We’re officially two days away from the 60th edition of the GRAMMYs, and it’s set to be a show to remember with fiery performances expected from the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Bruno Mars. The two of them will also be going head-to-head for the revered Album of the Year award, but here at Ones to Watch, our eyes are naturally trained on the Best New Artist category, which promises to be a hard-fought battle five several candidates.
Each of these artists have been a name to watch for some time, but they earned a nomination in the category thanks to newfound mainstream recognition and a sharp surge in popularity. We decided to chronicle SZA, Khalid, Alessia Cara, Lil Uzi Vert, and Julia Michaels’ respective paths to becoming a breakout success in the industry.
Following lengthy delays, SZA’s debut studio album Ctrl was one of the most anticipated projects of 2017. If all the year-end lists the project appeared on is any indication, it more than lived up to the hype. The First Lady of TDE also earned a nomination for Best Urban Contemporary album with Ctrl, but it was a number of high-profile features leading up to the album that kept her name in high regard. Following her 2014 EP Z, she popped up on albums from labelmates ScHoolboy Q and Jay Rock, and flaunted her impressive vocals on Rihanna’s “Consideration” off the GRAMMY-nominated album ANTI. Her chemistry with rapper Isaiah Rashad has also been a consistent key to her success, as the two have five solid collaborations to date.
Khalid had significantly less hype in the years prior to his 2017 debut American Teen, but instead burst onto the map with “Location,” released in 2016. It garnered a huge boost when Kylie Jenner featured the song on her Snapchat – according to Genius, a 2690% boost to be exact. Still his most successful song, “Location” has racked up nearly half a billion streams on Spotify, while the rest of American Teen fulfilled his potential with a number of sentimental odes to the magical time known as senior year of high school. Look no further than his summer concert on the Santa Monica Pier for an example of how deeply his music resonated with fans; reported attendance ranged from 25,000 to 60,000.
Industry darling Alessia Cara’s most recent album was her 2015 effort Know-It-All, prompting some to wonder why she wasn’t named to the Best New Artist category at the 2017 GRAMMYs. Still, her star power has only grown since then, especially due to her feature on the Zedd’s smash hit “Stay.” A placement on the soundtrack for Disney’s animated Moana film certainly didn’t hurt either; her version of “How Far I’ll Go” performed incredibly well and is still one of her most-streamed songs on Spotify.
Lil Uzi Vert
After mumble rap became the biggest wave to hit hip-hop since Migos’ iconic triplet flow, it’s only fitting that one of the style’s most prominent faces earned a nod in the Best New Artist category. Several well-received singles such as “Money Longer” and “XO Tour Llif3” built huge anticipation for Luv is Rage 2, which saw guest appearances from upper echelon artists like Pharrell Williams and The Weeknd. Uzi’s carefree, charming personality made him a social media darling following its release, with memes and GIFs only increasing his visibility throughout 2017.
Having released only three EPs thus far in her career, Julia Michaels is this year’s only nominee without a true studio album for the committee to review. The Iowa born singer-songwriter first broke into the industry by penning songs for high-profile names such as Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez and Fifth Harmony, and eventually signed to Republic Records to take her own career to another level. “Issues,” her debut single after signing, raced up the charts with its honest lyrics and bright, uplifting production. Her most recent EP Nervous System impressed as well, showing the songwriting talents that originally earned her a spot in the industry while allowing her own persona to be at the forefront.