10 Artists Who Blew Up After SXSW

They introduced themselves at SXSW and have been killing it since.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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This year marks the 27th annual South By Southwest (SXSW) interactive media festival. Austin, Texas plays host to over 2,200 acts—both established and obscure—in conjunction with more than 100 venues over the span of a little more than a week in March for SXSW. When the festival began in the late ’80s it was used as a tool for unknown acts to present themselves to labels and for college students near and far to have an alternative spring break. Since then, music executives, critics, and fans flock to the 11th largest city in the United States to catch what could be the next "big" thing.

Although thousands of artists perform at SXSW, only a few breakout into the mainstream. Those exceptional talents have gone on to receive record deals, drop albums, and eventually win Grammys. So, to all of those aspiring stars worried that SXSW is a waste of time or talent, we're here to say: take your shot. You might end up like these 10 Artists That Blew Up Because Of SXSW.

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Odd Future

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Year: 2011

Odd Future came to SXSW 2011 with the biggest buzz of any artist scheduled during the week-long event. Riding high from  a Billboard cover and a performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, the crew from Cali kicked off their time in Austin by performing at the mtvU Woodies. After a lackluster performance from Lil B—yeah, three years later we can finally admit that—Diddy came out to perform a couple of hits and introduce Odd Future to the audience, but not before declaring them and Lil B the future of rap.

After their performance at the Fader Fort and a few other appearances that week, Odd Future's popularity skyrocketed. As a group they've released one mixtape, but the members and subgroups in Odd Future have dropped over 10 projects since 2011. Not bad for kids who walked off stage after only performing two songs at one SXSW show, huh.

Janelle Monáe

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Year: 2009

By the time Janelle Monáe performed at SXSW she already had a Grammy nomination for her debut album Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), but critical acclaim doesn't always garner commercial or mainstream success. In 2009, Monáe was deemed the best in show at SXSW by more than one outlet there that week. Her high-energy performance delivered more than the typical SXSW show. She gave fans a visual experience along with her musical talents and was brave enough to crowd surf during both shows—which is apparently a big no-no at SXSW where the audience reportedly isn't familiar with the act.

"Taking the stage to a John Williams-worthy overture, and a voiceover telling the crowd to leave its phasers at the door, Monáe doesn't just perform—she brings the audience on a trip," said Todd Martens of the LA Times. "Singing tracks from her debut EP, Metropolis Suite I of IV: The Chase, Monáe offered a brief live set that showed off her dance moves and her vocal range."

After her reign at SXSW, Monáe went on to open for No Doubt during their 2009 Summer Tour, and got to work on her breakthrough album The ArchAndroid which featured hits like "Tightrope." Guess that stage dive wasn't such a bad idea after all.


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Year: 2012

The three sisters and a mister of HAIM set out in 2012 to get a record deal and although it didn't happen immediately after SXSW, it still happened. The band performed in Austin during a year when most critics didn't proclaim anyone a breakout act—that is, until they saw HAIM perform.

"I went outside to get some fresh air on the patio out back at Side Bar, and saw New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson," said David Hudnall, who wrote a review for The Pitch. "I planned to go bug her and figure out what she was doing at such a random event, but when we rolled back inside, the next band, HAIM, was already playing, and I completely forgot the most powerful newspaper person in the world was at the show because of how insanely good HAIM was."

In the months following their performance at SXSW, the band signed to Polydor Records and spent the rest of the year touring with Florence and The Machine and Mumford & Sons. Within a year, they dropped their debut album, Days Are Gone and signed to Jay Z's Roc Nation.

RELATED: Who Are Haim?

Kid Cudi

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Year: 2009

Unlike most of the people on this list, Kid Cudi's breakthrough at SXSW didn't come from a solo showcase. During Kanye West's show at the Fader Fort, Ye opened the stage to his G.O.O.D. Music family including Common, Consequence, and Erykah Badu. The standout from the show, however, was the Kid from Cleveland with vocals featured on Kanye's most recent album at the time, 808s & Heartbreak. Kid Cudi performed "Day 'N' Nite," "Welcome To Heartbreak" alongside Kanye, and "Buggin' Out (2009)" with Consequence. He also made a surprise appearance at the Fool's Gold After Dark party that week and the rest was history.

That fall, Cudi was featured on Jay Z's Blueprint 3, he landed a Complex cover, he was honored by BAPE with his very own t-shirt, and his debut album Man On The Moon: The End Of Day was released. Five years later, Cudi's got five albums and he's currently starring in a new movie alongside Aaron Paul. 

John Mayer

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James Blunt

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Ellie Goulding

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Year: 2011

British pop star Ellie Goulding was another act that used her time at SXSW wisely. Her No.1 debut album Lights was re-released in November 2010 with a new name—Bright Lights—and new singles, which got her a spot on Rolling Stone's "Hot List" a month before her SXSW debut.

Critics knew that her time in Austin would serve as a catapult in her career, so expectations were high and Goulding delivered. "Late in the night, I caught most of Ellie Goulding's set, and the British dance-pop star can easily win over a crowd," said Todd Martens of the LA Times. "The few studio songs I had heard hadn't totally wowed me, but live, with a pair of synths offering textures and a live drummer providing a kick, Goulding's likable personality seemed to be given more lift."

After SXSW, she performed at Coachella and had two back to back performances on Jimmy Kimmel and SNL respectively. Goulding also had another major milestone just weeks after SXSW, she performed at the Royal Wedding for Prince William and Kate Middleton. The couple's first dance was soundtracked by Goulding's cover of Elton John's "Your Song."


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Year: 2011

Canadian musician Grimes performed at multiple venues in Austin with just her microphone and keyboard. Despite her simple set-up, Grimes' debut at SXSW was one of the festival's standout appearances that year. Her performances that week, along with a slew of interviews, was just what she needed to sign with 4AD Records and set the foundation for her next album, Visions.

"She took the stage alone, hovered over a keyboard, and layered rhythms, synthesizer melodies, and otherworldly vocals in increasingly complicated loops and ever more dynamic walls of sound, creating a mood that almost (but not quite) overcame the surroundings," said Jim DeRogatis of WBEZ in Chicago.

Once Visions was released, Grimes made her way back to Austin for SXSW to a much bigger buzz and audience. She signed with Jay Z's Roc Nation in late 2013 and is currently working on her next album. 

RELATED: Who Is Grimes?

Amy Winehouse

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Year: 2007

When Amy Winehouse performed at SXSW in 2007 she was already an established name in the UK. Her first album, Frank, made its way to #13 on the UK Albums Chart, and her second project, Black to Black, was debuted at #3 in the UK a year earlier before going platinum before the end of '06. After having various shows cancelled during the week, she managed to attend a few, including one at La Zona Rosa and the other at Fader Fort.

Winehouse tore the house down at both shows and blew people away with her soulful voice as well as her surprising appearance. "While the music had a much rawer and more traditional sound than her album she more than made up for it via her visual juxtaposition," said IGN writer Spence D. "One thing is for sure: this little (as in hella skinny) broad has some serious soul emanating from her slinky frame."

Following her legendary performance at SXSW, Back To Black debuted at No.7 on the Billboard 200 chart. From there singles like, "Rehab" and "You Know I'm No Good" also topped the U.S. charts. Amy Winehouse remained a pop star in the U.S throughout her short career and is credited as an inspiration for other British powerhouses like Adele. Unfortunately, Winehouse passed away in July 2011, only four years after her first and only SXSW appearance.

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