The days of local, underground upstarts competing with Aerosmith at the Boston Music Awards are thankfully over — although Eddie Japan beating Aerosmith (plus Peter Wolf and Dropkick Murphys) for Live Artist of the Year in 2013 was spectacular. Rightfully, the emphasis has been put on current, Boston-area up-and-comers. That’s not to say lesser-known acts aren’t up against a few national stars.
Ahead of Wednesday’s Boston Music Awards at House of Blues, here’s a rundown of a few underdog contests to watch. Hey, maybe you’ll find a new favorite.
ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Cliff Notez vs. Cousin Stizz
Aces pack this category (Clairo! STL GLD! Oompa! Palehound!), but it is Cousin Stizz’s to lose. The Dorchester hero became the first-ever hip-hop act to win Artist of the Year in 2018. Stizz deserved it. But now he’s huge. Cliff Notez should get the 2019 victory. Notez’s latest album, “Why the Wild Things Are,” delivers joyful, hooky, Top 10-ready hip-hop (“Happy”) and mournful, almost-broken guitar ballads (“Losing Crowns II”) and so much in between. Time for Notez to rise to Stizz’s level of millions of streams, views and downloads.
NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR: GHOST GRL vs. $ean Wire vs. Corner Soul
DEC. 08, 2019 – GHOST GRL had her BMA debut last year, and is up for New Artist of the Year at this year’s Boston Music Awards. Photo courtesy
Our scene is so deep. Lowell’s Corner Soul became Boston’s best new band at the 2019 Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble by reinventing Bowie, Prince, Depeche Mode and the New York Dolls all at once. $ean Wire helped power Stizz’s latest single “Soso” by balancing Stizz’s raw flow with Wire’s chill take. But GHOST GRL is a minor revelation. With just her voice, guitar and tight folk-pop-indie compositions, she can dominate a room (see her BMA debut last year or her Bust Out Boston set at Brighton Music Hall in September). Spin “Storm” and fall hard.
SONG OF THE YEAR: Billy Dean Thomas vs. everyone
Billy Dean Thomas
Once again: The scene is deeeeeeep. How do you argue with singles from STL GLD and Latrell James and Future Teens and half a dozen more new greats? You put on Billy Dean Thomas’ “To the World.” Thomas’ anthem of empowerment, “To the World” feels like a distillation of “Fight the Power,” “U.N.I.T.Y.,” “Get Ur Freak On” and “DNA.” But it sounds like nothing you have heard: booming shouts, bubbling dance beats and bold, speedy, smart verses.
METAL ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Set Fire vs. Worshipper
A few familiar and deserving names in this category (Gozu, Summoner) and loads of new and also deserving names. But the year belongs to Set Fire. In 2016, Worshipper won the Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble. A few months later, the band took top metal honors at the BMAs. In 2019, Set Fire won the Rumble with sets that jumped from slow and sludgy to fast and thrashy in an instant (start with the part-piano-concerto, part-heavy-metal-plod “Smoke Rolls”). This Wednesday, the trio should grab a BMA.