(USA TODAY) Poll the pundits, and nearly all will say this year's best-new-artist Grammys race comes down to either fun. or Frank Ocean.
After all, fun. has sold nearly a million copies of its Some Nights album and more than 10 million individual downloads. Ocean's Channel Orange album, which has sold 475,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, wound up at or near the top of many best-of-2012 lists.
At the Grammy Awards, things often aren't so cut and dried, though.
"The best-new-artist category is always a guaranteed jaw-dropper," says Tom O'Neil, editor of GoldDerby.com, which tracks and predicts entertainment awards. O'Neil points to last year's Bon Iver upset over the Band Perry and Nicki Minaj, as well as jazz artist Esperanza Spalding's victory over a field that included Justin Bieber and Mumford & Sons in 2011.
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A similar upset this year could send the award to folk-rock trio The Lumineers, rock 'n' soul band Alabama Shakes or country singer Hunter Hayes on Sunday.
Despite recent history, O'Neil expects a fun. win. "They have all the Grammy qualities that usually do well: rich orchestration, a howl of pain in their gut, a rebellious streak. And they're sexy in their way," he says.
Also, the trio is one of nine acts that have received nominations in all four of Grammy's marquee categories - new artist, as well as best album, record and song - in the same year. Seven of those other eight acts won best new artist.
Yahoo music contributor Chris Willman believes Ocean will take the trophy - and not just because of the quality of his music.
"There's a big contingent of Grammy voters that says, 'I didn't hear the album, but I'm going to vote for what represents "real music" vs. a perceived onslaught of style over substance,' " Willman says. "Even among people who aren't huge R&B fans, there's a definite feeling that Ocean represents the real thing."
Also, Willman says, "You can't discount the sociopolitical factor of his having come out," by acknowledging via Tumblr that his first love was a man. "The fact that he didn't suffer terribly for it is seen as a progressive success story."
With Ocean and fun. also competing for record and album of the year, the stage is set for one act to win multiple awards - or nothing at all.
O'Neil believes that if either takes the record or album category, where they're competing against more established acts, they'll likely also win best new artist. However, he adds, "If they don't win best new artist, they'll be in trouble in the other races."
If that happens, the field's wide open. "Any of them could pull an upset," Willman says. "There's nobody in the category where you could say, 'That's just impossible,' like there have been some years."
Brian Mansfield, Special for USA TODAY