Is There a Best New Artist Curse?

Grammy award

The Best New Artist award at the Grammys is kind of a sham when you think about it. With a few exceptions, the artists who win the award aren’t nominated for anything else that year; it’s a way for Grammy to pat them on the head and say, “Good effort this year, kid. The future looks bright for you. See you soon.”

According to the Grammy website, the award goes to “any performing artist or established performing group who releases, during the eligibility year, the recording that first establishes the public identity of that artist or established group as a performer.” Okay. I’m not sure how they make sure that an artist’s “public identity” has been established.
Perhaps that’s where the fault lies, because the Best New Artist category is now known to have a “curse” associated with it. Many say that winning Best New Artist is the quickest way to anonymity. Just ask the Starland Vocal Band, A Taste of Honey and Hootie & the Blowfish.
But is there really a Best New Artist curse?

Years Grammy got it wrong

Early on, Grammy didn’t seem to know what to do with the award. They gave it to Bob Newhart, a comedian, in 1961, Robert Goulet in 1963 (who had already been starring on Broadway for three years) and the Swingle Singers, a French vocal group, in 1964.
But it was the 1970s when people started raising their eyebrows and wondering if there really was a Best New Artist curse:
  • In 1977, the Starland Vocal Band won the award based solely on the success of their naughty single “Afternoon Delight” (wink, wink). Their follow-up album didn’t even crack the Top 100; four years later, they had broken up. Among the nominees that year was Boston, who would release six studio albums and have four Top 10 hits.
  • Debby Boone, daughter of crooner 1950s crooner Pat Boone, won the 1978 award due to her smash hit “You Light Up My Life.” She was a true one-hit wonder, with no single cracking the Hot 100 after her initial success. She hit the country charts a few times before turning to gospel music, where she surprisingly won two more Grammys. Who did she beat out for Best New Artist? Foreigner, who released nine studio albums and had nine Top 10 hits.
  • After two embarrassing years, you’d think Grammy could throw a dart at the nominee list and do better. But in 1979, they messed up big time, giving it to A Taste of Honey for their disco hit “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” The group had one more top 5 hit in 1981 but disappeared from the public eye. They beat out The Cars, Elvis Costello and Toto for the award. Two of those artists are in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. (Sorry, Toto.) A Taste of Honey is not.
  • In 1983, Men at Work beat out Asia, Jennifer Holliday, the Human League and the Stray Cats in one of the most competitive contests in the award’s history. Men at Work released only two more albums before disappearing from the spotlight. Their last album barely cracked the Top 50.
Then in 1990 Grammy gave us the ultimate slap in the face: an award to Milli Vanilli, who even at the time was ridiculed as style over substance. In fact, the award was given six months after they rushed off stage after the record they were performing to skipped. Grammy had to rescind the award after the lip-synching scandal was fully exposed. That year the faux duo beat out a real duo, the Indigo Girls, who have released 15 albums in 30 years, and Tone Loc, who . . . well, never mind.

Years Grammy declared it a wash

Some years, Grammy seemed to just get by with choices that were acceptable, but still raised eyebrows.
  • 1971 – The Carpenters won and released several great albums and singles throughout the 1970s. But they won over Elton John? No way.
  • 1973 – The group America won and had a decent career, but took the award from the Eagles, who are world famous despite my objections.
  • 1975 – Composer Marvin Hamlisch won a lackluster competition over Bad Company, Johnny Bristol, David Essex, Graham Central Station and Phoebe Snow. Yeah, I know. Who?
  • 2012 – Bon Iver howled their way to the award, beating another ho-hum list of nominees including The Band Perry, J. Cole, Nicki Minaj and Skrillex. The least offensive artist won.

Years Grammy got it right

But for each fiasco, there have been some years when Grammy nailed it, starting with the Beatles in 1965. It’s hard to think of the Beatles as a Best New Artist, but they were clearly the best of the best. Here are other deserving Best New Artists:
  • 1986 – Sade. Regardless of whether you think Sade is a singer or a band, the artist has sold 75 million albums worldwide.
  • 1991 – Mariah Carey. In her 30-year career, Carey has sold more than 200 million records worldwide and is one of the best-selling artists of all time. She has 19 No. 1 songs – the most by any solo artist – and has won five Grammy Awards.
  • 1995 – Sheryl Crow won a competitive contest over such notables as Counting Crows and Green Day. But she lived up to the hype, recording 11 studio albums that have sold 50 million albums worldwide, releasing 45 singles, and winning nine Grammy Awards.
  • 2002 – Alicia Keys. Keys’ Best New Artist award was the first of 15 Grammy Awards. She has sold more than 50 million albums and 40 million singles worldwide.
  • 2009 – Adele. Adele was one of the rare winners who won a second Grammy the same year – for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She has sold more than 120 million records and won 15 Grammys.
So is there a Best New Artist curse? Of course not. There’s no such thing. It’s just that judging a person’s career by one single or album is like betting on a horse who has won one race or buying a stock that has a good opening day. You don’t know what’s going to happen. At least when Billie Eilish won the award in 2020, you didn’t lose any money . . . Did you?

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