This year’s Grammy Awards ceremony will be a continuation of the changing tide that began three years ago when Taylor Swift won in the Album of the Year category, evidence that this was no longer your parents’ award show.
But Swift’s win was just a shot across the bow by the Recording Academy's voters, which awarded honors in the same category to Arcade Fire in 2011 and Adele in 2012. For evidence of the trend -- and the academy’s longing to appeal to younger viewers -- look no further than the nominees for Best New Artist in 2013.
People who don’t think Frank Ocean is the favorite to win the Grammy for Best New Artist are kidding themselves. The R&B crooner, who first rose to fame with the hip-hop collective Odd Future, released the most critically acclaimed album of the year with “Channel Orange.” Many critics expect Ocean to go home happy after the show Sunday, as “Channel Orange” has also been nominated for Album of the Year and he’s scheduled to perform live, as well.
More cynically, a win for Ocean -- who is a gay African-American man -- would help the Grammys shed the image that the awards only appeal to conservative white people. That’s not to say he doesn’t deserve it: Ocean’s solo debut didn't rank No. 1 on Billboard's top R&B/hip-hop albums list and dominate the blogosphere for nothing.
Among those rooting for Ocean is powerhouse producer Rick Rubin, who told the Washington Post how brave Ocean was to come out of the closet in the notoriously homophobic world of hip-hop.
“It speaks to the advancements of our culture,” Rubin said. “It feels like the culture’s moving forward and he’s a representative of the new acceptance in the world for different ideas, which just broadens [our experience], makes the world a better place.”
A critical darling that could pose a threat to Ocean’s potential win in the Best New Artist category is the Alabama Shakes, led by soulful singer Brittany Howard. The Shakes released a debut album, “Boys & Girls,” last April and almost immediately wooed an audience that fell in love with their sloppy, bluesy songs that sounded right home during their performances at both Bonnaroo and the Newport Folk Festival.
The group may not win Best New Artist recognition, but if there were a category for most devoted fan base, the Alabama Shakes would certainly take home the prize. Meg Lewis, a theatrical-marketing director, said the group appeared ready to pick up where Janis Joplin left off even before it had a record deal.
“I told my boss, our chief operating officer, that we should make a connection with them. We should call their booking agent, we should call their manager. They’ll be huge,” Lewis told the Los Angeles Times. “I could not immediately quantify how many of those people want to follow for information about the Alabama Shakes.”
A third group with a Best New Artist nomination is Fun, best known for its hit single “We Are Young.” Fun has adapted the rock bombast invented by Queen for the digital age, using synthetic techniques Freddie Mercury only could have dreamt of.
Rounding out the Best New Artist nominees are The Lumineers and Hunter Hayes, two artists who take very different approaches to country music. The Lumineers have gained fans much in the same way as Album of the Year favorite Mumford & Sons -- by stripping down their sound and favoring the earnest, heart-on-the-sleeve folk rock that’s so attractive to fans of alt-country. In contrast, Hunter Hayes has taken the slicker route, favoring emotionless hooks that have earned him the title of the Justin Bieber of country.