Esperanza Spalding took home a Best New Artist Grammy earlier tonight, no doubt inspiring plenty of quizzical Googling (and moving a few outraged Beliebers to vandalize her Wikipedia entry). She may not be a household name, but the jazz bassist is not the most obscure or incongruous recipient in the history of the award. The category featured several gimmes early on—Bobby Darin, the Beatles and Crosby, Stills & Nash all got trophies—but award-show politics or Grammy voters’ idiosyncratic tastes have anointed some baffling winners in recent decades. Here are a few of the weirdest Best New Artists:
Bob Newhart (1961)
Only one comedian has ever won this Grammy, and the answer to that sadistic trivia question is Bob Newhart. (He didn’t win it for the bit below.)
A Taste of Honey (1979)
The only disco act to win Best New Artist when that genre was dominating pop—and as you can see from the clip below, they had far more deserving peers. (It’s the second of their… two hits.) Losing nominees Elvis Costello and the Cars would go on to have a pretty good 1980s regardless.
Milli Vanilli (1990)
This Grammy flub attained notoriety when it became obvious that the duo’s purported members weren’t singing their own vocals. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences was not amused by this bold marriage of pop to avant-garde literary theory, and revoked the award. They never gave a makeup trophy to any of Milli Vanilli’s unfortunate rivals, which is too bad: one of them was Neneh Cherry, a year on from her immortal single “Buffalo Stance.”
“Christian goth” wailers triumphed over 50 Cent (whose debut was among the decade’s biggest albums), Sean Paul (who successfully crossed over from dancehall to the mainstream) and Fountains of Wayne (who had been around since 1996). Hip-hop gets snubbed by the Grammys a lot, but the chronic oversight is especially glaring when it comes to the Best New Artist category. The single rap-identified exception to that milquetoast rule? 1993 victors Arrested Development, who were very tasteful and hippie-friendly and utterly forgotten in the wake of gangsta rap, an ascendant subgenre that was already revolutionizing American airwaves. At least they and Evanescence have golden gramophones to hold their tears.