Grammy whammy: Best New Artists actually were better in the '80s
Sunday night, the usual lineup of current musical industry phonies (hat tip: J.D. Salinger) gather in Los Angeles for a night of back-slapping and self-indulgent performances at the 52nd annual Grammy Awards.
For years, I've largely mocked it as "the least important awards show in the entertainment biz" for a couple of reasons. First, it's obvious Grammy Awards go to the biggest sellers (or sellouts) rather than the more talented artists. Second, the award for "Best New Artist" is often more curse than commendation, practically dooming the winner to footnote status for all eternity. (Hello, Milli Vanilli.)
Technically, the "best new artist" is supposed to go to the performer who releases, during the previous year, the first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist (which may not necessarily be their first release). So it's not really supposed to go to the band expected to achieve the greatest fame. And that's good. Because that rarely happens.
This year's list of future trivia questions: Zac Brown Band, Keri Hilson, MGMT, Silversun Pickups, The Ting Tings. (Cricket, cricket.)
But, '80s fans, it turns out that in our beloved decade, the winner was usually worthy of the honor. (Another thing to love about the '80s.)
BEST NEW ARTISTS: 1980-1989
1980: Rickie Lee Jones
Other finalists: The Blues Brothers, Dire Straits, The Knack, Robin Williams
In retrospect: She hit gold with Chuck E.'s in Love, an ear-worm for sure. But is anyone else shocked that the Blues Brothers were nominated for this award?
Other finalists: Irene Cara, Robbie Dupree, Amy Holland, The Pretenders
In retrospect: Cross owned the FM dial in the early '80s. The Pretenders were still a couple years away from their best work.
1982: Sheena Easton
Other finalists: Adam and the Ants, The Go-Go's, James Ingram, Luther Vandross
In retrospect: There's no such thing as a new wave band winning this award, is there?
1983: Men at Work
Other finalists: Asia, Jennifer Holliday, The Human League, Stray Cats
In retrospect: Perfect pick. Though any other year, Asia, Human League or Stray Cats would have worthy too.
Podcasts: Interview with Human League's Phil Oakey | Interview with Asia's Carl Palmer
1984: Culture Club
Other finalists: Big Country, Eurythmics, Men Without Hats, Musical Youth
In retrospect: I'm pleasantly surprised to see Big Country as a nominee.
1985: Cyndi Lauper
Other finalists: Sheila E., Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Corey Hart, The Judds
In retrospect: Relax, Frankie. There's no need for you to write an acceptance speech if you're up against Cyndi Lauper.
Other finalists: a-ha, Freddie Jackson, Katrina and the Waves, Julian Lennon
In retrospect: Zzzzz
1987: Bruce Hornsby & The Range
Other finalists: Glass Tiger, Nu Shooz, Simply Red, Timbuk3
In retrospect: You get the feeling the '80s were in its death rattle at this point.
1988: Jody Watley
Other finalists: Breakfast Club, Cutting Crew, Terence Trent D'Arby, Swing Out Sister
In retrospect: (blank stare)
1989: Tracy Chapman
Other finalists: Rick Astley, Toni Childs, Take 6, Vanessa L. Williams
In retrospect: One final worthy winner and just like that -- poof -- the '80s are over.