Sunday, December 07, 2003

Best "New" Artist

The Grammys have no credibility -- everyone knows that. Any shred of credibility they might have had left after they finally got around to establishing an award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance in time for the 1988 ceremonies (only about two decades after the genre was invented), only to give it to Jethro Tull over Metallica was surely stripped away by the controversy when Milli Vanilli won the award for Best New Artist a year later. I think we can all agree that one was a disgrace.

But it's not the fact that Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan didn't sing their own songs that makes it so shameful that the Recording Academy gave them the award. After all, who could have known? It's the fact that they were given the Best New Artist Grammy for their second album that makes a mockery out of the Grammys.

And they do this all the time. Just this year, Fountains of Wayne is nominated for the Best New Artist award, based largely on the success of their perfect power pop single "Stacey's Mom", which is catchier than the common cold. Much as I like Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers is their third album, so I can't justify their getting this award.

And you'll recall that Kid Rock was nominated for the 1999 award, despite the fact that he was on his fourth album and, in fact, had even released his debut album on a major label ten years earlier, before getting dumped.

Looking back at some of the other winners of the Best New Artist award:

- Shelby Lynne won the 2000 award, despite having released a whopping six albums to date. In fact, the album for which she won the award, I Am Shelby Lynne, was her comeback album after she got annoyed with the record industry and disappeared for half a decade.

- Lauryn Hill won the 1998 award on the strength of her solo debut, though she had already released two other albums as a member of the Fugees. That's kind of like if David Lee Roth had won the award in 1985 after leaving Van Halen.

- Paula Cole won the 1997 award even though she was on her second album. It's just that nobody heard of her until "I Don't Want to Wait" became the theme to Dawson's Creek.

- Jody Watley won the 1987 award after releasing her debut solo album, but she was a member of Shalamar from 1977 to 1984. Interestingly, Shalamar won a Grammy award in 1985 for "Don't Get Stopped in Beverly Hills," which was featured in Beverly Hills Cop. So that puts Jody Watley in the odd position of winning her Best New Artist Grammy after leaving a successful group who, by the time she won her award, had already won one of their own with a lineup featuring her replacement. However, Watley did, at least, make film history of her own by introducing the phrase "Hasta la vista, baby" to the world in her song "Looking for a New Love".

- Bob Newhart won the 1960 award for The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. There's no real controversy here, I suppose, since it was his debut, and it was a smash hit. It's just really weird that the very first Best New Artist Grammy was won on the basis of a spoken-word comedy album.

In the interests of accuracy, the Recording Academy really needs to change the name of the Best New Artist award to something more fitting, such as the Best Artist That We Haven't Noticed Until Just Now award. Or, considering the subsequent career death of many previous winners (see the aforementioned Shelby Lynne and Lauryn Hill, as well as Hootie & the Blowfish, Marc Cohn, Arrested Development, the Starland Vocal Band, and Christopher Cross), the One-Hit Wonder award.

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