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Who the $@#! Is Esperanza Spalding?

Justin Bieber,   Esperanza Spalding Jason Merritt/Getty Images; ROBYN BECK/Getty Images

Who is this Esperanza person who robbed Justin Bieber of his Best New Artist Grammy?
—BiebLuv, via the inbox

Didn't think there was anyone out there who had better hair—or a better rep with the Grammy people—than the Bieb?

Well, get this: Jazz baby Esperanza Spalding, for that is her name, just may be classier than Justin Bieber, too:

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Yes, like the Bieb, Spalding has performed at the White House—in her case, playing her signature bass while singing to a piano accompaniment. But unlike Justin Bieber, Spalding also has gigged it at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in 2009. And she got to sing a tribute to Prince at the BET Awards last summer.

Justin Bieber has gotten a passing mention or two from the prestigious New Yorker mag; Spalding has been honored with a full profile.

Why did she get so much love from the Grammy folks? Couple of possible reasons.

First, female instrumentalists are rare in jazz, apparently.

Second, Spalding likes to focus not on herself as a solo act, but on her collaborations, making her more appealing to musicians and producers—you know, the kinds of people who vote in the Grammys. (Bieber, while cute, doesn't really get off much on collaborating with other artists.)

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Another factor to consider:

"Very attractive women always win Grammys," Slate writer Bill Wyman insisted to Madeline Brand today. "That is one thing you can never bet against."

Lastly, she has the potential to invigorate an entire genre. Pop music doesn't need any help from Bieber or anyone else, but jazz isn't exactly a mainstream type of music these days. That isn't likely to change much, but music critics do say that Spalding's approach to music is likely to recruit many new listeners to jazz.

Her major-label début album, Esperanza, released three years ago, was dubbed "jazz for the iPod age," and led Spalding to be called the "new hope for jazz."

"Certainly," The New Yorker intoned, "she arrives on the scene after a long period of conservatism and stagnation."

And, I might add, after a very long, possibly too long, reign for Justin Bieber. The Grammys wanted to honor someone fresh. And can you blame them?

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