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HomeEntertaintmentMusicIce Spice, Brian Jordan Alvarez and More Breakout Stars of 2023

Ice Spice, Brian Jordan Alvarez and More Breakout Stars of 2023

Ice Spice, Brian Jordan Alvarez and More Breakout Stars of 2023

Gutsy and offbeat, with an abundance of heart. The stars who rose to the top in 2023 shared a similar mentality: do it their own way and go full tilt without sacrificing emotion or authenticity. Here are eight artists who shook up their scenes and resonated with fans.


Television

As the TV landscape continues to fracture, one new show emerged as a bona fide phenomenon: “The Last of Us,” HBO’s stunningly heartfelt zombie apocalypse thriller. Given that its source material was a beloved, acclaimed 2013 video game that has sold over 20 million copies, the bar was extraordinarily high. The show’s debut season delivered, in large part because of the synergy between the duo at its center: Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie, two characters who find themselves on a cross-country quest, dodging reanimated corpses to (hopefully) save the world.

Ramsey, 20, who was born and raised in central England, offered a layered, tenacious, haunting performance as a teenager who is coming-of-age while being humanity’s possible last hope. They have been a working actor since they signed on to “Game of Thrones” at age 11, as the scene-stealing giant slayer Lyanna Mormont, and went on to have celebrated turns in the BBC/HBO adaptation of “His Dark Materials” and Lena Dunham’s 2022 period comedy, “Catherine Called Birdy.”

For “The Last of Us,” Ramsey nailed a specific combination of contradictions — funny and quirky, but violent and rough — that Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, its creators, were looking for. “There are few people better between the words ‘action’ and ‘cut,’” Mazin told The New York Times.

Ramsey’s performance earned them an Emmy nomination, for outstanding lead actress in a drama, joining the likes of established stars such as Keri Russell and Elisabeth Moss. “It’s only recently that I’ve accepted I am Ellie, and I can do it, and I am a good actor,” Ramsey told us.


Movies

Despite having three albums that reached the Billboard 200 chart, the R&B singer Teyana Taylor retired from music in late 2020, saying she was “feeling super under appreciated.” But she had hope. “When one door closes,” she wrote on Instagram, “another will open.”

Shortly after, another door did, and she was cast as the lead in A.V. Rockwell’s drama “A Thousand and One.” Her character, Inez, is trying to rebuild her life after serving time in Rikers Island. When she finds that her son is falling victim to a negligent foster care system in New York City, Inez kidnaps him.

The Times’s assistant film editor, Mekado Murphy, called Taylor, 33, “electrifying” in the role. And our chief film critic, Manohla Dargis, said Taylor was “mesmerizing” and “terrific” in the film, which had its world premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. dramatic competition.

Another 2023 highlight for Taylor was the release of her own Air Jordan sneaker called “A Rose From Harlem,” a nod to a song of hers from 2018. In 2024, she will star alongside LaKeith Stanfield, David Oyelowo, Alfre Woodard and Benedict Cumberbatch in the biblical epic dramedy “The Book of Clarence.”

“The things that I’ve been through and the amount of time that it took was not a punishment,” Taylor told The Times in March. “It was preparation.”


Brian Jordan Alvarez started off the year with a bang, starring alongside Allison Williams as a robotics developer in the sci-fi horror comedy hit “M3gan.” By the fall, he had achieved viral stardom by creating a host of characters using various face filters to hilarious effect — including the sweet, gullible, proudly gay Timothee; the beefy yet small-head Australian bodybuilder Rick; and most famously the bug-eyed, duck-lipped pop star TJ Mack, whose earworm “Sitting” (pronounced “Sittim”) has delighted millions across TikTok and Instagram.

The fantastically absurd song, an ode to the glory of sitting, has also prompted countless interpretations, including a lovely cover by the Gen Z pop-funk musician Remi Wolf and a dance remix by the producer Josh Mac.

“Something about this particular song seems to be lightning in a bottle,” Alvarez told Time magazine in September.

Alvarez — a 36-year-old New York City native who starred in the “Will & Grace” reboot and had a popular 2016 web series, “The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo” — also told Vanity Fair that while silly, his characters also inspire hope about humanity. “Look at this,” he said. “We can still make art, and we can make art using this new technology that we’re sometimes afraid of.”

In November, FX announced it would make a series of Alvarez’s comedy “English Teacher,” which he created and will star in as a high school teacher balancing competing demands.


Ice Spice started the year with her first hit under her belt — the impossibly chill yet savage “Munch (Feelin’ U),” which earned her early fans in Drake and Lil Nas X — but that couldn’t have prepared the Bronx drill rapper for how her 2023 would go.

By the year’s end, Ice Spice — whose signature sound (cool, confident, raw) and distinctive look (a halo of Orphan Annie curls and a Kewpie face) have proved to be social media gold — had taken the stage with Taylor Swift at MetLife Stadium to debut their duet, a remix of Swift’s “Karma.” She also had a top 3 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with her PinkPantheress collaboration, “Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2,” and worked with Nicki Minaj on two tracks: “Barbie World,” for the year’s biggest movie, and a remix of Ice Spice’s “Princess Diana.” She was parodied on S.N.L. in November by Punkie Johnson, just weeks after she’d been the musical guest, introduced by Swift herself. There was even a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial with Ben Affleck.

Also in November, Ice Spice — born Isis Gaston on possibly the coolest birthday: Jan. 1, 2000 — was nominated for the best new artist Grammy.

Her rise certainly hasn’t been without detractors, but, as she told The Times this year, that is more fuel than anything else. “Hate,” she said, “could take you a long way.”


“Remember his name!” Gia Kourlas, The Times’s dance critic, wrote in July about the American Ballet Theater’s corps de ballet dancer Jake Roxander after his undeniable performance as Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet.”

And that was just one memorable turn of many this year. He dazzled in the peasant pas de deux in “Giselle” and the Neapolitan Dance in “Swan Lake,” in which he bounded so high into the air, “he seemed to be floating,” Kourlas wrote — the same robust yet silky approach he brought to “Études.”

As Puck in “The Dream,” he was the highlight of the company’s final two programs this fall, the dance critic Brian Seibert wrote, adding that this all bodes well for the Ballet Theater’s future, and for the leadership of Susan Jaffe, its new artistic director.

Roxander began dancing as a child, studying with his parents at Studio Roxander, in his hometown, Medford, Ore. He’d go on to dance at Pennsylvania Ballet before joining the American Ballet Theater’s Studio Company in 2020, where he became an apprentice with the main company in 2022, before joining the corps de ballet late last year.

But it’s not just his scrupulous technique and explosive elevation that puts him on this list, it’s the theatricality he applies. “He has swagger,” Kourlas says.

“I think in clay,” the Native American sculptor Rose B. Simpson told The Times last year. “Clay was the earth that grew our food, was the house we lived in, was the pottery we ate out of and prayed with.”

What she creates, though, is well beyond pottery. Simpson, who lives in her native New Mexico, creates androgynous sculptures that she calls “beings” or “ancestors,” which she adorns with materials like metal and leather. After showing in regional museums — including the ICA Boston and the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia — she had a breakthrough year in New York with a big, attention-grabbing solo show at Jack Shainman Gallery, and now an installation, “Counterculture,” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, through Jan. 21. And her solo show “Skeena” runs through Dec. 23 at Jessica Silverman in San Francisco.

Recently, it was announced that she was one of four contemporary artists commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy for the 20th anniversary of its public art program. From April through September next year, “Seed,” a series of her large-scale sculptures, will be on display across two parks in Manhattan.

As the Los Angeles curator Helen Molesworth put it, Simpson’s work has “a badass, ‘Mad Max,’ ‘Blade Runner’ vibe.”

“There’s no question that we’re watching a star be born,” Alicia Keys told Vogue in November about Maleah Joi Moon, 21, who channels a teenage Keys in “Hell’s Kitchen,” the semi-autobiographical Off Broadway jukebox musical built on the star’s life and musical catalog.

Jesse Green, The Times’s chief theater critic, would agree, calling Moon’s debut New York City performance “sensational.” She’s “precociously clever and fearless,” he writes, in delivering a complex portrait of Ali, the dreamy main character.

It’s an incredibly rare feat to step out in a principal role — so ambitious a proposal, in fact, that Moon almost didn’t try out. “I told my agent, ‘This sounds amazing. I don’t think it’s right for me.’ I didn’t feel like I was enough,” she recently told The Times.

Luckily, she was convinced to audition, where she impressed the musical’s director, Michael Greif (“Rent,” “Dear Evan Hansen”), with her flexibility, instinct, courage and extraordinary singing ability. “We all got excited about building our production around her,” he said. “She’s proving us right.” (More proof: The show has been selling out nightly, and it was recently announced that it would move to Broadway in the spring.)

“After that first day,” Moon said, “I realized how much I loved this. It’s a dream.”


Classical Music

The conductor Dalia Stasevska’s star has been rising since she graduated from the esteemed Helsinki conservatory Sibelius Academy in 2012. From there, she become an assistant to Paavo Järvi at the Orchestre de Paris, and in 2019, she secured the principal guest conductor position at the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Britain. In 2020, she became the chief conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Finland.

This year, Stasevska, 38 — who grew up in Estonia and Finland, the daughter of a Finnish mother and Ukrainian father — led the New York Philharmonic in a celebrated series of concerts. She conducted Wang Lu’s “Surge,” in its world premiere, “with verve, commitment and, above all, clarity,” our critic Joshua Barone wrote. Claire Chase, a prominent flutist and educator, has described her as a “supernova.”

Since 2022, Stasevska has also become known for her vocal criticism of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In addition to fund-raising efforts, she has driven trucks of supplies into the beleaguered nation. “I can’t save Ukraine by playing music, but I can use my mouth and speak out, and I can act,” she told us. “We can’t just hide behind our virtues. There comes a time for action.”

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