Iggy Azalea - The breakout star of 2014 as far as the Hot 100 is concerned, Iggy Azalea has enjoyed three top 5 hits — including the song of the summer, “Fancy” — on her way to becoming a household name.
Heartfelt crossover hit? Check. Well-liked debut album? Check. Tons of vocal talent? Check. A safe bet for someone we’ll still be listening to years from now? Check, check. The next box Sam Smith will check off is a best new artist nod.
Bastille - The U.K. rock group may still only have one hit single in the States, but a strong touring year and solid showings at other award ceremonies (they won British breakthrough act at the BRIT Awards and are up for new artist of the year at the American Music Awards) points to a likely best new artist nod for the “Pompeii” group.
HAIM - True, the sisters’ debut album Days Are Gone was eligible at last year’s ceremony and whiffed, but a year of festival dates, an avalanche of critical acclaim and a minor alternative hit in “The Wire” has set up the trio as a pretty safe bet in this year’s best new artist class (for those wondering: since HAIM has yet to score a Grammy nom, they are eligible to compete this year).
“Riptide” continues to rise at pop radio after settling comfortably in at rock radio, and the Australian folk singer-songwriter got a major mainstream boost when Taylor Swift covered the song during a stop by BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge earlier this month.
Tove Lo - The Swedish pop chanteuse’s lauded debut album, Queen of the Clouds, was released on the final day of the Grammy eligibility period in September, and “Habits (Stay High)” has made her a top 40 staple in the past month. Tove Lo is still an unknown quantity to many, but she’s certainly gaining steam.
Childish Gambino - Donald Glover may have released his debut album as Childish Gambino, Camp, in 2011, but the rapper earned more consistently high marks with his sophomore set, 2013’s Because The Internet. Recent guest spots on songs by Jhene Aiko and Ariana Grande, as well as a load of festival dates, have demonstrated that this rapper/actor is for real as a musical artist.
FKA Twigs - Forget the Robert Pattinson rumors (okay, don’t forget them, but set them aside for a second): FKA Twigs’ hypnotic R&B has been gaining for nearly two years, and when her debut album, LP1, was released last August, the full-length instantly became one of the best-reviewed discs of the year. A fascinating indie artist with a fiercely individual sound, Twigs could fill the James Blake role in this year’s group of nominees.
A Great Big World - The pop duo enjoyed a breakthrough moment when their ballad “Say Something” snagged a guest spot from Christina Aguilera and became a top 5 smash, but that was back in January and there hasn’t been anything close to a follow-up hit. Will voters remember AGBW mania 11 months before the nominations are announced?
Aloe Blacc - A few months ago, Blacc seemed like a best new artist lock, thanks to his huge Avicii collaboration “Wake Me Up,” his own top 10 hit “The Man” and an opening spot on Bruno Mars’ tour. The soul-pop maestro has been busy on tour and could still pull off a nomination, but “The Man” was not as ubiquitous as it needed to be to make Blacc a sure thing.
The obscure R&B artist was a hit at summer festivals and spent the first half of 2014 gathering tons of buzz, and while her first album Goddess was a solid debut, it didn’t offer a Tove Lo-esque crossover hit or score FKA Twigs-level critical adoration. Banks has a shot here, but she’s likely on the outside track.
MAGIC! - Your mom can sing along to “Rude,” and MAGIC! would have had the song of the summer had Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” reign let up a little sooner. Compared to Miss I-G-G-Y, however, how many Grammy voters know what MAGIC! is all about aside from the Canadian group’s out-of-nowhere smash? “Rude” was huge, but the offbeat reggae-pop track might not be a golden ticket into this year’s best new artist circle.
ONES TO WATCH
Echosmith - “Cool Kids” keeps rising on the Hot 100 (the song reaches a new peak at No. 13 this week) and more casual listeners are discovering these L.A. indie-poppers. Could they pull off a last-minute nod?
Cole Swindell - Country doesn’t have a clear best new artist front-runner like in most years, but with the hit single “Chillin’ It” and a potential new artist of the year win at the CMAs, the Georgia native may sneak in.
The girl group has a huge fan base but is still looking for a defining hit -- and historically, girl groups don’t do well in this category. A well-received debut album in November could lead to a best new artist nomination for the girls, who are eligible with their I debut EP.