One of the most heralded of all the Grammy Awards categories is best new artist. Though it delivers immediate prestige — who doesn’t want to be ordained the next big thing in music? — it also imparts high expectations.
For some, the award has been the pinnacle of careers that soon waned or faltered, like Starland Vocal Band, Christopher Cross, Men at Work, Paula Cole, Evanescence, and the most notorious best new artist winner, Milli Vanilli, whose title was vacated in 1990 after its lip-synching scandal was revealed.
For others, the award predicted the success that would follow: Alicia Keys, Norah Jones, Maroon 5, John Legend, Carrie Underwood, Adele, Zac Brown Band.
This year’s nominees are a diverse mix musically. Sam Smith, who leads this year’s Grammy field in nominations (six), seems to be the likely winner, although Iggy Azalea would be a more provocative choice. My vote would go to Brandy Clark, who has already established herself as a successful songwriter and who should win the Grammy for best country album. Here’s a look a the 2015 nominees with samples of their music.
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The 57th Grammy Awards show airs at 7 p.m. Central Sunday on CBS (KCTV5 in Kansas City).
Amethyst Amelia Kelly was 16 in 2006 when she left her native Australia for the United States to pursue a career in music, specifically hip-hop. Her stage names honors her dog, Iggy, named after Iggy Pop, and the street her family lives on. Azalea lived throughout the Southern U.S., where she adopted her style of hip-hop and Southern drawl she raps in. After moving to Los Angeles in 2011, she released a mix tape, “Ignorant Art,” and be the end of the year the hip-hop magazine XXL had named her one of its Top Ten Freshmen — the first non-American female to make that list. In 2014, she released her first full-length, “The New Classic.” Its first two singles, “Fancy” and “Problem,” charted No. 1, making Azalea the only artist other than the Beatles whose first two singles reached No. 1.
This synth-heavy indie-rock band from Britain started out in 2010 as a solo project for Dan Smith. He eventually expanded it into a quartet. In March 2013, Bastille released “Bad Blood,” its full-length debut on Virgin Records. Its single, “Pompeii,” became a Top 10 hit in 10 countries, including the United States, where it peaked at No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. In December, Bastille released its third mix-tape, “VS. (Other People's Heartache, Pt. III),” which includes a collaboration with fellow best-new-artist nominee, Haim.
Clark has been a songwriter in Nashville since the early 2000s. Her songs have been recorded by Reba McEntire, the Band Perry and LeAnn Rimes. Her song “Mama’s Broken Heart,” recorded by Miranda Lambert, was a nominee for country song of the year at the 55th Grammy Awards. Her song “Follow Your Arrow,” recorded by Kasey Musgrave, won song of the year at the 2014 Country Music Association Awards. In 2013, Clark released “12 Stories,” her debut full-length. It is a nominee for best country album at Sunday’s Grammy show.
A trio of sisters from Los Angeles (plus drummer Dash Hutton), Haim writes punchy, catchy pop songs accented with hip-hop and R&B flavors. The sisters grew up in a musical family.
Smith studied songwriting, jazz and music theater growing up in London. In 2012, he was featured in the song “Latch” on a recording by the British band Disclosure. The song became a hit worldwide, including a Top 10 hit in the United States.
In May, he released “In the Lonely Hour,” his debut full-length on Capitol Records. It has been a Top 5 album in 10 countries, including the United States, where it peaked at No. 2. Reviews were mixed. The All Music Guide called it “an understated and promising first step from an unpredictable and distinctive talent.” The Telegraph in his native England was less impressed: “It’s a shame to see a talented guy rushed into making the wrong record.” Nonetheless, Smith received six Grammy nominations this year
A LOOK AT BEST NEW ARTIST WINNERS
Bobby Darin won the first Grammy for best new artist at the 1960 awards show. The Beatles won the award in 1965, beating a field that included Petula Clark, Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. In 1966, Tom Jones won over the Byrds and Herman’s Hermits. In 1970, Crosby Stills & Nash won over Led Zeppelin and Chicago. In 1979, A Taste of Honey won over the Cars and Elvis Costello. In 1998, Paula Cole won over Fiona Apple, Erykah Badu, Puff Daddy and Hanson. In 2008, Amy Winehouse beat Taylor Swift.