After Doja Cat walked away with the honor of Push Best New Artist at the 2020 Video Music Awards, she catapulted to even greater success. Back in November, she went on to win Best New Artist at the People’s Choice Awards, and then in June, she released her critically acclaimed second studio album Planet Her. And now, she’s returning to the VMAs awards ceremony, this time as host as well as a performer.
That’s the significance of this category: It’s both a celebration of a banner year and a projection of more impactful artistry to come. At the 2021 VMAs, which return to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on September 12, the traditional Best New Artist category is back, while the Push Performance of the Year has its own bracket, highlighting breakout talent through their exclusive performances.
This year’s Best New Artist category is packed with all-star artists, each of whom has had a year of wild successes. There’s Olivia Rodrigo, who has been topping charts worldwide with her debut album Sour, and Giveon, who earned his first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 collaborating with Justin Bieber and Daniel Caesar on “Peaches.” But that’s only the beginning, and there can only be one winner who will take home the Moonperson. So before you vote for your faves, get to know all the Best New Artist nominees below.
Who knew that “Mood” would be created by two rappers playing Call of Duty? While gaming, 24kGoldn and Iann Dior crafted their mega-hit with producers Omer Fedi and KBeaZy. Lead artist 24kGoldn first hit the mainstream after 2019’s “Valentino” went viral on TikTok, but with an assist from Dior, “Mood” became one of the biggest smashes of 2020. The song, about a hot-and-cold relationship and featuring pop guitars courtesy of Fedi, peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was easily one of the biggest songs of last year, and 24kGoldn has been raking in bricks after releasing his debut album, El Dorado, in March.
After being featured on Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle,” featured on last year’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes, Giveon’s name was quickly heard. His EP Take Time peaked at No. 35 on the Billboard 200 and even received a nomination at this year’s Grammys. Lead single “Heartbreak Anniversary,” a downtempo piano ballad in which the singer mourns the loss of a relationship, became a sleeper hit. Recently, Giveon was featured on Justin Bieber’s smash “Peaches” alongside Daniel Caesar, bringing his soothing baritone vocals to the masses.
The Kid Laroi
After gaining widespread attention with his funky trap song “Let Her Go” in 2019, teenage Australian hip-hop artist The Kid Laroi really said F*ck Love with his debut emo-rap mixtape the next year. He received an assist from his mentor Juice WRLD on lead single “Go,” which was released posthumously after Juice’s death. The mixtape reached No. 1 on both Billboard 200 and the Australian ARIA charts, making Laroi the youngest Australian solo artist to do so. Staying true to his passion for collaboration, his synth-pop single with Justin Bieber, “Stay,” has catapulted him further in his career.
Olivia Rodrigo captured the hearts and minds of Gen Z with her relatable alt-pop tracks and realistic lyrics in her debut album Sour. Songs like “Drivers License,” “Good 4 U,” and “Deja Vu” distilled the angsty feels of breakups, while “Brutal” expressed the harsh truth that teenage dreams don’t always come true. She brings versatility in her music, incorporating alt-rock, pop-punk, grunge, folk, and country elements. Rodrigo cites Taylor Swift, one of her favorite artists, as a major inspiration for the album, and she says most of the songs are based on “everything that I had that was, like, really awesome and good in my life went really sour.”
Polo G popped out of obscurity when “Pop Out” peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2019. Now, as the title of his third studio album suggests, he’s made his way to the Hall of Fame by rapping about his personal life, ranging from his tough upbringing in Chicago, relationships, and his newfound fame. He’s a true collaborator, accruing features from such iconic hip-hop names as Nicki Minaj, Young Thug, and Lil Wayne. Polo has cited Wayne as one of his biggest influences, so he couldn’t contain his joy that the rap legend hopped on his song.
Saweetie is your new “Best Friend,” which is the title of her fun, uptempo track on which last year’s Push Best New Artist winner Doja Cat appears. Saweetie’s debut High Maintenance released in 2018, peaking at No. 32 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Album Sales chart. Her song “Icy Girl” — a spiritual freestyle successor to Khia’s classic hit “My Neck, My Back” — went Platinum and also became the title of her second EP, which gave the world the iconic rap-dance lead single “My Type.” The song went on to spawn a popular TikTok challenge. Saweetie is set to drop her debut studio album, Pretty Bitch Music, sometime this year, so make sure to tune in.