The breakout stars of 2022
By Maya Salam
For many of us, 2022 was the year we emerged more fully from our pandemic cocoons, venturing out to movie theaters, museums, concerts — exploring our entertainment with eager, if weary, hearts and eyes before returning home to our TVs. Along the way, artists and performers across the world of the arts had, for the first time in years, the chance to connect more closely and fully with audiences, and deliver big. Here are seven stars who captured our attention in this moment and gave us a fresh perspective.
Television: Quinta Brunson
In 2014, Quinta Brunson had a viral Instagram hit on her hands: a series of videos called “The Girl Who’s Never Been on a Nice Date.” At BuzzFeed, where she was first paid for taste-testing Doritos, she made popular comedic videos for the site and then sold the streaming series “Broke” to YouTube Red. In 2019, she starred in and wrote for the debut season of HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show.”
That trajectory set her up to deliver a rare feat: a warmhearted but not saccharine network sitcom with a pitch-perfect ensemble cast that has managed to delight critics and audiences — all while illuminating the problems of underfunded public schools. The mockumentary-style comedy, “Abbott Elementary,” which she created and stars in, debuted on ABC in December 2021 and was nominated for seven Emmy Awards this year, of which it won three.
“I think a lot of people are enjoying having something that is light and nuanced,” Brunson, 32, told The New York Times Magazine earlier this year. “‘Abbott’ came at the right time.”
Movies: Stephanie Hsu
When Stephanie Hsu was a child, she told her mother that she wanted to be an actor. Her mother “pointed at a TV screen and said, ‘There’s nobody that looks like you — that seems impossible,’” Hsu, 32, told Variety this year. Turns out, her presence onscreen was both possible and unforgettable, particularly her jaw-dropping performance in this year’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a mind-twisting acid trip through the multiverse (and the human condition) that was a box-office hit and had critics raving.
In “Everything,” her first feature film, Hsu nailed the complex role of both a depressed, despairing daughter (opposite Michelle Yeoh as her mother) and the maniacally evil, chaos-inducing villain Jobu Tupaki.
“I think it’s so rare that you get to experience the scope of range within one character in one movie,” Hsu told the Times.
Next up for the actress is a role in the Disney+ action-comedy series “American Born Chinese”; in Rian Johnson’s Peacock series, “Poker Face,” alongside Natasha Lyonne; and in “The Fall Guy,” an action movie starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt.
Pop Music: Jack Harlow
Those on TikTok probably first caught wind of rapper Jack Harlow in 2020 with his viral track “Whats Poppin.” But it wasn’t until his verse on Lil Nas X’s “Industry Baby” last year — the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 — that his star really began its ascent.
Now, the laid-back Harlow, 24, a Kentucky native, had his first solo No. 1 hit, the Fergie-sampling “First Class,” from his second major-label album, “Come Home the Kids Miss You,” which dropped in May. In November, he earned three Grammy nominations, including for best rap album. And in October, he served as both host and musical guest on “Saturday Night Live.”
“I’m looking to get away from rapping in a way where people can marvel at it and more something we can all enjoy together,” he told the Times this year.
Soon, Harlow will star in a remake of the 1992 film “White Men Can’t Jump.”
Art: Tiona Nekkia McClodden
Over the last few years, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, 41, “has emerged as one of the most singular artists of our aesthetically rich, free-range time,” Roberta Smith, co-chief art critic of the Times, wrote in her review of McClodden’s exhibition “Mask/Conceal/Carry,” a meditation on guns shown at 52 Walker in Tribeca this year. Smith called it a “brooding beast of an exhibition, bathed in blue light.”
And that was only one of three major presentations of McClodden’s work in New York in 2022. At the Museum of Modern Art, she presented a room-size fetish-themed tribute to Brad Johnson, a Black gay poet who died in 2011. At the Shed, she celebrated the groundbreaking 1983 festival Dance Black America with a program that included custom dance floors and video portraits of dancers.
McClodden, who was a star of the 2019 Whitney Biennial (she won the Bucksbaum Award), emerged as a filmmaker before expanding to boundary-pushing art installations.
Amid the pandemic and the George Floyd protests and counterprotests, she decided to learn how to shoot guns, an activity that bore “Mask/Conceal/Carry.” “The statement is that I’m in the world, I didn’t try to run away from my position in this world, and I wanted to be able to defend myself,” she told the Times this summer.
Theater: Julie Benko
Few can say they’ve seized an opportunity like Julie Benko, whose monthlong summer run as Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of “Funny Girl” changed a lot for the actress-soprano who stepped into the role full-time between Beanie Feldstein and Lea Michele. But even that degree of pressure didn’t weigh her down.
“When you get the chance to play such an amazing role, there’s no need to take it too seriously,” Benko told the Times. “You just have to enjoy it.” Now, Benko has the title of “alternate” in “Funny Girl,” not “understudy,” performing the lead in most Thursday night shows (with an extra performance on Monday, Dec. 26, and for a full week in late February).
Benko, 33, had understudied several roles before “Funny Girl,” including in the national “Spring Awakening” tour in 2008, and later in the “Les Misérables” tour, where she worked her way up to Cosette, the protagonist, from roles like “innkeeper’s wife.”
In December, she performed at 54 Below in New York alongside her husband, pianist Jason Yeager.
Classical Music: Davóne Tines
“No one could accuse Davóne Tines of lacking ambition,” Oussama Zahr, a classical music critic, wrote recently in the Times when reviewing “Recital No. 1: MASS,” the bass-baritone’s personal and thoughtfully arranged Carnegie Hall debut.
“I really like structures,” Tines, who is in his mid-30s, told The New Yorker of “MASS” last year. “The ritualistic template of the Mass is a proven structure — centuries of culture have upheld it. Anything that I put into it will assume a certain shape. And what I put into it is my own lived experience.”
Accolades for Tines have been mounting, including for, this fall, his performance in a staged version of Tyshawn Sorey’s “Monochromatic Light (Afterlife),” at the Park Avenue Armory; and for “Everything Rises,” his collaboration with violinist Jennifer Koh, which opened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
In the work, Tines and Koh recount their complicated relationships with classical music as people of color. “I was the moth, lured by your flame,” Tines sings. “I hated myself for needing you, dear white people: money, access and fame.”
Dance: Catherine Hurlin
She may only be 26, but ballerina Catherine Hurlin has been ascending for more than half of her life. As a girl, she secured a full scholarship to the American Ballet Theater’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. Not long after, she became an apprentice with the ABT, then a member of the corps de ballet and eventually a soloist in 2018.
Then this summer, she was one of three dancers promoted to the role of principal.
“The simple serenity of Hurlin’s face, framed by cascading curls, is riveting, as is the daring amplitude of her expressive, singular dancing,” Gia Kourlas, the dance critic of the Times, wrote in June of Hurlin’s performance in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Of Love and Rage.”
And in July, when Hurlin made her debut in the double role of Odette-Odile in “Swan Lake,” Kourlas called her “the future of Ballet Theater, the kind of dancer who has a fresh take on story ballets.”
Her nickname? Hurricane.