If voters had decided Best New Artist in the weeks following the release of Meghan Trainor’s debut, Title, the innocuous blond pop star would have been an easy bet. With four Top 20 singles and an all-time best seller in “All About That Bass,” Trainor possessed the mainstream success and general likability synonymous with this category. In recent months, however, Trainor’s star has waned (marred by feminist critiques of both “All About that Bass” and “Dear Future Husband”), leaving room for a surprise victor.
Another pop startup, Tori Kelly, isn’t popular enough to beat Trainor. While every nominee here could conceivably appeal to some particular subset of voters, there’s not an artist on the board whose particular strength Kelly can best. Meanwhile, English singer-songwriter James Bay has some of the brooding, lonely appeal of Sam Smith, the most recent winner in this category, but he lacks the crossover commercial success Smith benefited from.
While Courtney Barnett trumps her competitors in critical acclaim (and rightly so), her raucous brand of artistry and idiosyncratic intellectualism is likely to alienate voters who normally reward only the least challenging indie darlings. Sam Hunt, by contrast, boasts both the sales and the all-American appeal of traditional Grammy winners, and his album Montevallo was certified double platinum just last week. While Hunt is far from country music’s greatest performer, his Southern twang lends otherwise unoriginal songs about partying and breakups an air of authenticity, allowing the industry to play at crowning a BNA beyond the normal scope of its voting.
Will Win: Sam Hunt
Could Win: Meghan Trainor
Should Win: Courtney Barnett