Our category-by-category dissection of the last 20 years of questionable (and occasionally appropriate) Grammy decisions continues! [See also: The Critical Condition]
BEST NEW ARTIST
Most Justified Winner: It a cursed category, for sure, and while Mariah Carey (1991) is an imminently defendable choice (certainly when considering the fact that she had to essentially steal the award from Wilson Phillips), I'm going with Christina Aguilera (2000), both because I love her and because I am still happy she bested Britney and Kid Rock. [Mark says: Mariah Carey]
Least Justified Nominee: God, where to begin? I could field an entire baseball team (with full bullpen!) with the craptacular nominees this category has produced. And that's not even counting Milli Vanilli, who I feel are far too easy a target at this point. So while 1993 produced a trio of unbelievably awful acts (Billy Ray Cyrus, John Secada, and Kris Kross -- and they still couldn't even nab Worst Field, see below!), Papa Roach (2001) takes the cake for being the most thoroughly indefensible nominee. At least those other three had memorable hits. [Mark says: Sisquo (2001)]
Least Recognizable Nominee: Runner-up: Susan Tedeschi in 2000. I don't even know enough about her to properly make fun of her nomination. I was all set to give this to Heather Headley (2004) until I realized that she originated Aida on Broadway, and I have a recording of her and Adam Paschal doing "Written in the Stars" that I quite enjoy. So congratulations, The Kentucky Headhunters (1991)! I assume you were a country act! [Mark says: Susan Tedeschi]
Best Field: 1996 had the highest highs (Alanis, Joan Osborne), but Brandy, Shania Twain and (winners) Hootie and the Blowfish don't really hold up. 1998 gets closer, with Fiona Apple, Erykah Badu, and (for better or worse) Puff Daddy weighted down by Paula Cole and Hanson. And 2007 is certainly an interesting year, with James Blunt and Corinne Bailey Rae being propped up by Carrie Underwood, Imogen Heap, and Chris Brown.
Give it to the 1997 field, which recognized three legitimate acts -- Garbage, No Doubt, LeAnn Rimes -- plus The Tony Rich Project, who were a flash in the pan but one I remember semi-fondly. As for the Jewel nomination, I'm confident we'll one day look back on her popularity with the fondness of a Kim Carnes, or perhaps a Vicki Lawrence. [Mark says: 2004]
Worst Field: Again, 1993 was a cesspool (see above), but Sophie B. Hawkins and Arrested Development manage to elevate the field just enough. 2001, on the otherhand? The aforementioned Papa Roach, plus: Jill Scott (okay, fine), Brad Paisley (cute, at least), Shelby Lynne (hmmmm), and Sisqo. SISQO! Case closed. [Mark says: 2003]
Most Awesome Field: The best thing about the Best New Artist category is how it either nominates the most flash-in-the-pan acts possible, or at least pulls from wildly different genres, forming a delightfully weird quintet. Cases in point: 1995, where the genre sameness barely downgrades the awesomeness of Sheryl Crow, Green Day, and Counting Crows being nominated alongside Ace of Base and Crash Test Dummies. Or 1992, with the rather mind-blowing lineup of Color Me Badd, C&C Music Factory, Boyz II Men, Seal, and Marc Cohn.
My personal favorite is 1994, when a rather predictable winner (Toni Braxton) was joined by Belly, Blind Melon, Digable Planets, and SWV. Maybe not the BEST lineup in the world, but probably the most eclectic. [Mark says: 1992]
Biggest U2 Potential: U2 wasn't eligible as a "new" artist in the last two decades, but which nominee has the best chance to become a U2-like perpetual nominee. I reflexively thought Sheryl Crow (1995), because she shares their same right-down-the-middle universal appeal. But she really hasn't been nominated all that much in the major categories given her stature. No, I'm going with Corrine Bailey Rae (2007), on the basis of her back-to-back Song of the Year nominations, as well as her presence on last year's Herbie Hancock Album of the Year. [Mark says: Dixie Chicks]