Ah, the General Field category that every loves (read: is frustrated by) the most. Previously awarded to Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Dua Lipa, and Chance the Rapper, Best New Artist is one of the most coveted Grammy honors. Last year the category faced some intense scrutiny. Although Billie Eilish eventually took the award home, the nomination of Lizzo faced some debate and backlash. The “Truth Hurts” singer had a catalogue that included 3 studio albums, 2 mixtapes, and 2 EPs dating back to 2012. Many questioned what “new” meant to the Grammys in this context. Lizzo was very clearly a new artist to the vast majority of consumers, but she had been making waves in music circles for almost a decade before her explosive year in 2019.
Here are the rules for this category as per the Grammys website:
“This category recognizes an artist whose eligibility-year release(s) achieved a breakthrough into the public consciousness and notably impacted the musical landscape. In adjudicating this category, the primary element to consider is the artist’s performance. If the artist wrote most or all of the songs, this may be a secondary consideration. Production elements of the recording should not be considered.
- Minimum releases to meet eligibility: five singles/tracks or one album.
- While there will be no specified maximum number of releases, the screening committees will be charged with determining whether the artist had attained a breakthrough or prominence prior to the eligibility year. Such a determination would result in disqualification.
- An artist may not enter into this category more than three times, including as a performing member of an established group.
- Solo artists and established duos and groups.
- Solo artists formerly with duos/groups, provided the duo/group had not attained prominence.
- New established duos/groups consisting of former solo artists or former group members, provided that none of the previous solo artists nor the duo/group had attained prominence.
- New recording artists who previously achieved recognition in a different discipline, such as songwriters, politicians, actors, astronauts, etc.
- Any artist who had achieved a breakthrough in a prior eligibility year.
- Any artist with a previous GRAMMY nomination as a performer,including a nomination as an
established member of a nominated group.
- Exception: If an artist is nominated (but does not win) for the release of a single or as a featured artist or collaborator on a compilation or another artist’s album before the artist has released at least five singles or an entire album (and becomes eligible in this category for the first time), the artist may enter this category in the eligibility year during which the artist’s fifth single/track or first album is released.
- An artist with a previous songwriting GRAMMY nomination, if the nominated song had gained its
prominence through a performance by the songwriter as the primary artist.
- Exception: If an artist received the nomination (but does not win) for writing a song that had
gained its prominence through a performance by the songwriter as the primary artist before the artist has released at least five singles or an entire album (and becomes eligible in this category for the first time), the artist may enter this category in the eligibility year during which the artist’s fifth single/track or first album is released.
- Exception: If an artist received the nomination (but does not win) for writing a song that had
- Collaborations involving two or more individuals who are not an established group.
- Artists who have been credited only as featured artists.
- Choirs, choruses and large band ensembles (16 or more members).
- Non-music-performing video performers (e.g., dancers, actors).
- Musical craftspeople (songwriters, engineers, producers, art directors, remixers, notes writers,
- Any person active in public life whose entered recording was not intended to be the subject of a
- A group carrying on the name and tradition of a previous group that would be ineligible due to
number of recordings or prior breakthrough, even if the personnel changes.
- A group that would be ineligible due to number of recordings or prior breakthrough, even if it
changes its name.
- NOTE: The word “artist” is used inclusively to signify performing solo artists as well as
established performing duos and groups.
Okay! If you made it all the way through those wonky rules, let’s get started! Basically, think along these lines: THE SCOTTS (Travis Scott + Kid Cudi) would not be eligible in this category and an artist like Megan Thee Stallion could be thrown out of contention if the screening committee thinks that her true breakthrough year was 2019 and not 2020.
If 2020 was anything positive, it was the year of Megan Thee Stallion. With 2 #1 singles (“Savage (Remix)” and “WAP“), a TIME Magazine cover, multiple splashy singles and collaborations (“Girls In The Hood; “Diamonds“; “B.I.T.C.H.“; “Don’t Stop“), and charisma that just won’t quit, Megan Thee Stallion is the frontrunner for this year’s Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Although she had a big year in 2019 with hits like “Big Ole Freak,” “Cash Shit,” and “Hot Girl Summer,” 2020 was truly the year that she broke through to Top 40. This brings up and interesting conversation, anyone who actively listens to hip-hop would tell you that Megan Thee Stallion had her breakthrough last year… but a convincing argument can be made that for a wider (and whiter) audience she broke through this year. If the committee decides to nominate her, Megan is in a prime position to win. Fellow female rapper, Doja Cat, is also leading the race to be nominated in this category. 2020 was soundtracked by multiple singles from her transcendent Hot Pink album ranging from “Juicy” and “Say So” to “Cyber Sex,” “Won’t Bite,” and “Like That.” Similar to Megan, it could be argued that broke through in 2018 and 2019 with “Tia Tamera” and “Mooo,” but I think she’s safer than Megan… as long as the chatroom controversy doesn’t dominate her narrative. If anything, it’s more likely that they’re both nominated rather than them both missing recognition here.
Pop Smoke is also in contention for a nomination here. From “Dior” and “For The Night” to “What You Know Bout Love” and “Mood Swings,” the late Brooklyn icon is well-positioned to receive a number of nominations for his Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon album. Only two things are working against Pop: 1) it is unclear if his team/label submitted him for consideration and 2) no artist has ever been nominated for Best New Artist posthumously. Summer Walker is also a lock for a nomination here. Her Over It album broke streaming records for female R&B artists upon release and with singles like “Playing Games” and “Come Thru” she has effectively captured Gen Z while paying her respects to the R&B icons who came before her.
Country stars Gabby Barrett and Morgan Wallen are also in contention. Gabby hit the Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 with her debut single “I Hope,” an incredible feat for a country song in 2020. Morgan Wallen already achieved success in his home format with “Whiskey Glasses,” but this year he really leveraged TikTok towards a Top 10 debut for “7 Summers,” a damn near impossible feat for country songs nowadays. There is almost always at least one or two country artists nominated in this category this year, so don’t be surprised if it happens to be these two. Phoebe Bridgers also has a very strong chance for a nomination in this category. Her acclaimed Punisher album will garner her a lot of support from the indie and alternative voting blocs and her music just that good.
Kpop superstars BLACKPINK could become the first Kpop act to score a nomination in this category. With their record-breaking “How You Like That” and two high-profile collaboration with Lady Gaga (“Sour Candy“) and Selena Gomez (“Ice Cream“), 2020 was definitely their breakthrough year Stateside. It helps their case that their debut record, The Album, just became the highest-charting album by a girl group on the Billboard 200 in over a decade. Another foreign act, the U.K.’s very own Stormzy, was submitted for consideration in this category. The case for Stormzy not being a new artist is probably stronger than the case for that distinction, but with ample success and acclaim he could be nominated in the committee allows it.
This year, Mickey Guyton became the first Black woman country artist to perform at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Her sharp heart-breaking lyricism and strong voice could land her as a surprise nominee in lieu of more successful new country acts similar to Yola at the last Grammy awards. Conan Gray has taken Gen Z and TikTok by storm with his soft indie pop sound, but he may not have made a large enough impact outside of his core demographic to earn a nomination. Polo G should also be on your, and the Grammy’s radar. The Chicago rapper’s sophomore album, The Goat, has been a streaming giant, went Gold in just two months, and showed off his rap prowess and hit-making ability. Two female rap acts that made waves last year are also in contention again this year. Saweetie had a huge summer hit with “My Type” last year and she replicated it, to a slightly lesser extent, with “Tap In” this year. “Tap In’s” failure to go Top 10 and the lack of a new project will likely have Saweetie sitting this race out again this year. City Girls also had summer hits last year with “Twerk” and “Act Up.” Working in their favor? They have a full-length project, City On Lock, that is also up for consideration. Working against them? “Jobs” failed to make sizable impact and the other singles from the album are struggling to gain traction.
Jack Harlow had a massive hit this year with the #2-peaking “WHAT’S POPPIN.” It’s a competitive year, so one hit without world-shattering acclaim to back him up will likely not be enough for him to snatch a nomination. Similarly, Lil Tjay has notched hits like “Pop Out” and “Mood Swings” as a featured artist, but his lack of hit songs of his own will work against him. Mulatto may be too new for this year’s awards, but with hits like “Muwop” and “Bitch from da Souf,” she already has incredible momentum for the 2022 Grammys. On the other hand, CHIKA could very likely be a surprise nominee. A different female rapper in terms of style and substance, don’t be too shocked if her name pops up on nominations day.
Best New Artist is a category that loves recognizing a few indie/alternative acts every year. Yves Tumor and Moses Sumney drew near-universal acclaim for their latest albums, Heaven to a Tortured Mind and græ, respectively. It is difficult to assess their chances for a nomination here, but it is certain that they are longshots. Ant Clemons was a key collaborator on Kanye West’s JESUS IS KING as well as Jesus Is Born. The lack of traction for his own material hurts his chances, but I do think that if he continues at this rate, we’ll be seeing Ant Clemons’ name a lot in future Grammy ceremonies. Rina Sawayama saw her fanbase essentially quintuple after the release of her acclaimed and beloved SAWAYAMA. Spanning nu-metal, pop, dance, and trap, the expansive album’s acclaim and excellence could lift her to a nomination, but it is not incredibly likely. Two country artists, Orville Peck and Ingrid Andress, are also in the running, but there are, admittedly, stronger contenders from their genre this year. Finally, SAINt JHN (“Roses”; “Brown Skin Girl“) and Tones and I (“Dance Monkey”) scored massive global hits this eligibility period. SAINt JHN has a decent shot; he’s got acclaim, success, and industry love, but he hasn’t really broken through commercially outside of “Roses.” Conversely, Tones and I has been unable to land a hit anywhere near half the size of “Dance Monkey,” and that song is so polarizing that she will likely be ignored this Grammy season. Joji and KAYTRANADA are also ones to keep an eye on.
Well, here goes nothing!
- Megan Thee Stallion
- Doja Cat
- Morgan Wallen
- Gabby Barrett
- Mickey Guyton
- Phoebe Bridgers
- Summer Walker
- Pop Smoke
ALT: CHIKA OR Rina Sawayama