When the nominations for the 62nd annual Grammy Awards are announced on Nov. 20, Billie Eilish and Lizzo are all but certain to be in the running for best new artist. The two artists finished in the top two in the same category at MTV’s Video Music Awards on Aug. 26. Eilish won there, but that was before Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” blew up and spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Eilish’s “Bad Guy” spent just one week on top, but it had already spent nine weeks in the runner-up spot. The two smash hits are pretty evenly matched. The best new artist Grammy race is going to be more of a contest than it at first seemed.
Megan Thee Stallion, Rosalía, Maggie Rogers and Summer Walker are also good bets to be nominated in this category. If all six of these women make it, this will be the second year in a row that female artists grab six of the eight slots. Last year, five female solo artists (including eventual winner Dua Lipa) were nominated, as was one female duo, Chloe X Halle.
The category will likely be rounded out by two men: Juice WRLD and either Lil Nas X or Lewis Capaldi. We’ll break that tie in a minute.
Historically, female artists have an edge in this category. Twenty-seven female solo artists have won in this category, compared to 12 male solo artists. Why is that? I would guess that Grammy voters feel more protective toward young women (and most of the nominees in this category are young) than they do toward young men.
Now let’s go back and take another look at these and other artists and the reasons they’re likely to be in or out.
Eilish is just 17. (She turns 18 on Dec. 18, about a month after the nominations are announced.) That would make her the youngest best new artist nominee since Justin Bieber, who was 16 when he was a 2010 nominee. Eilish would be the youngest female nominee in this category since Joss Stone, who was also 17 when she was nominated in 2004. Eilish’s first full-length album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, logged three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best pop vocal album.
Lizzo’s lighthearted “Truth Hurts” is a winning blend of pop and hip-hop. Moreover, her message of body positivity is one that the Recording Academy will want to endorse. Lizzo’s third album, Cuz I Love You, reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200. The deluxe edition is entered for best urban contemporary album.
Megan Thee Stallion’s first mixtape, Fever, reached No. 10 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best rap album. Megan Thee Stallion would be the first female rapper to receive a nom in this category since Iggy Azalea five years ago. (Cardi B wasn’t eligible in this category last year because she had been nominated in two other categories the year before.)
Juice WRLD’s failure to get a single nomination last year was perplexing. “Lucid Dreams” was an innovative hip-hop single and a smash hit (No. 2 on the Hot 100). His debut album Goodbye & Good Riddance (which featured 2017 best new artist nominee Lil Uzi Vert) reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200. But Juice WRLD’s shutout last year preserved his eligibility in this category for this year. (Once you’re nominated, you’re ineligible here in future years.) His follow-up, Death Race for Love, spent its first two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best rap album. His third album is due Dec. 2. Juice WRLD was nominated for best new artist at the BET Awards. I’m guessing that he’ll be nominated here this year, reflecting his two years of success, in the same way that Alessia Cara‘s award in this category two years ago reflected her two years of success.
Rosalía’s second studio album, El mal querer, hit No. 1 on Latin Pop Albums in November 2018, but it has yet to crack the Billboard 200. (That latter fact is surprising given her relatively high profile.) El mal querer is entered for best Latin rock, urban or alternative album. Rosalía is vying to become the first artist to be nominated for best new artist with a foreign-language album. (She would not, however, be the first Latin artist to be nominated. José Feliciano won in 1968. But he had a hit English-language album, Feliciano!, which included his soulful reinvention of The Doors‘ “Light My Fire.”) Rosalía is also vying to become the first artist to be nominated for best new artist at both the Grammys and the Latin Grammys. She was nominated in this category at the Latin Grammys two years ago. She was also nominated for best new artist at the VMAs.
Rogers’ debut album, Heard It in a Past Life, reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best pop vocal album.
Walker’s debut album, It’s Over, entered the Billboard 200 at No. 2. It was released after the close of the eligibility year, but the Nominations Review Committee, which will determine the final nominations, couldn’t help but notice that high debut. Walker’s previous mixtape, Last Day of Summer, reached No. 44 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best R&B album. It’s Over includes Walker’s hit remix of “Girls Need Love,” a collab with Drake, who was a 2010 nominee in this category.
We’re down to our last spot and we have two serious candidates left: Lil Nas X and Capaldi. I hate it when that happens!
Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” logged a record-breaking 19 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100. His EP, 7, reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best pop vocal album, a sign that the rap committee didn’t consider it to have enough hallmarks of rap to compete there. Lil Nas X was nominated for best new artist at the VMAs. He made the cover of Time in August. It would be remarkable if a new artist made the cover of Time and was passed over in this category. And there’s this: Lil Nas X is, at this point, the only best new artist contender who has had two top 10 hits on the Hot 100. (His follow-up hit, “Panini,” also made the top 10.)
Some committee members may see “Old Town Road” as a novelty hit. Others may see it as a genre-bridging single and its success as an indication that music fans are sometimes ahead of the music industry in a desire to bring disparate forms of music together. Still others may want to give Lil Nas X credit for coming out, at the age of 20, while his record was No. 1. Remarkable, when you think about it.
Grammy trivia: Billy Ray Cyrus, who is featured on the “Old Town Road” remix, was a 1992 Grammy nominee for best new artist. He lost to Arrested Development, the first hip-hop act to win in this category. Now Cyrus is backing an act that is hip-hop, at least in part. The message: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Capaldi’s breakthrough single, “Someone like You,” has so far reached No. 3 on the Hot 100. His first full-length album, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, reached No. 25 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best pop vocal album. The album topped the Official U.K. Albums Chart for six weeks, longer than any other album in 2019.
The committee could give “Old Town Road” a record of the year nom, recognizing its impact as a single, but withhold a best new artist nom from Lil Nas X. Or they could give “Someone Like You” a song of the year nom, recognizing its quality as a ballad, but withhold a best new artist nom from Capaldi.
I think they’ll do the latter. If my hunch is right, Capaldi just misses.
Here are 13 additional artists with a shot at a nomination in this category, if any of the front-runners come up short:
Morgan Wallen. Wallen’s first full-length album, If I Know Me, reached No. 35 on the Billboard 200. It was released in the previous eligibility year. “Whiskey Glasses” had multiple weeks at No. 1 on both Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay. Wallen is nominated for new artist of the year at the CMA Awards on Nov. 13.
Blueface. The rapper’s EP Dirtbag reached No. 48 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best rap album. “Thotiana” hit No. 8 on the Hot 100. Blueface was nominated for best new artist at the BET Awards.
Blanco Brown. The country/hip-hop singer’s first full-length album, Honeysuckle & Lightning Bugs, enters the Billboard 200 at No. 130 this week. His single, “The Git Up,” reached No. 14 on the Hot 100. It logged 12 weeks at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs.
Lil Tecca. The rapper’s mixtape We Love You Tecca reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200. A single from the mixtape, “Ransom,” reached No. 4 on the Hot 100.
Joji. Ballads 1, the first full-length album by the Japanese singer/rapper, reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best alternative music album.
Carly Pearce. She was entered on the strength of her 2017 debut album Every Little Thing. The title track was a No. 1 hit on the Country Airplay chart. Like Wallen, she’s nominated for new artist of the year at the CMA Awards.
Polo G. The rapper’s first studio album, Die a Legend, reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best rap album.
City Girls. The female rap duo’s debut studio album, Girl Code, reached No. 55 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best rap album. City Girls were nominated for best new artist at the BET Awards.
Jade Bird. The English singer’s first full-length album, Jade Bird, has gotten strong reviews (though it has yet to crack the Billboard 200). It’s entered for best Americana album.
Calboy. His EP Wildboy reached No. 30 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best rap album.
Queen Naija. The singer/songwriter’s EP, Queen Naija, reached No. 26 on the Billboard 200. It was released in the previous eligibility year. She was nominated for best new artist at the BET Awards.
YNW Melly. The rapper’s first mixtape, I Am You, reached No. 20 on the Billboard 200. It was released in the previous eligibility year. His second mixtape, We All Shine, reached No. 27. It’s entered for best rap album.
Dean Lewis. A Place We Knew, the first full-length album by the Aussie singer/songwriter, hit No. 31 on the Billboard 200. It’s entered for best pop vocal album.
A total of 275 artists were nominated this year, the lowest total in 24 years. The number of entries in this category peaked in 2013 with 670.