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There are two clear-cut slam-dunks in Atlantic Records country-rock kings Zac Brown Band and Interscope’s ubiquitous R&B diva and Timbaland protege Keri Hilson.
GRAMMY SPECULATION HEATS UP: BEST NEW ARTIST NEXT
Our Own Lenny Beer and Roy Trakin Survey the Best New Artist Category
Last time out, HITS handicapped the Grammy Album of the Year category, and this time our focus goes on another of the Big Four—Best New Artist—which is already fraught with controversy.

The much-disputed decision to disqualify major contender Lady Gaga—who released her first album during the eligibility period—for receiving a Grammy dance nomination last year on her first single, as well as Phoenix for exceeding the Recording Academy’s three-release “Shelby Lynne” rule, has left the field wide-open.

Now that initial ballots are in, and we await the final nominees, our resident pundits Lenny Beer and Roy Trakin take a look at who's next.

As in the Album list, there are two clear-cut slam-dunks in Atlantic Records country-rock kings Zac Brown Band and Interscope’s ubiquitous R&B diva and Timbaland protege Keri Hilson. The Zac Brown Band will be the choice of the Academy’s sizable Nashville contingent on the strength of Foundation, still ensconced in the HITS Top 50, and now at 1.1m in sales after nearly a year. Hilson’s “Knock You Down” featuring Kanye West and Ne-Yo helped fuel sales of her debut, In a Perfect World, which debuted at #4 and is closing in on 500k sold, a nomination which would satisfy the Urban/Rhythm/Hip-Hop contingent.

In the next tier are a number of artists with solid critical acclaim, plenty of attention and an impressive start, with Columbia’s MGMT and Island’s The Airborne Toxic Event at the top of the list which also includes such well-reviewed artists as S-Curve’s Diane Birch, Jagjaguwar/4AD’s Bon Iver, Warp’s Grizzly Bear and Photo Finish’s 3OH!3. A pair of groups which got a boost from on-air TV spots, like Virgin/EMI’s Empire of the Sun and Columbia’s The Ting Tings, who also had a radio hit, can’t be dismissed, either.

MGMT had one of the best-reviewed albums of the year, with its infectious “Kids” single still on the air. Airborne Toxic Event are building an impressive touring base, thanks to their TV performances with the Calder Quartet, which will be highlighted by them being the first rock band to play Disney Concert Hall appearance on Dec. 4. Diane Birch has become a critic’s favorite in the upper-demo Adult Norah Jones vein, while Bon Iver and Grizzly Bear have proven to be neo-hippie, roots Amercana iTunes faves. 3OH3! went from the Christian market to selling more than 2.5 million downloads of their Top 40 hit, “Don’t Trust Me.”

Also in the mix on the R&B side, Island/Soda Pop’s Kristinia DeBarge and Def Jam’s Jeremih, while Fader’s Matt and Kim and Columbia’s Passion Pit could be alternative dark horses, along with Cabin 24 indie viral sensation Ingrid Michaelson.

Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island on Universal Republic could be another wild card, especially if the Academy is set on getting Justin Timberlake to perform “Dick in a Box” during the telecast.

Dangerbird RecordsSilversun Pickups are also eligible, oddly enough, three years after their debut, which sold more than this year’s follow-up, while Universal Republic’s fast-riding Owl City could use some late momentum to throw its hat in the ring, though they seem to be peaking just after the deadline. Look for them to be a major contender in several categories next year.

Agree? Disagree? Send us your picks at [email protected].

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