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Although this year's best new artist category features two buzzworthy British bands and an American jazz phenom, the competition may ultimately come down to a pair of Canadian stars. Justin Bieber and Drake are each hoping to cap off their breakout years by snagging the trophy as a male solo performer, a feat that has happened once in the past 18 years (John Legend in 2006).
While Mumford & Sons, Florence & the Machine and Esperanza Spalding are all critical darlings, none could match the commercial success of Bieber and Drake in 2010. The 16-year-old Bieber turned his pop stylings into endless merchandising opportunities-his fans can now buy Bieber nail polish before seeing his 3-D concert movie in February. Meanwhile, Drake achieved a No. 1 debut album and collaborated with rap heavyweights Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil Wayne, all while maintaining a family-friendly image and Sprite sponsorship.
The two artists recognize that they are their own biggest competition for best new artist. "There's a lot of incredible people in that category, and one of them is a good friend of mine and a very powerful young kid," Drake says. When Billboard asked Bieber about the category, he simply repeated Drake's nickname: "Drizzy. Drizzy."