FearlessRiOT’s Tuesday Top 10: Favorite Best New Artist Grammy Winners

The Grammy Awards are less than a week from now, and seeing as I am a huge music lover, I am very much looking forward to the show. Some people, however, might argue that my enthusiasm is misplaced as the Grammy Awards have earned a reputation as somewhat of a joke. Most people take the Grammy Awards about as seriously as they take spoof movies. And it’s not like there’s confusion as to why they’ve earned this reputation; the hip-hop community generally has grown to distrust the Grammys are stuff like the 2014 Macklemore fiasco and even Corey Taylor of Slipknot doesn’t even care that he’s nominated for one. Guess that’s what happens when they introduced a metal category and make the very first recipient an album with a damn flute on it. But I’m not here to talk about the mistakes of Grammy’s past…or am I? Because for an award that’s meant to predict who has the future of music in their hands, the Grammys get it wrong in the Best New Artist category quite a bit as flash-in-the-pan punching bags like Starland Vocal Band prove. But that doesn’t mean they’re all duds; in fact, some of these artists easily get play on my iPod to this day. So for this year’s Grammy-themed Tuesday Top 10, I decided to go through the long history of the Best New Artist award and pick out my personal favorite winners in the category. Hey, if this goes well, maybe I’ll do Album of the Year next year…assuming I have the free time to listen to them all. Or I could spotlight Best New Artist nominees who should have won, like Kanye West In 2005 or HAIM last year (you know both are true). But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there; let’s focus on this list for now.

#10. Lauryn Hill (1999)

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In 1999, Lauryn Hill won almost every Grammy there was to win because of the audio brilliance that was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill; she probably would have even won Best Country Album if she had slapped a banjo somewhere on her record. Included in her Grammy bouquet was the coveted Best New Artist trophy, which she had to defeat boy banders Backstreet Boys, country trio Dixie Chicks (are they allowed to have a career again yet?), “Torn” songbird Natalie Imbruglia, and Andrea Bocelli to win. Lauryn Hill’s perfect mix of urban genres sure seemed like it would keep her on top for a long time, and it probably would have if she was better at playing the whole pop superstar game. Alas, she didn’t feel comfortable doing so and with the exception of the occasional tragic personal mishap, she’s kind fallen off the face of the Earth. Maybe with luck, she’ll rise like a phoenix and grace us with another classic album. Or maybe she and the Fugees will finally get back on the same page and make beautiful music together again.

#9. Christina Aguilera (2000)

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The fact that Christina beat out her fellow at-the-time breakout pop peer Britney Spears for the Best New Artist Grammy pretty much should have guaranteed that she’d have the more successful career of the two. And critically, that may be the case. As far as popularity and fame goes, it looks like Britney runs away with the pop princess crown; but as far as sheer vocal ability, Christina blows her out of the water. She does have her own supportive fanbase as well, and they’ve led the Voice judge to success by way of over 50 million sold worldwide. And to date, she also had more Grammys than Britney does; five to Britney’s one. She also beat out Kid Rock (back when he was still doing the rap-rock thing), infamous one-hit wonder Macy Gray, and blue-eyed soul performer Susan Tedeschi.

#8. Amy Winehouse (2008)

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I was pretty torn when it came to Amy Winehouse winning Best New Artist in 2008. On one hand, I could not deny that she was a talented vocalist who could greatly spill her soul and pain on record, and her album Back to Black was a genuinely good record. On the other hand, you may also be aware that I am a superfan of both then-rising then-country star Taylor Swift and then Warped Tour gracing Paramore, both of whom were also nominated. So as you could imagine, I really wanted to see one of them take home the award. However, the power of Taylor’s country debut and Paramore’s sophomore album (as well as efforts for the other two nominees, Feist and Ledisi) were ultimately no match for the late soulful Brit with the beehive hairdo. And you know what? I’m OK with that. Not only because she definitely earned the awards, but also because her reaction to winning her Grammys is just heartwarming.

 

#7. Toni Braxton (1994)

#7

Recently, Toni Braxton became the latest real-life subject to get their own biopic on Lifetime; yeah, that Lifetime. The channel that has yet to apologize for throwing that reprehensible plate of bird droppings that was the Aaliyah movie on our screens in 2014. Luckily, Toni actually had a hand in making her super-personal film. Sure, there were some flaws, but all things considered, it was handled pretty decently; they even included re-done versions of) her real-life songs were actually used. Braxton certainly deserved respect as a performer and the Grammys were some of the first to do so, granting her the 1994 Best New Artist trophy over fellow R&B act SWV, hip-hoppers Digable Planets, and alternative bands Blind Melon and Belly. In putting this list together, I already knew from the start that I was gonna put Toni on this list as she was one of my favorite R&B singers growing up (I used to watch The Box Music Network all day just to watch “He Wasn’t Man Enough” because YouTube was not a thing yet), and she’s one of those artists that I still find myself drawn to even as I grow older.

 

#6. The Beatles (1965)

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I’d probably lose all credibility if I left this band off the list. Look at any list of the greatest bands and musicians of all time and the Beatles are guaranteed to be on it, usually at the very top. Granted, aside from a few songs I heard here and there, I didn’t grow up with this band since my family (who mostly listen to R&B and gospel) never really played them around the house. But you know what? Sometimes, you have to find out about some music on your own and the influence of The Beatles is certainly undeniable and they’ve created some of the most timeless rock and pop songs in history. Of all the Best New Artist winners, this is one that the Grammys can rest easy knowing they got right, especially when you look at their virtually unknown competition. Before researching for this post, I’d never heard of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Morgana King, and Petula Clark are and chances are neither have y’all. OK, so the Beatles won in 1965, so it’d obviously be difficult for any of those acts to have longevity well into the 2000’s, but The Beatles’ music lives on, so the Grammys were definitely in the right state of mind back then. They may not be my personal #1, but I recognize music quality and influence when I hear it.

#5. Adele (2009)

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So in 2008, after the road paving done by Amy Winehouse the previous year, two other British soul singers were able to cross over into the American mainstream: Adele and Duffy. With the help of their breakout hits “Chasing Pavements” and “Mercy”, the two cracked the Billboard charts and found themselves slotted into the following year’s Best New Artist Grammy ballot. Alongside them were Disney Channel trio The Jonas Brothers, country trio Lady Antebellum, and R&B singer/Missy Elliott protégé Jazmine Sullivan. In the end, the award went to a British blue-eyed soul singer for the second year in a row; that singer eventually went on to become such a huge name in music that her next album, 21, won her multple more Grammys (including Album of the Year) and her latest album, 25, sold over three million copies in the first week. If you’re not a fan of Adele; I think it’s kind of fitting to ask why that is.

#4. Evanescence (2004)

#4

Fun Fact: Did you know that the first time I ever heard Evanescence was on WWE television? “Bring Me To Life” was the theme song to the No Way Out pay-per-view in 2003 and I heard the song a ton whenever they’d promote the shows on RAW and Smackdown. A short time later, I saw the music video on MTV and I couldn’t get enough of it. Around this time, I was just getting serious about getting into rock music and Evanescence was one of the bands I quickly took a liking to. Hell, I practically wanted to marry Amy Lee’s voice. But while Evanescence probably had the best commercial year as far as rock bands go, 50 Cent easily had the best commercial year for a rapper, which is why people were surprised to see him lose the trophy to the hard rock act. Even 50 Cent almost did a Kanye two years before Kanye during Evanescence’s speech. But no matter which one came out victorious, we can admit it would’ve been more shocking if alt-rock one-hit wonders Fountains of Wayne or R&B singer Heather Headley won. Maybe so for Sean Paul too; sure, he had a great breakout year and a ton of jams, but artistically, he’s basically a more tolerable version of Pitbull. At the end of the day, I’m glad Evanescence won; “Bring Me To Life” is still one of my all-time favorite songs.

#3. Alicia Keys (2002)

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Just like Toni Braxton and Evanescence, I really love some Alicia Keys at inaugural listen. The first time I ever heard music from Alicia Keys was on the AJ & Free era of BET’s now-retired countdown program 106 & Park; “Fallin’” was the New Joint of the Day and I could not wait for them to air the video again. And this was back when BET actually played music videos during most of the day, so I could probably count on seeing it quite a bit on shows that weren’t Rap City. She was also big on MTV at the time, hence why she also won Best New Artist at the VMA’s, something I already covered in my earlier VMA Best New Artist post. It was pretty obvious she’d get some Grammy love and Best New Artist was hers for the taking; she defeated elegant pop flower (this was before “Promiscuous”, OK) Nelly Furtado, guitar-toting R&B songstress India.Arie, British R&B singer Craig David, and the alternative rock juggernaut that is Linkin Park. I’d have also loved if Linkin Park took the award home, but Alicia Keys was totally the one I’m glad to know took it home and she’d built up a catalog that has a ton of replay value, at least for me.

#2. Carrie Underwood (2007)

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You know, at the start of American Idol’s run, I think the intention was to make a pop superstar who would not only top charts but also nab those Grammys. Well, as far as American Idol stars winning Grammys go, over the course of the 14 seasons the show currently has in the can, only five actually have at least one: Fantasia Barrino, Kelly Clarkson (who’s very first Grammy victory be seen here), Jennifer Hudson (who got her Grammy from the one and only Whitney), Mandisa, and Carrie Underwood. (I’m hoping Lauren Alaina and Jessica Meuse join that list eventually, but that’s another post for another day). In the case of Carrie, she has the biggest Grammy victory of any Idol alumni as her powerhouse pipes were able to get her the Best New Artist of 2007. She was one of only two American nominees (the other being polarizing R&B star Chris Brown) while the other nominees hailed from England: Imogen Heap, James Blunt, and Corinne Bailey Rae, who are all basically one-hit wonders at this point. Meanwhile, Carrie Underwood is one of the most popular women in her genre and sits up there with Kelly Clarkson as Idol’s most successful winner. But I’ll save some praise for my eventual Favorite Idol Stars list; yes, I am going to do that around the time of the current season’s finale.

#1. Mariah Carey (1991)

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While Carrie Underwood has the pipes of a powerhouse, Mariah Carey has the pipes of an angel. Sure, make fun of what has become of her vocal ability these days all you want (really, these are struggle notes, Miss Thang), but in the 90s, it would be difficult to find anyone better. And it wasn’t just her voice; it’s also that she had some many instant R&B classics the entire decade: “Vision of Love”, “Always Be My Baby”, “Fantasy”, “Honey”, “Dreamlover”, “Heartbreaker”, “One Sweet Day”, “Breakdown” (which in turn sampled Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s greatest musical triumph), and I might as well throw “All I Want For Christmas Is You” in there too. If Mariah had lost this award, what would the Grammy’s look like in hindsight? Would names like Lisa Stansfield (who need I remind you had so much trouble finding her man, she collected passports just to search for him), Wilson Phillips, The Black Crows, and some group called the Kentucky Headhunters be seen as more worthy winners looking back? Probably not.

Honorable Mentions:

+ Tracy Chapman (1989)

Chapman is another artist I didn’t grow up with and I had to find out about on my own courtesy of the handy tools that were VH1 specials and the Internet, and I definitely like her soulful folk sound. It’s a sound that managed to defeat Vanessa Williams, Toni Childs, Take 6, and some random redheaded fifth guy you’ve never heard of.

+ Arrested Development (1993)

Wow, was this a rap group that probably could have been the future of rap if gangsta rap hadn’t taken over…and if they didn’t end up sharing their name with a sitcom featuring Michael Cera; they had a unique sound to them and it was enough for them to defeat the mighty Kris Kross, Sophie B. Hawkins, Jon Secada, and Miley Cyrus’ Achy Breaky dad.

+ Zac Brown Band (2010)

OK, maybe I don’t listen to Zac Brown Band that often, but they have their fair share of jams; even rock ones. Out of the whole field (also including MGMT, The Tings Tings, and the technically-not-new-at-the-time Silversun Pickups), I’d have probably given this award to the underrated Keri Hilson, though.

+ Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2014)

No, these two were NOT my favorite in the category at all; I was rooting for either country genius Kacey Musgraves, hip-hop king (kunta) Kendrick Lamar, or acoustic Ron Weasley Ed Sheeran to win (I’m not familiar with James Blake), but honestly, I don’t hate these guys as much as social media says I should. Hell, I still jam to “Can’t Hold Us”.

+ Fun. (2013)

I wonder if the Grammys knew when they gave alternative band fun. all those awards (this one in-particular) that they’d immediately break up without releasing a follow-up album. Would they have given it to country heartthrob Hunter Hayes, Odd Future crooner Frank Ocean, alt-rockers Alabama Shakes, or folk-rocker The Lumineers?

+ Sade (1986)

I’ve heard Sade’s music be referred to as ‘baby-making music’ and I can see it. Their (yes, it’s a group) music sounds like something that would put you in that kind of mood. This is some nice R&B right here, and they beat Beatles offspring Julian Lennon, Freddie Jackson, and eternal one-hit wonders Katrina & the Waves and a-ha for it.

+ Natalie Cole

If old school R&B is your thing, the recently deceased Natalie Cole is probably one of your go-to artists, and even if you’re not a huge fan, you’ve at least heard “This Will Be” a few thousand times before. On the losing end of Miss Cole were Amazing Rhythm AcesBrecker BrothersMorris Albert, and KC and the Sunshine Band.

What do you think of this edition of Tuesday Top 10? Leave a comment or tweet me up @FearlessRiOT with your opinion or even to suggest a topic for a future edition!

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