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Ranked: Best New Artist Grammy Winners from Least to Most Deserving

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We appraise the one award won by both the Beatles and Evanescence.

With the 2011 Grammys coming up on February 13th, we're taking a look back at past winners and their accomplishments. The Grammy Award for Best New Artist is often said to be cursed — once you get it, you may as well start applying to business school, because your music career is over. And while that's not exactly true, there are a lot of acts that, in retrospect, seem more more deserving of "Okay New Artist," or worse. After taking into account the winners' success at the time, their career longevity, and the strength of the competition, we present the fifty Best New Artist Award winners ranked from least to most deserving.

 

50. Milli Vanilli (1990)

It feels cheap to even dignify this with an explanation, but: Milli Vanilli did not sing their own songs. (They were eventually stripped of the award.)

Up Against: Nenah Cherry, Indigo Girls, Soul II Soul, Ton Loc

Should Have Lost To: Indigo Girls

49. Zac Brown Band (2010)

This is the most recent Best New Artist winner, and I dare you to name one of their songs. (Actually, I'll do it: one's called "Chicken Fried," and it is really terrible.)

Up Against: Keri Hilson, MGMT, Silversun Pickups, The Ting Tings

Should Have Lost To: MGMT

48. Hootie and the Blowfish (1996)

This band was bland like oatmeal, and nowhere near as nourishing. Basically, Hootie is the Grammy equivalent of your terrible '90s yearbook photo that still haunts you to this day.

Up Against: Brandi, Joan Osborne, Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain

Should Have Lost To: Alanis Morissette

47. The Swingle Singers (1964)

This is a group that's certainly had long-lasting success (you can still hear them on Glee), but neither a capella nor classical music was really "new" in 1964.

Up Against: John Gary, Trini Lopz, Vikki Carr, The J's with Jamie

Should Have Lost To: Trini Lopez

46. Starland Vocal Band (1977)

Let's be honest: "Afternoon Delight," this band's ode to daytime screwing, is probably best-known currently as a joke from Anchorman or as a joke from Arrested Development. Or just as a joke, full stop.

Up Against: Boston, Wild Cherry, Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, The Brothers Johnson

Should Have Lost To: Boston

45. Shelby Lynne (2001)

Another recent winner whose music I had to strain to remember, Lynne is docked points for winning the Best New Artist award… for her sixth studio album.

Up Against: Brad Paisley, Papa Roach, Jill Scott, Sisqó

Should Have Lost To: Jill Scott

44. Evanescence (2004)

Raise your hand if you're now embarrassed by how much you listened to the overwrought, Hot Topic stylings of Evanescence when you were younger. It's okay — you're among friends.

Up Against: 50 Cent, Fountains of Wayne, Heather Headley, Sean Paul

Should Have Lost To: Oof, this was a rough year. 50 Cent?

43. Christopher Cross (1981)

I'm sorry, but this is the music suburban housewives put on to get in the mood or when they decide to take all the pills in the medicine cabinet at once. No thank you.

Up Against: Irene Cara, Robbie Dupree, The Pretenders, Amy Holland

Should Have Lost To: The Pretenders

42. A Taste of Honey (1979)

Full disclosure: I love disco and I also love "Boogie Oogie Oogie." But I also recognize that this band really didn't go on to do greater things.

Up Against: The Cars, Elvis Costello, Chris Rea, Toto

Should Have Lost To: The Cars

41. Maroon 5 (2005)

True, this band has found a lot of mainstream success and is still pretty big, but their whiny song stylings are no match for Kanye's.

Up Against: Joss Stone, Los Lonely Boys, Kanye West, Gretchen Wilson

Should Have Lost To: 'Ye

Ranked: Best New Artist Grammy Winners from
Least to Most Deserving

 

40. Carrie Underwood (2007)

Of all the winners of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson is clearly the one deserving of a Grammy. Underwood's lukewarm country-lite just doesn't cut it.

Up Against: Imogen Heap, Corinne Bailey Rae, Chris Brown, James Blunt

Should Have Lost To: Corinne Bailey Rae

39. Jody Watley (1988)

Despite being so '80s – please go look at the video for "Looking For A New Love" — Watley didn't even become ironically popular again during the recent '80s revival trend, which has got to smart.

Up Against: Breakfast Club, Swing Out Sister, Cutting Crew, Terence Trent D'Arby

Should Have Lost To: This is a sign of how weak this year was: Watley keeps it.

38. Debby Boone (1978)

Has "You Light Up My Life" been used in a TV show or movie in the past two decades for any reason other than humor? I doubt it.

Up Against: Stephen Bishop, Shaun Cassidy, Foreigner, Andy Gibb

Should Have Lost To: Andy Gibb

37. Marc Cohn (1992)

I literally feel nothing about "Walking In Memphis." I have it on my iPod, and yet I don't think I've listened to it once since the moment I downloaded it.

Up Against: C+C Music Factory, Boyz II Men, Seal, Color Me Badd

Should Have Lost To: Boyz II Men

36. Peter Nero (1962)

Peter Nero is a very good pianist with a long and successful career and I don't think he should have lost to any of the other nominees. And that's all I have to say about him.

Up Against: Ann-Margaret, Dick Gregory, The Lettermen, Timi Yuro

Should Have Lost To: NA

35. Sheena Easton (1981)

Listen to "Morning Train (9 to 5)." I promise you that chorus will not leave your head for the rest of the day, which both wins and loses Easton some points.

Up Against: Adam and the Ants, The Go-Go's, Luther Vandross, James Ingram

Should Have Lost To: Luther Vandross

34. Bob Newhart (1961)

The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, the comedy album for which Newhart won this award and Album of the Year, is definitely great. But — and hate on me if you want — it just feels wrong to have a comedy album win this.

Up Against: Miriam Makeba, The Brothers Four, Leontyne Price, Joanie Sommers

Should Have Lost To: Miriam Makeba

33. Jose Feliciano (1969)

Feliciano was perhaps best known for his Puerto Rican re-stylings of others groups' hits, which makes him innovative if not exactly original. But he is also known for "Feliz Navidad," perhaps the most annoying Christmas song ever.

Up Against: Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, Cream, O. C. Smith, Jeannie C. Reilly

Should Have Lost To: Cream

32. Toni Braxton (1994)

"Un-Break My Heart" is obviously the jam, but the competition is getting steeper at this point on the list and Braxton didn't quite live up to her promise in the end.

Up Against: Belly, SWV, Digable Planets, Blind Melon

Should Have Lost To: Digable Planets

31. Men At Work (1983)

Now this is some prime '80s material. Sure, "Down Under" may not have been the pinnacle of songwriting, but good God is it fun.

Up Against: Asia, Jennifer Holliday, The Human League, Stray Cats

Should Have Lost To: The Human League

Ranked: Best New Artist Grammy Winners from
Least to Most Deserving

 

30. Christina Aguilera (2000)

Known at the time as "the less successful Britney Spears" but also "the Britney Spears who can sing," Aguilera has always stayed just to the left of actual pop domination. But you know you can still sing all of "Genie In A Bottle."

Up Against: Britney Spears, Macy Gray, Kid Rock, Susan Tedeschi

Should Have Lost To: Macy Gray

29. Sheryl Crow (1995)

These days Sheryl Crow feels like the definition of "Adult Contemporary," but back in the mid-'90s she seemed more like a laid-back, guitar-strumming chick you wouldn't mind hitting a few bars with. And it's not like they could seriously have given the award to Ace of Base.

Up Against: Ace of Base, Green Day, Crash Test Dummies, Counting Crows

Should Have Lost To: Green Day

28. LeAnn Rimes (1997)

Whatever happened to LeAnn Rimes? Probably Coyote Ugly, but: on her debut album, Blue, Rimes was a charming young country girl with some impressive pipes. Can we have her back?

Up Against: Garbage, Jewel, No Doubt, The Tony Rich Project

Should Have Lost To: No Doubt

27. Culture Club (1984)

Current Boy George has probably overshadowed a lot of past Boy George (not that past Boy George didn't have his own antics), but Culture Club's music and ambiguously gay style had an undeniable impact on the '80s.

Up Against: Big Country, Musical Youth, Eurythmics, Men Without Hats

Should Have Lost To: Eurythmics

26. Bruce Hornsby and the Range (1987)

Bruce Hornsby is obviously accomplished in his own right, but without this band we wouldn't have Tupac's "Changes," which automatically bumps it up a few points.

Up Against: Glass Tiger, Nu Shooz, Timbuk3, Simply Red

Should Have Lost To: NA

25. John Legend (2006)

One of our best contemporary crooners, Legend is a fantastic collaborator and keeps writing solid albums, even if his solo singles never quite hit the top of the charts.

Up Against: Ciara, Fall Out Boy, Keane, Sugarland

Should Have Lost To: NA

24. Robert Goulet (1963)

Not exactly a hit with the younger generation, but I'm sure a lot of your grandparents love him, which says something for his staying power. Never underestimate the pairing of a strong voice and some very blue eyes.

Up Against: The Four Seasons, Peter, Paul and Mary, Allen Sherman, The New Christy Minstrels, Vaughn Meader

Should Have Lost To: The Four Seasons

23. Norah Jones (2003)

She may be the soundtrack to every Starbucks now, but Jones' first album, Come Away With Me, was a surprisingly sophisticated piece of work that eventually went diamond. (Platinum's for suckers.)

Up Against: Ashanti, John Mayer, Avril Lavigne, Michelle Branch

Should Have Lost To: NA

22. Rickie Lee Jones (1980)

Jones isn't very well known anymore, which is a shame. The Chicago singer's jazzy style won her the moniker "The Dutchess of Coolsville" in 1980, and she's still performing and recording to this day.

Up Against: The Blues Brothers, The Knack, Robin Williams, Dire Straits

Should Have Lost To: NA

21. Paula Cole (1998)

Don't think of Dawson's Creek, don't think of Dawson's Creek, don't think of Dawson's Creek… Seriously though — don't, because Cole's emotional This Fire is much to good to be overshadowed by a WB show.

Up Against: Fiona Apple, Erykah Badu, Hanson, Puff Daddy

Should Have Lost To: This is a painful one… Fiona Apple

Ranked: Best New Artist Grammy Winners from
Least to Most Deserving

 

20. Bobbie Gentry (1968)

Here's another name you might not recognize off the bat, but Bobbie Gentry's haunting, oddly sensual "Ode to Billie Joe" is too good to be forgotten. Go listen to it now. I'll wait.

Up Against: Jefferson Airplane, The 5th Dimension, Harpers Bizarre, Lana Cantrell

Should Have Lost To: Jefferson Airplane

19. Sade (1986)

Sade won this award over two decades ago, and she just released the critically acclaimed Soldier of Love last year. A lot of these artists barely stick around for more than a year or two; I'd say Sade has them beat.

Up Against: Katrina and the Waves, Julian Lennon, a-ha, Freddie Jackson

Should Have Lost To: NA

18. Tom Jones (1966)

Looking at Tom Jones now, he seems almost unbelievably cheesy, but at the height of his career he drove women seriously crazy with lust. He was like Justin Bieber, but with body hair. Lots of body hair.

Up Against: Sonny & Cher, Glenn Yarbrough, Herman's Hermits, The Byrds, Horst Jankowski, Marilyn Maye

Should Have Lost To: Sonny & Cher

17. Natalie Cole (1976)

She may have gotten a leg up thanks to her legendary father, but Natalie Cole's voice was sure enough and beautiful enough to deserve fame in its own right. And we can just ignore the sort of creepy duet with said deceased progenitor.

Up Against: Morris Albert, KC and the Sunshine Band, Brecker Brothers, Amazing Rhythm Aces

Should Have Lost To: NA

16. Adele (2009)

Yes, she's very young. But Adele has an astounding voice and seems to be more together than some other female soul singers we'll encounter a few spots down. It wouldn't be unwise to expect a long career for this one.

Up Against: Duffy, Jonas Brothers, Jazmine Sullivan, Lady Antebellum

Should Have Lost To: NA

15. Arrested Development (1993)

Remember when people thought that Arrested Development was going to usher in a new era of hip-hop? It never happened, but it only makes their biggest hit, "Tennessee," seem that much more special.

Up Against: Kriss Kross, Sophie B. Hawkins, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jon Secada

Should Have Lost To: NA

14. Alicia Keys (2002)

For whatever musical missteps she may have made in the decade since her career breakthrough, there is no denying that "Fallin'" is an incredible song, and Keys' voice has never sounded more beautiful than on this album.

Up Against: India.Arie, David Gray, Nelly Furtado, Linkin Park

Should Have Lost To: Let's call this a tie between Keys and Nelly Furtado.

13. Tracy Chapman (1989)

Tracy Chapman should have had a much better career than she did. Who would have guessed that after her bracing, soulful first album she would basically fall off the map? Not the Grammy Awards, clearly.

Up Against: Take 6, Rick Astley, Vanessa L. Williams, Toni Childs

Should Have Lost To: NA

12. America (1973)

Bands named after continents are not everyone's cup of tea, but America rises to the top of those ranks. (Sorry, Asia and Europe.) It's hard to object to a song as pleasantly folky as "Ventura Highway."

Up Against: Loggins and Messina, The Eagles, John Prine, Harry Chapin

Should Have Lost To: The Eagles

11. Amy Winehouse (2008)

I actually get sad when I think about the promise of Amy Winehouse's Back to Black and then the tabloid tragedy her life has become. Hopefully Winehouse will rebound with an album equally as impressive as Black, but even if not, we'll always have "Rehab."

Up Against: Feist, Paramour, Taylor Swift, Ledisi

Should Have Lost To: NA

Ranked: Best New Artist Grammy Winners from
Least to Most Deserving

 

10. Bette Midler (1974)

If Bette Midler seems to be too low on this list for her legendary status, chock it up to her focus on screen acting later in her career. The Divine Miss M is great, but you'll always be Winifred Sanderson to me, Bette.

Up Against: Marie Osmond, Barry White, Eumir Deodato, Maureen McGovern

Should Have Lost To: NA

9. Mariah Carey (1991)

What is there to say about Mariah Carey, really? She's great when she's totally insane, she's even better when she's not, and there's really no arguing with that voice of hers.

Up Against: The Black Crowes, Willson Phillips, Lisa Stansfield, The Kentucky Headhunters

Should Have Lost To: NA

8. Marvin Hamlisch (1975)

This man has an EGOT and a Pulitzer Prize. A PEGOT. That's really all I need to say.

Up Against: Bad Company, Phoebe Snow, Graham Central Station, David Essex, Johnny Bristol

Should Have Lost To: NA

7. Cyndi Lauper (1985)

Despite all the terrible, terrible mistakes the Grammy Awards made in the '80s, they managed to get a few things right; Cyndi Lauper was the rightest among them. She was iconically of-the-time, fantastically weird, and still going strong today. And she has great hair.

Up Against: Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Corey Hart, The Judds, Sheila E.

Should Have Lost To: NA

6. Carly Simon (1972)

An amazingly prolific songwriter, to be sure, Simon had a long career after winning Best New Artist. That's wonderful, but here's the real reason she places so high: people are still debating just who "You're So Vain" is about, almost forty years after its release.

Up Against: Bill Withers, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Chase, Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds

Should Have Lost To: NA

5. Crosby, Stills & Nash (1970)

Did you know that every single member of this group has been inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame twice? Even Neil Young, and he wasn't even around when they won this Grammy. They may not be everyone's taste, but that's a special achievement.

Up Against: Chicago, Led Zeppelin, The Neon Philharmonic, Oliver

Should Have Lost To: NA

4. Bobby Darin (1959)

The very first winner of this award is also one of the best. Compared to the rest of this list, Darin seems like an entity from a totally different cultural landscape, stuck right in between big band and pop, the '50s and the '60s. And even if you don't know his music, you know his name.

Up Against: Mavis Rivers, Mark Murphy, Ed Byrnes, Johnny Restivo

Should Have Lost To: NA

3. The Carpenters (1971)

Maybe it's because of the terribly sad struggles of Karen Carpenter, but of all the duo's many successful singles, it's the melancholy ones that stick with you the most. But even divorced from personal tragedies, these songs (and Karen's gorgeous voice) perfectly express a longing familiar to anyone who's been depressed, ever.

Up Against: Elton John, Anne Murray, The Partridge Family, Melba Moore

Should Have Lost To: NA

2. Lauryn Hill (1999)

Like Amy Winehouse but with more crazy and less drug addiction, Lauryn Hill should have put out amazing album after amazing album based on the strength of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Just for a moment think how many awesome songs you can name from that album. Hill is creeping back into the spotlight these days, but it's hard to imagine she'll capture the magic of that first album again.

Up Against: Backstreet Boys, Natalie Imbruglia, Dixie Chicks, Andrea Bocelli

Should Have Lost To: NA

1. The Beatles (1965)

I don't have to explain this one, right? The Grammys only rarely get it right. But every fifty years or so, they really get it right.

Up Against: Morgana King, Astrud Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Petula Clark

Should Have Lost To: Hahahahahaha.