LIVE REVIEW: The Best New Artist Nominees Perform at Spotify’s Grammy Party

Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus perform their smash hit “Old Town Road” at Spotify’s pre-Grammy party showcasing Best New Artist nominees. Photo by Suzannah Weiss.

On Sunday, January 26, 18-year-old singer-songwriter Billie Eilish took home an impressive five Grammy awards: best new artist, album of the year, record of the year, song of the year, and best pop vocal album. The week before, I had the chance to attend Spotify’s official Grammy party, which included performances by Eilish and the other Best New Artist nominees. 

The party was held at the Lot Studios in West Hollywood, and getting into the venue was an adventure in and of itself. After standing in a line to get on a line to get on another line, I’d unfortunately missed the first act, hip-hop sensation Lizzo, but I did get inside in time to catch Eilish’s performance.

Only at an LA music industry event could there be such an unfazed crowd in front of an artist who is about to win a Grammy. Acknowledging how many people were talking, eating, and otherwise failing to give their full attention, Eilish joked, “I’m sorry to make you be quiet for this.” 

The audience’s ostensible lack of enthusiasm didn’t reflect the quality of the act, though. Accompanied by her brother Finneas O’Connell on keyboard, Eilish played a mini-set consisting of “I Don’t Wanna Be You Anymore,” “Everything I Wanted,” and, of course, the haunting “Ocean Eyes.” The highlight, though, was their rhythmic yet mellow acoustic rendition of “Bad Guy.”

Next came a very different nominee, funk and soul duo the Black Pumas, who delivered an eclectic meld of rock and R&B on tracks like “Fire,” which was a bit reminiscent of The Black Keys, “Know You Better,” which contained gospel-like harmonies, and the soulful, catchy “Colors,” which featured an animated keyboard solo. 

Singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers then took the stage, giving the night’s most energetic performance. She jumped up and down and danced almost nonstop as she cycled through hits like “Give a Little,” with its gorgeous closing harmonies, and “The Knife,” to which she added a classical piano intro. Singing poppy tracks like “Say It” and “Love You for a Long Time,” Rogers came off like she was genuinely enjoying herself, bending down at one point to give audience members high fives. 

The audience favorite, however, seemed to be Lil Nas X, who opened with his second single “Panini.” Afterward, he accidentally called out to the audience, “What’s up, New York?” Everyone cheered nonetheless. He followed with “Rodeo,” then brought out Billy Ray Cyrus for an infectious performance of “Old Town Road,” leading audience members to sway and sing along to “I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road and ride ‘til I can’t no more.”

Spanish pop artist Rosalía came on next, appearing alongside dancers in Flamenco-like garb for a show that was visually stunning as well as musically catchy. I left before I got the chance to see the other two nominees, English singer-songwriter Yola and funk group Tank and the Bangas. 

While Eilish was the one to take home the award, it’s clear that none of the other varied nominees will be fading from the public eye (or ear) any time soon. The Black Pumas are speaking to a variety of audiences with music that’s poetic and catchy, oldies-inspired and modern at the same time; Rogers is taking over the radio by adding her own original flavor to pop music; Lil Nas X has released several chart-topping songs at the tender age of 20; and Rosalía has a unique sound that’s catching attention worldwide. It’ll be exciting to see what each of them has done by the time the 2021 Grammys air. I’m betting it’ll be quite a bit.