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GRAMMY CHEW:
BEST NEW ARTIST

Best New Artist is among the most inscrutable of categories even in ordinary years, with ever-shifting eligibility rules subject to the filter of the Academy committees (who will always do what they want to do). In this topsy-turvy moment, roiled by a pandemic and politics, the uncertainty is greater than ever.

THE “LOCKS”

The quotation marks in that heading should once again underscore that even though certain artists seem like a sure thing for at least a nomination, everything is up for grabs. Nonetheless, these are the acts that seem, at this moment, to be the strongest contenders.

Summer Walker: The LVRN/Interscope artist’s boundary-pushing R&B and vibrant sensibility make her a favorite, and her highly successful album and EP give commercial reinforcement to her creative bona fides.

BTS: K-Pop’s breakout septet have kicked down what appeared to be the last remaining door to superstardom with the smash “Dynamite” (Big Hit/Columbia), and their abundant, infectious charm is the very definition of an “arrival.” Will Grammy anoint them?

Juice WRLD: Grammy has yet to award a BNA trophy posthumously, but this strange and painful year offers two worthy contenders for that bittersweet milestone. With a powerful album (on Grade A/Interscope) that shows depth and range—and spans multiple genres—Juice is truly deserving of a nod.

Pop Smoke: Another artist taken from us tragically early, Pop didn’t live to see his star-studded Victor Victor/Republic album bow. But the vitality of its material and the enduring affection of the entire hip-hop community more than justify his inclusion among the finalists.

Morgan Wallen: A country artist has never stormed up the streaming charts like Wallen, a Nashville phenom who is only now inking a deal with Republic through indie Big Loud. Wallen’s immediacy and authenticity resonate so powerfully that passing him over would seem a gross oversight.

SURGING

This batch of acts seems to have momentum and/or an “x factor” that places them toward the front of the field. Again, though, we could be way the hell off.

Doja Cat: With one of the biggest hits of the year (“Say So”), a vivid persona and visual brand and plenty of star power, RCA’s chart-topper is a strong contender—and will undoubtedly make a big impression on the telecast.

Phoebe Bridgers: The 25-year-old indie singer/songwriter is this year’s “It Girl,” and her daring, expansive sophomore album, Punisher, signals a true arrival. Her music has classic Laurel Canyon DNA but is powerfully modern.

Gabby Barrett: “I Hope” (via Warner Music Nashville) was one of the biggest singles of the year, earning huge streams and turning Barrett—who, like Carrie Underwood, was catapulted onto the national stage via American Idol—into a sensation.

Mickey Guyton: A black, female country artist who addresses inequality while weaving an inclusive, heartfelt vision? This is the kind of story Grammy loves to tell, and the Texas-born Capitol Nashville artist’s warmth and power are tailor-made for the moment.

Conan Gray: Republic’s young troubadour, who suggests a combination of the gender-fluid sensitivity of Sam Smith and Billie Eilish’s avant-pop bravado, got a huge boost recently when he was lavishly praised by none other than Elton John. His “Heather,” meanwhile, is showing real chart momentum.

NOT TO BE OVERLOOKED

BLACKPINK: Interscope’s distaff ensemble is the second biggest K-Pop act on the stateside scene; their new single with Selena Gomez, “Ice Cream,” is off to a roaring start; and they are, frankly, a blast to watch.

Arizona Zervas: Columbia prevailed in a wild signing battle for this tattooed rapper/singer, whose ambling “Roxanne” was a Spotify giant before most labels tracked down his phone number. “Roxanne” alone makes him a contender.

Saweetie: With a wicked flow and compelling image, the Icy/Warner rapper has been bubbling under for some time; with “Tap In” (and its all-star remix) she may have the cut that lets her break through to the front ranks.

24K Goldn: With “Mood,” Columbia’s 19-year-old pop-rap breakout (another TikTok arrival) has yet another in a string of hits, and the Cali native’s buoyant energy and melodic hooks are well nigh irresistible.

Rina Sawayama: Dirty Hit’s Japanese-born, U.K.-bred provocateuse fuses Alternative Rock, dance pop and other influences into a fascinating Gaga-esque  hybrid—and she too has earned plaudits from Elton John.

JP Saxe: “If the World Was Ending” established the Arista’s singer/songwriter’s appeal, and its Julia Michaels feature made it much bigger. Could this tenderly apocalyptic tune be zeitgeisty enough to earn him a BNA nom?

Polo G: The 21-year-old Chicago native was big out of the box and is now two albums in, with an evolving style and material that honestly addresses difficult subject matter—including the realities of being black in America.

Rex OC: RCA’s gifted British troubadour, a huge touring act, has captured a generation. Could Grammy help him build momentum in the post-pandemic era?

070 Shake: This New Jersey native is on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint via Def Jam, and has fashioned a bold, emotionally raw fusion of hip-hop and alternative (None other than Tame Impala remixed her “Guilty Conscience”).

NEW-SCHOOL BREAKOUTS THAT DESERVE CONSIDERATION

TikTok and other platforms have been feeding a staggering number of young acts directly into the pop mainstream. Let’s take a look at a few.

Surfaces: 10k/Caroline’s Texas-bred duo brought sunny vibes with the utterly infectious single “Sunday Best,” which channels yacht-rock tones through an electro-pop filter.

BENEE: With an infectious pop hit (“Supalonely” on Republic) that broke out via TikTok and a winsomely appealing style, this 20-year-old Kiwi burst onto the scene with charm galore.

Dominic Fike: This stylistically diverse singer/songwriter/rapper recalls the edgy, combustible quality of a young Kurt Cobain, and his material has grown increasingly sophisticated.

Ashe: This singer/songwriter’s “Moral of the Story” (Mom + Pop), boosted by a placement on Netflix’s To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, is a sharply observed, witty alt-pop tune heralding a cultivated and timely sensibility.



Powfu: The 21-year-old Canadian’s bedroom anthem “Death Bed (Coffee for Your Head)” f/Beabadoobee (Columbia) became a chart mainstay, propelled by TikTok love.

Lil Tjay: From SoundCloud to Spotify, Columbia’s Bronx-bred teen has collected mega-streams with melodic new-school rapping and plenty of old-school charisma. He’s also earned big press love.

The Kid Laroi: Grade A/Columbia’s 17-year-old singer/songwriter/rapper from Waterloo, Australia, has a powerful presence and fairly glows with confidence—no doubt enhanced by the mentorship of the late, great Juice WRLD.

Tiana Major9: The Motown/CMG Londoner’s velvety tones and lush R&B vibe are distinctly classic and have already won her a score of admirers. Grammy peeps pining for richly orchestrated soul may be inclined to give her the keys to the kingdom.

Staysolidrocky: SoundCloud and TikTok launched this teen rapper’s “Party Girl” (on Columbia) into the stratosphere. Texas-born and Virginia-raised, the 19-year-old has a rangy appeal and the camera loves him.

 

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YOUR TOP 20 IS
FULLY LOADED
Prediction: There will be 20 albums in the Top 20 this week. (10/1a)
GRAMMY TALK
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Getting global with it.
IT'S PRETTY SMOKY
And this time it's not from our bong.
WHAT COMES AFTER TIKTOK?
Shorter videos! Weirder trends!
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