Honestly, if we were being exact, the Grammy Awards would rename their Best New Artist category the Breakout Artist of the Year. Because, very rarely, are these artists actually new.
A perfect example came last year.
Bon Iver won the award for Best New Artist, even though he dropped a critically acclaimed album back in 2008. 2011 was just the year he broke out, due to the success of his self-titled sophomore album.
The nominees for this year’s Best New Artist award fall under that same boat. Most of these guys are veterans in the industry, who got their big break last year.
Now if you are a loyal GlobalGrind reader than you are probably relatively informed about two of the nominees (we’re just gonna assume that you have been ignoring our extensive Alabama Shakes coverage.)
So, to keep you good folks informed, here’s the 411 on everyone not named Frank Ocean and fun. (And…there’s actually a 411 on those guys, too.)
The youngest cat on this set of nominees is 21-year-old country music star Hunter Hayes. Music is in Hunter’s blood; this kid’s bond with music started early.
“By the time I was almost two, I was picking up everything and making an instrument out of it. My grandmother gave me a toy accordion for my second birthday and I immediately began picking up Cajun songs by ear from the radio.”
That accordion must have sparked some kind of creative trigger. Because Hunter started performing at a local restaurant in Louisiana. At the age 6, Hunter appeared in the movie The Apostle. On set, Robert Duvall, the movie’s director and lead actor, gave him a guitar. From there, Hunter began playing, crafting his own songs.
It was clear he was a natural: a year later he performed in front of Bill Clinton at the White House. Hunter’s career, as we know it, took off when he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, the country capital. Hunter signed to Universal Music Publishing Group and penned songs for Rascal Flatts and Montgomery Gentry.
A short time after he signed to Atlantic, he started creating his debut, which would turn into his self-titled debut album, released in the end of 2011.
The album’s first single was “Storm Warning,” which was a medium size hit. However, it was “Wanted” — which is nominated for a Best Country Solo Performance at this year’s Grammy Awards — that really launched the kid to superstardom. Because of the success of the track, Hunter Hayes has been certified gold.
There’s only one question that remains: can he win the big Best New Artist Grammy Sunday night?
Folk music is the bubbling on the streets, ya’ll. Mumford & Sons might have sold the most, they moved 600,000 units in its first week, but The Lumineers—a band consisting of Wesley Schultz on guitar, Jeremiah Fraites on drums, and Neyla Pekarek on cello and vocals–had the most popular folk song of the year, the super infectious “Ho Hum.”
2012 was their breakout year, but that doesn’t mean the journey wasn’t long. Wesley and Jeremiah grew up in New Jersey together. Wesley would make music with Jeremiah’s older brother Josh.
Then, in 2002, things changed when Josh overdosed on drugs. Wesley and Jeremiah both dealt with the pain by recording together. After spending years floundering around the oversaturated New York music scene, the duo got what little belongings they had and moved to Colorado, where they met the third piece of their musical puzzle: Neyla.
Neyla was a classically trained singer, who helped form their folksy sound. After building a small buzz in the Denver community, the group signed Onto Entertainment as their managers. From there the band started making their self-titled debut album.
“Ho Hum,” the album’s first single, got it its first big break when it appeared on an episode of Hart of Dixie in December of 2011. Four months later The Lumineers dropped and the rest is history.
Like many of the best rock bands out there, Alabama Shakes’ union began when they were young. Lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard and bassist Zac Cockrell both attended high school together, where after school they would craft roots rock. Living in Alabama, they hooked up with another local drummer, Steve Johnson, who was working at a record store, and the three started crafting a demo.
While in the studio, the three, who were called The Shakes at first, but then added the Alabama to differ from the other Shakes band, would do covers as well as try to create some all-new music. (During this time their band would be complete when Guitarist Heath Fogg joined.)
Alabama Shakes released their self-titled four-song EP in September 2011. That project started a buzz loud enough for music festival CMJ to hear. They invited the band to play, which lead to more press (including a positive review from Jon Pareles, the head NYTimes pop culture critic).
All of this lead to the release of Boys & Girls, the band’s debut album, which featured their breakout song “Hold On.” Is a Grammy next for Alabama Shakes?
Here’s a fun. fact for you: Nate Ruess, the band’s lead singer, was part of another band called The Format. The Format would put out two albums before finally dismantling in 2008. Nate wasn’t done with the music scene, however.
Nate contacted Jack Antonoff of Steel Train and Andrew Dost of Anathallo and formed a band that was a little more fun. (We’ll stop now).
The trio released a number of songs to the Internet and then their debut album, Aim and Ignite, which bricked terribly, despite encouraging reviews. Back to the drawing board fun. went.
While preparing to craft a sophomore album, Nate found himself listing to a lot of hip-hop music. A name he kept seeing in production notes was Jeff Bhasker, who is a frequent collaborator with Kanye West. The band contacted Jeff and they started crafting the loud, cinematic sound that would make up Some Nights, the band’s sophomore LP, which was released in February 2012.
Of course the song that changed the band’s life forever is “We Are Young,” the Janelle Monáe-featured first single. The song was one of the biggest tracks of the year. No matter how big or small fun. gets, “We Are Young” will always be attached to their name.
A couple of weeks before Channel Orange, Frank Ocean’s official first album was set to release, the singer released the letter. It was a letter where he revealed that he was once in love with a man. It was a stunning admission, making him the first black artist to openly admit he had a relationship with another man.
That’s not even the most interesting thing about Frank, however.
Frank Ocean is used to doing things on his own terms. After spending several years signed to Def Jam, writing tracks but getting no push from the label, the singer released nostalgia ULTRA, a free online album. That project, which included the hit single “Novacane,” launched the singer to the front of Def Jam’s agenda (along with a co-sign by Tyler, the Creator and his Odd Future crew.)
Yeah, releasing a critically acclaimed project will get the ball rolling. Def Jam finally got the ball moving and thankfully so: He is a big favorite to kill at this year’s Grammys for his masterpiece of an album, Channel Orange.