Until Maroon 5 won this category over Joss Stone in 2005, the previous male winner was, yes, Hootie & the Blowfish in 1996. That marks a nine-year stretch in which solo women dominated Best New Artist, a trend that has largely continued with recent wins by Carrie Underwood, Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Esperanza Spalding. By this logic, Alabama Shakes are a plausible contender, led as they are by Brittany Howard, one of the most interesting new voices of the year. Then again, Bon Iver, hardly a “new” artist, took it over Nicki Minaj last year, so gender isn’t the only guiding metric here. Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange offers a more sophisticated vision than the Shakes’, but the last R&B artist to win this category was John Legend, a far more vanilla crossover act, in 2006. Experimentation doesn’t always hold water with the Academy, and despite the critical acclaim, the fact that Channel Orange has yet to make gold makes Ocean easier to pass over.
All of which leaves the Lumineers as this year’s safe bet: Thanks to that Bing commercial, “Ho Hey” is ringing from flatscreens across the continent, and sales of the group’s self-titled debut are within panty-throwing distance of platinum. Almost as important, the Lumineers are a winning bunch, just the sort of bright eyes and close-trimmed beards that look right on the Grammy stage, conveying authenticity without the whole longhair stigma. Fun, another bright-eyed faction, also has a shot, but the Lumineers’ familial ethos goes down smooth, and their pop wisdom, from a purely technical perspective at least, is something beyond their years.
Will Win: The Lumineers
Could Win: Fun
Should Win: Frank Ocean