The Band Perry, Bon Iver, J. Cole, Nicki Minaj, or Skrillex will soon join a prestigious list of musical acts that includes the Beatles, Carly Simon, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and — skyrockets in flight! — the Starlight Vocal Band. What list is that? Why, the Grammy Awards’ Best New Artist winners.
The history of the Best New Artist is a complicated one. For every no-brainer (Mariah Carey, Amy Winehouse, Adele, pictured), there are some equally contestable choices (Paula Cole over Fiona Apple, A Taste of Honey over Elvis Costello) and plenty of controversy to spare. (Rule changes still didn’t help artists like Lady Gaga in time; the great Milli Vanilli debacle; Esperanza who?)
So has it proven to be beneficial for a musician or band to walk away with the Best New Artist Grammy, or is the award the kiss of death for a career, as has been rumored in years past? We’ll run down the Best New Artist winners from the past 25 years to see which recipients lived up to their title and what they’ve been up to since their win. The 54th annual Grammy Awards, which determine the fate of the Band Perry, Bon Iver, J. Cole, Nicki Minaj, and Skrillex, airs live at 8 p.m. EST on CBS on Sunday, Feb. 12.
Artist: Bruce Hornsby and the Range
Year Won: 1987
First Hit:“The Way It Is”
Who They Beat: Glass Tiger, Nu Shooz, Simply Red, Timbuk3
Where They Are Now: While Hornsby never had a hit quite as big as “The Way It Is” (the song that propelled him to his Best New Artist Grammy win, which was later sampled in Tupac’s “Changes” and is still heard in dentist offices the world over), the accomplished artist has still been a prevalent name in music. Hornsby, who spent the ’90s touring as the keyboardist for the Grateful Dead and penned hits for artists like Huey Lewis and Don Henley, has released over a dozen albums since his 1987 Grammy win, both as a solo act and with collaborators. The 57-year-old, who also can credit being a three-time Grammy winner, composer, and noted jazz and bluegrass musician over the past 25 years, continues to tour today. That’s just the way it is.
Artist: Jody Watley
Year Won: 1988
First Hit: “Looking for a New Love”
Who They Beat: Breakfast Club, Cutting Crew, Terrence Trent D’Arby, Swing Out Sister
Where They Are Now: You may not actually hear Watley much these days (unless your DJ is feeling especially nostalgic for “Don’t You Want Me”), but her influence is still very much heard. Her 1989 track “Friends”, which featured Eric. B & Rakim, set the standard for hip-hop and pop collaborations, paving the way for hit releases today like Katy Perry and Kanye West’s “E.T.” Since her Grammy win, Watley released eight more albums, appeared on Broadway, and, according to her website, is working on her most recent album and is writing her first novel.
Artist: Tracy Chapman
Year Won: 1989
First Hit: “Fast Car”
Who They Beat: Rick Astley, Toni Childs, Take 6, Vanessa Williams
Where They Are Now: The folk singer-activist wouldn’t be a one-time Grammy darling. (Nor would she be a victim of Rickrolling.) Nearly 10 years after her Best New Artist win for Gen X’s poverty anthem “Fast Car,” Chapman earned another Grammy (she has four in total) for Best Rock Song for her bluesy 1996 “Give Me One Reason.” While Chapman has been better known for her social activism over the past two decades, she has released a total of eight studio albums including 2008’s Our Bright Future, a Grammy nominee for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
Artist: Milli Vanilli
Year Won: 1990
First Hit: “Girl, You Know It’s True”
Who They Beat: Neneh Cherry, Indigo Girls, Soul II Soul, Tone Loc
Where They Are Now: Pop duo Milli Vanilli became music legends after their Best New Artist win, but for all the wrong reasons. After it was discovered that the voices on their debut album All or Nothing did not feature their voices, rather those of unseen, anonymous vocalists, Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus became the only artists in Grammy history to be stripped of their honor. (The notorious lip-syncing stars were also dropped from their label and All or Nothing was taken out of print.) While Pilatus (who once boldly compared himself to the likes of Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney) and Morvan attempted to revive their careers under the revamped Real Milli Vanilli and Try ‘N’ B, they never recovered from the Grammy controversy and remained a punchline. Tragically, Pilatus died at the age of 32. He was found dead in a Frankfurt hotel room after consuming a lethal amount of drugs and alcohol.
Artist: Mariah Carey
Year Won: 1991
First Hit: “Vision of Love”
Who They Beat: The Black Crowes, the Kentucky Headhunters, Wilson Phillips, Lisa Stansfield
Where They Are Now: Mariah Carey hasn’t left the spotlight once since her Best New Artist win. The big-voiced pop diva has remained equal parts record-breaking music industry powerhouse (she’s one of the biggest-selling artists of all time, with an estimated over 200 million records sold worldwide and 17 No. 1 hits on Billboard) and tabloid fodder (her infamous TRL meltdown, her marriages, her twins, Glitter) who earned four more Grammys (along with a bevy of other awards) over the past two decades.
Artist: Marc Cohn
Year Won: 1992
First Hit: “Walking in Memphis”
Who They Beat: Boyz II Men, C + C Music Factory, Color Me Badd, Seal
Where They Are Now: Since his surprising Grammy win (Boyz II Men were unarguably one of the biggest acts of the ’90s), the singer-songwriter has released four other studio and independent albums, including 2010’s Listening Booth: 1970, which featured appearances from the likes of Aimee Mann and India.Arie. Still, aside from his breakthrough, the oft-covered “Walking in Memphis,” perhaps the most notable thing about Cohn is that he survived being shot in the head after an attempted carjacking.
NEXT: The rest of the ’90s…
Artist: Arrested Development
Year Won: 1993
First Hit: “Tennessee”
Who They Beat: Billy Ray Cyrus, Sophie B. Hawkins, Kris Kross, Jon Seceda
Where They Are Now: The pioneering hip-hop group has seen founding members come and go since their landmark debut 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of… (which produced hits like “Tennessee” and “Mr. Wendal” and earned them the Grammy for Best New Artist and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group) and its follow-up Zingalamaduni. Between solo acts, subsequent album releases, and ongoing touring, the band also sued Fox because of the title of their beloved cult series Arrested Development, and competed on NBC’s reality series Hit Me Baby One More Time.
Artist: Toni Braxton
Year Won: 1994
First Hit: “Another Sad Love Song”
Who They Beat: Belly, Blind Melon, Digable Planets, SWV
Where They Are Now: After the release of her solo debut album, the multiplatinum Toni Braxton, which earned her the Best New Artist Grammy and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (she’s won six Grammys thus far in her career), the R&B star continued to see success in the ’90s with her even more successful follow-up Secrets. (Secrets featured chart-toppers like “You’re Making Me High” and “Un-Break My Heart.”) While Braxton has released a total of seven studio albums, she made headlines in the 2000s not for her music, but for her personal life, including health problems and filing for bankruptcy twice. She now appears on the WE reality series Braxton Family Values.
Artist: Sheryl Crow
Year Won: 1995
First Hit: “All I Wanna Do”
Who They Beat: Ace of Base, Counting Crows, Crash Test Dummies, Green Day
Where They Are Now: After her Grammy win (she has nine in total), we all spent the whole of the ’90s singing along to her hit singles like “Strong Enough,” “If It Makes You Happy,” “My Favorite Mistake,” and “Everyday Is a Winding Road.” Still an adult contemporary staple, the singer-songwriter has released seven studio albums, collaborated with artists like Kid Rock, and made headlines for her relationship with Lance Armstrong and her own battle with cancer.
Artist: Hootie & the Blowfish
Year Won: 1996
First Hit:“Hold My Hand”
Who They Beat: Alanis Morissette, Brandy, Joan Osborne, Shania Twain
Where They Are Now: Led by Darius Rucker (not to be mistaken for Rod Tidwell) the group churned out hit after hit in the ’90s with college campus- and coffee house-friendly songs like “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry,” and “Only Wanna Be With You” from their smash album Cracked Rear View. (That record went on to sell 16 million copies, making it one of the best-selling albums in the country of all time.) While the band stayed together until the late 2000s, Rucker branched off for a solo career and unexpectedly became a successful country-music star and Burger King spokesman.
Artist: LeAnn Rimes
Year Won: 1997
First Hit: “Blue”
Who They Beat: Garbage, Jewel, No Doubt, the Tony Rich Project
Where They Are Now: It’s easy to forget that there was a time before LeAnn Rimes was gossip-magazine gold. But long before Lifetime movies and lawsuits and Eddie Cibrian came into the picture, Rimes was the youngest Best New Artist recipient (a title she still holds) and the first country singer to win in that category. Rimes has released 14 albums to date, both country and pop, since her Best New Artist win.
Artist: Paula Cole
Year Won: 1998
First Hit: “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone”
Who They Beat: Fiona Apple, Erykah Badu, Puff Daddy, Hanson
Where They Are Now: While it’s hard to imagine now a scenario in which Cole would have beat out the likes of Fiona Apple and Puff Daddy, at the time, the talented singer-songwriter was a force to be reckoned with, thanks to singles like “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” and “I Don’t Wanna Wait” (a.k.a. the Dawson’s Creek theme). Cole has released three more albums since the Grammy-winning This Fire (she also earned a historic Best Producer nomination, as the first woman in the ceremony’s history to receive that nod). She toured with Lilith Fair in the ’90s and continues to tour today.
Artist: Lauryn Hill
Year Won: 1999
First Hit: “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
Who They Beat: Andrea Bocelli, Backstreet Boys, Dixie Chicks, Natalie Imbruglia
Where They Are Now: Hill’s relationship with the music industry has been a complicated one since her Grammy wins. (Best New Artist was just one of the five Grammys she received that year.) While The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is still regarded as one of the best albums of the ’90s, after rumored controversial remarks and subsequent media frenzy, Hill took a break from music. While she performed for MTV Unplugged, toured as a solo act, and had a brief reunion with the Fugees (including their appearance in Chappelle’s Block Party), Hill, who is the mother of six children, has mostly continued to avoid the spotlight.
NEXT: The 2000s….
Artist: Christina Aguilera
Year Won: 2000
First Hit:“Genie in a Bottle”
Who They Beat: Britney Spears, Kid Rock, Macy Gray, Susan Tedeschi
Where They Are Now: Much like her fellow Best New Artist nominee Britney Spears, Aguilera has gone through highly publicized personal woes, image makeovers, and music highs (“Beautiful,” “Lady Marmalade” collaboration) and lows (“Dirrty,” “Car Wash”). Since her Best New Artist win, the certified Gold, chart-topping pop diva has released five albums (including a Latin album and a Christmas record), received four Grammys, two VMAs, and is now a coach on NBC’s promising singing competition, The Voice.
Artist: Shelby Lynne
Year Won: 2001
First Hit: “Leavin'”
Who They Beat: Brad Paisley, Papa Roach, Jill Scott, Sisqo
Where They Are Now: Lynne was hardly a new artist by the time she won her Best New Artist award, but the singer-songwriter, who never became a mainstream success in the way winners like Christina Aguilera or Lauryn Hill had, continued to turn out work, including a song for the Bridget Jones’ Diary soundtrack and seven other studio albums. Interestingly enough, her Best New Artist Grammy is the only one on her mantle thus far. (A lackluster winner? Maybe. But at least the Grammys will never have to live down choosing Sisqo!)
Artist: Alicia Keys
Year Won: 2002
Who They Beat: David Gray, India.Arie, Linkin Park, Nelly Furtado
Where They Are Now: Keys has more than lived up to her title over the past decade, becoming one of the most successful female artists alive (she’s No. 80 on Billboard’s Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists), thanks to chart-topping efforts like The Diary of Alicia Keys and As I Am. A wife and mother, Keys has stayed a powerhouse in the music industry, thanks to her own work in the studio (she’s won 14 Grammys so far in her career) and on the road, as well as efforts on the big screen (The Nanny Diaries) and hit collaborations like 2009’s ubiquitous “Empire State of Mind” with Jay-Z.
Artist: Norah Jones
Year Won: 2003
Who They Beat: Ashanti, Avril Lavigne, John Mayer, Michelle Branch
Where They Are Now: The easy-listening favorite has released four studio albums since her Grammy-winning debut Come Away With Me, toured in America and abroad, appeared in films (My Blueberry Nights, Two Weeks Notice) and won a total of 12 Grammys so far.
Year Won: 2004
Who They Beat: 50 Cent, Fountains of Wayne, Heather Headley, Sean Paul
Where They Are Now: Beloved by Hot Topic shoppers everywhere, the Amy Lee-led hard-rock goth band — which broke on to the scene thanks to their smash Fallen — has gone through some changes since their Best New Artist win. Among their band shake-ups, guitarist Terry Balsamo suffered a stroke in 2005, while bassist William Boyd parted ways with the band in 2006. (Tim McCord has since replaced him.) That same year the band released The Open Door, which moved 447,000 copies in its first week and generated the hit “Call Me When You’re Sober.” The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, as did their self-titled 2011 release, which sold more than more than 127,000 copies in its first week.
NEXT: The rest of the 2000s…
Artist: Maroon 5
Year Won: 2005
Who They Beat: Gretchen Wilson, Joss Stone, Kanye West, Los Lonely Boys
Where They Are Now: Love ’em or leave ’em, Maroon 5 has been here to stay since their Best New Artist Grammy win. (Original drummer Ryan Dusick opted to leave ’em in 2006 after touring had taken its toll on him.) Following the massive success of Songs About Jane, Maroon 5 released the multiplatinum It Won’t Be Soon Before Long in 2007, which featured singles “Makes Me Wonder,” “Wake Up Call,” “Won’t Go Home Without You,” and 2010’s Hands All Over which generated the earworm-of-the-year “Moves Like Jagger.” Front man Adam Levine joins fellow Best New Artist winner Christina Aguilera as a coach on The Voice. (The two also collaborated on the aforementioned “Jagger.”)
Artist: John Legend
Year Won: 2006
Who They Beat: Ciara, Fall Out Boy, Keane, Sugarland
Where They Are Now: The soulful singer-songwriter has won eight other Grammys in addition to his Best New Artist win. Post-Once Again, Legend released 2008’s certified-Gold Evolver and the 2010 collaborative effort with the Roots called Wake Up! Active in the political scene (he was a friend to the Obama campaign and appeared in the viral “Yes We Can” music video), Legend has made an impact on the music world and the world around him.
Artist: Carrie Underwood
Year Won: 2007
Who They Beat: Chris Brown, Corrine Bailey Rae, Imogen Heap, James Blunt
Where They Are Now: Underwood was already an established star by the time she won Best New Artist, thanks to her win on American Idol. The crossover star continues to be one of the biggest musical acts in the country, with chart-topping albums (Carnival Ride, Play On), a flurry of other music awards to put on her mantle next to her Grammys (she has five total), and sold-out tours. Just in case that wasn’t enough, the overachiever married hockey player Mike Fisher and has even tried her hand at acting (How I Met Your Mother, Soul Surfer).
Artist: Amy Winehouse
Year Won: 2008
Who They Beat: Feist, Ledisi, Paramore, Taylor Swift
Where They Are Now: One of the most promising and talented acts of our time, Winehouse’s life was tragically cut short when she passed away at the age of 27 in 2011. The singer, who had long struggled with substance abuse problems, died from accidental alcohol poisoning. But as troubling as the British songstress’ life had become after her Best New Artist Grammy win (Winehouse was arrested in 2008 on suspicion of drugs possession; served stints in rehab; performed infamously disastrous shows), her voice still resonated with fans. Winehouse was featured on Tony Bennett’s Duets II and Lioness: Hidden Treasures, which featured 12 previously unreleased tracks, allowed music to have one of its greatest voices sing again. Winehouse won five Grammys in her career.
Year Won: 2009
Who They Beat: Duffy, Jazmine Sullivan, Jonas Brothers, Lady Antebellum
Where They Are Now: At the age of 20, Adele won the Best New Artist Grammy for her breakthrough album 19. And then we never heard from her ever again.
Artist: Zac Brown Band
Year Won: 2010
Who They Beat: Keri Hilson, MGMT, Silversun Pickups, the Ting Tings
Where They Are Now: Since their win, the Georgia-based country outfit released their second major-label album, the certified platinum You Get What You Give and their live collaboration album Pass the Jar, which featured guests such as Kid Rock and Little Big Town. Over the past two years, the group has toured with the likes of Kenny Chesney, Dave Matthews Band, Kings of Leon, and Blackberry Smoke and racked up even more awards, including Vocal Event of the Year at the 2011 Academy of Country Music Awards for their song with Alan Jackson, “As She’s Walking Away.”
Artist: Esperanza Spalding
Year Won: 2011
Who They Beat: Drake, Florence + the Machine, Justin Bieber, Mumford & Sons
Where They Are Now: The relatively unknown jazz artist became one of the night’s biggest upsets (and by upset we mean, Justin Bieber fans were not happy about it) when she was dubbed the Best New Artist. Spalding spent 2011 touring Europe and North America and continues to work on her upcoming album Radio Music Society.