LONDON (Reuters) - Never heard of Milk Music? That may be about to change after the unsigned punk rockers from Olympia, Washington appeared on a leading music magazine's acts-to-watch list.
Rising stars like Lana Del Rey, A$AP Rocky and Howler are also tipped to make it big this year and beyond as pop pickers and record labels search the airwaves for hitmakers of tomorrow.
With guitar bands and solo male artists featuring so prominently in a series of new music polls published at the start of the year, chart-topping divas like Lady Gaga, Adele and Beyonce could see their crowns slip.
And once again the United States looks like setting the pace, leaving Britain, the other global music powerhouse, playing catch-up.
"From doing this issue what I've realized is that there is a really wide scope of stuff out there," said Matt Wilkinson, new music editor at British music magazine NME who has just compiled a list of 100 bands to watch in 2012.
"In the last 12 months the United States has been on top of its game in terms of guitar bands and indie music so I kind of hope and expect the UK to react to that this year," he told Reuters. "We are in a bit of a lull at the moment over here."
One leading female act set for stardom in 2012 is Del Rey, real name Elizabeth Grant, an American who caused a stir last year with her haunting YouTube hit "Video Games."
Britain's NME music magazine decided not to feature her in its 2012 survey because it felt she was already established -- in fact many acts on this month's "next big thing" lists are well on their way to fame and fortune.
In Del Rey's case, she is signed to Interscope, part of the world's biggest music company Universal, and releases an album, "Born to Die," at the end of the month.
Some question the level to which her image has been manufactured for mainstream success and question whether Del Rey can sustain her early success.
"The future for Lana Del Rey feels a little uncertain," said Alexis Petridis, music critic for the Guardian newspaper which voted Video Games the best song of 2011.
"Whether Video Games turns out to be the one truly remarkable thing about her, or a portent of greatness to come is a moot point."
For NME's Wilkinson, Harlem-raised rapper Azealia Banks is a potential 2012 breakout.
"We're going massive on her," he said. "She's great and totally exciting. But will she sell as many records as Adele? Probably not."
A lack of radio play for the famously foul-mouthed musician could be a barrier, he added.
Canada's Claire Boucher, also known as Grimes, released an album in 2010 and was on the Guardian's "New band of the day" column as long ago as March, but her brand of dark electro pop could make a splash this year.
Across the Atlantic, British "girl power" is expected to come from Londoner Lianne La Havas, who appears both on the BBC's "Sound of 2012" poll and MTV's "Brand New For 2012" list.
The BBC also championed Ren Harvieu as a possible heir to Adele, while the dark pop of Charli XCX and soulful sounds of Delilah (Paloma Stoecker) have MTV excited.
Balancing the picture for 2012, several solo male artists are also tipped for the top.
British soul musician Michael Kiwanuka topped BBC's annual poll on Friday, ending a run of four consecutive years in which single females claimed the prize starting with Adele in 2008.
In second place came Frank Ocean, the U.S. singer-songwriter who has already collaborated with pop royalty like Beyonce, Jay-Z and Kanye West.
NME predicts he will be the "true breakout star" of the Odd Future hip-hop collective.
New Yorker and rising hip-hop star A$AP Rocky famously signed a $3 million record deal with Sony Music last year, nearly half of which reportedly will go towards funding his own record label.
Underground Chicago singer Willis Earl Beal, who until recently was leaving CDs and fliers lying around randomly, has been snapped up by XL Recordings, Adele's label, and they plan to release his debut album "Acousmatic Sorcery" in March.
British teenager Conor Maynard has been likened by MTV to Justin Bieber, while the music channel called Angel (Sirach Charles) "quite possibly the UK pop and R & B industry's best kept secret."
Briton King Krule (Archy Marshall) is another "boy wonder," although his rich voice and wordly-wise opinions belie his years, while compatriots Dot Rotten and King Charles make at least one of the new artist lists.
Guitar bands and indie music in general have been on the decline in recent years, but they put in a strong showing in the latest surveys.
Minneapolis rockers Howler have been likened to the Vaccines and Strokes and appear first in NME's 2012 list.
DZ Deathrays' music, described as "sleazy, sexy, thrash-punk robo-rock," has rung out from stages in their native Australia for more than three years, but this year they aim to conquer Europe and produce a debut album.
Milk Music have so far resisted record executives' approaches and remain independent, while London quintet Spector hit the road in March to support Florence + The Machine.
Scandinavia is represented by Swedish electro pop duo Niki & The Dove on the BBC poll and compatriots Icona Pop feature in
In France, names to look out for include Francois & The Atlas Mountains, Apes and Horses, The Bewitched Bands, Concrete Knives and Stuck In the Sound.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White; additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon, editing by Paul Casciato