The 9 Most Ridiculous Best New Artist Grammy Nominees of the 1990s

This post is a touch “cold coffee,” since the Grammys were two-plus weeks ago, but I forgot about my intentions to write it.  I became disillusioned by the Grammy Awards as a college sophomore when Toni Braxton took home the “Best New Artist” statue. It’s nothing against Toni — although I think she’s effing terrible — but rather against who was overlooked.

None of the following were ever nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy in the late ’80s/early ’90s:  Nirvana. Pearl Jam. Green Day. Soundgarden. Soul Asylum.  And etc. etc.  One could argue that there were some technical qualification issues due to timing of first album release, etc. But there have certainly been exceptions made in this regard before.

Evidently the Grammys have some algorithm that a mere layperson such as myself cannot understand.  Two parts album sales, one part political correctness, a healthy dollop of attempted hipness, and a dash of what I can only call “non-threatening-ness.”

So, with apologies for the BuzzFeed-like presentation, I bring you some artists that were really truly nominated for Best New Artist back in their day. Sure, I have the benefit of hindsight, but even so … Kris Kross (spoiler alert … they’re number 2).

I actually think the nominees have gotten a little bit less crazy of late (Justin Bieber’s 2011 nod notwithstanding).  Perhaps because it’s become easier for an artist not signed to a major label to gain traction and a following?  Or perhaps because the acts of today don’t seem ridiculous until they are safely in the rear view mirror.

9. Hanson, 1998. God knows it breaks my heart to have these boys — one of my favorite bands (yes, bands) of all time — on this list. But let’s be frank. In 1998, they weren’t being nominated because they wrote their own songs, played their own instruments, or had a released a pretty damn good pop album with Middle of Nowhere.  The Grammy powers that be have proven time and time again that they care not about such things. No, they were being nominated for being OH SO YOUNG and having a silly (and omnipresent) novelty hit. 

Hanson  1998  NYC

8. The Tony Rich Project, 1997. This guy stole from the Alan Parsons book (whose “Project” was basically just two dudes) and gave himself a pretentious “band” name versus just simply striking out by his lonesome. Speaking of “lonesome,” he also had just one hit, “Nobody Knows,” which was far from a wonder. 


7. SWV, 1994. S, double-U, S, V, U, S, double-U, double-V, U, S, double-U, V, V.  Love will be right here.  Actually, that song is pretty much a jam. Maybe they deserved this nomination.


6. Ace of Base, 1995. “Just like ABBA, but not as good!”


5. Color Me Badd, 1992. Assemble bootleg versions of George Michael, Vanilla Ice, Kenny G, and Rob (or Fab) from Milli Vanilli, throw in some harmonies, add jewel-toned suits, choreography, and scandalous (!) lyrics, and that’s Color Me Badd. Make no mistake … I played the hell out of their debut album, C.M.B.

Photo of Color Me Badd

4. C+C Music Factory, 1992. Apparently 1992 — the year I graduated high school — had slim pickings.  Two years after the whole Milli Vanilli scandal, C+C Music Factory gets tapped as a Best New Artist nominee, despite being criticized (and sued) for having the more conventionally attractive Zelma Davis lip-synching to vocals from Martha Wash.


3. Tone Loc, 1990.  1990 was a rocky year on the Grammys front.  Let’s recap: Milli Vanilli was crowned as Best New Artist (beating out Indigo Girls and Neneh Cherry). The dreadlocked duo was subsequently stripped of this title when that pesky lip-synching scandal broke (thank you, Club MTV tour!)  The runner-up, whoever it may have been, wasn’t given the award … there simply wasn’t a Best New Artist that year. Before all this happened, though, Tone Loc was nominated. Tone “Funky Cold Medina” Loc!  I’m sure even he found it hilarious.

Tone Loc

2. Kris Kross, 1993. I mean.  Honestly.


1. Billy Ray Cyrus, 1993. 1992 (the year honored by the 1993 awards) was apparently the WORST YEAR FOR NEW MUSIC EVER, despite the release of, just for example,  The Chronic by Dr. Dre (his debut album),  Dirt by Alice in Chains (their second album but the first to chart in the top 40), and Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut effort. But nope, a certified novelty act with a mullet FOR GOD’S SAKE beats all of those amateurs. 

Billy Ray Cyrus


3 thoughts on “The 9 Most Ridiculous Best New Artist Grammy Nominees of the 1990s

  1. 9. Hanson showcases the “Best New Artist Grammy” ability to detect one-hit wonders with great accuracy. MMMBop is a fun bit of Jackson 5ive throwbackery, but as you say, the shame is more about who was overlooked. This was a really folksy year at the Grammies; singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin took home “Song of the Year” and “Record of the Year” for “Sunny Came Home, while Bob Dylan won for album. Peter Gabriel protege Paula Cole won “Best New Artist” and, like many walking that road before her, was never seen again. She did well as a featured performer on Gabriel’s 1994 “Secret World” tour though:

    8. Tony Rich was basically a side project for Babyface. Not a bad song, just not a stunning one that betokened future successes.

    7. I like this song too, mostly for being 80% my favorite song from Thriller, and 20% a decent vamp over the top of it. That’s a credit to MJ and to SWV’s producer though, not the artists themselves, the latest would-be Supremes. I wonder whose idea the “fishing in the ocean” video was.

    6. Hey, I like Ace of Base. OK, only for three songs that sound very similar to one another. Still, that’s practically Beatles-level fame compared to some New Artist *winners.*

    5. The funny thing is that the guys offering to “Sex You Up” came from, and returned to, the world of Christian music.

    4. For ten or twenty seconds, one of the catchiest pieces of sound ever committed to silicon and plastic. After that, insufferable.

    3. I’m just glad Indigo Girls were nominated. Talk about career longevity: 25 years later, they can still roll into any city in the United States and get a guaranteed 500 folks together for a great time. Slow and steady wins the race.

    2. Aww, they’re cute! Look at their widdle hoodies and backwards jeans… As WC Fields said of the bear riding a bicycle: It’s not that he does it well, but that he does it at all.

    1. Tori Amos’ solo debut “Little Earthquakes” also came out in 1992. I wouldn’t be one to argue the merits of Mr. Cyrus in particular, but his nomination does exemplify the serious attention that country-rock was getting in the early 90s. Hey, and Arrested Development won that year, which was at least a vote for quality if not longevity.

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