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Grammy countdown: The best new artist front-runners (Part 2)

November 25, 2009 |  6:35 pm


Always one of the more controversial categories, best new artist remains, perhaps, the most difficult Grammy field to get just right. The vaguely defined category is open to interpretation.

Read the Grammy rules: "A new artist is defined as any performing artist who releases, during the eligibility year, the recording that first establishes the public identity of that artist as a performer." The "recording" in question doesn't have to be a full album, either. Witness alterna-rockers MGMT, which are on the ballot for the upcoming Grammy Awards, but released their "Oracular Spectacular" during last year's eligibility period.

Looking at the ballots for the 2010 Grammys, nominations for which will be announced next Wednesday, here's our second look at the front-runners for best new artist. On Tuesday, Pop & Hiss highlighted Diane Birch, the Zac Brown Band, MGMT, Laura Izibor and Wale. Pop & Hiss would love to see a Bat for Lashes or a Grizzly Bear sneak in, but they're not among the best bets to get nominated.

Who is? Read on.

Owl City. It's the moniker of singer-songwriter Adam Young, and his fall success surely had Owl City on the mind of voters. With plenty of solid (albeit few breakout) stars on the ballot, Young stands out with a No. 1 single -- "Fireflies" -- under his belt. Working against him: The pillowy, Postal Service-like electronic effects of the Universal Republic artist may seem a little slight at times, and his success may have come a little too late for him to fully resonate with voters.

Keri Hilson. The R&B producer-turned-artist was an odds-on-favorite for scoring a best new artist nomination heading into the year. She's a known entity, having worked with the likes of Britney Spears, Timbaland and Ne-Yo, among many others, and her "Knock You Down" peaked at No. 3 on the U.S. singles chart. Her Interscope record "In a Perfect World ... Keri Hilson" is still on the R&B album chart, and it has spent more than 30 weeks on the big tally. Reviews were mixed to positive, but solid enough to not hurt her chances here. The pre-release hype, however, may have created unreal expectations.

The Ting Tings. This Brit pop group should have been nominated for best new artist for the 2009 awards, but like MGMT, they're on the ballot this year. While one may consider them a long shot, their singles were inescapable, as music supervisors the world over couldn't get enough of the act's catchy dance pop numbers. Additionally, the band toured heavily; triumphant single "That's Not My Name" was a top-30 hit;  and Sony BMG appears to be strongly behind them. 

Cage the Elephant. These rootsty hip-hop-rockers have been a slow-building success story, having spent more than 30 weeks on the chart. They've now sold 167,000 copies of their self-titled debut, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" has given the act a minor hit. Largely a bluesy-punk outfit, Cage  the Elephant takes a Beck-like approach to genre-hopping, and Jive seems ready to work the act long term. 

Melanie Fiona. This is the last of the Pop & Hiss crop of soul newcomers. Her Universal debut, "The Bridge," was released too late to be considered for any of the album fields, so she may be peaking too late. The 2011 Grammys will probably be better for Fiona, but her Zombies-sampling "Give It to Me Right" was a minor genre hit, and voters surely noticed the '60s garage rock number that is the song's foundation. The hip-hop beats and vintage Motown backing of "It Kills Me" seem primed for even greater heights.

Wild cards: Local rockers Silversun Pickups had a breakout year, and a solid step forward with "Swoon." But they're on the independent label Dangerbird, and their '90s-inspired sound may not be seen as distinctive. Also, pianist Ingrid Michaelson has the critical support, but she's going to have a hard time beating out Birch or Izibor. Don't forget rap newcomer Asher Roth, but he may be viewed as a novelty, and worldly hip-hop artist K'Naan will be a worthy, yet overlooked, contender.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Keri Hilson / Getty Images


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Grammy countdown: The best new artist front-runners (Part 1)

Wale watch: The D.C. rapper on the blog age, Twitter and his debut album 'Attention Deficit'

Live: Zac Brown at the Mint

Guess who's getting Grammy nominations?

Grammys 2010: An early look at album of the year contenders (Part 1)

Grammys 2010: An early look at album of the year (Part 2)