December 4th, 2009
01:29 PM ET

What constitutes Best New Artist?

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In her critique of this year's Grammy nominations, colleague Lisa Respers France noted the uproar over Lady GaGa's exclusion in the Best New Artist category because one of her songs, "Just Dance," was nominated for a Grammy last year.

If there's one Grammy category that confuses critics and music fans alike, it's Best New Artist. What artists are eligible for the award, and why?

According to the official Grammy Web site, the Best New Artist award is presented to someone who releases, during the eligibility year, "the first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist."  Sounds simple enough, right?

But the language doesn't explain the nominations, and wins, of Lauryn Hill, Jody Watley and Shelby Lynne in that category.  You can easily argue that Hill and Watley established their "public identities" through their work with the Fugees and Shalamar, respectively.  Lynne won her Best New Artist Grammy in 2001,  more than a decade after charting several singles on the country charts.  Did Lynne win because "Best Career Comeback" is not a Grammy category?

Even this year's nominee list is not without controversy.  Silversun Pickups enjoyed modern rock chart and airplay success in 2006 and 2007, so why is the band nominated for Best New Artist, a few months after releasing its second full-length album?

The award is also the one Grammy category where, year in and year out, you can expect an eclectic mix of nominees going at it.  When Hill won in 1999, she beat a boy band (Backstreet Boys), a country trio (Dixie Chicks) and an Italian tenor (Andrea Bocelli).  The Beatles' 1965 Best New Artist win saw the Fab Four defeat two Brazilian bossa nova musicians (Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim),  jazz-blues artist Morgana King and British songstress Petula Clark.

While the Recording Academy should be honored for recognizing so many genres in one category, perhaps it is time to change the award.  Grammys are awarded in several genres, so why not present Best New Artist awards in a variety of fields?  Let the new country stars battle it out against each other instead of facing off against a comedian, a hip-hop artist or a classical musician.

In the end, it may be time for the Recording Academy to get rid of the Best New Artist Grammy once and for all.  The winners and nominees may make great trivia (A Taste of Honey beat Elvis Costello?), but the award doesn't make sense when those making the nominations can't seem to agree on what constitutes a "new" artist.

Do you think the Best New Artist Grammy has outlived its usefulness?  And what constitutes a "new" artist to you?

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Filed under: Lady Gaga • Music • The Beatles

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soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. anon

    In 2008, Feist was nominated for Best New Artist.

    Feist had already released four albums.

    January 24, 2011 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
  2. Floating Shelves ·

    Andrea Bocelli is of course the master, he is really gifted to have that very beautiful voice ,

    November 7, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Luca Richards

    andrea bocelli is really a gifted man and he has the best sounding voice ever `

    August 11, 2010 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
  4. In The Know

    I'm a member of the Recording Academy. What many people in the public do not know is that in order to become a voting member one has to have been creatively credited on six tracks. The Academy went from 5,000 members to over 15,000 in a relatively short period, because labels were giving credits to anyone in order to stack their rosters votes. Much of this had to do with rap. They would for instance give recording credits to clerical workers in order to have them vote for their acts. This is no secret to anyone in the industry. All the author of this article has to do is ask around. It's the giant pink elephant in the room.

    December 8, 2009 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Tara/Atlanta

    Jane/Seattle, I am in total agreement with you I will never forget the year India.Arie was completely ignored! True talent seems to be overlooked and then you realize it is just a popularity contest rather than an acknowledgment in musical accomplishments for that year. Personally this will just be another year I will not subject myself to another disappointing episode of this show.

    December 8, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jane/Seattle

    I was totally disgusted the year that India Arie was nominated 6 times and Alecia Keyes got every single award! Could one have been given to recognize India, who is quite good and not at all commercially flashy? Maxwell is another case in point. His lyrics are fantastic, his voice supreme, and he has substance! Could this be why they do not get the awards? They have some critical talent which does not sell as much as the garbage out here? Maxwell's new "Black Summer Nights" is awesome, but the American Music Awards gave an award to Michael jackson for some old rehashed stuff from 2003! Why? Pure Hype! Maxwell is very talented and he is alive. Where are the props? Peace

    December 7, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. LBW

    Years ago Nora Jones won eight grammies. I had never heard of her, but one listen to her new CD and I knew why she won. A beautiful soulful voice coming from a very pretty fresh young woman. Then came these songs and skits that were like a Broadway production. Lip syncing, dancing and barely there costumes and not much raw talent. What happened?

    December 4, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |

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