BEST NEW ARTIST
Eight years after his older cousin, Kendrick Lamar, was nominated for best new artist, West Coast rapper Keem has capped off a breakthrough year of his own with an appearance in the category, as well as three other nominations. The artist born Hykeem Jamaal Carter Jr. released a few mixtapes and EPs prior to 2021 but exploded this year with “Family Ties,” a collaboration with Lamar that became Keem’s first top 20 hit on the Hot 100. The Melodic Blue, his debut album — which also boasted collaborations with Travis Scott and Don Toliver — reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200. “Family Ties” is also nominated for best rap song and best rap performance, while Keem is nominated in the album of the year category for his contributions to Kanye West’s Donda.
Although Glass Animals have been releasing albums since 2014, the British indie rockers made a breakthrough this year with the crossover success of the hit “Heat Waves.” The rhythmic pop single from the 2020 album Dreamland started taking off on TikTok in early 2021 and proceeded to cross over to streaming services and multiple radio formats, eventually climbing into the top 10 of the Hot 100 in its 42nd week on the chart. Before “Heat Waves” became a smash, the Dave Bayley-led collective had been expanding its audience, signing with Republic Records in the United States and scoring its first top 10 album on the Billboard 200 with Dreamland. The group’s best new artist nod is its sole nomination at this year’s Grammys.
After helping his younger sister, Billie Eilish, become a global superstar, FINNEAS fully arrived as a solo artist in 2021 and will compete for best new artist two years after Eilish won. The 24-year-old released his debut album, Optimist, in October, preceded by the singles “A Concert Six Months From Now” and “The 90s.” FINNEAS is already an eight-time Grammy winner thanks to his collaborations with Eilish as the lone co-writer and producer on her first two albums. Along with winning album of the year in 2020 for Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? and both record and song of the year for her No. 1 hit “bad guy,” FINNEAS was also named producer of the year, non-classical. He’s now nominated in four categories besides best new artist.
Experimental pop singer-songwriter and author Michelle Zauner has been an indie scene favorite for years, but she reached a wider audience in 2021 with her most accessible album yet as Japanese Breakfast, as well as the publication of a best-selling memoir under her own name. Jubilee, the third Japanese Breakfast album released by Dead Oceans, featured a brighter sound and bigger hooks than its two predecessors; it became Zauner’s first album to crack the Billboard 200, debuting at No. 56. Weeks before its release, Crying in H Mart: A Memoir, in which Zauner reflects on grief following the death of her mother, debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times nonfiction bestsellers list; a film adaptation has been announced, with Zauner providing the soundtrack as Japanese Breakfast. Along with the best new artist nod, Jubilee will compete for best alternative music album.