Controversial Grammy wins — and how they aged
(STACKER) — Since their inception, the Grammy Awards have been considered among the most important awards in music.
The first awards ceremony in 1959 honored iconic stars such as Frank Sinatra, the Kingston Trio, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald. Since then, many other outstanding artists – considered by critics and fans to be among the best of all time – have also received acclaim.
But while many Grammy wins are well-deserved, the awards have had their fair share of controversy.
Stacker has compiled an original list using independent research to piece together some of the best Grammy bugs and how those decisions have aged ahead of the 2022 ceremony, which amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has already been delayed into 2021. and 2022.
Music fans have complained that the voting system is tilted in favor of who has the best-selling records rather than the best music, separating the winners from what’s happening in the industry. And following an unprecedented snub for a bid at the 2021 ceremony for his critically acclaimed album “After Hours,” The Weeknd even launched a boycott against the show, accusing the awards show of corruption.
Some undeniably iconic artists, such as Diana Ross and Jimi Hendrix, have never won awards throughout their vaunted careers. Additionally, fans have often complained that some winners have beaten superior artists (or at least artists that fans or critics say are better). In a few cases, artists were nominated in categories that made no sense for their style of music.
Keep reading to learn about some of the most controversial Grammy wins in history.
New Vaudeville Band beats rock legends
New Vaudeville Band, the 1960s pop group, won Best Contemporary Rock & Roll Recording for their song “Winchester Cathedral” in 1967. They beat “Monday, Monday” by Mamas & the Papas, “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles, and “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys, all of which are considered classics today.
José Feliciano wins the award for best new artist
It’s not that José Feliciano didn’t deserve the best new artist award in 1969, but people were surprised that he beat Cream – among the best rock bands of all time. Feliciano’s lasting contributions include singing the most famous version of “Feliz Navidad”.
‘Thriller’ wins, but ‘1999’ is not nominated
In 1984, Michael Jackson’s acclaimed album “Thriller” won album of the year. It was a deserved reward in the eyes of many fans. However, the competition might have been a little fiercer had Prince’s classic “1999” been nominated – which it was not. This album, in which Prince plays almost all of the instrumentals himself, secured his place among music’s greats and is widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time.
Jethro Tull wins Best Hard Rock/Metal
In 1989, the Grammys introduced a new category to indicate they were in tune with the times: Best Hard Rock/Metal Recording. Among the nominees were Metallica, Iggy Pop, AC/DC and Jane’s Addiction. When Jethro Tull – a progressive rock band that featured a lot of flute – won, many in the crowd started laughing. Today, it’s still considered a bit confusing, even by members of Jethro Tull.
The price of Milli Vanilli canceled
Milli Vanilli received the Best New Artist award in 1990. But when the pop duo admitted they hadn’t actually sung any of their songs themselves, either on their album or in concert, the Academy stripped them of their Grammys.
The pair then attempted to stage a comeback, but were unable to regain their footing before 32-year-old member Rob Pilatus died of an overdose in 1998.
Sinéad O’Connor refuses his award
It was 1991 and Sinéad O’Connor was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Best Alternative Music Performance and Record of the Year. Although she won the Best Alternative category, she was not there to receive it, as she withdrew from the ceremony due to her “false and destructive materialistic values”.
Eric Clapton defeats Nirvana
Eric Clapton is an undeniable musical legend – as well as lead guitarist for the aforementioned cream – and his song, “Layla”, has stood the test of time. However, in 1993, it was an acoustic cover of this song – then 20 years old – that beat Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for Best Rock Song. Today, “Teen Spirit” is considered a touchstone of the ’90s and among Nirvana’s best-known works.
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder’s Awkward Speech
Many artists are thrilled to win their first Grammy Award, but that wasn’t the case for Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. When the band won Best Rock Performance in 1996, Vedder took the stage to say, “I don’t know what that means. I don’t think that means anything. It’s just how I feel.
Although his nonchalance baffled some, Pearl Jam went on to win acclaim. In 2000, he swept away the Grammys again at a 10th anniversary performance of that band in Las Vegas, thanking his fans and adding, “I would never do that by accepting a Grammy or anything like that.”
Christina Aguilera dominates Britney Spears
The year? 2000. The question everyone is asking: which princess of pop will take Best New Artist, Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears? At the end of the night, Aguilera would prevail, signaling a reign that would see the pop star dominate the Grammy Awards for years to come.
Shelby Lynn wins Best New Artist award
When country singer Shelby Lynn won Best New Artist in 2001, fans felt it might be a bit late for her to be considered a “new” artist. She had already been recording for years. As she joked in her acceptance speech, it took her “13 years and six albums to get here.” Since then, she has released seven more studio albums and dozens of singles.
50 Cent interrupts Evanescence
Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s Video Music Awards speech in 2009. Maybe he was inspired by another rapper in 2004.
When alternative rock band Evanescence won Best New Artist and began their speech, 50 Cent, who had also been nominated for the award, jumped up on stage and paraded around the band before heading back to his seat. Evanescence singer Amy Lee took it in stride, joking about it. Today, it’s still considered an oversight that 50 Cent lost, considering he was nominated for five awards that night — and won none.
Maroon 5 and Ray Charles defeated Kanye West
The 2005 Grammy Awards saw 10 nominations for Kanye West’s ‘The College Dropout’, the most nominations for any artist there. While West picked up three wins, some fans felt there were two major oversights. First, his loss to Maroon 5 for Best New Artist. Second, and perhaps most egregious, was his loss to Ray Charles for Album of the Year.
Charles had just died and the award given to his ‘Genius Loves Company’ record was seen as an overly sentimental or misplaced allegiance to the music legend.
Herbie Hancock defeats Amy Winehouse
In 2008, Amy Winehouse’s second (and final) studio album, “Back to Black,” had been out for several years and was considered one of the best tracks for that year’s Grammy Awards. Winehouse left rehab to perform at the satellite ceremony and won five awards, including Song of the Year and Best New Artist.
But in a surprise twist, the top album went to Herbie Hancock, a long-established jazz artist who had released an album of reinvented Joni Mitchell songs.
Macklemore defeats Kendrick Lamar
Hip-hop fans weren’t too happy when Macklemore beat Kendrick Lamar for best rap album in 2014. They were even more perplexed when Macklemore posted a text exchange with Lamar, in which he apologized for winning the award he felt Lamar deserved. Was he honest or was he flattering public opinion?
Regardless: Lamar won the award at the 2016 ceremony for “To Pimp a Butterfly” and in 2018 for “Damn,” which even won him the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
Adele apologizes to Beyoncé
Adele’s reaction to winning the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2017 for “25” was not uplifting. In fact, she admitted “a little piece of [her] deceased” when she was announced the winner. Onstage, she apologized to Beyoncé, who she said deserved the award for her “Lemonade” album.