A Grammy carries a certain promise of immortality. Win one, just one, and your name is etched in history. But that’s no guarantee that you or your music will live on in people’s lives.
In some cases, it’s a matter of a cultural shift (people produce novelty songs besides Weird Al?). In other cases, well., some musical acts end up sabotaging themselves, while others never truly caught on despite taking home the recording industry’s highest award. Here are some examples of Grammy winners whose work has slipped away.
The epitome of late-’80s and early-’90s cheese, the sonic equivalent of Fabio, Michael Bolton gave adult contemporary a bad name with his overcooked interpretations of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and the Grammy winner “When a Man Loves a Woman,” never mind his frequent collaborations with schlock songwriter Diane Warren.
Carnes quickly faded from the spotlight after winning Record of the Year in 1982 for “Bette Davis Eyes.” The song occasionally pops up – Courtney Love, Taylor Swift and Kylie Minogue have covered it in the last decade – but Carnes, and the rest of her sizable catalog, have mostly disappeared.
Mary Chapin Carpenter
Carpenter won five Grammys from 1992 to 1995, but she couldn’t keep up with the rapidly changing state of the country and pop charts in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Even though she produced a clutch of big hits – “Down at the Twist and Shout,” “Passionate Kisses,” “He Thinks He’ll Kiss Her” – few of them get airplay these days.
The Civil Wars
The indie-folk duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White won Grammys for three straight years (2012-14), but they called it quits a few month after their last win, for the song “From This Valley.” Williams and White have both released solo albums since, but to little notice.
Coldplay was the biggest rock band in the world for most of the ’00s – platinum albums, stadium tours, seven Grammys, and unexpected endorsements from Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Frank Ocean. They seemed to be on the way to establishing themselves as the next U2, but the relatively lackluster response to “A Head Full of Dreams” and the “Kaleidoscope” EP suggest that Chris Martin and company aren’t necessarily too big to fail.
Mad Men-era pop star Bobby Darin evolved in just a few short years from a purveyor of bubblegum pablum (“Splish Splash”) to a songwriter and interpreter of deeper and darker material – standards like “Dream Lover,” “Mack the Knife,” and “Beyond the Sea” that are more admired than loved by classic pop aficionados.
The surprising success of CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse’s rock/soul/hip-hop hybrid didn’t last long – a third album has been in the works since 2010. In the meantime, Green has launched a successful solo career, explored acting, worked on “The Voice,” and made a habit of ill-advised Tweeting.
India.Arie rode the wave of early ’00s neo-soul set in motion by Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and Maxwell to four Grammys, but mixed reviews, low sales, and delays in between albums have swept her out of public awareness.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
The novelty quickly faded after Macklemore and Ryan Lewis beat Kendrick Lamar for Best New Artist and two hip-hop awards at the 2014 Grammys. The duo’s second album wilted and they’re currently on hiatus.
Mayer hasn’t disappeared—he released a new album (and two related EPs) in 2017, and has been performing with former members of the Grateful Dead. But it’s a far cry from the multiplatinum success of his first four albums and his ’00s tabloid presence, suggesting that his reputation hasn’t recovered from his disastrous (and racist) 2010 Playboy interview. (Don’t worry. The link is safe.)
Bobby McFerrin’s unbearably upbeat 1988 hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was an anomaly in a long and storied career as a jazz vocalist, and one most of us prefer to forget. But McFerrin still has a devoted following among jazz and classical-music listeners – in fact, he’s won seven other Grammys, most of them for jazz vocal performances, in addition to the three he won for “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
The one-of-a-kind singer-songwriter Roger Miller won 11 Grammys in 1964 and ’65 – and then had middling success until his death in 1992. Miller was enormously talented, but he wasn’t made for showbiz superstardom – his absurdist character sketches, delivered in an imperturbable Texas drawl, and with wry, mordant wit, have made him a deeply respected cult figure.
Ronnie Milsap was a Grammy machine for more than a decade, racking up six country-music awards between 1975 and 1988. But his slick crossover sound was made obsolete by George Strait, Clint Black, and Alan Jackson in the late-’80s and early-’90s, and it’s never come back into style.
Alanis Morissette remains active more than 20 years after the mega-success of “Jagged Little Pill,” releasing new music every four or five years, with ever-diminishing returns, both commercially and critically.
Naughty by Nature
Naughty by Nature won the very first Best Rap Album Grammy, in 1996, for the now-forgotten “Poverty’s Paradise.” The New Jersey trio’s smash hit “O.P.P.” hasn’t been forgotten, but it’s more of a punchline or trivia answer than a fondly remembered favorite.
One massive hit – even one as affecting as “Nothing Compares 2 U” – wasn’t enough to override O’Connor’s penchant for alienating middle America. Tearing up a photo of the pope on “Saturday Night Live,” refusing to perform after “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and all the subsequent fallout effectively ended a once-promising pop career.
Page and Plant
In the 1990s, a couple of half-baked Robert Plant/Jimmy Page albums seemed as close as anyone would ever get to a full-on Led Zeppelin reunion. But the duo’s two albums of dusty folk blues were eclipsed by the band’s one-off reunion concert in 2007 – and the Page/Plant projects never really compared to the might of the original Zeppelin anyway.
Jeannie C. Riley
The very thing that made “tHarper Valley P.T.A.” a hit in 1968 – references to feminism, single motherhood, rising hemlines, and the swinging sexual revolution – make it a relic these days. It was Jeannie C. Riley’s first hit, and her only major one.
Two-time Grammy winner Ray Stevens, famous (if that’s the right word) for cornball novelties like “The Streak” and “Gitarzan,” was nominated nine times over almost two decades—and only once for comedy.
Terence Trent D’Arby
It’s not hard to figure out what happened to the career of arty ’80s funk and R&B singer Terence Trent D’Arby. Just check out his latest album, from 2015, an independently released double sci-fi concept album called “The Rise of the Zugebrian Time Lords.”
If a so-called supergroup featuring half the “Use Your Illusion” lineup of Guns N’ Roses, Scott Weiland in between Stone Temple Pilots reunions, and the guitarist from a band called Electric Love Hogs seems like an embarrassing pick for the 2005 Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy, consider the other four equally unpalatable nominees from that year: Incubus, Metallica (for a song from “St. Anger”), Nickelback and Slipknot.
Jakob Dylan’s rootsy alt-rock anthems seemed profound at the time – it probably had something to do with his father’s reputation. But it took the Wallflowers four years to follow up “Bringing Down the Horse,” giving us time to put the college-poetry lyrics and artsy pretensions of Best Rock Song Grammy winner “One Headlight” in proper perspective.
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