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…