Eagles, one of the biggest bands of all time, didn't win the Grammy for Best New Artist. They lost to America, the pop trio best known for "A Horse With No Name." How can that be? America had a bigger first year than Eagles did. America had a #1 album and a #1 single right off the bat in the spring of 1972. Eagles didn't hit #1 on either chart until 1975.
Grammy voters aren't supposed to take sales into account, but they can see what's happening and sometimes can't help but be swayed by it. Voting is a snapshot in time. It reflects what's happening right then and there. Voters don't have the luxury of the long view; of seeing which acts build over time and which sputter out.
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Of course, the operative word in the category is "best" new artist, not "biggest" or "longest-lasting." Esperanza Spalding scored a huge upset three years ago by beating Mumford & Sons (future Album of the Year winners), Drake, Justin Bieber and Florence + the Machine, all of whom have had far more commercial success. Few would argue that Spalding isn't a talented and worthy artist—though some might wonder how you fairly compare such wildly disparate artists.
Tragedy befell two Best New Artist winners. Karen Carpenter died of complications from anorexia nervosa less than 12 years after Carpenters won as Best New Artist of 1970. Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning less than four years after she won as Best New Artist of 2007. In both cases, artists they had defeated for Best New Artist (Elton John and Taylor Swift, respectively) became unstoppable forces of nature.
Here are 12 of the most surprising outcomes.
1962: Broadway and TV star Robert Goulet (best known for "Camelot") beat pop-folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary and Top 40 titans the Four Seasons (who are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). Also nominated: New Christy Minstrels, Vaughn Meader, Allan Sherman.
1967: Bobbie Gentry (the mysterious story song "Ode To Billie Joe") beat the 5th Dimension (two-time Record of the Year winners) and Jefferson Airplane (who are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). Also nominated: Harpers Bizarre, Lana Cantrell.
1976: The co-ed quartet Starland Vocal Band (the featherweight "Afternoon Delight") beat Boston, whose debut album was a blockbuster. Also nominated: Brothers Johnson, Wild Cherry, Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band.
1978: Two-hit wonders A Taste Of Honey beat Toto (future winners for Album and Record of the Year), Elvis Costello (who is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) and The Cars. Also nominated: Chris Rea.
1981: Scottish pop star Sheena Easton ("Morning Train (Nine To Five)") beat R&B great Luther Vandross (a future Song of the Year winner). Also nominated: Go-Go's, James Ingram, Adam & the Ants.
1983: The videogenic pop group Culture Club beat Eurythmics (which featured Annie Lennox, a future Oscar winner). Also nominated: Big Country, Musical Youth, Men Without Hats.
1989: The flyweight pop/dance duo Milli Vanilli beat Indigo Girls, Soul II Soul, Tone Loc and Neneh Cherry. The duo's award was revoked following a lip-synching scandal.
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1991: Singer/songwriter Marc Cohn ("Walking In Memphis") beat Seal (a future winner for Record and Song of the Year) and Boyz II Men. Also nominated: Color Me Badd, C&C Music Factory.
1996: Teen country phenom LeAnn Rimes beat No Doubt (which begat Gwen Stefani) and Jewel. Also nominated: Garbage, The Tony Rich Project.
1997: Two-hit wonder Paula Cole beat Puff Daddy, Fiona Apple and Erykah Badu. Also nominated: Hanson.
1998: Lauryn Hill beat Dixie Chicks (future Album, Record and Song of the Year winners), Andrea Bocelli and Backstreet Boys. Hill wasn't new: She had won two Grammys with Fugees two years prior to her New Artist victory. Also nominated: Natalie Imbruglia.
2000: Shelby Lynne beat Brad Paisley. Lynne, who was on her sixth studio album when she won, never became a big seller. Paisley became a country superstar. He was voted Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Assn. in 2010. Also nominated: Jill Scott, Papa Roach, Sisqo.
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