Grading This Century’s ‘Best New Artist’ Grammy Winners


The Grammys are upon us, which means we are to be presented with an up-and-comer – a “Best New Artist.” This person is assumed to be someone who has shown promise of a successful career, and is not dependent on sales.

This year riot girl Courtney Barnett, Jack White lookalike James Bay, all-about-that-bass Meghan Trainor, country crooner Sam Hunt and the belting Tori Kelly are all up for this pretty impressive award. But the question remains: is this an accurate prediction of good things to come in an artist’s career?

To answer this, I’ve looked at all the winners between 2000 and 2010 and what they did after walking away with a Grammy. Despite the wins by Esperanza Spalding, Bon Iver, FUN, Macklemore/Ryan Lewis and Sam Smith between 2011-2015, there isn’t enough sufficient evidence to prove if they will be fads or lasting decade-changing artists. So they ain’t here.

Christina Aguilera (2000)

Looking back on music at the start of the new millennium, it is a time that isn’t aging well. The amount of horrible flash-in-the-pan pop bands that were floating around makes it all the more interesting that Christina Aguilera managed to escape as a relevant superstar. Her image has been an ongoing adventure: bubblegum pop to chaps-wearing sex symbol, jazzy starlet to musical actress and TV personality. All the while maintaining a very consistent down-to-earth personality. Despite riding the scales of melisma for over a decade, the woman once known as “the little girl with the big voice” has managed to maintain a solid and fresh career.

Grade: A

Favorite Song: “Not Myself Tonight”

This BDSM themed music video channels divas like Madonna and Cher in a big way. It’s slightly over produced but incredibly catchy.

Shelby Lynne (2001)

Don’t feel too bad if you are wondering to yourself, who in the hell is Shelby Lynne? She is a low-key country singer who had been in the music industry for over 13 years, winning best new female vocalist at the Country Music Awards 11 years before she won a Grammy. At least she can say that she won over Sisqo and Papa Roach. Since then, she has created her own record label, taken on the role of Johnny Cash’s mother in Walk the Line and consistently released music, albeit without much commercial success.

Grade: D

Favorite Song: “Heaven’s Only Days Away”

A great country song about the murder-suicide of Shelby’s parents. Pretty gritty stuff, but hauntingly beautiful.

Alicia Keys (2002)

There is no doubt about it: Alicia Keys is a fantastic musician, and since her debut on the Men in Black soundtrack has been topping Billboard charts. She’s had some minor hiccups along the way, such as the collaborated Bond song for Quantum of Solace, but overall has been able create her own sneaker collection, was briefly the creative director for Blackberry and enjoys a minor acting career. Not to mention that she has been doing charity work with EMPOWERED and various relief foundations throughout the last decade.

Grade: B

Favorite Song: “Empire State of Mind (Part II)”

When this song is stripped down it almost seems like the final number of a big Broadway show.

Norah Jones (2003)  

Always able to bring that old jazzy feeling to the table in a modern way, it’s not surprising that Norah Jones was picked as the winner in 2003. She might not have the raw R & B talents of Madame Keys, but she certainly can play the piano and her lyrics are poetry. She’s collaborated musically with the with the likes of OutKast, Foo Fighters and even Seth MacFarlane. She has won 15 awards since 2003 and been nominated for 34, 11 of which were Grammy awards. She starred in the independent movie My Blueberry Nights, had a cameo in Ted and played at a number of different charity events. Despite being in a genre of music that has the capability of pigeonholing certain artists into a certain demographic, Norah Jones has been extremely active with her career and continues to be a worldwide sensation.

Grade: B

Favorite Song: “Chasing Pirates”

Cute and a bit more upbeat than what she is usually known for.

Evanescence (2004)

Evanescence are a band that at this point may as well just be called “Amy Lee and whoever is backing her up.” The line-up has changed many times since its foundation in 1995 but Amy Lee has stayed a constant power frontwoman since the beginning. After she and Ben Moody founded their project they spent the next 13 years working on their first album. They had been dropping some mediocre singles locally, but it was only when their demo track “My Immortal” was played for some record execs that they were given a chance at a full album. In a short amount of time the band exploded with numerous hits, and has to be credited for bringing a harder goth-rock sound with strong female vocals to mainstream radio.

It’s Amy Lee’s refusal to “abandon her femininity” despite the music being aggressive that makes the band unique. This didn’t stop record executives from trying to push for a fulltime male co-vocalist. Despite the band’s refusal they had to compromise by having a male lead on their first major single. Even after losing members over time, including Moody, Amy Lee has been a strong constant, always proud to be the core of their group. It’s apt that the word evanescence means “to fade from memory”; they seem to be doing just that. Having taken a three-year hiatus and breaking away from a record label to become independent, Evanescence has done everything but disband, with Amy Lee announcing this past October that she will be starting her own solo project.

Grade: D

Favorite Song: “Lithium”

The perfect marriage of Amy Lee’s voice, piano skills and goth metal sound.

Maroon 5 (2005)                             

Adam Levine’s voice makes Maroon 5. Originally formed as a pop act named Kara’s Flowers when they were in high school, the band was picked up by an independent producer and his songwriting friend John DeNicola (who is known for writing “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.” Their first album and single were a total flop and, oddly enough, after hearing Aaliyah’s “Are You that Somebody” were re-inspired and began to veer towards more of an R & B sound, eventually writing “Not Coming Home.” It was after embracing this new funk sound and incorporating a fifth member that Maroon 5 began to take off. Since 2002, the band has come out with five albums that have all been consistent, though the newer ones have a slightly new wave feel.

In the last few years it has to be noted that Adam Levine has been slowly breaking away from his roots and doing some independent projects: working with The Lonely Island, a role in the 2014 movie Begin Again singing the Oscar nominated song “Lost Stars” and a coach on The Voice. Over time the unit of Maroon 5 has been quietly disappearing into the shadow of Adam Levine, and the band maintains relevancy for as long as he sticks by them.

Grade: C (A for Adam Levine).

Favorite Song: “Never Gonna Leave This Bed”

This song, especially as an acoustic ballad, is an understated, honest and modern pop song.

John Legend (2006)

John Legend is one of the coolest R&B artists to come out of the last decade, able to blend love and sex seamlessly through each and every one of his songs. From “Ordinary People” all the way to “All of Me” and collaborations that range from his piano playing on “Everything is Everything” with Lauryn Hill to his 2015 Oscar win for “Glory” with Common, he has managed to have a successful and drama-free career.

Grade: A

Favorite Song: “P.D.A (We Just Don’t Care)”

Legend’s second album Once Again was produced by Kanye West. While perhaps not concentrating enough on John Legend’s piano, there is undeniable danceability surrounding his love ballads.

Carrie Underwood (2007)

One of three Grammy Award-winning artists to come out of American Idol – but the only to win Best New Artist – Underwood’s music can be summed up in two general categories: back-to-her-roots country ballads and angry-ex revenge stories. That’s a gross exaggeration; the amount of records she has broken and awards she has won in the last decade is an undeniable testament to her talents. Having the fastest-selling debut country album and best-selling solo female debut country album in history, Time magazine naming her one of the top-100 most influential people and performing the opening Sunday Night Football theme, Underwood has been on fire since she won her original Grammy.

Grade: A

Favorite Song: “Blown Away”

Underwood’s music always has a certain darkness about it. This country pop meets old-school rock song is a great example of a powerful voice.

Amy Winehouse (2008)

As Gore Vidal once said cynically of a celebrity death, “dying is a good career move.” I don’t know if this is true, but there is no doubt that Winehouse’s death back in 2011 left a hole in the music industry. Despite having only releasing two albums, Winehouse was an immediate influence on many other performers because of the huge amount of ferocity in her jazz and soul. Her unapologetic use of sexuality, vulgarity and drug use, all the while with fantastic vocal and musical arrangements, fused old-school cool with the destructive nature of rock and roll. The release of last year’s award-winning documentary Amy makes it clear that she’s still a major influence on the music industry.

Grade: B

Favorite Song: “You Know I’m No Good”

Funky and fun, though extremely personal like most of her songs.

Adele (2009)                               

You will be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the name Adele. She is one of the top-selling artists in the world, which is incredible coming from a girl who’s career was launched by a friend posting a demo on MySpace. Starting of her career with a bang, “Hometown Glory” won her all sorts of British Critics’ Choice Awards. However, after cancelling a planned 2008 North American tour to stay at home with a former boyfriend, it looked like her attempts at tapping into a North American market were doomed to failure. Then SNL invited her on to perform in October 2008, and this break seems to have been exactly what she needed.

Since her Grammy win she has released two more albums and her strength lies, of course, in her divalicious vocal abilities and heartbreaking subject matter. She’s won an Oscar for the Bond theme “Skyfall” and is the first woman to have three consecutive songs break the Top 10 on the Billboard charts.

Grade: A

Favorite Song: “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”

Much more upbeat than the standard heartfelt piano driven power ballads. Little to no metaphors here, just good clean pop.

Zac Brown Band (2010)

The Zac Brown Band is about as country as country music can get: an eight-piece band that has everything from the classic acoustic guitar to the stand-up bass and mandolin. Zac Brown actually started his own label and opened a restaurant in the same year (2004), merging two of his projects. “Chicken Fried” was their first single. Originally released on local radio recorded by another band, Brown asked that it be pulled after not being comfortable with another act performing his band’s song. The group has since gone on to release four albums, played at major festivals such as Bonnaroo and been nominated 55 times for different awards. They seem to be having a problem breaking out of the classic country pop-rock and making it on a global scale.

Grade: C

Favorite Song: “Colder Weather”

Their repertoire is pretty classic country, but “Colder Weather” is a cute bluegrass ballad.



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