As we await tonight’s 61st Annual Grammy Awards Show, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the most interesting moments in Grammy History. Some of these moments seem almost tame by today’s standards, but at the time they occurred, they were considered controversial. We chose some of the moments we felt were the most fascinating and thought-provoking. Kick back and enjoy!
Our 5 Picks
- America wins “Best New Artist” (1973)
Remember the 70s band America? They’re Brits. They had a few hit soft-pop/mellow rock songs. But they beat the much more popular band, The Eagles, (Perhaps you’ve heard of them?) for Best New Artist at the 15th Grammy Awards in 1973. While America had a string of hits through the ‘70s, they’re still best known for their hit, “A Horse with No Name”.
- Christopher Cross Sweeps All Major Categories (1981)
The 23rd Annual Grammy Awards in 1981 was the year that a relatively unknown newcomer, Christopher Cross astonished pretty much everyone, when his single “Sailing” beat out Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Kenny Rogers, and Frank Sinatra for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year (along beating Irene Cara’s “Fame” for Song of the Year). Cross also beat out Cara, The Pretenders, Amy Holland, and Robbie Dupree for Best New Artist. Then, his self-titled debut album beat Streisand, Sinatra, Pink Floyd, and Billy Joel for Album of the Year, sweeping all the major categories.
Sadly, his meteoric rise rapidly faded with the introduction of MTV and the medium of music videos. Cross has made 13 more albums since his debut, but none have matched his initial critical and commercial success. Video truly did, kill the radio star.
- Jethro Tull beats Metallica for Best Heavy Metal Performance (1989)
No matter on which side of this one you fall, the first year that the Recording Academy recognized Hard Rock/Metal as its own category, was also potentially Metal’s most controversial.
The inaugural Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental went out, but not to the perennial front runner Metallica for their “… And Justice for All” album. Instead, the Grammy went to British rock group Jethro Tull, whose album “Crest of a Knave,” was very popular, but many have mused made absolutely no sense in this particular category.
Even presenters Alice Cooper and Lita Ford appeared completely stunned on stage when they opened the envelope. Although both Metallica and Jethro Tull later found it humorous, the incident was huge point of criticism for the Academy at the time, including accusations that they were out of touch with the medium as a whole, and that voting members clearly had no knowledge of the genre.
- Milli Vanilli wins “Best New Artist” (1990)
In possibly the greatest scandals, (“girl, you know it’s true”) the 1990 Grammys were possibly the most embarrassing ever, due to a Best New Artist winner who eventually forfeited their award.
If you aren’t familiar with the course of events, Milli Vanilli were an R&B pop duo consisting of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus. But after a live promotional appearance at MTV that left some folks questioning their legitimacy, it later was proven that two had indeed been faking their entire act and lip syncing all along.
The duo, along with their producer, Frank Farian, came clean, and admitted in Nov. 1990 that they hadn’t sung a single note on their debut album. Of course, this revelation came about after they’d already won the Best New Artist award at the 32nd Annual Grammy Awards (where they also faked a live performance).
At a press conference on Nov. 19th, Rob and Fab returned their Grammys to the Recording Academy. And while the Academy made plans to re-award it, none of the other nominees (Indigo Girls, Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, or Tone Loc) were willing to take it, leaving the category winner-less for a first in Grammys history.
- Paula Cole wins “Best New Artist” (1998)
Paula Cole is considered one of music’s more talented singer/songwriters. And she made a big splash when she broke through in 1997 with alternative crossover radio hits “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” and her smash hit “I Don’t Wanna Wait”, which gained huge popularity as the theme song for the TV show “Dawson’s Creek.”
Cole was nominated for six Grammys in 1998, and won Best New Artist in a highly competitive field over Erykah Badu, Hanson, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, and Fiona Apple. While Cole has gone on to put out several independent albums since her win, she’s not had the staying power of some of the other nominees.
In The End …
Seems like the “Best New Artist” category more than wins this contest hands down, for producing some of the most jaw-dropping, and ever-so-slightly scandalous moments in Grammy history.
The Milli Vanilli one was truly epic. Possibly the most memorable moment in Grammy history. I know it’s one we won’t forget anytime soon. And in 1992, when Metallica finally won, drummer Lars Ulrich referenced the previous award by facetiously “thanking” Jethro Tull for not putting out an album that year.
How about you? Can you think of any Grammy moments that stood out? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.