With long-running acts like Jelly Roll and Victoria Monét on this year’s ballot, we take a look at the prior musical output of the 2023 crop.
Jelly Roll photographed on April 21, 2023 at Warren Studios in Nashville.
Eric Ryan Anderson
What constitutes a new artist? It’s a question that’s likely on the minds of many who have pored over the list of best new artist nominees at next year’s Grammys.
Indeed, this year’s crop — announced along with the rest of the nominees on Friday (Nov. 10) — includes several acts with notably deep discographies. Jelly Roll — one of 2023’s biggest breakthroughs — started releasing a long string of albums more than a decade ago. Victoria Monét put out her debut EP way back in 2015. And prior to releasing this year’s Lover’s Game, Americana duo The War and Treaty already had three albums under their belt and years of experience outside the band before that.
This is far from a new phenomenon. Chance the Rapper, who won best new artist in 2017, had released three albums prior to winning the award. Lizzo had also put out three full-lengths, including her breakthrough smash Cuz I Love You, prior to her 2020 nomination in the category. And the category’s 2011 winner, Esperanza Spalding, had likewise put out a trio of albums prior to taking home the award.
Some of this is the result of The Recording Academy changing the eligibility criteria over the last decade-and-a-half. After Lady Gaga was deemed ineligible for best new artist in 2010 because she’d been nominated for a Grammy for best dance recording the year prior, the academy updated its rules to allow previous nominees to be nominated for best new artist — just as long as they hadn’t actually won a Grammy, or released an entire album.
Six years after that, the academy again updated the eligibility requirements “to remove the album barrier given current trends in how new music and developing artists are released and promoted.” It also required artists to have “released a minimum of five singles/tracks or one album, but no more than 30 singles/tracks or three albums” in order to qualify.
In 2020, the academy updated the requirements once more by declining to specify the “maximum number of releases” an artist could put out before being deemed ineligible. Instead, it stated that “screening committees will determine whether the artist had attained a breakthrough or prominence prior to the eligibility year.” Today, the academy officially describes the category as recognizing “an artist whose eligibility-year release(s) achieved a breakthrough into the public consciousness and notably impacted the musical landscape.” In sum, the definition of “new” has become more open-ended than ever.
That may be why this year’s group of nominees is arguably one of the most head-scratching in Grammys history. Below, we take a look at just how “new” this year’s best new artist nominees really are.
The 2024 Grammy Awards ceremony will be telecast live from Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on Feb. 4.
Image Credit: Danielle Neu
Abrams is undoubtedly one of the newest artists among the current batch. Though the 24-year-old released two prior EPs on Interscope — 2020’s Minor and 2021’s This Is What It Feels Like — she didn’t rise to mainstream prominence until the release of her full-length debut, Good Riddance, this past February. The album’s success — certainly bolstered by her string of opening dates on Taylor Swift‘s Eras Tour earlier this year — landed Abrams at No. 1 on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart in June.
Image Credit: Kieran Frost/Redferns
Though Frederick John Philip Gibson had been working as a prominent songwriter-producer for close to a decade thanks to high-profile collaborations with artists like Ed Sheeran and Rita Ora, he didn’t start releasing albums under his solo project, Fred again.., until 2021. His third album under the project, 2022’s Actual Life 3 (January 1-September 9 2022), was his first to hit the Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart, peaking at No. 3 in November of that year. In April, he also played a much-talked-about headlining set at Coachella alongside Skrillex and Four Tet, cementing his star status.
Image Credit: Coughs
The Bronx-raised rapper, one of the few mainstream pop breakthroughs of the past couple of years, started releasing tracks in 2021 but didn’t hit the big time until 2023’s “Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2” with PinkPantheress, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March. That was followed by a string of other successful tracks, including “Princess Diana” with Nicki Minaj (No. 4 on the Hot 100), “Barbie World” with Nicki Minaj and Aqua (No. 7) and the “Karma” remix with Taylor Swift, which hit No. 2 on the Hot 100 in June.
Image Credit: Christopher Polk for Variety
Perhaps the most dubious best new artist nominee this year is 39-year-old Jelly Roll, who released no fewer than 10 hip-hop albums prior to his pivot to country — a course change that resulted in his smash 2023 album, Whitsitt Chapel. While certainly a newer presence on the country scene, it’s not as if Jelly Roll was a total unknown during his hip-hop days. During that prolific run, he scored five total entries on Billboard‘s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart starting with 2011’s Strictly Business, a collaborative album with rapper Haystak.
Image Credit: Breyona Holt
The 25-year-old singer-songwriter was better known as an actress prior to scoring her first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 in April with the track “ICU.” Nonetheless, the former Disney child star has a fairly loaded discography for her age, having put out a total of four EPs — including the Hollywood Records-released Made Of in 2013 — prior to the release of her Def Jam debut and mainstream breakthrough, What I Didn’t Tell You, last November.
Image Credit: Tammie Arroyo for Variety
The 26-year-old Kahan signed to Republic Records in 2016 and released two under-the-radar albums — 2019’s Busyhead and 2021’s I Was/I Am — before breaking through with last year’s Stick Season, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 in June following the release of its deluxe reissue. This year alone, he’s scored a total of four placements on the Billboard Hot 100, including “Dial Drunk” with Post Malone (No. 25) and Zach Bryan‘s “Sarah’s Place” (No. 14), on which he was featured.
Image Credit: Dalvin Adams
Already an accomplished songwriter, Monét began self-releasing EPs in 2015 before signing with Tribe Records, which put out her Billboard 200-charting Jaguar in 2020 (No. 174). Notably, one year prior to that, Monét had appeared with Ariana Grande on the Thank U, Next cut “Monopoly,” which hit No. 69 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April of that year. But Monét wasn’t recognized as an emerging star in her own right until the release of her first full-length and major-label debut, Jaguar II, which was put out by RCA in August and scored Monét her second entry on the Hot 100 with single “On My Mama” (No. 58).
The War and Treaty
Image Credit: Austin Hargrave
The husband-and-wife Americana duo composed of Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter started off as Trotter & Blount, the name they used for their debut album together, 2016’s Love Affair. But they didn’t start gathering heat until they changed their name to The War and Treaty and put out the Thirty Tigers-distributed 2018 album Healing Tide, which won them emerging artist of the year at the 2019 Americana Music Honors & Awards. That was followed by 2020’s Hearts Town and their major-label debut, the 2022 EP Blank Page, on Universal Music Group Nashville (UMPG). But 2023 proved to be their true breakthrough year, with the release of their album Lover’s Game and a featured spot on Zach Bryan‘s “Hey Driver,” which hit No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September.
There’s one particularly notable asterisk here, as on a solo basis, Tanya is far from new to the music business. Following a supporting role (credited under her maiden name, Tanya Blount) in 1993’s Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit — in which she performed “His Eye is on the Sparrow” alongside castmate Lauryn Hill — she put out her debut solo album, Natural Thing, on Polydor in 1994. Natural Thing peaked at No. 58 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, while the single “Through the Rain” cracked the Hot 100 at No 90. She subsequently signed to Sean “Diddy” Combs‘ Bad Boy Entertainment, though her planned second album for the label was ultimately scrapped. In 2000, a Washington Post profile reported that Blount’s lawyers were in the process of negotiating a settlement to release her from her Bad Boy contract.
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