No other Grammy category fascinates us the way that Best New Artist does. Record of the Year and Song of the Year reward craft, and Album of the Year rewards a unified artistic vision, but the Best New Artist trophy rewards something more romantic and elusive: potential.
So while the other awards, once given, are secure—if Arcade Fire decided tomorrow to only play jazz-polka fusion from now on, The Suburbs would still be a great album—the Best New Artist title is more unstable, its judgement riding on the vagaries of fate. As we’ve seen over and over, time can make a fool of the Grammys’ choice in this category.
And yet—though the Grammy voters often get it spectacularly wrong, sometimes they get it right. Popdust is counting down both possibilities with a list of the Grammys’ 10 worst and 10 best choices for Best New Artist, judged on the basis of chart success, critical acclaim, peak buzziness and career longevity. The 10 Worst starts below!
10: ESPERANZA SPALDING (2011)
Spalding, a little-known jazz bassist, became a slightly-better-known jazz bassist when she triumphed over Justin Bieber at the Grammys two years ago. We can’t blame her for the fact that she became a pop-culture punchline, but in a year when commercial and critical successes Drake, Mumford & Sons and Florence + the Machine were also nominated, why did the Grammys choose an artist who would only ever be a niche act?
9: SHELBY LYNNE (2001)
Lynne, by contrast, didn’t beat out anyone super-great in her year (Brad Paisley is the only nominee from 2001 whose musical career is still thriving)—a fact that suits her general anonymity just fine.
8: MARC COHN (1992)
Sure, plenty of one-hit wonders have won Best New Artist, and plenty more will win again. And “Walking in Memphis” is actually pretty good! But in 1992, why did the Grammys pick a poor man’s Michael McDonald as the sound of the future over acts like Boyz II Men and Seal?
7: A TASTE OF HONEY (1979)
Sorry rockists—disco doesn’t suck. “Boogie Oogie Oogie” kinda does though, we’ll grant you that.
6: HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH (1996)
Despite the recent boom in ’90s nostalgia, Hootie and the Blowfish has remained on hiatus while Darius Rucker focuses on his country career, which is proof that even Darius Rucker will go to extreme lengths to avoid hearing another Hootie and the Blowfish song.
5: JOSE FELICIANO (1969)
Would Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” rankle us less if it wasn’t played incessantly every Christmas? Probably. But it is, so it does.
4: THE SWINGLE SISTERS (1964)
We’ll forgive the early Grammy voters for some growing pains, as it clearly took some time to figure out exactly what Best New Artist was supposed to represent. (In 1961 they gave it to Bob Newhart, a comedian.) Still, at the height of Motown and the British Invasion, we like to think that somebody should have argued against giving the award to a group that did a capella covers of classical music.
3: ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (1994)
Hey, who’s that rap group that was briefly popular in the early ’90s before being unceremoniously dropped from the public consciousness and is now mostly known for ruining the search results every time you try to look up information about a cult TV show? It’s… Arrested Development.
2: STARLAND VOCAL BAND (1977)
Many of the Grammys’ choices for Best New Artist have been regretted by some person or another, but Starland Vocal Band’s award is probably the only one to be regretted by the recipients themselves. As singer Taffy Danoff told VH1, winning Best New Artist “was basically the kiss of death” for the band.
1: MILLI VANILLI (1990) [Award Vacated]
Even if you ignore the part where Milli Vanilli were frauds who couldn’t sing a note, and just go by what everyone thought was true at the time, this was still a really bad choice! Girl You Know It’s True is second-rate R&B no matter who’s credited on vocals; listen to it now and marvel at how anyone thought these guys were better than Neneh Cherry or the Indigo Girls.
TO FEEL BETTER ABOUT THE GRAMMYS, CLICK THE “NEXT” BUTTON AND READ ABOUT THE 10 BEST WINNERS OF THE BEST NEW ARTIST AWARD!