FEATURE: The Grammys - How Does One Decide What's 'Album Of The Year'?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Every year, the 'art vs. commerce' debate arises when The Grammys announce their highly anticipated nominations - sometimes, talented artists miss out and mainstream and radio power prevails. What is considered 'Album Of The Year' anyway? Is it the artist who sold the most copies of their album? Or, is it the artist who has gathered the most hype and support within the 12 month time frame. Possibly, it's the artist who created a body of work that stands well above the work of their peers. The concept of what is considered 'the best' is a subjective idea that can only be determined by what one considers more important - art or commerce.

In years past, we've seen critically acclaimed albums be snubbed and instead mediocre quality albums given a nomination for 'Album Of The Year'. One of the most notable cases was the omission of Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2012. Album's in the category during that year included Rihanna's Loud and Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster. Both of those albums were good, but they were not of the calibre of West's release, nor will those albums stand the test of time in many years to come. Dr. Dre's The Chronic in retrospect has been labelled one of the best rap albums of our time. However, the committee didn't deem the release listenable and Dre consequently wasn't nominated in the category. Instead, Whitney Houston's soundtrack to The Bodyguard took out the award. The strangest thing is that hip-hop didn't even have a category for 'Best Hip-hop/Rap Album' until 1996, meaning that classic albums such as Nas' Illmatic and Run DMC's Raising Hell have never been recognised by the awards. In the rock scene, The Strokes failed to score a nomination for 'Album Of The Year', despite the fact their debut album set the formula for Indie Rock music in New York and was considered the top release of the year by media outlets such as Billboard, NME, Time Magazine, and Entertainment Weekly.

A conspiracy theory amongst many is that some artists receive nominations to ensure that viewers are pleased and ratings for the coverage are high. The reality is, nobody will watch the awards if a bunch of unknowns receive nominations. It's only speculation, but it could explain the fact Katy Perry received a nomination for her album Teenage Dream even though it only scored a Metacritic score of 52%.

Metacritic scores play a big part when trying to assess whether an album is considered 'critically acclaimed', mediocre or just plain terrible. What Metacritic do is give albums an average percentage based on all the reviews and scores by professional music critics in the media. If you do want to award 'Album Of The Year' to an artist based on the quality of their work, this would be the best measure to do this.

These are the Metacritic scores of the albums nominated for this year's 'Album Of The Year':
  • 1989 - Taylor Swift - 76%
  • To Pimp A Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar - 96%
  • Sound and Color - Alabama Shakes - 80%
  • Traveller - Chris Stapleton - 83%
  • Beauty Behind The Madness - The Weeknd - 74%

Below are albums that received the highest scores and were eligible for nomination for 'Album Of The Year':
  • To Pimp A Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar - 96%
  • Black Messiah - D'Angelo - 95%
  • Carrie & Lowell - Sufjan Stevens - 90%
  • No Cities To Love - Sleater-Kinney - 90%
  • RTJ2 - Run The Jewels - 89%

If the award was based on album sales, then Taylor Swift is the clear winner. The powerhouse country turned pop star out sold all her previous albums selling over 8,600,000 copies of her album 1989, with people continuing to purchase it despite the fact it was released over a year ago. Kendrick Lamar has also sold over a million copies worldwide of his release To Pimp A Butterfly.

Below are the top selling albums eligible for nomination for 'Album Of The Year':
  • 1989 - Taylor Swift - 8,600,000
  • Title - Meghan Trainor - 1,462,000
  • If You're Reading This It's Too Late - Drake - 1,300,000
  • Wilder Mind - Mumford and Sons - 1,069,000
  • To Pimp A Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar - 1,029,000

Whether you consider an album worthy for the highly coveted title of 'Album Of The Year' depends on what you consider to be more important - the decision of critics or the popularity of the artist. Whether you agree with the list of nominees of the category or not, lets hope the committee for The Grammys make the correct decision and give the award to the release that not only was the top critically acclaimed release, but was also one of the highest selling eligible albums - To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar.

Written by Amy Smolcic