Macklemore (Ben Haggerty) of the rap duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis performs at Staples Center Dec. 6 in Los Angeles.
(Photo: Chris Pizzello, Invision/AP)
(USATODAY.com) - Bet on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to win Grammy's best new artist trophy this year. Just don't bet a lot.
The newcomer competition, historically fraught with controversy, left-field picks and puzzling shutouts, may be the most difficult contest to call.
Transgressions have been endless. The prize went to such short-lived sensations as Starland Vocal Band and Christopher Cross. Lip-sync duo Milli Vanilli's award was revoked. Elvis Costello lost to A Taste of Honey. Among scores of legends never even nominated as bright start-ups were Madonna, U2, Prince, Garth Brooks, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen.
This year, Macklemore dukes it out with country singer Kacey Musgraves, hip-hop artistKendrick Lamar, British crooner Ed Sheeran and London singer/producer James Blake.
Conspicuously absent is New Zealand songbird Lorde, a strong contender in the best song and record slots for Royals.
"Lorde probably would have won best new artist, too, but she inexplicably wasn't nominated," says veteran Grammy analyst Paul Grein, who writes for Yahoo Music. "With her out of the running, that category comes down to Macklemore and Ed Sheeran. I give the edge to Macklemore, which dominated the year with four million-sellers."
The rap twosome ruled radio and charts in 2013 with Same Love (up for best song), Thrift Shop (up for rap performance and rap song), White Walls and Can't Hold Us, all from The Heist, favored to win album of the year. They have seven nods, including three in rap.
"I can't see Macklemore winning everything," says Tom O'Neil, editor of Gold Derby awards site. "Kacey could be this year's upsetter in best new artist. There's a history of solo female artists winning this category. And Ed Sheeran is a real contender."
Still, he's betting on Macklemore, despite a chance that fellow rap act Lamar could peel away votes.
Macklemore's pop-leaning tunes have strong mainstream appeal and will fare better in the marquee categories than the rap field, Grein suggests.
"I have Macklemore beating Lamar for new artist, and then Lamar turning around and beating Macklemore for best rap album," he says. "That may seem inconsistent, but the voters will be different. Everybody votes in the 'big four' categories, but only dedicated rap fans vote in the rap field."
Phil Gallo, Billboard senior correspondent, foresees a clear path to the podium for Macklemore.
"If they don't win, I'll be shocked," he says. "This is the one award a lot of voters will feel comfortable giving them. Some will say, 'Wait, Ed Sheeran was on last year's show.' Yes, he got more popular, but his breakthrough is not as dramatic. Kacey and Kendrick are a little too bound to their genres."
And if those four pull equal numbers, underdog Blake could prevail in a squeaker, he says.
"There have been years when two artists do music that's very similar and divide the vote, and then an obscure jazz singer ends up winning," Gallo says. "You don't have that this year. There's no Esperanza Spalding or Susan Tedeschi on this list. The threshold artists have to cross into the public consciousness is higher than it was several years ago."