The Grammy contest for best new artist has tightened considerably in recent months. While longtime front-runner Billie Eilish remains a potent contender, Lizzo has really come on strong. At this point, it could go either way.
Here’s a possibility: Eilish and Lizzo could end up splitting the top awards. Eilish’s debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, could win album of the year, and Lizzo could take best new artist. That may sound contradictory, but we’ve seen similar split decisions at the Grammys four times over the years.
Here’s a recap:
1995—Alanis Morissette‘s first U.S. album, Jagged Little Pill, won album of the year, but Morissette lost the best new artist prize to Hootie & the Blowfish, who were riding high with their debut album, Cracked Rear View. One difference: Hootie’s album wasn’t eligible for album of the year that year. It had been released and entered (but not nominated) the previous year, before it really took off.
1967—The 5th Dimension‘s buoyant “Up, Up and Away” beat Bobbie Gentry‘s classic story song “Ode to Billie Joe” for record of the year, but Gentry beat the 5th for best new artist. This is a closer parallel to the Lizzo/Eilish situation, because both artists were nominated in both categories. For what it’s worth, the 5th went on to have more sustained success than Gentry did. The 5th were consistent hitmakers for six years.
1964—Stan Getz & João Gilberto‘s bossa nova classic “The Girl From Ipanema,” featuring a sensuous lead vocal by Gilberto’s wife, Astrud Gilberto, beat The Beatles‘ earth-rattling “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for record of the year, but The Beatles beat Astrud Gilberto (as well as Antônio Carlos Jobim, the composer of “The Girl From Ipanema”) for best new artist. It’s a good thing The Beatles took best new artist. If they hadn’t, the Grammys, which were widely seen as dismissive of rock in their first decade, would have lost all credibility.
1962—Vaughn Meader‘s The First Family, a gentle spoof of JFK and his family, won album of the year, but Meader lost best new artist to Broadway star Robert Goulet. Goulet released his first two albums, Always You and Two of Us, in 1962. Neither was nominated for album of the year — though Goulet didn’t really win best new artist for those albums. He won for having sung “If Ever I Would Leave You,” one of the decade’s most sublime theater songs, in the 1960 Broadway show Camelot, on its best-selling original cast album, and on every TV variety show of the era.