Whoever ends up staying in their seat when the Best New Artist trophy is handed out at Sunday’s Grammys shouldn’t feel so bad: They’re in pretty good company. Recent years have seen such multiplatinum stars as Justin Bieber, Drake, Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift come out on the short end in the category.
Then again, there’s a distinct possibility this year’s winner could make history by becoming the first dubstep act (Skrillex) to take the prize, the first true indie rocker (Bon Iver) to snatch it or just the second female MC (Nicki Minaj) bestowed with the honor.
This could also be the year when the music industry fully embraces the fact that just putting a traditional album out is not the surest (or only) path to Grammy glory. Among those in the mix are acts like J. Cole and Minaj, who’ve slowly built up careers by mining the mixtape path to glory and Skrillex, who went from indie punk rock to the top of the glow-stick-waving heap by perfecting a stomach-rumbling mix of dance music, techno beats and rock energy through a series of EPs and singles in front of ever-expanding, sweaty live crowds.
Bon Iver (the nom de rock of sensitive singer Justin Vernon) brings his own unique path to the mix. On two acclaimed independently released albums of sensitive, wistful forest folk, Vernon has provided an antidote of sorts to Minaj’s hyper, in-your-face rhymes with music that washes over you instead of hitting you over the head. But his commercial prospects have not dimmed at all due to his chosen path, as Bon Iver tunes have shown up in Miller Genuine Draft ads and have landed him on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album and, reportedly, in the studio with Alicia Keys.
With just her debut album, Pink Friday, to her credit, Minaj has gone from mixtape queen to pop/rap icon in just four years, culminating with her Super Bowl halftime appearance on Sunday alongside Madonna. Along the way, the Queens native has made spotlight-stealing cameos on songs by Kanye, Mariah Carey, Ludacris, DJ Khaled and Drake.
Like Minaj, Cole slowly bubbled up on the mixtape circuit to a deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, dropping a number of impressive guest verses along the way for Jigga, Wale, B.o.B and Young Chris. By the time his major-label debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, dropped in May, he was already being touted as one of the hottest young stars in the business.
Though they’ve been playing together since 2005, country trio the Band Perry didn’t release their first full-length album until October. They’ve since recorded with Bieber for his Under the Mistletoe album, scored three American Music Awards nominations as well as a trio of hit singles.
Who is your pick to win the Best New Artist Grammy? Let us know in comments below!
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