Of the four biggest awards handed out on “Music’s Biggest Night,” there is only one for which an artist has one chance to win. The Grammy for Best New Artist goes to artists or groups that have achieved a “breakthrough into the public consciousness” and “impacted the musical landscape” during the eligibility period. There are few hard numbers used to determine whether an artist is “new”: Nominees can’t have released over three albums or 30 singles, and they can’t have been considered more than three times before for the award (even if they were previously in other groups).
This definition can confuse, leading to fiery debates over who should or shouldn’t be considered a “new” artist. But the Grammys are no stranger to public outrage. The voting process itself—open only to members of the music industry—often results in surprising winners for Best New Artist, Song, Record, and Album of the Year (and up to 15 other categories of their choice). In the night’s biggest awards, even some voters with no knowledge of the nominees get to decide who should win.
Some might argue it’s better to not win Best New Artist, based on the popular legend that the award is cursed. Early on, many winners became one-hit wonders, unable to recreate the breakout success that launched them to the Grammy stage. Recent winners seem to disprove the theory, but the reputation lingers.
Best New Artist has been given every year since the second Grammys in 1960, except when it was skipped in 1967. From 1960s folk-rock to contemporary rap, Stacker presents every Best New Artist winner (and this year’s eight nominees), in chronological order. Read on to discover which acts fell victim to the curse and which breakthrough artists lasted for decades.
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Bobby Darin got his start as a teen pop star. He first hit mainstream recognition after performing his song “Splish Splash” on the TV show “American Bandstand,” before taking the world by storm with his 1959 version of “Mack the Knife.” He launched a film and television career while continuing to perform, and he dabbled in folk, country, and contemporary music. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
After leaving accounting to go into comedy, Bob Newhart was launched into stardom with his 1960 comedy album "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart,” the first comedy album to hit Billboard charts. His Everyman style of comedy resonated with audiences then and now, both in stand-up routines and on television. Most recently, he won his first Primetime Emmy award for his guest appearances on the #1 rated comedy, “The Big Bang Theory.”
Jazz virtuoso and pianist Peter Nero made a name for himself at 17 when he performed George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” on television. Since then, he's been hailed as one of the prime interpreters of Gershwin's compositions. Nero made a lasting contribution to the classical community as longtime conductor and music director of the Philadelphia Pops, an orchestral group that plays a mix of Broadway, jazz, blues, swing, and classical pieces.
Robert Goulet began his long career as one of Broadway's leading men by starring as Sir Lancelot in "Camelot," alongside Julie Andrews and Richard Burton. Shortly after his 1960 breakout, he won the Best New Artist Grammy for his first two albums “Always You” and “Two of Us,” alongside hit single “What Kind of Fool Am I.” Until his death in 2007, he continued performing on Broadway, including roles in “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Brigadoon,” as well as in movies and television.
U.S. singer Ward Swingle organized a group of Paris-based singers to perform some of Sebastian Bach's keyboard music. “Jazz Sebastian Bach,” the album that came from these sessions, brought the singers to international fame. Instead of ever disbanding, The Swingles instead have simply replaced members when they retire. The group has put out a collective 50 a capella albums.
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One of the most popular acts in history, The Beatles came to the United States in 1963 when the band appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and their first American hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand” started being regularly played on the radio. Some of their most critically and commercially successful albums, including “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Abbey Road,” came later in their career, before the band broke up in 1970.
Tom Jones is a Welsh rocker whose popularity in the U.S. formed part of the British Invasion of the late 1960s. In 1963, he became the frontman for Tommy Scott and the Senators, and in 1964 he found mainstream success with the single “It's Not Unusual” and his album of the same name. After 1966, Jones' popularity slipped, but a stint on the Las Vegas circuit cemented his popularity in the U.S.
Bobbie Gentry shocked the music world when her hit song “Ode to BIllie Joe” started climbing the charts, despite her status as a relatively unknown singer. She put out seven albums between her rise in 1967 and 1971, in which she wrote, played, and produced almost all of her own music. She retired from public view in 1981, but her meaningful lyrics and sophisticated sound remain an inspiration for today's stars.
José Feliciano was already a household name in his native Puerto Rico before he found success on the mainland with his album “Feliciano!” and its famous cover of The Doors' “Light My Fire.” In 1968, his folksy performance of the national anthem at a World Series game proved divisive and led many radio stations to stop playing his music. He still took home the Grammy that year and continued making hits, including the Christmas classic “Feliz Navidad.”
Crosby, Stills & Nash played their first concert at Woodstock, and the group's political and countercultural lyrics were a perfect fit for the legendary festival. David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills were all members of other bands previously, but their self-titled debut brought them to national fame. The group added Neil Young to their lineup, but he left the group in 1971. After a years-long hiatus, the trio continued making music alongside their solo projects.
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Karen and Richard Carpenter, a brother/sister musical duo, offered the music world a slick, melodic pop sound that contrasted with the heavy pop/rock emerging in the 70s. Their second single, a cover of “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” was the first of many Top 10 hits. After winning at the Grammys, they continued to be one of the biggest acts of the decade. They continued making music together until 1983 when Karen passed away from complications from her lifelong battle with anorexia.
Carly Simon was one of the defining voices of '70s rock, embarking on her solo career with a self-titled album featuring the hit single “That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be." She maintained her chart-topping success with “You're So Vain” in 1972, while her marriage to fellow rock star James Taylor often featured in the tabloids. Decades later, she's still releasing music, and she published a highly anticipated memoir in 2015.
This British-American folksy rock band took home Best New Artist on the strength of their first two albums, which included international chart-toppers “A Horse with No Name,” “I Need You,” and “Ventura Highway.” America never quite managed to replicate that success, though they briefly returned to the charts with their album “View From the Ground.”
Bette Midler got her big break when she was cast in “Fiddler on the Roof,” and her musical success has often been tied to her acting career. Though the album that won her the Grammy was mostly covers of old jazz standards, the songs that would keep her on the charts—“Wind Beneath My Wings” and “The Rose”—came from her storied film career. In 2017, she returned to her roots, starring in the “Hello, Dolly” Broadway revival, which won her a Tony.
One of two people in history to win a PEGOT (a Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and a Tony), Marvin Hamlisch was a renowned composer and conductor. He won the Grammy after writing the score to “The Sting,” which featured "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin and hit the Top 10. Before his death, Hamlisch composed more than 40 movie scores. He also wrote best-selling songs for Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin, as well as the Tony-award winning musical “A Chorus Line.”
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Natalie Cole might have been the daughter of famous jazz pianist and singer Nat King Cole, but she forged her own path in the music industry. Her 1975 debut featured the single “This Will Be,” and she won the 1976 Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, beating Aretha Franklin for the first time in eight years. She scored five #1 R&B hits between 1975 and 1977, also managing to transition to soul and pop at a different point in her career, before her death in 2015.
Starlight Vocal Band wrote “Afternoon Delight,” one of the biggest songs of 1976—which rocketed them to overnight stardom. Their star fell just as fast; the band never had another hit and broke up within five years. Though considered one of the 70s “worst songs” by some critics, it appeared in 2004 comedy “Anchorman” and remains a huge hit overseas.
Debby Boone's “You Light Up My Life” was all but inescapable in the summer of 1977 and propelled the emerging pop star to the Grammy stage. She couldn't quite recreate the magic and never scored another pop hit, instead choosing to transition to country and later Christian devotional music in the '80s. After a brief hiatus, she returned to music in 2005, with more pop and jazz influenced music.
A Taste of Honey's feminist disco anthem “Boogie Oogie Oogie” and its follow-up single “Do It Good” scored the band a platinum album and the Best New Artist Grammy—which they followed up with 1981 hit “Sukiyaki.” Though not a household name after their breakup in 1982, A Taste of Honey's music became a popular source of samples for rap songs.
Rickie Lee Jones' signature combination of jazz and folk sounds is evident in the biggest songs from her first album: “Chuck E's In Love” and “Last Chance Texaco.” A "Saturday Night Live" performance months after her release introduced her to a wider American audience and boosted her profile. She followed it up with several successful albums, including critically acclaimed “Pirates” and a 2003 album that featured songs protesting former President George W. Bush.
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Christopher Cross' first and only Grammy appearance is most famous for the controversial victory of his debut album over Pink Floyd's “The Wall.” His soft-pop style, demonstrated by the popular single “Ride Like the Wind,” proved popular with Grammy voters and he took home five awards. He never went on to achieve widespread fame; aside from one song on his second album, Cross has not reached the Top 40, or the Grammys, since.
Sheena Easton first came into the public eye on the British TV show “The Big Time: Pop Singer,” focused on her quest to get a record contract. That show would eventually lead to her 1981 album, whose singles “Modern Girl” and “Morning Train” introduced her to U.S. audiences. In the years since, she's performed in Las Vegas and on Broadway, and she remains the only artist to have top five songs on all five major Billboard charts.
This Australian new wave band, best known for U.S. chart-toppers “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under,” fought off critics at home to release their internationally successful albums “Business as Usual” (which won them their Best New Artist award) and “Cargo.” Their third album failed to replicate their success, and the band broke up in 1986—though founding member Colin Hay led a revival tour in 2018 with new members.
Starting with “Kissing to Be Clever” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” this British new wave band landed six straight top 10 hits in the U.S. An early MTV sensation, the band's profile was boosted by frontman Boy George, whose stunning voice and androgynous appearance intrigued fans. Culture Club broke up in 1986, partially due to George's drug addiction, but reunited and released new albums in 1999 and 2018.
Cyndi Lauper's 1983 album “She's So Unusual” rounded up the cultural mainstays that made her a pop icon: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun, “Time After Time,” “She Bop,” and “All Through the Night.” She followed up with the album “True Colors,” whose title song became an LGBTQ anthem and would later become the name of Lauper's charity supporting homeless LGBTQ youth. Later albums didn't reach the same commercial success, but Lauper branched out into other industries, recently working on Tony-winning musical “Kinky Boots.”
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Sade's fusion of pop, R&B, and jazz landed them five international hits; their first, “Smooth Operator,” made the band famous, and their wildly popular second album sold 4 million copies in the U.S. alone. All six of the band's albums have placed in the U.S. Top 10, a commercial success few bands can boast. Recently, they also contributed songs to the “Wrinkle in Time” and “Widows” movie soundtracks.
Bruce Hornsby formed his band in 1984 and found commercial success by 1986 with their singles “The Way It Is” and “Mandolin Rain.” The band pioneered what some critics call “the Virginia Sound,” which blended jazz, rock, and bluegrass, but it wasn't enough to win them long-term success. The band never found real commercial success after their split in 1991, when Hornsby moved on to a solo career.
After getting her start in the disco band Shalamar, Jody Watley pursued a solo career, which took off after she released “Looking for a New Love.” It became famous for its “hasta la vista, baby” catchphrase, but more importantly, it pioneered the rap feature which has become a staple on today's radio waves. Today, Watley is a fashion icon with a multimedia empire and continues to make solo music.
Tracy Chapman's popularity, fueled by her folksy single “Fast Car,” marked a brief return to the soulful singer-songwriters who dominated the charts in the early '70s. Her work continues to sell well overseas and she can still awe U.S. audiences, as she did when she covered “Stand By Me” on the “Late Show with David Letterman” in 2015.
“Blame It on the Rain” brought this German R&B group international fame and success on the award circuit. Less than a year later, the band was outed as having lip-synced their entire album; their award was revoked, and any dream of a future career disappeared.
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Mariah Carey's music hit the top of the charts four times with her first album before she took home her first Grammys. In the years since, she's clarified that she doesn't really care about awards. Either way, she has the people's vote: Carey has sold over 200 million albums and holds the record for most #1 debuts in Billboard Hot 100 history.
Singer-songwriter Marc Cohn won Best New Artist on the strength of his hit single “Walking in Memphis,” featured on his debut album. Since then, he's continued criss-crossing the country, performing between 70 and 100 shows every year. And while he might not have been back to the Grammys himself, he co-wrote half the songs on 2016's best Americana album.
Arrested Development's victory in the Best New Artist category marked one of Grammy voters' first acknowledgments that this new hip-hop trend wasn't going away soon. Hit song “Tennessee” sold four million copies and perfectly showcased their optimistic, humanistic, Afrocentric rap. After their second album flopped and N.W.A and Ice-T popularized gangsta rap, they faded from public view.
Toni Braxton got her start in a band with her sisters, before launching her solo career. Her first album was a commercial smash—featuring "Another Sad Love Song" and "Breathe Again" and winning her Best New Artist—but her biggest hit, “Unbreak My Heart,” wouldn't come out until 1996. Today, she's working with her sisters again, this time on a reality TV show, and her latest album was nominated for three awards at the upcoming Grammys.
Sheryl Crow went from a Michael Jackson backup singer to one of the biggest mainstream rockers of the '90s, known for her folksy twist on the genre. Her first album was slow to take off, but once “All I Wanna Do” began climbing the charts, it was clear she'd made a name for herself. Her second album was an even bigger critical and commercial hit, and she's been releasing albums on and off in the years since.
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Even today, Hootie & the Blowfish's “Cracked Rear View” maintains its place on the list of 20 best selling albums of all time, and singles “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry,” and “Only Wanna Be With You” were staples of the late '90s college party scene. But the band became a national subject of ridicule after their second release didn't fare quite so well. In 2008, they went on a long hiatus to let Darius Rucker pursue a solo country career, but fans can rejoice; they announced a 44-city tour and a new album in 2019.
LeAnn Rimes has been in the limelight since before most people hit puberty, releasing her first independent album at 11 and scoring her first hit song, “Blue,” at only 13. It not only won her the Grammy, but she became the youngest person in history to receive a Country Music Award nomination. Since her early stardom, Rimes has transitioned back and forth from country to pop and even starred in a Hallmark Christmas movie.
Though her name might not be famous, Paula Cole's “I Don't Want to Wait” endured on TV once it was chosen as the theme song to teen drama "Dawson's Creek." It was released with the satirical “Where Have all the Cowboys Gone?” on her second album, which saw far more commercial success than her first. After a controversial, politically charged Grammy performance, she took some time off before returning to the stage.
Lauryn Hill wanted her first solo album to make a name for herself outside of her band, The Fugees. The result was “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” widely considered a masterpiece that cemented Hill's reputation as a rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer. Personal and professional turmoil caused a public breakdown on her second album, and she vanished from public life until 2018, when she announced that she was slowly working on a new album.
Before she was a pop diva, Christina Aguilera was a Disney Channel star, appearing alongside other famous faces in the 1992 reboot of “The Mickey Mouse Club.” Recording “Reflection” for Disney's “Mulan” later won her a record deal, and she released “Genie in a Bottle” and "What a Girl Wants” on her blockbuster first album. She took several years off in the 2010s to judge for “The Voice” and work on other projects, but she ended her hiatus with a new album in 2018.
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Unlike many artists on this list who took home Best New Artist for their first album, country singer Shelby Lynne had already put out six before making it to the Grammy stage. The sixth, “I Am Shelby Lynne,” was the first time the singer had the freedom to make the music she wanted, and critics and audiences liked what they heard. Since then, she's continued her steady pace and, after years of fans clamoring for it, released an album in collaboration with sister and fellow musician Allison Moorer.
Alicia Keys won five of her 15 total Grammys with “Songs in A Minor,” an album featuring years of her own writing and producing material that's since gone multi-platinum. She's maintained her cultural power in the two decades since by appearing on TV and in film, while still writing and recording chart-toppers such as “No One.” She also hosted the Grammys in 2019.
Norah Jones' blend of jazz and pop is about as different as she could get from the styles of her famous father, sitarist Ravi Shankar—and that style helped her make her own name for himself. Her 2002 album “Come Away from Me” was a sleeper hit, winning her five Grammys in one night. She's returned to the show several times, even picking up Album of the Year in 2008.
Evanescence's gothic rock/metal sound appealed to the increasingly mainstream emo culture of the early aughts, and “Bring Me To Life” became a global phenomenon, winning two Grammys. The band faltered after that, going on hiatus for several years before releasing an album that reworked their old material to fit a symphonic sound, before going on tour with violinist Lindsey Stirling. Their comeback has not quite matched the popularity of the band's old work, which lives on in internet memes even 20 years later.
Maroon 5's music was the most played on U.S. radio in 2018—and they're headlining the Super Bowl halftime show—but their success came slowly. Their first album, best known for the song “She Will Be Loved,” didn't become successful until it had been released for two years, and the band didn't have another big hit for several years after first getting noticed. Since the early 2010s, they've been putting out hit after hit, boosted by the popularity of their lead singer (and coach on “The Voice”) Adam Levine.
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After signing to Kanye West's record label, John Legend got the notice of Grammy voters with his sweet and sultry love ballad “Ordinary People,” followed a few years later by the equally popular “All of Me.” Outside of his music, Legend is a versatile performer and person: he's a long-time social justice activist, producer, and actor in the Oscar-winning “La La Land,” as well as a star of the NBC live musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Carrie Underwood has overcome both the Best New Artist curse and the so-called “American Idol curse” to become one of the biggest names in country. The recording contract she won on the show's fourth season allowed her to record her critically acclaimed first album “Some Hearts,” and she's continued regularly putting out albums. She's also co-hosted the Country Music Awards with Brad Paisley every year since 2008.
Amy Winehouse's “Back to Black” is the U.K.'s best-selling album of the 21st century and was heralded as a masterpiece by many critics. Written during a split with a man who would later become her husband, it dealt with that heartbreak, as well as her struggles with depression and addiction. The pressures of the media and public, alongside her mental health issues, made it difficult for her to get help, and she died at 27.
British pop sensation Adele was first introduced to U.S. audiences on a hugely popular 2008 episode of “Saturday Night Live,” hosted by Sarah Palin. Adele's first album shot to the top of the iTunes charts the next day. Her second album shattered records a few year later when it sold 18 million copies, known for producing hits such as “Someone Like You” and “Rolling in the Deep.” After taking several years off and starting a family, Adele came back with another incredibly popular album ("25") with another hit song, “Hello.”
This Atlanta-based country band spent years playing in a southern soul food restaurant owned by Zac Brown and his father. After going on tour for a few years and producing two albums with Brown's own record label, they recorded their multi-platinum hit “Chicken Fried” and have continued dominating the country charts ever since.
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Esperanza Spalding shocked music fans when she beat out Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence + the Machine, and Mumford and Sons to become Best New Artist in 2011. Though virtually unknown by the larger public, Spalding's talent as a singer and bassist led to three performances for former President Barack Obama and a chance to open for Prince. Jazz critics consider her to be one of the most impressive, innovative performers of the 21st century.
Indie folk band Bon Iver (an intentional misspelling of “good winter” in French) wasn't an immediate hit, but their debut earned them a famous fan: Kanye West. West invited lead singer Justin Vernon to collaborate on his 2010 album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” which brought the band to a wider audience: “Holocene” from their second album reached #2 on the charts. The band announced that they would be winding down after the release but released another critically acclaimed album in 2016.
Singer Nate Ruess, guitarist Jack Antonoff, and keyboardist Andrew Dost came together from three different projects to create Fun, a hip-hop inspired pop group that dominated the airwaves in 2012. Their second album featured singles “Some Nights” and “We Are Young,” the latter of which won them Song of the Year as well as Best New Artist. Unfortunately for fans, the band hasn't released new music since, though several members have gone on to successful solo careers.
Rapper Macklemore and producer/DJ Ryan Lewis joined forces to produce “Thrift Shop,” “Can't Hold Us,” and “Same Love” as part of their first full-length album. It won four Grammys, including their controversial Best New Artist victory over fellow rapper Kendrick Lamar. The duo released an ambitious second album three years later, but it didn't live up to expectations, and they parted ways in 2017.
Sam Smith's emotional ballad “Stay With Me” is typical of a lot of his work: a sad, soulful story of heartbreak, inspired by a man he loved that didn't feel the same. Only 22 when he reached mega-stardom, Smith took a few years off before his second album, though he took home an Oscar for a song in the Bond movie, “Spectre.”
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Meghan Trainor's first record label releases—“All About That Bass,” “Lips are Moving,” and “Dear Future Husband”—feature infectious choruses, a girl power message, and dance beats, pushing her to stardom. She's collaborated on songs in the “Smurfs” and “Peanuts” movies and has steadily released new music, though she's pushed back the release of her third album to add more songs.
Chance the Rapper has leveraged his talents into a successful and lucrative career that embraces the streaming age. He's not signed to any record label and hasn't physically released his albums, instead releasing them for free on Spotify and making his money from merchandise and tours. He's the first streaming-only artist to win a Grammy and he's been successful enough to donate $1 million to Chicago public schools.
Alessia Cara might have released her first album in 2015, but it wasn't until 2017 that “Scars to Your Beautiful” and “Stay” became staples on the radio and the Top 40 charts. Her cover of “How Far I'll Go” and collaboration on “1-800-273-8255”—a song about suicide prevention—rounded out an already successful year. Her second album came out at the end of 2018.
English model, songwriter, and singer Dua Lipa shot to fame with her 2017 self-titled debut album, which included “Be the One,” “IDGAF,” and “New Rules.” The alternative/dance/dark pop artist also took home the Grammy for Dance Recording with the Diplo/Mark Ronson-powered “Electricity.” For Best New Artist, she eked out the win past Chloe x Halle, Greta Van Fleet, H.E.R., Bebe Rexha, and others.
Billie Eilish (“Bad Guy”), Lil Nas X (“Old Town Road”), and Lizzo (“Truth Hurts”) are the clear headliners of this year’s Grammy Best New Artist nominees, as each spawned a chart-topping, viral, addictive hit. And there’s a reason each stole headlines: Their music bended genres and made us rethink the recipe for catchy music. Eilish brought her version of pop-trap mainstream, Lil Nas X tore down the barrier between hip-hop and country, and Lizzo further alchemized the art of singing-rapping. Maggie Rogers, Rosalia, Tank and the Bangas, Yola, and Black Pumas round out the list.
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