On November 24, Grammy nominations day, two of the most celebrated inclusions were Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish in the general field, as well as in the pop categories. They share a big achievement: they’re the two most recent Best New Artist winners, Lipa prevailing at the 2019 ceremony, and Eilish in 2020. What might be surprising to some is that both seem to have escaped the infamous “Best New Artist curse,” a popular belief that people who win the coveted award tend to under-perform after winning, either commercially or awards-wise (or both).
In the past we’ve seen a lot of Best New Artist winners turn out to be passing fads. A good example is Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who won in 2014. Their case is even starker than most because all the other nominees that year have become successful acts in the music industry and claimed Grammys after their BNA losses. One of them (Kacey Musgraves) has since won Album of the Year, one (Ed Sheeran) has won Song of the Year, and one (Kendrick Lamar) became a Grammy darling with two complete sweeps in the rap field. Even James Blake, who inarguably came fifth in that lineup if we’re keeping it real, has won a Grammy for Rap Performance (shared with Lamar) and has notched multiple other noms, including Album of the Year for his work on Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” Meanwhile, neither Macklemore nor Ryan Lewis has gotten a single bid since their BNA win.
Another example could be 2018 Best New Artist winner Alessia Cara. She beat out Khalid, who has only gotten bigger since 2018 and scored a Record of the Year nomination in 2020 for “Talk,” as well as SZA, who’s enjoying success right now with her hit single “Good Days” and who received Record and Song of the Year nominations the year after her loss for “All the Stars” from “Black Panther” (which got her an Oscar nom to boot). Meanwhile, Julia Michaels, another BNA also-ran from that year, went on to score a 2021 Song of the Year nomination for her topical ballad “If the World Was Ending” with JP Saxe. Even Lil Uzi Vert, who like Cara has not scored any follow-up noms since 2018, has had hit albums, with his acclaimed “Eternal Atake” peaking at number-one on the Billboard 200. Cara has yet to score a top 40 hit since her Best New Artist win. Though, to be fair, her win was recent enough that the jury’s still out on her ultimate longevity.
Now Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish might serve as some sweet course-correction for the Grammys after critiques of their past BNA choices. Dua Lipa had a massive year after her win, scoring the top-10 singles “Levitating” and “Don’t Start Now,” the latter being nominated this year for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance. And her album, “Future Nostalgia,” is up for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. Eilish, who hasn’t released a sophomore album yet, has succeeded in the interim with her top 10 singles “Therefore I Am,” “My Future” and “Everything I Wanted,” the last of which is now nominated for the same awards as “Don’t Start Now”: Record, Song and Pop Solo.
This year the top three for Best New Artist according to the combined predictions of Gold Derby users are Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat and Phoebe Bridgers. Bridgers could follow in the footsteps of Bon Iver (one of the few recent BNA winners who still regularly gets Grammy noms) as a critical darling winning against two massive hit-makers; she’s likely headed more towards an indie career than chart-topping pop hits.
But if Megan or Doja wins, will they continue Lipa and Eilish’s success streak? Megan already has follow-up hits, with her songs “Body” and “Cry Baby” gaining heat and entering the top 40 since her nomination. And both Doja and Megan just re-entered the top five as featured artists on a remix of Ariana Grande‘s “34+35.” Could it be that Best New Artist winners are back to matching the expectations put on them by the industry like past BNAs-turned-superstars Mariah Carey, Carrie Underwood and Adele? Regardless, we’re excited to see who wins this coveted award in March, and hope to hear their name announced by the recording academy again in the future.
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