10 best new artist Grammy winners who went on to major fame - and 10 who didn't

Callie Ahlgrim
·15 min read
best new artist grammys
Adele and Marc Cohn won best new artist in 2009 in 1992, respectively. Dan MacMedan/WireImage/Rick Maiman/Sygma via Getty Images
  • Best new artist is one of the most coveted categories at the Grammy Awards.

  • Major stars like Adele, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, and The Beatles have won in the past.

  • However, not-so-famous artists have also won, including Esperanza Spalding and Christopher Cross.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Best new artist is one of the "Big Four" categories at the Grammy Awards, a huge honor for any rising music star.

The category is also somewhat controversial. Qualifications have shifted over the years, but in general, artists don't actually need to be "new" in order to be nominated. They just need to be "new" to the mainstream.

These days, screening committees are tasked with evaluating whether artists "had attained a breakthrough or prominence prior to the eligibility year." In short, the award is meant to distinguish the artist who had the shiniest banner year - and has an even brighter future.

This hasn't always worked out as planned. While some best new artists have gone on to superstardom, there are just as many winners who have faded from the spotlight.

We rounded up 10 of the most famous best new artists in Grammys history, as well as 10 of the least famous.

(Note: We only considered artists who won 10 or more years ago. For those who won more recently, their fame is too fresh to gauge objectively. Each category is listed in chronological order below.)

Adele is one of the best-selling artists in history.

adele best new artist grammys
Adele won best new artist in 2009. John Shearer/WireImage

Year: 2009 at the 51st annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Duffy, Jazmine Sullivan, the Jonas Brothers, Lady Antebellum

Adele earned Grammy recognition thanks to the release of her debut studio album, "19," and breakout hit, "Chasing Pavements." Both surged in popularity in the US following her stellar performance on "Saturday Night Live."

Adele was nominated for four Grammys in 2009, winning two for best new artist and best female pop vocal performance.

Today, Adele has won 15 Grammys out of 18 nominations, including album of the year twice.

Her most recent album, "25," became the first in history to sell more than 3 million copies in its first week in the US. She has also been dubbed the UK's best-selling female artist of the 21st century.

Carrie Underwood has now been named Academy of Country Music's entertainer of the year three times.

carrie underwood grammys
Carrie Underwood won best new artist and best female country vocal performance in 2007. Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images

Year: 2007 at the 49th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Chris Brown, Corinne Bailey Rae, Imogen Heap, James Blunt

Carrie Underwood rose to fame after winning the fourth season of "American Idol" in 2005. Her debut album, "Some Hearts," was released that same year and became the one of the best-selling country albums in history.

She won both of her Grammy nominations at the following ceremony for best new artist and best female country vocal performance for "Jesus, Take the Wheel."

Underwood has become one of country's biggest stars with massive crossover appeal. In 2015, she was named the top-selling digital artist in country music. In 2020, she won entertainer of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards, becoming the first woman to do so three times.

John Legend is one of just 16 people to have achieved EGOT status.

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John Legend won best new artist in 2006. M. Caulfield/WireImage for The Recording Academy

Year: 2006 at the 48th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Ciara, Fall Out Boy, Keane, Sugarland

John Legend's debut album, "Get Lifted," netted him three Grammys for best new artist, best R&B album, and best male R&B vocal performance for "Ordinary People."

Fifteen years later, Legend has been nominated for 33 Grammys and won 11.

He has also won an Oscar for his work on the movie "Selma," a Tony for the best revival of a play, "Jitney," and most recently, an Emmy for producing "Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert" — making him the first Black man in history to achieve EGOT status.

Maroon 5 recently headlined the Super Bowl halftime show.

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Maroon 5 won best new artist in 2005. M. Caulfield/WireImage

Year: 2005 at the 47th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Gretchen Wilson, Joss Stone, Kanye West, Los Lonely Boys

The success of Maroon 5's debut was extensive enough to earn them a best new artist trophy — two full years after the album would've been eligible.

"Songs About Jane" was released in June 2002 and wasn't nominated for any Grammys in 2003. But the album and its hit singles — "Harder To Breathe," "She Will Be Loved," "This Love," and "Sunday Morning" — were still making enough waves to earn the band a best new artist nomination in 2004 and a subsequent win in 2005. The album went quadruple-platinum that same year.

Maroon 5 has remained one of the most prominent bands of the 21st Century, clocking 15 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, four No. 1 singles, and two No. 1 albums. In 2019, they headlined the Super Bowl halftime show.

Alicia Keys, sometimes referred to as the "Queen of R&B," has now won 15 Grammys.

alicia keys grammys
Alicia Keys won best new artist in 2002. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Year: 2002 at the 44th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: David Gray, India.Arie, Linkin Park, Nelly Furtado

Alicia Keys' debut album, "Songs in A Minor," debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and earned the singer a whopping five Grammys out of six nominations. She earned best new artist and best R&B album, plus song of the year, best female R&B vocal performance, and best R&B song for "Fallin.'"

Keys has now won 15 Grammys out of 29 nominations and even hosted the awards show twice.

She has also received the Hal David Starlight Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and she's been included on Time's list of the 100 most influential people twice, in 2005 and 2017. Billboard dubbed Keys the top-selling R&B/hip-hop artist of the 2000s decade.

Christina Aguilera was named one of the greatest singers of all time by Rolling Stone.

Christina Aguilera grammys
Christina Aguilera won best new artist in 2000. Hector Mata/AFP via Getty Images

Year: 2000 at the 42nd annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Britney Spears, Kid Rock, Macy Gray, Susan Tedeschi

Christina Aguilera appeared on "Star Search" at age 11 and "The Mickey Mouse Club" as a young teen. She shot to stardom in 1999 with "Genie in a Bottle," the lead single from her self-titled debut album.

Aguilera won best new artist the following year, her first of five Grammys to date.

In 2010, Rolling Stone ranked Aguilera as the 58th greatest singer of all time. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and recently completed a residency in Las Vegas, following the release of her favorably-reviewed eighth studio album, 2018's "Liberation."

Sheryl Crow has won nine Grammys and sold more than 50 million albums worldwide.

sheryl crow grammys
Sheryl Crow won best new artist and best female pop vocal performance in 1995. Dan Groshong/AFP via Getty Images

Year: 1995 at the 37th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Ace of Base, Counting Crows, Crash Test Dummies, Green Day

Sheryl Crow released her debut, "Tuesday Night Music Club," in 1993.

The album gained traction in 1994 after the runaway success of its third single, "All I Wanna Do," which earned Grammys for record of the year and best female pop vocal performance, alongside Crow's best new artist trophy.

Crow has now won nine Grammys out of 31 nominations — although she has recently expressed dissatisfaction with the voting process.

Crow's 10 albums have sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide. Though she said 2019's "Threads" will be her last, Crow has been active in other areas of Hollywood, appearing on TV shows like "30 Rock" and "NCIS."

Mariah Carey is the top female solo artist of all time.

mariah carey grammys
Mariah Carey won best new artist and best female pop vocal performance in 1991. Robin Platzer/IMAGES/Getty Images

Year: 1991 at the 33rd annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: The Black Crowes, The Kentucky Headhunters, Lisa Stansfield, Wilson Phillips

Mariah Carey's self-titled debut was nominated for five Grammys, including every "Big Four" award. Of those, she only won best new artist, in addition to best female pop vocal performance for "Vision of Love."

Carey has achieved astronomical success throughout her career. She claims two of the most successful songs of all time on the Billboard Hot 100, 19 No. 1 hits, and six No. 1 albums. According to Billboard, Carey is the top female solo artist of all time.

Carly Simon has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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Carly Simon in 1972, the same year she won best new artist. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Year: 1972 at the 14th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Bill Withers, Chase, Emerson, Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, Lake & Palmer

Carly Simon won best new artist after the success of her self-titled debut solo album, which included her first top 10 hit, "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be."

Simon is widely seen as one of the "quintessential singer/songwriters of the '70s." She went on to release 13 top 40 hits, including the No. 1 classic "You're So Vain," which has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Simon herself was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994.

The Beatles is the most iconic band of all time.

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The Beatles photographed in 1965, the same year they won best new artist. FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Year: 1965 at the 7th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Petula Clark, Astrud Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Morgana King

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr made their US debut with "Meet the Beatles!" in 1964, which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

The following year, the band won two Grammys out of four nominations: best new artist and best performance by a vocal group for "A Hard Day's Night."

Obviously, the rest is history. The Beatles went on to earn seven Grammys, a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and 20 No. 1 hit songs. The band is the best-selling artist of all time and widely seen as the greatest artist of all time.

Esperanza Spalding beat out superstars like Justin Bieber and Drake.

Esperanza Spalding grammys
Esperanza Spalding won best new artist in 2011. Michael Caulfield/WireImage

Year: 2011 at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence and the Machine, Mumford & Sons

Esperanza Spalding is the only jazz artist who has ever won best new artist. Her victory was controversial due to her four strong competitors, all of whom went on to greater fame and chart success.

Spalding has released seven studio albums and enjoyed critical acclaim over the years, but remained largely under the mainstream radar.

Shelby Lynne won best new artist after the release of her sixth studio album.

shelby lynn grammys
Shelby Lynne won best new artist in 2001. David McNew/Newsmakers

Year: 2001 at the 43rd annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Brad Paisley, Jill Scott, Papa Roach, Sisqó

Shelby Lynne had been a recording artist for more than a decade when she won her first Grammy. Her sixth album, "I Am Shelby Lynne," was seen as her breakthrough project and she was deemed eligible for best new artist.

Best new artist remains Lynne's only Grammy Award. She has released 10 more albums since then, though none have achieved widespread commercial success.

Paula Cole is most famous for writing the theme song of "Dawson's Creek."

paula cole grammys
Paula Cole won best new artist in 1998. Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Year: 1998 at the 40th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Erykah Badu, Fiona Apple, Hanson, Puff Daddy

Paula Cole received her first Grammy nomination after the success of "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" in 1997, the lead single from her second studio album, "This Fire."

Cole was nominated for six other Grammys in 1998, but best new artist remains her only win, and she hasn't been nominated since.

"Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" remains her only top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. The album's second single, "I Don't Want to Wait," became the theme song for the popular TV series "Dawson's Creek," which has somewhat eclipsed Cole's legacy as artist.

Marc Cohn never recreated the success of his debut album.

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Marc Cohn won best new artist in 1992. Rick Maiman/Sygma via Getty Images

Year: 1992 at the 34th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Boyz II Men, C+C Music Factory, Color Me Badd, Seal

Marc Cohn won best new artist after the success of "Walking in Memphis," a single from his debut studio album, which was also nominated for song of the year and best male pop vocal performance.

It remains Cohn's signature song and only top 40 hit. He also hasn't been nominated for a Grammy since.

Bruce Hornsby & The Range didn’t last long as a group.

Bruce Hornsby & The Range grammys
Bruce Hornsby & The Range won best new artist in 1987. Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Year: 1987 at the 29th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Glass Tiger, Nu Shooz, Simply Red, Timbuk3

Although Bruce Hornsby went on to receive 11 additional Grammy nominations and two awards, his project with The Range was relatively short-lived and low-profile.

After the group won best new artist, they received one more Grammy nomination the following year (best pop performance by a duo or group) and lost. Bruce Hornsby & The Range released their third and final album in 1990.

Men at Work split in 1984, the year after they won best new artist.

men at work grammys
Men at Work won best new artist in 1983. Vera Roberts/Fotos International/Getty Images

Year: 1983 at the 25th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Asia, Jennifer Holliday, The Human League, Stray Cats

Men at Work is a generally well-known name, but the Australian band peaked before their best new artist win, releasing two top 5 albums in 1981 and 1983.

In 1984, the group split when two original members were asked to leave. A fractured version of Men at Work continued making music, albeit with middling success.

Their third album, 1985's "Two Hearts," was a comparative flop and peaked at No. 50 on the Billboard 200. Since the release of the album's lead single "Everything I Need," none of the band's songs have cracked the top 40.

Christopher Cross is best known as the first artist to sweep the Big Four categories.

christopher cross grammys
Christopher Cross won best new artist in 1981. Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images

Year: 1981 at the 23rd annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Amy Holland, Irene Cara, Robbie Dupree, The Pretenders

Until last year, Christopher Cross was the only artist in history to sweep the Big Four categories at the Grammys. His self-titled debut even beat Pink Floyd's "The Wall" for album of the year.

The following year, he earned three more nominations (and an Oscar) for cowriting and performing the theme for the 1981 film "Arthur."

Then, Cross promptly dropped out of the spotlight. His sophomore album, 1983's "Another Page," peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard 200. His third album peaked at No. 127. None of his subsequent 12 albums even cracked the chart.

A Taste of Honey was a one-hit wonder.

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A Taste of Honey photographed in 1979, the same year they won best new artist. Wally Fong/AP

Year: 1979 at the 21st annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Chris Rea, Elvis Costello, The Cars, Toto

A Taste of Honey is best known for their debut single, "Boogie Oogie Oogie," a defining song from the disco era.

The smash hit was nominated for best R&B vocal performance by a duo, group, or chorus the same year that A Taste of Honey won best new artist.

Unfortunately, the group never achieved the same level of success again. They informally split as their popularity waned in the '80s.

Debby Boone found niche success making Christian music.

debby boone grammys
Debby Boone won best new artist in 1978. CBS via Getty Images

Year: 1978 at the 20th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Andy Gibb, Foreigner, Shaun Cassidy, Stephen Bishop

Debby Boone is best known for her 1977 hit, "You Light Up My Life," which was nominated for record of the year and best female pop vocal performance. She lost both, but won best new artist.

Boone briefly focused on country music, but pivoted to Christian themes shortly after. She earned several Grammy nominations in "inspirational" and gospel categories, but never achieved mainstream stardom.

A member of Starland Vocal Band said that winning best new artist was "the kiss of death."

starland vocal band grammys
Starland Vocal Band won best new artist in 1977. Max Miller/Fotos International/Getty Images

Year: 1977 at the 19th annual Grammy Awards

Other nominees: Boston, Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, The Brothers Johnson, Wild Cherry

Starland Vocal Band won their only two Grammys — best new artist and best arrangement — thanks to the runaway success of "Afternoon Delight," the group's only hit song. "Afternoon Delight" was also nominated for record of the year and best pop vocal performance by a duo, group, or chorus.

In fact, singer Taffy Danoff blamed the Grammys for the group's failure to recreate their early success, calling best new artist "the kiss of death" in a 2002 interview for VH1's "100 Greatest One Hit Wonders."

"I feel sorry for everyone who's gotten it since," she said.

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