Awards season is in full swing, with the 57th annual Grammy Awards only weeks away. If we’re being real, the Awards are not particularly known for risk-taking choices these days, but the Best New Artist category is always an exception. It’s the category where all the juicy stuff goes down, historically marked by dramatic upsets (Maroon 5 beating Kanye in 2005, anyone?), arbitrary selections (was Evanescence really the biggest breakthrough act of 2004?), and the occasional scandal (two words: Milli Vanilli). This year, even the list of nominees—Iggy Azalea, Sam Smith, HAIM, Bastille, and Brandy Clark—has already stirred up controversy.
But perhaps we should be more worried about the artist who ends up winning Best New Artist than the artists who got snubbed. Since the category’s inception in 1960 (at the second-ever Grammy Awards), rumors have formed of an alleged Best New Artist curse on account of several of its winners, especially those in the ’70s and ’80s, fading out of prominence after receiving the award. Of course, some of its winners went on to be some of the most popular musicians of all time (you may have heard of the 1965 winners, a little band called the Beatles), but others became one-hit wonders.
In a 2002 VH1 appearance, Taffy Danoff, a member of 1977 winners Starland Vocal Band (the “Afternoon Delight” guys), called winning Best New Artist “the kiss of death” and said she felt bad for anyone who’s won it. One Boston College professor, Spencer Harrison, has been studying the alleged curse for years, trying to gauge if it’s legitimate or if achieving staying power in popular music is just plain difficult, curse or no curse. Either way, it’s fascinating to look back on the winners with the added context of the rest of their careers. Did most of the winners deserve the designation, or were they just a flash in the pan? We’ve compiled 15 of the most dramatic and unexpected Best New Artist winners from the last six decades: Where are they now?