During the Grammy nominations round, our predictors gave Frank Ocean best odds to win Best New Artist. His debut album, “Channel Orange,” earned some of the year’s best reviews, and his personal history — he revealed that he fell in love with a man when he was 19 — made him even more culturally relevant in a hip-hop community often beset by homophobia.
But when nominations were announced, a clear challenger emerged. The indie pop trio Fun. exceeded expectations, earning bids for Record and Song of the Year for their hit “We Are Young,” but also a surprise nod for their album “Some Nights.” They’re the only artists nominated in all four general field categories; Ocean is up for Album and Record (“Thinkin Bout You“), but not Song.
Considering a head-to-head matchup between the two, history is not on Ocean’s side. Urban artists are typically disadvantaged in the general field. None have ever won Record of the Year, and few have won Album of the Year: Lauryn Hill‘s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and OutKast‘s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” are rare exceptions.
Hill was the last urban artist to win Best New Artist, unless you count Alicia Keys and John Legend, who are more traditional R&B singers than Ocean.
Grammy history also doesn’t favor solo male artists. Legend was the only such artist to win New Artist in the last 20 years. In that same time, five male-fronted groups have won: Arrested Development (1992), Hootie & the Blowfish (1995), Maroon 5 (2004), Zac Brown Band (2009), and Bon Iver (2011).
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The Maroon 5 example may be an especially revelant to this year’s race. Like Fun, they were a breakout pop act up against a hip-hop critics’ darling: Kanye West. Even more significant, Maroon 5 had less overall support than Fun do this year, with only one other nomination that year: a Pop Duo/Group bid for “She Will Be Loved.”
West, on the other hand, had a whopping seven nominations, including Album and Song of the Year. It’s rare for an artist with general-field nominations to lose New Artist to a competitor without any, indicating that Grammy’s hip-hop bias may be especially strong. In subsequent years, West has earned multiple nominations for Record, Album, and Song of the Year, but he has never won. His 18 Grammy wins have all come in genre fields: 17 in rap categories, one in R&B.
This year, six artists are tied for the most nominations with six apiece: West, Ocean, and Fun, along with Jay-Z, Mumford and Sons, and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Of those, only rap artists West and Jay-Z were left out of the general field. Can Ocean succeed where West didn’t by winning Best New Artist? Or does Fun’s surprising nominations haul make them the new frontrunners?