By Ray McDonald
I’ve been following the Grammy awards for four decades and never tire of one category in particular: Best New Artist. It’s sheer entertainment finding out who the Recording Academy sees fit to nominate. Past winners have included such howlers as the Starland Vocal Band and A Taste Of Honey. And let’s not forget those ill-fated lip-synchers Milli Vanilli, who were later stripped of their Best New Artist title once it was discovered they hadn’t sung a note on their album.
More often than not, however, this category rewards the truly deserving. Among the other victors over the years have been The Beatles, Mariah Carey, and Adele. This year’s crop of nominees ranges from folk to hip-hop, with nary a dud to be found.
Alabama Shakes is an exciting blues-rock outfit featuring a riveting lead singer, Brittany Howard. They formed in 2009 but only last year released their debut album, “Boys & Girls.” This band emphasizes real music over imagery…and I like it a lot.
Fun — or rather, “fun.” — is a quirky pop-rock outfit out of New York City. They released their first album in 2009, so why the recognition now? The category looks at those artists who first came to prominence during the year. 2012 was a huge year for Fun; it stormed charts with two major singles, “We Are Young” and “Some Nights,” while bandleader Nate Ruess also became an in-demand songwriter and collaborator. With six Grammy nominations, Fun must be considered a front-runner in this category.
Next on the list is 21-year-old Hunter Hayes, from Louisiana, who broke into country stardom with his half-million-selling, self-titled debut album. His single “Wanted” sold nearly three million copies and topped the country chart. Three years ago, another country act, The Zac Brown Band, took Best New Artist honors, so Hunter stands a fighting chance.
Not long ago, the members of The Lumineers moved away from New York City because they couldn’t make a living. They relocated to Denver, Colorado, recorded a sing-along ditty called “Ho Hey,” and three million downloads later, earned two Grammy nominations: Best New Artist and Best Americana Album. With the tremendous success of Mumford & Sons, folk-rock is suddenly red hot, which may help this trio get the trophy.
Rounding out the field is Frank Ocean. This young soul singer – whose real name is Christopher Breaux – has become a headline magnet. Last year, he confessed romantic feelings for another man, drawing a largely supportive response from the hip-hop community. Frank has six nominations, and his high visibility renders him a wild card in this race.
I’m terrible at picking Best New Artist winners, but I’m casting my lot with Fun. Who are you rooting for? Join the comments thread and tells us who you think should win, and why.
The 55th annual Grammy Award ceremony takes place this Sunday, February 10.