From Adele to Carrie Underwood to John Legend, some of the most beloved artists of the 21st century have received the Best New Artist award at the Grammys. After winning the category earlier this year on the heels of his 2016 smash Coloring Book, reigning champ Chance the Rapper has continued his ascent — earlier this month, he even hosted Saturday Night Live.
Though this year the category eschews rock and country — there’s no equivalent to last year’s nominations of Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris — the slate’s stacked nonetheless. All five nominees had a hand in hits that peaked at No. 11 or higher on the Hot 100 this year, and all five nominees are tremendously promising talents, from pop-songwriter-gone-solo Julia Michaels to charismatic R&B singer SZA.
Read on to learn more about this year’s Best New Artist nominees, and tune in to the Grammys on Jan. 28 to see who takes home the prize.
WHO SHE IS: The 24-year-old was already an in-demand songwriter by the time she released her debut single, having written hits for the likes of Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Gwen Stefani, and Britney Spears. Initially, she resisted going the artist route, telling EW last year, “I didn’t believe in myself enough to do it.” That changed when she wrote “Issues,” however. “It was the first time I had written a song that felt so much like myself that I couldn’t picture anyone else singing it,” she said.
KEY RELEASE: “Issues” is the song that brought her into the spotlight, but her debut mini-album, July’s Nervous System, has plenty more that’s worth checking out, from the freaky “Pink” to the bubbly apology anthem “Make It Up to You.” —Nolan Feeney
WHO SHE IS: Buzz has been building around the 28-year-old St. Louis-native for a while now. Solána Rowe, who records as SZA, has released three EPs since 2014 — her first, See.SZA.Run., was recorded in just one night and earned her a spot as the only female signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, which Kendrick Lamar also calls home — and last year, she rocked a buzzy feature on Rihanna’s ANTI. Finally, 2017 saw the release of her debut full-length, CTRL, and it more than achieved its promise. “It’s been the most fun, difficult experience,” SZA told EW in advance of the project. “This album is just straight up laying everything to bed. I’m talking a lot of grimy s—, but it’s truth. I’m exposing a lot of skeletons of mine.”
KEY RELEASE: CTRL serves as a welcome, impressive, and full-formed mission statement from the artist and, if you’ve got a measly 49 minutes to spare, it should be digested in full. Across its 14 tracks, she divulges her dirty secrets — like that time she had revenge sex with her ex’s best friend right after he left her — her worries, insecurities, hopes, and dreams. Dig in. —Madison Vain
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Lil Uzi Vert
WHO HE IS: The 23-year-old Philly rapper earned legions of loyal fans with the three mixtapes he put out in 2015 and 2016. Uzi quickly leapt to the forefront of hip-hop’s newer, weirder class, taking over SoundCloud with a woozy blend of trap and emo music. (In addition to standard-issue hip-hop touchstones, he’s cited Marilyn Manson as his greatest influence; the industrial rocker is the only account Uzi follows on Instagram.) Uzi became known on a wider scale, though, through his appearance on Migos’ “Bad and Boujee”, which topped the Hot 100 in January. He followed it up with a hit of his own: The depressed, brilliant “XO Tour Llif3” peaked at No. 7.
KEY RELEASE: Uzi’s excellent studio debut, Luv Is Rage 2, contains “XO Tour Llif3” and features guest spots from Pharrell and the Weeknd. And don’t miss the recent remix of single “The Way Life Goes,” which includes a new verse from Nicki Minaj. —Eric Renner Brown
WHO HE IS: As a military brat who spent his formative years moving all around the planet, the 19-year-old has become something of an expert on the inner lives of teenagers, which he mined with great success on songs like breakout hit “Location” (about the challenges of love in the smartphone era) and “Young Dumb & Broke” (a theme song for the aimless and disaffected everywhere). “We forget that when you grow up, there are a lot of people who are in the same position as you,” he told EW earlier this year. “The reason we forget is because there’s not really a true voice that talks from the perspective of youth.”
KEY RELEASE: American Teen is a bright survey of pop music, covering everything from bubbly R&B tracks, trap-tinged bangers, soulful ballads, ‘80s-inspired synth-pop gems, and even a brief campfire sing-along on the title track. —N.F.
WHO SHE IS: Though her wise-beyond-her-years debut album arrived in the fall of 2015, the singer had a breakout year in 2017 thanks to two high-profile collaborations: “Stay” with EDM maestro Zedd, and “1-800-273-8255” with Logic and Khalid. “For a while, pop music was really stagnant,” she recently told EW. “There was a moment where it felt like everyone wanted fluff and they didn’t want a message … but there has been a new wave of music that has meaning.”
KEY RELEASE: Cara has gotten a lot of attention in 2017 for her part in Logic’s suicide-prevention anthem — which also features fellow nominee Khalid! — but the obvious lyrical precursor to that in her own music is her uplifting, self-affirming “Scars to Your Beautiful.” —N.F.