2021 Best New Artist Grammy Nominees:
• Ingrid Andress
• Phoebe Bridgers
• Noah Cyrus
• D Smoke
• Doja Cat
• Megan Thee Stallion
The big name in the Best New Artist category this year is Megan Thee Stallion, who has taken hip hop by storm over the past two years. From “Hot Girl Summer” to “B.I.T.C.H.” to “Savage” to “WAP,” Megan has been all over the charts.
Megan seems like the obvious winner, except for the fact that the Recording Academy rarely recognizes hip hop in this category. Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Drake, and Nicki Minaj were some of the many rappers who lost this Grammy. The fact that Roddy Ricch didn’t even get a nomination in this category this year is another bad sign.
Chance the Rapper did win Best New Artist in 2017, which was a promising step, as it marked only the third time ever that a rapper won Best New Artist. And even one of those deserves an asterisk, because the year that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won, the award should have gone to the more deserving Lamar.
So if Grammy voters continue to pass over hip hop, which other nominees could benefit? Two other acts have a legit chance here: Phoebe Bridgers and Doja Cat.
Bridgers is an indie rock artist who incorporates touches of country and Americana into her work. That makes her very similar to 2001 Best New Artist winner Shelby Lynne. Bridgers’ Punisher was among the best albums of 2020, and she was one of the most visible artists on television during the pandemic, performing on every major late-night show while wearing her now-famous skeleton bodysuit.
Bridgers is the only one of the eight nominees whose music can even remotely be described as “rock.” That is a huge plus in her favor. The massive contingent of rock voters within the Academy will likely back her, since they have nowhere else to go. Bridgers has plenty of friends within the industry, having collaborated with the likes of Conor Oberst, the 1975, the National, Fiona Apple, Maggie Rogers, and many others. All of that gives her a serious chance here.
The other name to watch out for is Doja Cat, the R&B/pop singer whose “Say So” was a #1 smash in the spring. Doja Cat already won the best new artist awards at the American Music Awards and MTV Video Music Awards, so she has to be considered a strong contender here. Those were both fan-voted awards, however. Does the typical conservative Grammy voter know who Doja Cat is? That remains to be seen.
The last nominee with an outside shot is Ingrid Andress, who was nominated at both the CMA Awards and CMT Awards, Country acts have had occasional success in this category over the years (Zac Brown Band, Carrie Underwood), but Andress is still so new, with just one hit under her belt, that she’s going to have a hard time pulling it out.
It’s great to see acclaimed rapper Chika in this category. She’s a worthy nominee, but she can’t possibly beat out Megan. Haitian-Canadian DJ Kaytranada joins Skrillex and the Chainsmokers as one of the few electronic artists ever to appear in this category. D Smoke is nominated one year after being discovered on the Rhythm & Flow reality show for rappers. And Miley’s younger sister Noah Cyrus picked up a nod for her downtempo pop music. Those are all solid nominees but don’t figure to have much chance of winning.
Best New Artist Prediction
My gut tells me that Megan is going to win. She had a massive year (a massive two years, actually), and she’s garnered so much acclaim that she should be able to overcome the Academy’s reluctance to reward hip hop in this category.
That said… I’ve been burned many times picking rappers to win Best New Artist, to the point that I just won’t do it anymore. Until the Academy proves it’s consistently willing to reward talented new hip hop artists in this category, I’m going to default to expecting them to choose someone else.
I can’t stop thinking about Bon Iver’s Best New Artist win over Nicki Minaj in 2012. Back then, the lesser-known folkie indie rocker with lots of industry support upset the commercially successful outspoken female rapper. This year’s situation is eerily similar.
Megan also has two other rappers to contend with in this category. Chika and D Smoke probably won’t take too many votes away from her, but they may take just enough to drop her into second place behind Bridgers.
A Phoebe Bridgers win would be an upset, but it would not be a bad choice. She deserves every bit of the attention she’s getting from her 4 Grammy nominations. Bridgers has a long, successful career ahead of her, and giving her the award would not be an embarrassment like some past Best New Artist winners.
If Bridgers does win, it’s likely to cause the usual level of outrage from music fans who are angry that the Academy didn’t reward their favorite. Hopefully such a backlash wouldn’t cause damage to Bridgers’ career or reputation.
The 2021 Best New Artist prediction is that Phoebe Bridgers edges out Megan Thee Stallion, with Doja Cat holding down the dark horse role.
2021 Grammy Awards: Best New Artist Prediction
Deserves to win: Megan Thee Stallion
Will win: Phoebe Bridgers
Should have been nominated: Rina Sawayama