Ahhh, the Best New Artist category – some would consider it Grammys’ Achilles’ Heel, while others may think of it as the most edgy category the Recording Academy’s got goin’ on! For years, this category has been the pillar of controversial upsets, going all of the way back to Bobby Darin’s win during the inaugural Grammy Awards in 1959. Losers over the years in this category include Peter, Paul and Mary, Sonny & Cher, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Marie Osmond, Elvis Costello, Indigo Girls, Seal, Green Day, Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette, No Doubt, Fiona Apple, Erykah Badu, Dixie Chicks, Britney Spears, John Mayer, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Frank Ocean, Ed Sheeran, and Kendrick Lamar. (just to name a few!)
But perhaps no winner in recent history was more surprising than Esperanza Spalding in 2011. The Portland, Ore. born singer, cellist, and bassist was the first jazz artist ever to win Best New Artist. Spalding was basically an unknown to anyone outside of the jazz world at the time of the win. (although President Obama was a fan prior to her win – she’d even played at the White House for him!) More noteworthy, was who she defeated – namely, Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence + The Machine, and Mumford & Sons. Many of Bieber’s fans, in particular, were not too happy afterwards, with some even hate-tweeting at Spalding following her accolades.
Even Spalding herself was blown away by her win. “I really wasn’t expecting that at all,” she said backstage on her big Grammys night. “So I was surprised. I looked at my brother and said, like, really, and he said, ‘yes, go!'”