The unlikely duo of Bob Newhart and Alessia Cara presented the award. Newhart won Best New Artist for a 1961 comedy album, while Cara won the award last year. She told the comedian that her great-grandmother had all his albums, with Newhart feigning outrage as she kept upping the age of her relatives who enjoyed his work.
Less playful were remarks from the category winner, as Lipa threw some shade at outgoing pesident Neil Portnow. “I guess we really stepped it up this year,” Lipa said, a reference to the much-criticized comments by former Recording Academy President Neil Portnow, who announced his plan to leave the job after his comments last year about the dearth of female nominees were characterized as clumsy at best, or sexist at worst.
Lipa concluded her remarks on a more positive note: “Whatever your background, never let it get in the way of your dreams.” In an awkward transition for the Recording Academy, Lipa was followed to the stage by a farewell segment summarizing Portnow’s tenure, and then by Portnow himself in his last stage address as the Grammy chief.
An artist will be considered for Best New Artist if their eligibility year release/s achieved a breakthrough into the public consciousness and notably impacted the musical landscape. The eligibility year for the 61st Annual Grammy Awards: October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the category (Bobby Darin won the prize when it was introduced at the November 1959 edition of the gala), but the high-profile competition had a new look this year. This year’s field featured eight nominees — that’s up sharply from the five nominees that vied for the prize last year (when Alessia Cara won the award) and every other year since 1966.
The historic crowd of music industry newcomers was fairly eclectic in their genre heritage, career paths and cultural compass-points (although this year’s final field was noticeably missing hip-hop nominees). YouTube was the platform that launched both Lipa (whose biggest hit to date is the relationship anthem New Rules) and Chloe X Halle, the Atlanta sister act that also just scored a major old-media spotlight by performing America the Beautiful at Super Bowl LIII in their hometown.
Two country music newcomers were also nominated: Margo Price, the Illinois-born firebrand whose album All American Made included Learning to Lose, a duet with legendary Willie Nelson, and Luke Combs, the North Carolina singer of Hurricane and When It Rains It Pours, both saturation-hits across country radio charts. Hard rock was represented this year by Greta Van Fleet, the young Michigan quartet that has an eight-track mind with a sound that plugs into the amp-stacks of Led Zeppelin’s classic rock.
Also nominated: Bebe Rexha, the 29-year-old Brooklyn-born pop star who got a foothold first as a songwriter for David Guetta, Selena Gomez and Rihanna. British R&B singer Jorja Smith had her debut album Lost & Found released last October; also representing R&B was H.E.R., whose acronym name stands for “Having Everything Revealed” — but the stage name helps keep her identity largely cloaked from the public to emphasize her music and the accessibility of her message,