Susan Boyle – Who sold more records than Lady Gaga this year? Guess! Susan Boyle’s debut album racked up 6.2 million sales worldwide, making it the number-one album of 2009. Boyle’s popularity, which began with her poignant, jaw-dropping appearance on Britain’s Got Talent, proved that even middle-aged women with bushy eyebrows could make the world pay attention. (Of course, the angelic voice doesn’t hurt, either.)
Taylor Swift – Her official biography calls her “the first country superstar of the digital age.” And since her songs have been downloaded more than 20 million times, that’s hard to argue with. But besides her spectacular music sales, Taylor’s most memorable moment of 2009 came at the American Music Awards, when Kanye West leaped onstage to grab the mike and make a bizarre pro-Beyonce speech. The incident spawned nationwide anti-Kanye jokes (“Imma let you finish”). But what’s more important, Taylor had the grace to accept Kanye’s apology—and the confidence to mock the incident on Saturday Night Live. Fearless, indeed.
Meryl Streep – At 60, an age when most actresses are lucky to get roles as quirky grandmas, Meryl Streep is playing the delightfully sexy romantic lead in the movie It’s Complicated, rocketing between two eager boyfriends, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. “Bette Davis is rolling over in her grave,” Streep told Vanity Fair, referring to the classic star’s role (at age 54!) as a grotesquely aged actress in the horror movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Streep’s spectacular talent – not to mention her willingness to appear in popular movies (Mamma Mia!) as well as serious productions (Angels in America) – have made her the first older actress to be a superstar. Here’s hoping she won’t be the last.
Gabourey Sidibe – Lee Daniels, director of the powerful movie Precious, could have taken the easy way out and hired an established star to gain some weight for the title role. Instead, he chose New York City native Gabourey Sidibe, an acting novice, to play the obese, abused teenage girl Precious. Sidibe, who weighs more than 300 pounds, turned in a gritty performance that won her nominations for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors’ Guild award. “I never thought I’d get this far,” she told an interviewer. Sometimes, talent really is enough.
Rihanna – To outsiders, the picture-perfect superstar seemed to be the ideal girlfriend for R&B idol Chris Brown. But the image was shattered when a photograph of Rihanna’s battered face was published following a violent fight with her boyfriend. Although federal statistics show that approximately one in four women suffer physical abuse from a partner, domestic violence is still too often swept under the rug – especially among the famous. So it was no surprise that Rihanna was silent for months after the very public event. But when she finally spoke out, she urged young women to examine their relationships objectively—and decide if they need to leave. “F*** love,” Rihanna said in an interview with Diane Sawyer. “Come out of the situation and look at it third-person, for what it really is, and then make your decision. Because love is so blind.”