10 funniest ‘Best New Artist’ wins in Grammy history
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The Grammys’ ‘Best New Artist’ category has been the source of much scrutiny and the butt of many jokes for decades. The perpetually out-of-touch Recording Academy’s been criticized for entirely overlooking so many of the artists who deserved it most, awarding it to artists whose careers quickly fall off, and being years late on awarding or nominating deserving artists whose careers were established long before the Grammys called them a ‘Best New Artist.’ It’s also been said over the years that winning ‘Best New Artist’ is a “curse” which stunts your career, though it seems more likely that the Grammys awarded an undeserving artist in the first place, than there being some greater force at play.
The eligibility rules for the category have changed many times over the years, so it’s not really possible to apply today’s rules to the past, but for just an idea of why this category gets so much shit, here’s a brief list of artists who were never even nominated for Best New Artist: David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, U2, Nirvana, Radiohead, Jay-Z, Nas, Metallica, Black Sabbath, Ramones, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Blondie, Talking Heads, Beyonce, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Queen, AC/DC, Whitney Houston, Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen, Diana Ross & The Supremes, R.E.M., Bjork, Joni Mitchell, The Cure, Nas, and Neil Young (though Crosby Stills & Nash won the award in 1970). Obviously some artists take a while to be fully appreciated, and the changing eligibility rules worked against some of these artists, but you’d think “Music’s Biggest Night” would have the instinct to have at least nominated some of the artists on that list.
Because it’s the Grammys, we shouldn’t be too shocked that the award never recognized important and influential acts who lacked mainstream appeal like Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Pixies, Joy Division, or even The Velvet Underground. And we shouldn’t be shocked that they mostly ignore genres like punk (the only punk(ish) bands ever nominated for Best New Artist are Green Day, Paramore, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello, and Fall Out Boy, and no punk band ever won the award) and metal (the only metal(ish) band to ever win was Evanescence and the only others ever nominated were Linkin Park and Papa Roach, plus proto-metal was nominated in the form of Led Zeppelin and Cream — and let’s not forget about Jethro Tull’s famous big win over Metallica in the Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Recording category, but that’s another story), but some of the biggest snubs were artists who really seemed like they could have had a chance.
Sometimes the Grammys actually choose surprisingly cool ‘Best New Artist’ winners, ones who favor creativity over commercial success, like when Esperanza Spalding beat Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence + the Machine, and Mumford & Sons in 2011, or when Bon Iver beat Nicki Minaj, Skrillex, J Cole, and The Band Perry in 2012; but most of the time, the less-pop-but-more-deserving artist doesn’t win or isn’t even nominated. So, as much as we’re pulling for Margo Price (who had one of the best albums of 2016) to win this year, we promise not to get too riled up if it goes to Greta Van Fleet.
As we prepare to get disappointed during the 2019 Grammys (which air on CBS on Sunday, February 10 at 8 PM ET), we’ve made a list of the 10 funniest ‘Best New Artist’ wins in Grammy history. (Not counting Milli Vanilli who famously had to give back the award after admitting they didn’t sing any of the vocals heard on their songs. It may be a funny one, but it’s not technically a “win.”) Here they are…
1. A Taste of Honey (1979)
There are some serious cases of “Who?” in Grammy history, but this one takes the cake. A Taste of Honey, or as the rest of the world knows them, “The Band Who Sings ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie,’” didn’t just somehow manage to pull off a Grammy win before quickly falling into obscurity, they even beat lifers Elvis Costello and The Cars in the process. (They also beat Toto, but I don’t think the Grammys or anyone else could’ve predicted in 1979 that Toto would have the biggest song of 2019.) No offense to “Boogie Oogie Oogie” — it’s a great disco hit and I’m sure it’s playing at a handful of weddings this year — but the late ’70s were a revolutionary time for music and not because of “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” Even The Cars and Elvis Costello were just the tip of the iceberg for all the new wave, power pop, punk, post-punk, and other new sounds that were changing the world at that time, and it’s surprising to think the Academy was smart enough to nominate them but not smart enough to predict their longevity (you’d think Talking Heads or Blondie or Kate Bush or Van Halen could’ve gotten a nod too). Instead, they all agreed to boogie oogie oogie til they just couldn’t boogie no more. Which, in A Taste of Honey’s case, was like 1982.
2. Starland Vocal Band (1977)
I don’t know if anyone under the age of 40 would even know this band if not for Anchorman, but even with that movie giving this band a 21st century comeback, it’s hard to imagine that anyone in the Academy is still proud of this decision. They’re responsible for “Afternoon Delight” (and not much else that anyone can remember), and in case you were wondering, the YouTube video for the “Afternoon Delight” scene in Anchorman has 400,000 more views than the song’s music video. Starland Vocal Group’s own Taffy Nivert has referred to their ‘Best New Artist’ win as “the kiss of death” and said “I feel sorry for everyone who’s gotten it since.” But I dunno, I don’t think Mariah Carey, Adele, Sheryl Crow, and Lauryn Hill are too stressed about it. And hey, Starland Vocal Group beat “Play That Funky Music” hitmakers Wild Cherry for the award in 1977, and they never cracked the Top 40 again either, so hate the player, not the game. And I know I said earlier that we can’t be too shocked that the Grammys mostly ignored punk, but 1977 would’ve been a pretty good year to nominate the Ramones, who released their debut album in 1976. You know, the one that was inducted into the Grammys Hall of Fame three decades later.
3. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2014)
Having never even nominated Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, Wu-Tang, OutKast, Snoop Dogg, or Tupac, the Grammys didn’t get off to a very good start with hip hop, but by the 2010s, they were doing a little better. Kendrick Lamar, over a year after releasing good kid, m.A.A.d city — which was nearly-unanimously praised by critics as the greatest hip hop breakthrough in a very long time — was nominated for Best New Artist. He should have this on lockdown, right? Surely the Grammys have figured out by now that rap is here to stay, and surely it’s obvious that Kendrick is carrying the torch for all the greats who got snubbed in the ’90s, right? Apparently not. Kendrick was nominated and the award did go to a rapper, one who’s a lot less crucial to the culture but a lot safer amongst suburban soccer moms, Macklemore. And even Macklemore knew it was bullshit. “You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have,” Macklemore texted Kendrick after the ceremony. The trend of white artists making black music and winning more Grammys than black artists is an ongoing one, but maybe that will get better now that the Grammys invited 900 women and people of color to be new voting members. Still, don’t be surprised if Post Malone cleans up this year.
4. Marc Cohn (1992)
The Walking In Memphis” guy won the Grammy for ‘Best New Artist’ in 1992, which should have even been hilarious to the Grammy voters in 1992. That song is cheesy even for the Grammys standards, and no one should be shocked that Marc Cohn never cracked the Top 40 again afterwards. But that’s not the only reason Marc Cohn’s win is funny. Not only did he beat fellow nominees Boyz II Men, C+C Music Factory, Color Me Badd, and Seal — all of which seem like clear winners if Marc Cohn is the competition — but it’s nearly impossible to figure out why Nirvana wasn’t even nominated in 1992. The eligibility rules are always changing, but the core definition for ‘Best New Artist’ is “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.” How, exactly, would Nirvana — whose landmark, breakthrough album Nevermind was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album that same year — not fit that criteria? At least the Grammys were consistent with ignoring the Ramones in the ’70s, but Nirvana became gigantic during that eligibility year, they represented the changing times, and the Grammys knew about it. (And actually, they didn’t even win Best Alternative Music Album. R.E.M.’s Out of Time did. But that’s a whole other discussion.) Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” would lose Best Rock Song to the Unplugged version of Eric Clapton’s “Layla” the following year (eyeroll emoji) and In Utero would lose Best Alternative Music Album to U2’s Zooropa in 1994. They finally won their first Grammy… after Kurt Cobain passed away.
5. Evanescence (2004)
Metal has only fared slightly better than punk in Grammy history, with ‘Best New Artist’ going to a metal-leaning band just one time: in 2004 for Evanescence. Whether or not you truly consider Evanesence metal, they’re at least the closest thing to metal that ever won Best New Artist at the Grammys, and that’s disappointing when you consider that Metallica, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Megadeth, Motorhead, Warlock — the list goes on — never even got nominated for the award. Instead, the Grammys recognized Evanescence, who had a few cheesy hits in the mid 2000s and then fell off hard. Now, Evanescence’s biggest hit is better known as a meme than as a worthwhile song, but I guess it just goes to show you that the Grammys really are a joke.
6. Bruce Hornsby and the Range (1987)
I gotta hand it to Bruce Hornsby — he is at least the most well-known 1987 ‘Best New Artist’ nominee in 2019, the others being Glass Tiger, Nu Shooz, Simply Red, and Timbuk3. But just because he hasn’t completely faded into obscurity doesn’t mean he wasn’t one of the biggest cornballs to ever win the award. In Grammy world, I guess 1987 was slim pickins, but it shouldn’t have been. Run-DMC had their first hit with the groundbreaking “Walk This Way” during the eligibility year of 1986, Beastie Boys released their groundbreaking debut album in 1986, Metallica released their gold-certified major label debut, etc. And yet, Bruce Hornsby was coined the best. I guess that’s just the way it is.
7. fun. (2013)
It’s one thing when winners from the late ’70s seem washed up now, but fun. won the award in 2013, and I’m pretty sure that you’re more likely to hear “Boogie Oogie Oogie” in 2019 than any fun. song. fun. — who, much to my inner grammar nerd’s dismay, insist on being stylized with all lowercase letters and a period at the end of their name — were formed by members of the not-terrible bands The Format, Steel Train, and Anathallo, but together, they made some of the most terrible music of their careers. They kind of sounded like if The Lion King soundtrack tried to be Passion Pit, but even that description gives them too much credit. And yet, they took home the win for ‘Best New Artist’ over the more deserving blues rockers Alabama Shakes, and even more offensively, over Frank Ocean. As with Macklemore beating Kendrick Lamar, fun. beating Frank Ocean is a classic example of a mediocre, safe-sounding white artist beating a hugely creative black artist. It was no secret by the 2014 Grammys that Frank Ocean was a big deal. He had already released his highly acclaimed 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra and his even more highly acclaimed 2012 debut album Channel Orange, which — as far as most music critics were concerned — rivaled only Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city as the best album of 2012. And, while fun. broke up two years later (singer Nate Ruess released a forgettable solo album, and band member Jack Antonoff is now best known as a producer for talented female artists), Frank Ocean became even more of a crucial artist since losing the ‘Best New Artist’ award. 2016’s Blonde and Endless are as talked-about now as they were the day they came out, and Music Internet is feverishly hoping a new album is coming soon. Meanwhile, Frank never forgave the Grammys, and we don’t blame him.
8. America (1973)
The Grammys caught the folk-pop bug in 1973, having nominated America, The Eagles, Harry Chapin, Loggins and Messina, and John Prine. From our standpoint, John Prine is clearly the most important artist of that group today, though at least The Eagles didn’t win. No real hate for America — they’re kinda just there — but how out of touch did the Grammys have to be to award America before ever awarding the artist America were ripping off, Neil Young, who didn’t receive his first Grammy nomination until 1990. Even America themselves admitted they were ripping off Neil Young. “I know that virtually everyone, on first hearing, assumed it was Neil,” America singer Dewey Bunnell said. And Neil wasn’t too obscure for the Academy to realize they awarded his imitators. “Heart of Gold” was the No. 1 single in the US until America’s “A Horse With No Name” unseated it. Neil deserved a nomination for something that year, though he was probably too established (including as a member of Buffalo Springfield and CSNY) for ‘Best New Artist.’ The real head-scratcher about 1973, is that somehow there was no ‘Best New Artist’ nomination for David Bowie. Bowie was of course “new” a few years before that, but 1972 was the year he had his first charting singles and released the breakthrough The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. He only got bigger from there, yet he wasn’t nominated for a Grammy until 1984 and didn’t win one until 1985. That’s 13 years after the “Changes” single. Remember that the next time the Grammys don’t nominate your favorite artist.
9. Paula Cole (1998)
Even if you don’t know Paula Cole by name, you know her from “I Don’t Want To Wait,” and even if you know that song, it might be from watching Dawson’s Creek or from its many parodies, not because you own a copy of This Fire (which you probably didn’t know is the name of the album with “I Don’t Want To Wait” and previous hit “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?”). She last released an album in 2017 and has one coming this year, which you also didn’t know, because she never had a single hit after “I Don’t Want To Wait.” The worst part about her winning the ‘Best New Artist’ Grammy in 1998, though, is that the Academy actually nominated some really great stuff that year! Fiona Apple and Erykah Badu, who both went on to achieve legend status, were among the nominees that Paula Cole beat. (She also beat Hanson, who managed to quickly fall off without a ‘Best New Artist’ win, and Puff Daddy who was arguably only popular enough to be nominated because of his work with Biggie, who never won a Grammy.) I mean, hindsight is 20/20, but did anyone really like Paula Cole more than Fiona Apple and Erykah Badu in any year?
10. Hootie & the Blowfish (1996)
Hootie & the Blowfish. Need I say more? Seriously though, Hootie were definitely not cursed by the Grammys. They’re doing a reunion tour this year and hitting massive arenas and amphitheaters all around the country. But that does not make it any less funny that the Grammys thought they were the best new artists of 1996. Among the nominees they beat are Brandy and Alanis Morissette, both of whom are more influential on non-sucky music today than Hootie is, and 1996 also seems like the year Biggie would’ve deserved a nom. He got his first Grammy nom that year, Best Rap Solo Performance for “Big Poppa” (he lost to Coolio), and it shouldn’t have been hard to see that he was going to matter more in the long run than Hootie & the Blowfish. He wasn’t nominated again until after his death, and he never ended up winning an award. I guess we’ll have to wait for him to get a Lifetime Achievement Award in like 2036 or something.
Other Cringeworthy Snubs, Funny ‘Best New Artist’ Noms, and Observations
* Maroon 5 beat Kanye West in 2005
* Crash Test Dummies were nominated in 1995
* The Beatles had it too easy (they beat Petula Clark, Astrud Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Morgana King)