Grammy awards: fame or obscurity?

Awards and accolades: Billy Eilish.

Awards and accolades: Billy Eilish.  

Overnight, American singer Billie Eilish is all over the media. Her album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? has bagged five Grammy awards, including the major four of Album Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artiste. A few weeks ago, it was announced that she would sing the theme song in the next James Bond film No Time To Die, beating contenders Beyonce and Dua Lipa.

Women power

The 18-year-old Eilish becomes only the second artiste after Christopher Cross to grab the major four. She also becomes the 26th solo female musician to get Best New Artiste in the 55 times the award has been given since its inception. Only 11 men have received the honour, besides 18 duos or groups. Interestingly, between 1997 and 2003, all Best New Artiste winners were solo female performers. And between 1993 and 2005, not a single male received the award. From 2010 onwards, five women have won the award, with Eilish being third in a row after Alessia Cara and Dua Lipa. Only two men - Sam Smith and Chance The Rapper - have bagged the prize last decade. The award is given to, “a new artiste who released, during the eligibility year, the first recording which establishes the public identity of that artiste.”

It needn’t be a debut album, and that is rather funny, as even Eilish first hit headlines on SoundCloud four years ago with her song ‘Ocean Eyes’, besides releasing two EPs, one live album and many singles before her debut album. By that logic, her public identity was established much earlier.

Success or irrelevance

The relevant question, of course, is how many of these winners have actually gone on to become musical sensations in the mould of say Michael Jackson, Madonna, Whitney Houston or Linkin Park, none of who won Best New Artiste.

Some had the potential, but circumstances prevented them. Lauryn Hill got disillusioned and quit the industry, whereas Amy Winehouse had a premature death. Among winners in the past decade, nobody really talks of Fun, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Chance the Rapper, Alessia Cara and Meghan Trainor (whose new album is due) as superstars. Being a jazz artiste, Esperanza Spalding, who won best jazz vocal solo this year, has a limited following.

So is the case with the Zac Brown Band, whose audience is restricted to country and Americana.

Folk band Bon Iver hasn’t matched the success of its self-titled 2011 album. Dua Lipa, who won last year, is still far from tasting real stardom. As such, the only real success has been 2015 winner Sam Smith. Compare all this to past winners, who include the Beatles, Crosby Stills & Nash, Carpenters, Jose Feliciano, Mariah Carey, Alanis Morissette, Norah Jones and Adele.

Is the overall standard of this category falling, or is it a reflection of the current state of the music industry? Either way, a huge responsibility rests on Eilish’s young shoulders. She’s got the advantage of having a massive teen following, more for her style and marketing acumen than for her music. Reviews have been good, but not overwhelming. Besides the Bond song, her next album will be a real test. And yes, will Eilish be able to handle the sudden success?

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 7:02:41 AM |

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