First Look: Best New Artist
(For a complete list of 53rd GRAMMY Award nominees, click here.)
When you're following in the recent Best New Artist footsteps of a Legend (John), a woman who's shown she can Carrie (Underwood) an entire genre, a musical mansion (Amy Winehouse), and a bunch of good ole boys from Georgia who just love to play and sing (Zac Brown Band), you've got serious shoes to fill.
All five nominees for Best New Artist at the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards look to be more than up to the task. The group comprises a quintet that not only spans genres, but represents some of the freshest and most unique sounds in music today.
There's the massively successful and silky-voiced-beyond-his-years Canadian teen pop sensation Justin Bieber. Also from Canada, Drake is a rising force in hip-hop. Florence & The Machine mines the rich vein of ethereal female British singers stretching the boundaries of R&B and pop. England's Mumford & Sons mix influences of country, bluegrass, rock, and folk into a powerful musical stew. Portland, Ore.-native Esperanza Spalding is one of the most strikingly creative bass players to come around in decades, and is also an accomplished composer and vocalist.
For the 16-year-old Bieber, a GRAMMY would add to his growing list of accomplishments. Since being discovered by his manager Scooter Braun on YouTube and the platinum performance of his 2009 debut EP, My World, Bieber has taken the pop world by storm. With My World, he became the first solo artist to have four songs from a debut album chart in the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 prior to its release. Skillfully mixing elements of pop and R&B, his first full-length release, 2010's My World 2.0, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Drake rose to fame as an actor on the Canadian TV drama "Degrassi: The Next Generation" and has expanded his massive talent in emerging as a first-class rapper and pop singer. Drake hit big in 2009 with the ubiquitous smash "Best I Ever Had," which was nominated for two GRAMMY Awards, including Best Rap Song. Bolstered by an all-star GRAMMY-winning team of collaborators in Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and Lil Wayne, among others, his 2010 album, Thank Me Later, hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Florence & The Machine is the recording alias of London-based singer Florence Mary Leontine Welch. By any name, she's a songwriter and vocalist to be reckoned with. Similar to recent female Best New Artist winners Adele and Winehouse, Florence & The Machine isn't interested in any single style or genre, but rather in creating lush soundscapes with tinges of soul, pop and rock over dark lyrical content. FATM caught the eyes and ears of Bono, and will open dates on U2's North American stadium trek in 2011.
Mumford & Sons have an Americana sound unique for a British band, but it's a recipe that has worked for them. The group's GRAMMY nod comes on the heels of their debut album, Sigh No More, which has made critics and a growing legion of festival-going fans sigh with reverence. The album has been certified platinum in the UK and went gold in the United States, and was also a finalist for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize, honoring the best British or Irish album of the year.
Spalding came to the attention of the jazz world by mastering the acoustic double bass at the age of 15. In more than a decade since, she has showcased her talents across the worlds of pop, fusion, jazz, blues, and funk, while also sprinkling in elements of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian music. At age 20, she became one of the youngest instructors at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music. NPR Music described her most recent album, Chamber Music Society, as exuding "a level of sophisticated intimacy."
Who will win the coveted Best New Artist trophy? Tune in to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards live from Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. For updates and breaking news, please visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook.
(Matt Sycamore is a Pacific Northwest-based freelance music writer.)