A total of 343 artists are on the entry list for best new artist at the 2021 Grammy Awards. That’s the list from which voting members of the Recording Academy made their choices during the first-round voting period (Sept. 30 through Oct. 12). The 20 acts that received the most votes will move to the next step: the nominations review committee.
That committee has met every year since 1995 to determine the nominations in the Big Four categories: album, record and song of the year plus best new artist. Their mission is to upgrade and balance the nominations.
The committee seeks to weed out any nominations that might prove embarrassing to the Academy. If there had been such a committee in 1989, there might have been some discussion about the whispers within the industry that Milli Vanilli didn’t sing on their album. Instead, that duo won the award — and had to give it back, when the whispers turned into a full-fledged scandal.
The committee also seeks to boost genre, racial and gender diversity — sometimes, it appears, at the expense of mainstream pop acts. Last year, Lewis Capaldi was passed over for a best new artist nomination, while spots went to such highly respected but lower-selling acts as Black Pumas, Yola and Tank and the Bangas.
This is the first year since the Recording Academy jettisoned a rule about the maximum number of tracks a new artist could have released and still be considered “new.” The rule had been 30 tracks, but in an era when many artists, especially in the hip-hop world, release mixtapes and EPs frequently, an artist can get to the 30-track mark very quickly. Rather than raise the limit, the Academy simply did away with it.
The change is immediately evident looking at this year’s entry list. The prolific YoungBoy Never Broke Again is included. He has released two studio albums, one compilation album, 16 mixtapes, two collaborative mixtapes, three EPs and 14 commercial singles as a lead artist. Under the old rules, he would have been disqualified.
Megan Thee Stallion, who is entered this year, was also entered in last year’s process. She had a big 2019, but an even bigger 2020. This follows in the same pattern as Alessia Cara, who won three years ago. Cara had a big hit, “Here,” prior to her even bigger breakthrough year.
Pop Smoke, who was shot to death in February at age 20, is entered. No artist has received a posthumous nomination in this category, which dates to 1959, the second year of the Grammy Awards. The award has long been seen as a vote of confidence in a promising, up-and-coming artist. That criteria doesn’t really apply in the case of an artist who is no longer living. A nomination would instead be a respectful nod to a career cut short. Giving Pop Smoke a posthumous best new artist nomination would be a headline magnet. But it would also take a nomination from someone who could benefit from the boost. Assuming Pop Smoke makes the voters’ top 20, the committee members will likely discuss these issues.
Finneas and Mike Dean are entered, even though they are both five-time Grammy winners. That’s because all of their Grammys were for behind-the-scenes work with other artists — sister Billie Eilish, in Finneas’ case, and Kanye West, in Dean’s. A nomination for Finneas seems like a long shot, but if it happens, he and Eilish would be the first siblings in Grammy history to separately receive best new artist nods.
Other surprising entries include Desmond Child, the veteran producer/writer and four-time Grammy nominee; Anne-Marie, who was featured on Clean Bandit’s 2016 smash “Rockabye”; and Skip Marley, who was featured on Katy Perry’s 2017 single “Slave to the Rhythm.” Both of those songs were top 10 hits on the Hot 100, though neither was nominated for performance Grammys.
Here are 25 acts that appear to have the best chance of being nominated this year. They are shown in alphabetical order (which is how they appeared on the entry list and how the top 20 vote-getters will be presented to the nominations review committee).
Gabby Barrett: “I Hope,” the breakthrough hit by the 20-year old country singer, has logged 13 weeks at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs. Barrett was nominated for new female artist of the year at the ACM Awards and is nominated for new artist of the year at the CMA Awards. She is vying to become the first female country artist to win in this category since Carrie Underwood 14 years ago. Both singers first rose to prominence on American Idol.
Benee: The 20-year old New Zealander brightened pop airwaves this year with “Supalonely” (featuring Gus Dapperton), which made the top 40 on the Hot 100.
Blackpink: The all-female group is vying to become the first K-pop act to receive a nomination in this category. The act’s first full-length studio album, The Album, entered the Billboard 200 at No. 2. “Ice Cream,” its tasty collab with Selena Gomez, reached No. 13 on the Hot 100.
Blueface: The rapper’s “Thotiana” reached No. 8 on the Hot 100. He was nominated for best new artist at the 2019 BET Awards.
City Girls: The female hip-hop duo’s sophomore album, City on Lock, made the top 30 on the Billboard 200. The duo has also had a pair of top 30 hits on the Hot 100: “Twerk” (featuring Cardi B) and “Act Up.” City Girls were nominated for best new artist at the 2019 BET Awards and top rap female artist at this year’s Billboard Music Awards.
Trevor Daniel: “Falling” was a pop radio mainstay for months, reaching No. 17 on the Hot 100.
Doja Cat: Doja Cat won Push best new artist at the MTV Video Music Awards and turned in a stylish, theatrical performance at the Billboard Music Awards last week. Her “Say So” reached No. 1 on the Hot 100. Her sophomore album Hot Pink hit No. 9 on the Billboard 200.
Conan Gray: Gray’s debut album, Kid Krow, reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200. His breakthrough hit single, “Heather,” has climbed as high as No. 46 on the Hot 100.
Mickey Guyton: At 37, Guyton is older than most best new artist nominees. And she doesn’t really have the stats that make a case for her inclusion. But that seems to be less important to the committee than it used to be. Guyton has made a strong impression as a Black female country singer — still a rarity in the genre. She has been kicking around awhile: She was an ACM Awards nominee for new female vocalist of the year four years ago.
Jack Harlow: “Whats Poppin” (featuring DaBaby, Tory Lanez & Lil Wayne) reached No. 2 on the Hot 100. Harlow’s EP Sweet Action hit No. 20 on the Billboard 200.
Lil Mosey: “Blueberry Faygo” reached No. 8 on the Hot 100 (and was once neck-and-neck with Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” as the summer’s top fruit-themed smash, until Styles surged ahead). Mosey’s confidently titled sophomore album Certified Hitmaker, hit No. 12 on the Billboard 200.
Melanie Martinez: The singer/actress is another artist who would have been disqualified under the old rules. Her debut album, Cry Baby, reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 in 2015. But her sophomore album K-12, released at the start of this eligibility year, climbed even higher, to No. 3.
Megan Thee Stallion: The rapper has had two No. 1 hits on the Hot 100: “Savage” (with Beyoncé) and “WAP” (as Cardi B’s featured artist). Her album Suga reached No. 7 on the Billboard 200. She is vying to become the first female hip-hop artist to win in this category since Lauryn Hill 22 years ago.
NLE Choppa: It’s hard to imagine that the rapper is still just 17. (He turns 18 on Nov. 1.) His debut album, Top Shotta, reached No. 10 on the Billboard 200. His sophomore album, From Dark to Light, is due on his birthday.
Orville Peck: Peck has gotten a lot of buzz, including a Billboard piece headlined “Why Orville Peck Is the Unconventional Best New Artist Pick the Grammys Need.” (See below.) Shania Twain (a nominee in this category 25 years ago) teamed with Peck on “Legends Never Die” from this year’s Show Pony EP.
Pop Smoke: The late rapper’s album Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon regains the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 this week. Pop Smoke was nominated for best new artist at the BET Awards and the BET Hip Hop Awards.
Rex Orange County: The Englishman’s debut album Pony reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200.
Saweetie: The rapper has had a pair of top 30 hits on the Hot 100: “My Type” and “Tap In.” Her studio album Pretty B**ch Music is upcoming.
SuperM: The group is competing with Blackpink to represent K-pop on the final ballot. There’s no reason they can’t both be nominated, but the committee is more likely to pick just one. SuperM’s eponymous EP reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Its first full-length album, Super One, reached No. 2.
Surfaces: The duo’s winning “Sunday Best,” with its retro-pop accents, rose to No. 19 on the Hot 100.
Tones and I: The Australian singer’s global dance hit “Dance Monkey” reached No. 4 on the Hot 100. Her EP The Kids Are Coming reached No. 30 on the Billboard 200.
24kGoldn: “Mood” (featuring Iann Dior) jumps to No. 1 on this week’s Hot 100. It made its attention-getting surge to the top spot after first-round balloting closed, but before the committee met. The rapper/singer is just 19.
Summer Walker: Walker’s debut album, Over It, reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Walker was nominated for best new artist at the BET Awards.
Morgan Wallen: Wallen has had three top 20 hits on the Hot 100, including the top 10 hit “7 Summers.” Wallen was nominated for new male artist of the year at the ACM Awards the last two years and is nominated for new artist of the year (also for the second year) at the upcoming CMA Awards.
YoungBoy Never Broke Again: The hip-hop artist, just 20, has had three No. 1 titles on the Billboard 200: Al Young Boy 2,38 Baby 2 and Top. Two other projects have made the top 10.
Other artists, not already named in the introductory section or in the list of 25 artists, that have a real chance of being nominated include Ingrid Andress, Ashe, Phoebe Bridgers, Blanco Brown, Calboy, Chika, Noah Cyrus, Jordan Davis, Flo Milli, Ali Gatie, Riley Green, Caylee Hammack, Kash Doll, The Kid Laroi, King Princess, Kiana Ledé, Lil Tjay, Mabel, Mulatto, NCT 127, Carly Pearce, Polo G, Powfu, Rina Sawayama, JP Saxe, Shaed, Soccer Mommy, Lennon Stella, Stormzy, Don Toliver, Tenille Townes, Rod Wave and Anthony Zervas.