Every year’s crop of Grammys Best New Artist nominees is potent and exciting, but the 2020 batch feels different. This year’s eight nominees make up a group of true superstars that have created, cultivated, and conducted pop culture over the last year. From chart-smashing, cross-genre viral stars and once-in-a-generation pop talents to veteran band leaders gone solo and bold leaders of self-love and discovery, the 2020 hopefuls represent the perfect way to start the decade. It’s a stacked deck full of who’s set to take over.
Ahead of this weekend’s 62nd Grammy Awards, where we’ll find out who will take home the coveted trophy and succeed Dua Lipa as reigning Best New Artist, get to know each of the eight contenders below.
Eilish is next in line to inherit the pop kingdom’s throne, if she doesn’t already sit upon it. She turned 18 last month and already has a double platinum album, 13 platinum singles, six Grammy nominations (including this one), and much more. Her debut studio album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, made her a household name, but her boundary-pushing videos (directed by people like Dave Meyers, Takashi Murakami, and herself) and experimental sound have ensured her status as a visionary. The LP’s biggest hit, “Bad Guy,” sounds like an evil ice-cream truck jingle, and it went platinum. Now she’s even set to write and perform the next James Bond theme. Whether she walks away with this particular golden gramophone, she’s going to need a bigger throne. ASAP.
Producer/guitarist Adrian Quesada and singer Eric Burton are making some of the most captivating nostalgia-fueled funk that you’ll hear anywhere. Together, they’re the Texas-based eclectic groove outfit Black Pumas, who’ve managed to make fresh, compelling music inspired by shades of both Motown and Jimi Hendrix. There’s also a sizable influence of Latin funk, thanks to Quesada’s background as a member of the Grammy-nominated Grupo Fantasma. Black Pumas’s 2019 self-titled debut album kicked off their breakout season: a Grammy nom, performances on The Tonight Show and Ellen, and next, Coachella. The world will soon be fully enveloped in their guitar-flicking goodness.
Lil Nas X
No one had a better 2019 than Lil Nas X. After the rapper/country rapper/country singer released “Old Town Road” in December 2018 — built around a beat bought online for $30 —it became a viral sensation with a little help from Billy Ray Cyrus. It literally broke the Billboard charts, topping the Hot 100 for a history-making 19 weeks, and changed his life in more ways than one. Last June, with his song at No. 1, Lil Nas X came out as gay, making him the first openly gay black man to win an award at the Country Music Awards. Now, many accolades later, he’s the first gay rapper to be nominated for a Grammy Award. And this year, he’s nominated for six of them.
Even though she’s been around for more than half a decade, Lizzo is just getting started. The rapper/singer/flutist began her career in Minneapolis in different groups spanning genres and emerged a breakout star thanks to her booming vocals and winning energy. But when her 2017 empowerment song “Truth Hurts” got a major signal boost in Netflix’s Someone Great last year, she went supersonic. You’ve since seen her heart-melting smile, you’ve heard that voice, and you’ve wondered what was inside her microscopic purse. Last year, her third studio album Cuz I Love You, featured hits like “Juice” and “Tempo” with Missy Elliott. It’s also nominated for Album of the Year and Best Urban Contemporary Album at the Grammys, proving she indeed does have the juice.
When Rogers, as a college student, played “Alaska,” a song that she made in 15 minutes, to Pharrell Williams as part of a New York University masterclass, Pharrell’s face contorted into an incredulous look, like he didn’t know how to describe what he was listening to. He loved it. The moment went viral, and “Alaska” became Rogers’s breakout hit. Her unique, inventive take on folk-pop exploded into the pop consciousness, leading to the release of her major-label debut Heard It in a Past Life, last January. It hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and Brandi Carlile told her at Billboard’s 2019 Women in Music event, “You are absolutely one of my favorite new artists out there.” Her heartfelt, confessional music just might make Grammy voters feel the same.
Spanish singer Rosalía has collaborated with everyone from Travis Scott to James Blake to J Balvin and Ozuna. It’s easy to see why. In addition to her soaring voice — which she deploys expertly on her 2018 album El Mal Querer — she brings an inventive feel to every collaboration, especially in the visual realm. In recent high-concept videos like “Millionària” (which features her competing on a game show) and “A Palè” (about what happens when the lights go off at a packing plant), Rosalía showcases a bit of what’s made her such a captivating force. She’s expanded upon her initial flamenco roots to become a genre-bending singer with carte blanche. Five Latin Grammys and two Grammy nominations are the proof.
Tank and the Bangas
This nine-piece, multi-artform collective, led by Tarriona “Tank” Ball, formed in 2011 after meeting at an open-mic show in New Orleans. Ball, known for her slam poetry, is one piece of the puzzle, with synth players, background vocalists, saxophonists, and others coming together for four-dimensional representations of soul, rap, and funk music. In 2017, they won NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest for their submission of a performance of “Quick” and released their sophomore studio album, Green Balloon, last year, along with a live album, Live Vibes 2. Now, they’re primed to do just about anything. Everyone’s listening.
English vocalist Yola’s time is finally here. A soul singer through and through, she’s able to recreate the smoothness of decades past and blend genres like pop, rock and roll, and country. After her group Phantom Limb shuttered in 2013, she went homeless and slept on the couches of friends. But her come-up since then has been spectacular. Over the years, she served as a touring vocalist for English trip-hop group Massive Attack, written for Katy Perry, had her music sampled by the Chemical Brothers, and more. Her debut studio album, Walk Through Fire, was inspired by a fire that damaged her house along with an abusive relationship she escaped. It’s all about her journey, and with nods for Best Americana Album and Best American Roots Song and Best American Roots Performance, the destination might just be Grammy gold.
Lil Nas X
Tank and the Bangas