The race is on for the Grammys’ best new artist with Lizzo and Billie Eilish positioned as frontrunners in an exceptionally exciting 2020 category. Survey the odds for all eight of the year’s contenders below.
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Eric Burton and Adrian Quesada have been a duo only since 2017, but they sound as if they’ve been making music together for decades. Their debut album, “Black Moon Rising,” is the sort of accomplished bluesy, soulful gem that lesser acts spend years working up to and still rarely deliver. That might have a lot to do with the influence of Quesada, who has a bit of Grammy history as a member of Grupo Fantasma, a band that won a Grammy for its 2010 album “El Existential.” Duos don’t tend to do particularly well in the new artist category, with the Carpenters, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and, yes, Milli Vanilli being the only twosomes to previously win in its 61-year history. The nomination likely will end up being the prize for Black Pumas, but no worries. With talent like theirs, there will undoubtedly be more Grammy invitations to come. Odds 50/1
Up for six Grammys on her first at-bat, 18-year-old Eilish was the presumed front-runner for most of 2019, and voters were so impressed by her work that her brother Finneas O’Connell earned five noms of his own as both her producer and co-writer. “Bad Guy,” the chart-topping single from her debut album, “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” was a slow-burn smash that became one of the most ubiquitous songs of the year. The Academy has a history of rewarding young female breakouts in this category, and since the ’90s, two of them, LeAnn Rimes and Christina Aguilera, took the prize before celebrating their 20th birthdays. Eilish feels like the one to beat here, but as Justin Bieber and Drake learned when Esperanza Spalding beat them to the podium in 2011, anything can happen in the new artist race, even huge upsets. Odds 6/5
The 20-year-old rapper is a wonder, all right, as Nas rode the ubiquitous “Old Town Road” all the way to six Grammy nominations. Like Eilish and Lizzo, Nas also scored a nom in the album of the year category, making him more than an outside threat to take this prize. The last album of the year nominee to win the new artist trophy was Sam Smith, who, in 2015, became the first openly gay newcomer to nab the gong since Boy George did it as the lead singer of Culture Club in 1984. Nas, who came out as gay during pride month and while “Old Town Road” was perched at No. 1, might make the wait considerably shorter this time. But even with rap having enjoyed greater success in the category over the past decade, which has seen both Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Chance the Rapper win, voters might view true staying power as a challenge for Nas. Odds 19/1
She was one of the most attention-grabbing breakthrough stars of 2019, thanks to her meme-orable No. 1 hit “Truth Hurts,” a record and song of the year nominee that was quoted by none other than Hillary Clinton on Twitter. Lizzo, though, is so much more than one song. She sold female empowerment hard, and with resurgent feminism still going strong, millions were more than happy to buy into her big-is-beautiful brand. A singing rapper like 1999’s new artist Lauryn Hill, Lizzo is known for breaking into a flute solo mid-song, and she’s already ticked “Make movie debut” off her to-do list with her hilarious “blink and you can’t possibly miss her” role in “Hustlers.” But can she ward off the Billie Eilish freight train? No black female solo singer has won this category since Alicia Keys in 2002, and the Recording Academy has seven other places where it can honor Lizzo. Voters might decide to give her well-deserved props elsewhere, paving the way to an Eilish coronation. Odds 3/2
She doesn’t have the name recognition of Billie Eilish, but like her teenage competitor, Rogers bridged the gap between pop and alternative in 2019. While the cover of her debut album, “Heard It in a Past Life,” bears a striking resemblance to Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour,” 2019’s album of the year champ, Rogers is a throwback to an earlier decade when the ladies of Lilith ruled the pop landscape. Though too young at 25 to have been a part of that all-female fest’s generation, Rogers is already a vet of Glastonbury, Coachella, SXSW and Lollapalooza. If it were 1995, she might be more of a shoo-in contender, but in 2020, it’s hard to imagine her topping Eilish and Lizzo when her success has been so low-key. Rogers would likely need a little more flash and a higher profile to compete with the category’s top-tier talent. Odds 38/1
She’s already a five-time Latin Grammy Award winner and an 11-time nominee, so Rosalía has plenty of hardware to back up her talent. “El Mal Querer,” which she dropped in 2018, is her second full-length album, but the first to make an impression outside her native Spain. This time out, Rosalía leapt over the language barrier to score a nomination in a big-four Grammy category with an album sung entirely in Spanish. That doesn’t happen often, and it underscores Rosalía’s accessibility on the global stage. Alas, that same language barrier might prevent her from sailing to a new artist win. No act has won this award singing in a language other than English. (Puerto Rican José Feliciano, who performed in both English and Spanish, won in 1969 on the strength of his English-language “Feliciano!” covers album.) Despite the sturdiness of her work (“El Mal Querer” has a whopping 89 Metacritic rating), Rosalía might lack the mainstream chart momentum to leap over Billie Eilish, Lizzo and Lil Nas X and make history here. Odds 32/1
Tank and the Bangas
The category could use more versatile and impossible-to-define acts like this one, a co-ed outfit with a unique sound that merges pop, hip-hop, rap, soul, Afrobeat and a host of other musical influences. They’re what 1994’s new artist winner Arrested Development might have been if they hadn’t been able to focus solely on rap. Major commercial success — or at the very least, one hit single or a high-charting album — is usually an asset in this category, and the New Orleans band’s unpolished aesthetic and reluctance to stay in any one lane has made scoring smashes a mostly elusive dream. Also likely to stand between the group and the new artist title is that they’ve been kicking around since 2011, and with rare exceptions (2001’s controversial victor Shelby Lynne, who won 12 years and six albums into her recording career), Grammy is generally more partial to less-vintage contenders. Odds 75/1
Like Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Lil Nas X and Rosalía, all of whom have multiple noms this year, Yola is no one-nomination outlier. The British singer-songwriter is up for four Grammys, three of which are in the more minor Americana and American Roots categories, where her competitors include the more-established but less-daunting Keb’ Mo, Sara Bareilles, Rosanne Cash and Vince Gill. Her low-profile genre might make the road to “Grammy winner” a little smoother for the woman born Yolanda Quartey, but it also will make her a tougher sell in new artist, which tends to emphasize pop flash over earthy and rootsy. And considering how Lizzo dominated the conversation in 2019, if the Recording Academy opts to give the new artist prize to a single black female for the first time since Alicia Keys 18 years ago, Lizzo has the edge. Odds 65/1
* Odds according to SportsBettingDime.com as of Jan. 13.
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