At the 2011 Grammy Awards, an up-and-coming jazz bassist and vocalist from Portland named Esperanza Spalding found herself in what many would consider to be an unwinnable position. She was nominated for the Best New Artist Award alongside a bunch of no-names in Justin Bieber, Mumford & Sons, Florence & The Machine and Drake. I kid, of course, as the latter four artists are as ubiquitous as they come today and were damn near it already back then. Amazingly, Spalding took home the award and has forged an illustrious career ever since with seven total Grammy nominations (four wins), including two newly announced nominations for the 2020 ceremony.
The thing with an artist like Spalding, is that once she became a known commodity to Grammy voters, she and her work never left their minds. You see, Grammy nominees are a lot like blog darlings. Stay with me now… but essentially, once you’re in the loop, the cycle never ends. Like how that one bedroom pop singer or SoundCloud rapper seems to get every new track/video/TV appearance featured on every music blog, Grammy nominees (and especially winners) tend to benefit from a similar mechanism, though the stakes are far, far bigger than a press feature. A Grammy nomination could set an artist up for life and all it takes is that first nod to get the ball rolling.
With the 2020 Grammy Award nominations now officially announced, a new slate of first-time nominees have the ability to maintain Grammy momentum for years to come. Three of the eight Album and Record Of The Year nominated artists are first-timers in Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X. They’re also in the running for the especially juicy Best New Artist award which also includes Spanish flamenco-fusionist Rosalía, Austin blues rockers Black Pumas, folk-pop singer Maggie Rogers, English roots singer Yola, and the NOLA funkified blues of Tank & The Bangas.
So who stands to benefit the most from this effect this year? The Best New Artist category, in particular, is a good place to start. Rosalía, who is also nominated in the Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album category for her spellbinding El Mal Querer is on the precipice of a global movement that sees Latin music dominating pop charts. Considering she already brought home the Latin Grammy for Album Of The Year, she could soon experience the same repeated Grammy attention that fellow-Spaniard Alejandro Sanz has received. The most decorated Spanish pop singer of all-time, Sanz got his first Grammy nomination and win for Latin Pop Album of the Year in 2004, then again in 2006, 2008, a nomination in 2016, and is now nominated again in 2020 for his album #ELDISCO.
Yola has four total nominations for 2020, including Best Americana Album for Walk Through Fire, Best American Roots Performance (yes, we see the irony of a British artist nominated in a category entitled “American”) and Best American Roots Song. At a time when roots music is yearning for female artists of color to shine the way Yola has, she could very well see the same repeated attention that Oakland’s Fantastic Negrito has gotten. A furious guitarist and impassioned singer, Negrito received his first Best Contemporary Blues Album nomination and win in 2017 for The Last Days Of Oakland and then was nominated and won again in 2019 for his next album Please Don’t Be Dead.
This “Hear To Stay” effect for Grammy consideration so-to-speak is felt across all genres. In country, nobody reflects this recently quite as well as Maren Morris, who splashed onto the Grammy scene with four nominations in 2017, another one in 2018, five in 2019 and one in 2020 in the Best Country/Duo Performance category for “Common” featuring Brandi Carlile. And definitely not to take anything away from Morris, who sings like a Southern angel and has shown Swiftian versatility transversing country into pop music — including her quasi-EDM megahit “The Middle” with Zedd and Grey — but as long as she’s releasing new music, the Recording Academy hasn’t stopped paying attention.
Tycho got his first nomination at the 2017 Grammy Awards in the Best Dance/Electronic Album category for his album, Epoch, and his subsequent album, Weather, just received a nomination for 2020. A first-time nominee like Rüfüs Du Sol could easily experience this same effect as they become one of the most recognizable acts in the dance world. R&B artists like PJ Morton and India Arie seem to be on the Grammy noms list every time they release new music and a first-timer like Lizzo could be next up in the same way that Anderson .Paak and HER have been ingraining themselves into the minds of Grammy voters.
You can even build your way up from genre categories into a full-blown Album Of The Year nom the way Vampire Weekend just did. Contra (2011) and Modern Vampires Of the City (2014) both garnered Best Alternative Music Album noms (the latter won) and now for 2020, the band is up for Album Of The Year (as well as Best Rock Song for “Harmony Hall” and Best Alternative Album again.) Bon Iver is in a similar boat here too, for what it’s worth. For an artist like Big Thief, who will be competing against both in the Alternative category, there doesn’t appear to be a limit to how far their superb indie-folk songwriting can take them in the Grammys’ eyes. They’re in the club, now.
Voters tend to go with what’s familiar with them. It’s how Dan Auerbach gets nominations no matter what project he’s working on. It’s how Willie Nelson and Reba McIntire are again on the nominations list. If you’ve been nominated before and repeatedly, voters remember you (in some cases, for a very long time.)
The 2020 Grammy Awards are a big opportunity for first-time nominees, especially with so many newcomers up for the biggest awards of the night. But even if they don’t win, they’ll still be remembered by voters on subsequent releases, because Grammy nominations just aren’t that scientific and a familiar name is a powerful force.
Sometimes, it can even be too powerful. This year sees Lil Nas X, whose “Old Town Road” is a worthy choice for Song/Record Of The Year, also up for a baffling Album Of The Year nod for 7, an 18-minute long EP. It stretches the definition of the category, and props up a release that many would forget even existed if not for containing “Old Town Road” and his subsequent single, “Panini.” But the hardest part is over for Lil Nas X. He’s already on the radar of the Grammys moving forward, and now he just needs to keep making music that keeps him in the conversation.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.