commercials that your man could be but isn't), we love us some Shadowhunters cast. These actors' and actresses' stars are definitely on the rise, and we can't wait to see what paranormal (or normal) shows and films they get cast in next.

Photo: Freeform


Having the Jonas Brothers break up may be one of the best things to ever happen to Joe Jonas — besides the band coming together in the first place. With the success of his new band, DNCE, fronted by himself and backed by his three BFFs, it looks like this JoBro has lasting power and doesn't plan on leaving the music scene anytime soon. Don't mind us, we'll just be getting down to DNCE hits like "Cake by the Ocean" and "Body Moves."

Photo: Republic Records

Dove Cameron

Going up against Ariana Grande has got to be intimidating, but Dove Cameron slayed her Hairspray Live! song and even — dare we say it? — outsang the diva. The Disney vet certainly knows her stuff, and isn't one to be scared to work with other singing powerhouses. But are we really surprised at the girl's chops, when she had to play two roles on Disney Channel's Liv and Maddie? Nope, we sure aren't! Keep working, mama.

Photo: NBC

Hailee Steinfeld

Gone is the good girl image of Hailee Steinfeld. Ever since the 20-year-old enraptured us in True Grit, we've been watching and waiting to see what she'll do next. Now, she's a Golden Globe nominee, courtesy of her latest film, Edge of Seventeen, has a hit single, "Rock Bottom," and counts herself among Taylor Swift's illustrious girl gang. It seems like there's no stopping this member of the Young Hollywood elite.

Photo: Republic Records

Millie Bobby Brown

OMG, we cannot get enough of Stranger Things' Millie Bobby Brown. In her breakout role as supernatural pre-teen Eleven, Millie made it impossible for us to look away from her penetrating stare the moment she stepped foot onto the screen. We see big things ahead for the British actress, starting with... the series' second season!

Photo: Netflix


The singer-songwriter starting writing music at the ripe young age of 17, and nothing has stopped her since. With her captivating singles, "Colors" and "Castle" (which was featured on the soundtrack for The Huntsman: Winter's War), plus a single with one of the hottest bands of this year (The Chainsmokers" "Closer"), Halsey is set to take the music world by storm.

Photo: Capitol Records

Grace VanderWaal

Grace VanderWaal is quickly becoming a music legend... and she's only 12 years old! With her ukelele-strumming and unique set of pipes, the America's Got Talent alum became the youngest winner of the competition this year. From there, she signed a record deal with Columbia Records, and released her first EP, Perfectly Imperfect, in December. Imagine what her teen years will be like!

Photo: NBC

Alessia Cara

We love this Canadian singer-songwriter — her top singles, "Wild Things" and "Scars to Your Beautiful," are inspirational ballads that either make us tear up, want to go out and be young and free, or D. All of the above. If you put on an Alessia jam, you can't help but be inspired to do something — anything — with your life. That's just the kind of motivation we need going into 2017, and we can't wait to see how Alessia encourages us then.

Photo: Def Jam Recordings


We've got the empowering poptastic treat from breakout star Daya, "Sit Still, Look Pretty," (both the album and song) on repeat. We're so thrilled that the singer exploded onto the music scene, because her EP is chock-full of beats that are our new dance anthems. With a debut on School of Rock this year, it looks like 2017 may be the year of Daya.

Photo: Artbeatz

Tom Holland

Audiences were thrilled this year with Tom Holland's portrayal of Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. He's exactly what comic book lovers and mega nerds have been waiting for; many, in fact, have cited him as being "perfect," based on the comic book portrayal of Spider-Man alone.

The 19-year-old Brit actually played the title role in Billy Elliot the Musical; yep, those sweet Spidey moves are due to the fact that the guy is a dancer. Marvel made an excellent choice in putting the actor in Civil War — his take lended to some of the best scenes of the movie. We can't wait to see Tom blow up the Spider-Man franchise in the years to come.

Photo: Disney

Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper is changing the game for good: This year, his mixtape became the first streaming-only album to receive a Grammy nomination, thus making history. Why is this so incredible? We'll tell you: There is no record label backing Chance, meaning that he put out this album (and subsequently got nominated for a Grammy) all by himself. This proves that independent musicians and artists can achieve fame and success without the guidance of a label. It's downright subversive, and it's just the kind of attitude we all need going into 2017. Congrats, Chance!

Photo: The Social Experiment

Auli'i Cravalho

Disney's first animated film featuring a Polynesian princess also did right by its heroine and cast a Hawaiian actress, though she had no acting credits to her name. No matter, Auli'i Cravalho killed it in the titular role. Her killer pipes and the levity, wit and grace she brought to the character makes us think we're going to be seeing a lot more from Auli’i for a long time — outside of her school's glee club, of which she is a member.

Photo: WENN

Haley Bennett

In noteworthy turns in blockbuster hits like The Magnificent Seven and The Girl on the Train, Haley Bennett is making casting directors take notice. The 28-year-old is the living embodiment of the Hollywood dream: she grew up in a small town in Ohio only to make it big in LA. She's doing a bang-up job of being Hollywood's latest crush, and we're dying to see what comes next for Haley and her Jennifer Lawrence-like looks.

Photo: Universal Pictures

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