When the Grammy winners are announced this Sunday, Feb. 8, one of the following acts will be crowned Best New Artist: Bastille, Iggy Azalea, Sam Smith, Haim and Brandy Clark.
I hope whoever cops the prize will go on to a flourishing career like previous winners The Beatles and Mariah Carey, to name just two longtime dazzlers. Alas, the award occasionally turns out to be a curse that can’t be lifted as you’ll learn from these 10 acts that underwent serious follow-through issues.
Starland Vocal Band
The very definition of flash in the pan, SVB owns this list. It won the 1977 Grammy for Best New Artist thanks to its debut album, which had the irresistible bit of smirky glee called “Afternoon Delight” (as Ron Burgundy lovers around the world are fully aware). But that was it! The band — who emerged from the Washington, D.C. folk scene — consisted of a husband and wife and another man and woman, who married after they met in the band, though they then divorced. But whatever their marital status, the harmonizing quartet’s afternoons became increasingly less-delightful after being so richly honored. A second album peaked at No. 104, and SVB had a variety show that ran six weeks, and then it broke up in 1981. And the first couple divorced, too!
1981 was a great year for the burly Texan singer. His first album, which included soothing hits like “Ride Like The Wind” and “Sailing,” spun five Grammys, including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. That was an impossible Cross to bear, though the same year, he did manage to nab an Oscar for cowriting “Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do),” which he also sang. And Cross gamely kept going, coming up with a followup hit, the ethereal “Think of Laura.” But the ’80s were rapidly evolving into the era of video, which meant you had to be either gorgeous or colorful, and he, unfortunately, was neither. End of story.
The alternative hip-hop group won Best New Artist in 1993, and it got to record a song for the soundtrack of “Malcolm X.” But creatively, the group obviously suffered from arrested development. A followup album flopped, so Arrested Development broke up in 1996, though it did regroup in 2000 and is apparently big in Japan. So am I!
The indie folk band won the 2012 Best New Artist award, though it hasn’t come with an album or even a single since then (just a song, “Heavenly Father,” for a Zach Braff film). Two years ago, its members announced that they were on a break, which actually might be a good idea for everyone who wins that award. Take time off, figure things out and come back with something that doesn’t reek of the old “sophomore slump.” But don’t necessarily feel you have to come back.
A Taste of Honey
This jaunty California group won the 1979 Grammy for its percolating disco song “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” which was always a sensation on any reputable dance floor. And I have to admit it also had a big hit with “Sukiyaki” a year later, but by 1980, the group was a duo, and then one of those two went solo, and by now, you can barely taste the Honey.
This singer/songwriter from Ohio seemed like he was going to explode after his hit “Walking in Memphis” (about spotting Elvis’s ghost) helped him grab that Best New Artist prize in 1992. He had a strong vocal sound that was reminiscent perhaps of Bruce Springsteen meets Michael McDonald on a particularly soul-searching day. But Cohn and his material just didn’t click again, though a 2010 album of covers made it to No. 28 on the charts.
Men At Work
The Australian band scored big with its first album, which included infectious and exotic hits like “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under.” But after its 1983 Grammy, it was Men at Work’s career that ended up down under. Its second album did pretty well, but that was followed by a break, a shakeup and then nothingness (no Work for these Men), though it eventually reformed and tried to recapture the magic. Alas, mention its name today and most people say, “Who can that be now?”
I loved Debby’s smash 1977 hit “You Light Up My Life” (this was way before songwriter Joseph Brooks was charged with serial raping and killed himself), but that was basically it for the velvet-voiced daughter of old-time crooner Pat after she nabbed her Grammy the following year. She went into country and then Christian music, but the pop charts eluded her — though she’s currently a smash on infomercials for the Lifestyle Lift.
The “skip” heard ’round the world happened when this nouveau disco duo, formed in Germany, were performing in concert in 1990, and the tape kept repeating itself. The alleged singers — Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus — were exposed as frauds and had to endure the humiliation of having their Best New Artist award revoked as the public was offered refunds on their album. At least when Fab and Rob did an album of their actual singing, they didn’t have to worry about refunds, since only about 2,000 copies were sold. Sadly, Rob died of an overdose in 1998.
[And that reminds me of Amy Winehouse, another Best New Artist, who I’m still too upset about to even put on this list.]
The fabulous Fugee came out with a brilliant musical mosaic called “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in 1998. Rather than embrace the massive love — and Best New Artist prize that came in 1999, plus four other major Grammys that year — coming her way, she developed feelings of aversion to the biz, bristling against the undeniable racism, ageism, sexism and manipulation. As a result, that turned out to be Hill’s last studio album, sadly enough. [Her “MTV Unplugged No. 2.0” was poorly received in 2002]. Since then, Hill has performed and occasionally come out with music, but her personality remains elusive and distrusting. What’s more, in 2013, she spent three months in jail for tax evasion, a crime she committed, she said, to stay “underground.” It’s all so tragic — and nothing to sing about.
Michael Musto is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.