Grammy’s Best New Artist Category: A Pressure to Perform


Olivia Rodrigo, at the 64th annual Grammy awards, holds up the three trophies that she won for Best New Artist, Best Pop Solo Performance, and Best Pop Vocal Album.

Oh, the Grammy’s. Every year they seem to come around and slip underneath our noses. Many artists get awards based on their talents, and equally as many artists get snubbed of said awards. While the season and the show itself always brings the discussion of which artist should’ve gotten the awards, we seem to never focus on the artists that do, and what comes next.
This brings us to the “Best New Artist” category–it awards the up-and-coming in the industry and the breakthroughs they have made throughout their short careers.
When remembering this category, we tend to go to the greats that have won: Mariah Carey in 1990, Maroon 5 in 2004, Amy Winehouse in 2007, Adele in 2008, and even Billie Ellish in 2019. People tend to forget however that this category has been around since 1970, and the winners list is far longer than the names I just mentioned. You may be asking yourself, what about everyone else?
Names such as Starland Vocal Band (1976), Jody Waltey (1987), Sade (1985), Shelby Lynne (2000), fun. (2012), Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (2013), and Alessa Cara (2017) all have also won this prestigious award, yet how come their names have faded away from time as others seem to rise up?
With anything new, there’s a level of uncertainty. With uncertainty comes no expectations–which when it comes to music, is a great thing. When singer Alessa Cara emerged onto the scene, nobody had any expectations of what her music should sound like or be. Alessa Cara was free to make the music she pleased in the way she wanted to make it. Nobody was expecting this 19 year old to come out of the gate and release two of the top songs of 2016 (“Here” and “Scars To Your Beautiful”).
But now, after winning the Grammy, all eyes are on her, pressing for her to make the next hit after those two songs–after her album had blown up. The expectations were already high after making the breakout hits of the year, but now she has a best new artist award under her belt. People expected even more of her and when she released her sophomore album The Pains Of Growing, but it fell short. It didn’t defy low expectations that the public once had of the singer. Instead, it crumbled under the public pressure to be as great as the first unexpected hit.
Another problem that plagues the winners is the absence of the singer within the music atmosphere. Many singers feel that once they win the award, the press and public appearances they once made can finally slow down, especially since their name has been known and is out there in the world. But much like a memory from your childhood, if you aren’t constantly reminded of it, then it soon begins to fade away from existence.
In 2021, it was hard to escape the Best New Artist Olivia Rodrigo’s music. Everywhere you went you would hear a song from the actress’s debut album Sour. She was the talk of the town, and with the supposed drama that surrounded the album, it was hard not to talk about Rodrigo. Flash forward to now, when it’s hard to find things to talk about regarding the singer. Upon receiving the award, the singer went radio silent, only hearing little mentions of her going on tour here and there. Due to not being covered in the media, she seemed to slip from many people’s minds. When casually discussing Rodrigo, many of my friends had the reaction of “I forgot she even existed.” It used to be impossible to go without hearing a few bars of “Driver’s License” or “Good 4 U” … but when was the last time you heard them?
Rodrigo isn’t the only one who suffers from this, as many other winners such as Toni Braxton and LeAnn Rimes suffered from the media silence as well—stifling their future albums and performance. (As for this year’s winner Samara Joy, we will have to see how her career turns out.)
So how did many of these other artists break the curse?
In addition to breaking and defying different types of genres to keep them fresh (Sam Smith-the 2014 winner), and being very present in the media throughout the years (Dua Lipa-2018 winner), one thing always stands out with these artists: the way they are marketed.
In the age of social media especially, being marketed as fresh and new even if your music might be lackluster will allow people to believe the hype of it all due to how you are marketed. Take Adele, who despite putting six years between her albums “25” and “30” managed to always put out statements on her social media and stay active with her fans, and promoting her weight loss journey as a “new era” for her and her music…despite her music sounding the same as the last album. By being marketed as a down-to-earth and hardworking person, she managed to stay relevant within the media and keep fans tied over between albums.
So while winning best new artist may seem like a miracle and a step closer to the destination of super-stardom, the journey has just begun.