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What do Adele, Bon Iver, and John Legend have in common? They’ve all been honored as Best New Artist at the Grammys in the last decade. The award often recognizes musicians who’ve already achieved some degree of fame — Bon Iver had released his debut five years before he received the honor in 2012, and Carrie Underwood had already won American Idol before she was awarded in 2007 — but its list of extraordinary alumni is undeniable. Other recent recipients of the major award include Amy Winehouse, Sam Smith, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, and Lauryn Hill — and digging further back into the Grammys’ history reveals that Mariah Carey, Cyndi Lauper, Carly Simon, and the Beatles all took home the coveted prize.
This year’s slate is comprised of rapper-singer Anderson .Paak, Chicago hip-hop icon Chance the Rapper, soulful country songstress Maren Morris, bombastic EDM duo the Chainsmokers, and pop-country wunderkind Kelsea Ballerini. Read on for the essentials on the 2017 Best New Artist nominees.
WHO HE IS: Brandon Paak Anderson achieved national prominence last year when he guested on six of the tracks on Dr. Dre’s comeback album Compton. (Dre soon signed him to his label Aftermath.) That set the singer-songwriter, whose blend of R&B, funk, and hip-hop defies classification, up for a massive 2016. The 30-year-old capitalized on the opportunity with his impressive sophomore album as Anderson .Paak, Malibu; high-profile festival sets at the likes of Coachella and Panorama; and Yes Lawd!, his recent, low-stakes collaborative project with the producer Knxwledge as NxWorries.
KEY RELEASE: Malibu, .Paak’s sweeping, often-autobiographical album, includes collaborations from Kaytranada, Madlib, Schoolboy Q, and more. “Malibu was an album that I wanted to be able to play for my mom, be able to play for my best friend, be able to play for the hood dude, be able to play for the 9-to-5 worker,” .Paak told EW earlier this year. “Something I could play in the White House and in the trap house.”
ALSO NOMINATED FOR: Best Urban Contemporary Album (Malibu)
Chance the Rapper
WHO HE IS: The 23-year-old Chicago MC is as well-known as Best New Artist nominees come — later this month, he’ll appear as Saturday Night Live‘s musical guest for the second time in just over a year — but he made good on his sky-high potential in 2016 with his third mixtape, Coloring Book. Chance became a regional icon with his first two mixtapes, 2012’s 10 Day and 2013’s Acid Rap, and has now translated his hometown hero status into worldwide acclaim.
KEY RELEASE: Coloring Book, Chance’s charismatic third mixtape, is an uplifting ode to the Windy City, his Christian faith, and parenthood. (He became a father in September 2015.) And while the guest list is staggering — Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Future, Young Thug, and more stop by — the forward-thinking blend of gospel and hip-hop is Chance’s entirely.
ALSO NOMINATED FOR: Best Rap Performance (“No Problem”), Best Rap/Sung Performance (Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam”), Best Rap Song (“No Problem,” “Ultralight Beam,” West’s “Famous”), Best Rap Album (Coloring Book)
WHO SHE IS: After penning songs for the likes of Tim McGraw (2014’s “Last Turn Home”) and Kelly Clarkson (2015’s “Second Wind”), the 26-year-old Texan took the country world by storm this year with her acclaimed debut, Hero, which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. Since then, she’s collaborated with Dierks Bentley and toured with Keith Urban.
KEY RELEASE: Hero, Morris’ debut, garnered heavy praise both inside and outside of the country community. “I got a phone call from Elton John, and he thought it rocked!” she told EW in September.
ALSO NOMINATED FOR: Best Country Solo Performance (“My Church”), Best Country Song (“My Church”), Best Country Album (Hero)
WHO THEY ARE: The New York electronic duo has dominated the charts for the last year and half, launching three songs — “Roses,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and, most recently, “Closer” — into the top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 since June 2015. And their popularity has continued to swell despite a prickly reputation earned from insulting the likes of Lady Gaga, Deadmau5, and Weezer. “Closer,” featuring Halsey, reigned atop the Hot 100 for 12 consecutive weeks from September to November before Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” dislodged it late last month.
KEY RELEASE: It only clocks in at 18 minutes, but the duo’s just-released Collage EP includes “Closer” and the Daya-featuring “Don’t Let Me Down,” which reached No. 3 on the Hot 100 earlier this year.
ALSO NOMINATED FOR: Best Pop Duo/Group Performance (“Closer”), Best Dance Recording (“Don’t Let Me Down”)
WHO SHE IS: Ballerini’s eponymous 2014 EP exploded when Taylor Swift tweeted it out in March 2015. And no wonder Swift loved what she heard: Ballerini, now 23, makes the kind of sweeping pop-country that was Swift’s calling card early on. “I love pop music,” Ballerini told EW in 2015, “but my heart’s in country music and I feel like that’s just who I am.” She built on her success last year with her debut full-length, The First Time, and toured in support of Lady Antebellum, Sam Hunt, and Rascal Flatts.
KEY RELEASE: The First Time, Ballerini’s lauded debut, brims with empowering anthems, including “Peter Pan,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard’s country chart earlier this year.
ALSO NOMINATED FOR: N/A