There are many reasons people love to bash the Grammys, but one of the most frequent punching bags is the Best New Artist category. Whether it goes to someone music fans have never heard of (2010’s Esperanza Spalding), an act who’s been around forever (2001’s Shelby Lynne), or one that even at his or her peak seemed unworthy at best (notorious 1981 flash-in-the-pan Christopher Cross), Best New Artist is a perennial head-scratcher.
By Recording Academy rules, the award is for a musician or band who releases an album during the year of eligibility that establishes their “public identity” as an artist. That doesn’t mean it’s their first album or that they suddenly appeared on the scene just that year, because, really, no act just materializes out of thin air and makes their way to the Grammys without years of unseen road, club and studio work.
But a look at this year’s nominees is proof that in an age of mixtapes, YouTube, features and blog love such “new” acts as Bon Iver, Nicki Minaj, Skrillex and J. Cole are practically veterans by the time the Academy decides to shine its spotlight. In fact, of all this year’s nominees, only country trio the Band Perry are truly “new,” and they formed in 2005, then gigged around and dropped a few singles until their only full-length studio recording was released in late October of last year.
Nicki released three mixtapes between 2007 and the time she signed with Young Money Entertainment in 2009. From that point on, she became the queen of features, showing up for guest verses on songs by Robin Thicke, Teairra Marie, Mariah Carey, Bobby Valentino, Usher, Mya, Ludacris, Jason DeRülo and many others prior to dropping her first album, Pink Friday, in November 2010.
On the same tip, Cole started posting his earliest rhymes online nearly a decade ago before being signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label. He, too, released a series of mixtapes, scored guest shots on songs by Jigga, Wale, B.o.B, Young Chris and Miguel, worked the road and seeded the Net with new music for more than three years before finally unleashing his major-label debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in May. Like Minaj, by the time his debut hit stores, Cole was practically a household name and had already been touted as one of the biggest young stars in the business. [Source]