The list of artists who should be up for Best New Artist at Sunday’s Grammy Awards is mighty impressive. Cardi B! Post Malone! BTS! Troye Sivan! Lil Pump! Ella Mai! Every one of them zoomed to massive mainstream stardom over the past 12 to 15 months. What a category!
Instead, none of them are nominated.
Best New Artist, always one of the Grammys’ most laughed-at categories, remains a perfect distillation of how music’s top awards show manages to get so many things wrong. Thanks to incomprehensible eligibility rules and a voting body that can skew out of touch, it’s the Grammys’ longest-running joke, from the time A Taste of Honey beat the Cars and Elvis Costello to the whole Milli Vanilli saga.
Last year’s contest was no exception. No shade to winner Alessia Cara, but her breakthrough single Here and debut album Know-It-All were released during the previous year’s eligibility period, raising a few industry eyebrows about what we’re all even doing here.
Another example: Cardi B, far and away the biggest new pop star of the past year-plus, was ruled ineligible for Best New Artist in part because her smash hit Bodak Yellow was nominated in 2018. But the Grammys didn’t seem to have that problem when Meghan Trainor, nominated for All About That Bass in 2015, won Best New Artist in 2016.
This year’s nominees spark even more questions. Margo Price played Saturday Night Live in early 2016. Bebe Rexha’s Top 10 single Me, Myself & I dropped in 2015. Heck, Greta Van Fleet’s self-titled first album came out all the way back in 1969! (Oh, wait, no, sorry, that was Led Zeppelin.)
The Grammys do shake things up on occasion. In response to criticism that the 2018 ceremony and top winners were too male, the Recording Academy invited 900 new voting members and expanded the top four categories to eight nominees, all in hopes of a more inclusive night. It has probably had some impact, as five of the eight Album of the Year nominees and six of the eight Best New Artist nominees are female.
Here’s my solution: Best New Artist is a unique category, and it should have unique rules. Give artists a two-year window of eligibility instead of just one. That would have rendered last year’s Cara controversy moot, and it would allow artists like Cardi B and Post Malone — who are both up for Album of the Year — to be properly honored for their mega mainstream breakthroughs.
As for my predictions in Best New Artist and other top categories? Read on.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Brandi Carlile, The Joke; Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin, I Like It; Childish Gambino, This Is America; Drake, God’s Plan; Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, Shallow; Kendrick Lamar and SZA, All the Stars; Post Malone and 21 Savage, Rockstar; Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey, The Middle.
Prediction: Incredibly, no rap song has ever won this category. It won’t happen this year, either, as I suspect all those dominant bangers will cancel each other out. Here, big pop singles rule. And while the earwormy juggernaut The Middle would be a deserving victor, it’s Grammy 101 to reward an A-lister like Lady Gaga for a lesser (but still very good!) hit.
SONG OF THE YEAR
Nominees: All the Stars, Kendrick Lamar and SZA; Boo’d Up, Ella Mai; God’s Plan, Drake; In My Blood, Shawn Mendes; The Joke, Brandi Carlile; The Middle, Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey; Shallow, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper; This Is America (Childish Gambino).
Prediction: If America’s best songwriter, Pulitzer Kenny, can’t win for Alright, he’s not winning for All the Stars. The Joke is a real contender, but Carlile might have had a better shot during the Ray Charles-Robert Plant-Herbie Hancock run of last decade. The Middle’s perfectly calibrated pop craftsmanship deserves recognition, but again, look for Shallow to prevail — not just to honor Gaga, but co-writer and pop savant Mark Ronson, who surprisingly never won this category for Uptown Funk or Rehab.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Black Panther: The Album; Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy; Brandi Carlile, By the Way, I Forgive You; Drake, Scorpion; H.E.R., H.E.R.; Post Malone, Beerbongs and Bentleys; Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer; Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour.
Prediction: Cardi B’s loaded debut was the year’s most zeitgeisty LP, and Musgraves and Monae delivered critical favorites. The Grammys love Kacey, and Golden Hour is a truly lovely album. That said, I’m predicting Black Panther. A rap album hasn’t won since 2004, nor a soundtrack since 2001, but Black Panther was a cultural sensation that has lots of industry-wide support. (It might win Best Picture at this month’s Oscars.) And it would be sort of a make-good for lead artist and producer Kendrick Lamar after three stinging Album of the Year defeats since 2014. Besides, predicting Lamar to win this category every single year has to pay off at some point, right?
BEST NEW ARTIST
Nominees: Chloe x Halle, Luke Combs, Greta Van Fleet, H.E.R., Dua Lipa, Margo Price, Bebe Rexha, Jorja Smith.
Prediction: This feels like an upset year, except none of the candidates feel like front-runners. Rewarding a talented but much-derided rock band like Greta Van Fleet would be the most on-brand Grammy move ever, but the safe money is on Dua Lipa, a globally beloved British singer who everyone keeps insisting is pop’s Next Big Thing. Technically, she should have been up for Best New Artist like two years ago, but that’s not our problem, it’s the Grammys’. And they seem to be in no hurry to fix it.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.
61st annual Grammy Awards Alicia Keys hosts at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS. Performers include Shawn Mendes, Miley Cyrus, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kacey Musgraves, Janelle Monae, Camila Cabello and more.