While the biggest Grammy categories like “Best Record” or “Album of the Year” get the primetime slots, there are about 80 more winners, many of which are revealed earlier that day during an online stream.
Here are 12 Grammy nominees who are huge in their spheres, but who you may or may not know yet. Scroll all the way down to listen to this list on Spotify.
Those who have been following Sylvan Esso for the past decade might say that the electronic duo from Durham, North Carolina has been criminally underrated for too long. They may not have won this year for “Best Dance/Electronic Music Album” for their project Free Love, but that does not give you an excuse for missing out on this great music. Sylvan Esso has a huge following and are staples at festivals like Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, and Bonnaroo.
Black Pumas is a psychedelic soul band from Austin, Texas, formed by singer/songwriter Eric Burton, and guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada. Burton honed his stage presence busking all over the western US, until he landed in Austin, where he connected with Quesada through a mutual friend. They released their self-titled debut album in 2019, which was a pretty immediate success, earning four Grammy nominations over the past two years, including a nomination for “Record of the Year” in 2021. They went on to record a deluxe version of the album, which has put them in the running for “Best Rock Performance” and “Best Rock Album” at this year’s Grammy Awards. Though they won neither award, it is a stellar work that is worth checking out.
After her cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” went viral in the early aughts, Arooj Aftab moved from Pakistan to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. More than a decade later, she’s a singer and composer nominated for “Best New Artist” and “Best Global Music Performance” for her song “Mohabbat,” which President Barack Obama included on his 2021 summer playlist. Olivia Rodrigo won the first category, but Aftab won “Best Global Music Performance,” beating other top-notch nominees like Femi Kuti, Yo-Yo Ma, and Angélique Kidjo. Arooj Aftab appears on the January 2022 edition of Berklee Online’s Music is My Life podcast, where she discusses why her music belongs not just in the Global Music category, but alongside American pop music, because it is American pop music that was written and recorded in Brooklyn.
Over the past year, the projects of Michelle Zauner have spanned the emotional spectrum. First, she released her best-selling memoir, Crying in H Mart, about the death of her mother, which is set to be adapted for film. Then she released her third full-length Japanese Breakfast album, Jubilee. She says that the moment she started writing the album she knew what she wanted to call it because it is “a celebration of the passage of time—a festival to usher in the hope of a new era in brilliant technicolor.” Though she did not win either Grammy for “Best New Artist” or “Best Alternative Music Album,” Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee is an act of rebellion to find joy in the midst of sorrow.
Before Arlo Parks went on to write her Grammy-nominated album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, she was coming to terms with the fact that she wouldn’t be able to join Haylie Williams on her 2020 tour, which was canceled due to Covid. Parks had only started performing gigs the year prior with two highly-regarded EPs that were getting decent airplay. At the height of lockdown in London, then 20-year-old Parks rented an Airbnb where she recorded her debut album in three weeks. With lyrics that reflect the isolation of the time it was recorded, a driving R&B beat, and a nylon string guitar, this work earned her nominations for “Best New Artist” and “Best Alternative Music Album,” neither of which she won this year, but Collapsed in Sunbeams still deserves your attention.
Snoh Aalegra made the top of Tyler, The Creator’s list of favorite tracks of the year, and it’s not only because they collaborated on two songs for her Grammy-nominated album Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies. The Iranian/Swedish singer with a soulful Sade-like sound has been releasing music under the name Snoh since 2014 (previously Sheri), and her 2017 debut album Feels caught the attention of Prince, who mentored her for two years before he passed. This was the first year that she was nominated for the US Grammy Awards, and was also up for “Best R&B Performance.” Though she did not win either of these categories, you will likely be hearing more Grammy-nominated works from her in the future.
From growing up in a cult, to surviving Hurricane Katrina, to competing on Season 4 of American Idol, Lucky Daye has lived quite a life. His Grammy nominations have been a long time coming, and he was up for “Best Traditional R&B Performance,” which he won, for his second full-length project Table for Two, and nominated for “Best Traditional R&B Performance,” which went to H.E.R. Just in the past year, he’s been busy collaborating with Khalid, Alicia Keys, Earth, Wind & Fire, and many more. He released his highly-anticipated album Candy Drip in March 2022 and kicked off his North American tour on April 4.
Hiatus Kaiyote may have lost the “Best Progressive R&B Album” Grammy to Lucky Daye, but this jazz/funk band from Melbourne, Australia may have won something more prestigious. They have been praised by the neo-soul queen herself, Erykah Badu. It’s been almost six years since the band released their last Grammy-nominated album, after singer and guitarist, Naomi Saalfield, underwent treatment for breast cancer. She has since recovered and released Hiatus Kaiyote’s 2021 album Mood Valiant, which emanates vitality and a new outlook on life. In a New York Times interview, Saalfield said “It was actually a really powerful place to record from. I know what it is I am meant to do with my life and I’m going to do it as long as I’m here.”
Mickey Guyton captured the world’s attention at the height of the 2020 wave of the BLM movement with her song, “Black Like Me,” for which she was nominated for “Best Country Solo Performance” in 2021. She was the first Black woman to be nominated in the country category, and continues to break new ground, bringing lyrics of empowerment and solidarity to country music. The same is true this year for her first full-length album, Remember Her Name, which had potential to sweep the country category for best solo performance, song, and album. But unfortunately Mickey Guyton happened to be in all of those same categories with Chris Stapleton, who ended up sweeping them.
Nathy Peluso won the 2021 Latin Grammy for “Best Alternative Music Album” for Calambre, and there was a good chance she’d win in the same category at this year’s US Grammy Awards. Alas she lost to Juanes. Nevertheless, her fresh sound combines hip-hop and funk beats, jazzy-pop vocals, and Latin lyrics and horns. This is Peluso’s first full-length studio album and her streaming numbers are massive, but mostly coming from South American countries. It’s only a matter of time before her popularity drifts up to North America, and the rest of the world really.
Allison Russell has been making music for the past two decades under folk/roots music projects such as Po’ Girl, Birds of Chicago, and Our Native Daughters. This past year, she stepped into the spotlight as a solo artist with her debut album, Outside Child, a courageous and vulnerable album influenced by the abuse she overcame growing up. Russell thanks Brandi Carlile for getting the word out about Outside Child, saying in a Variety interview that Carlile made a call to Fantasy Records, who signed her almost immediately. It’s no wonder that this body of work was so instantly embraced, as it shows that music can be a refuge. Who cares if she did not win any of these categories. Listen to her now, and you can still brag that you knew about her back when.
Cedric Burnside comes from a long line of Mississippi hill-country blues musicians, building upon the legacy of his grandfather, R.L. Burnside, and his father, drummer Calvin Jackson. He has been playing the blues for three decades, and in 2021, he was the recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship, an honor presented by the National Endowment for the Arts. His album, I Be Trying, won the “Best Traditional Blues Album” and will help anyone understand what the genre is about lyrically, musically, and spiritually.