Is Beyonce really a lock to win Grammy for Album of the Year?

Scroll through Gold Derby’s music forum and you’ll see that lots of posters believe Beyonce is a lock to win the Grammy for Album of the Year – an honor that’s eluded her so far in her career. From their absolute declarations, one would even think NARAS already has the trophy engraved for Queen B.

Certainly, their reasonings sound rational. Beyonce is a Grammy darling, having already won 17 trophies, including her eyebrow-raising victory for Song of the Year “Single Ladies,” a tune totally against the grain of what usually takes that category. She is one of the most revered solo artists out there right now—a superstar who has survived for over 15 years.  

Then there is the album itself — the genius and unprecedented secret release of “BEYONCE” that allowed the album to sell more than 800,000 digital copies in the three days. It created massive hype and critical acclaim. However, there are several equally compelling reasons why she is definitely vulnerable.

Let’s start with perhaps the biggest argument against a Beyonce victory: urban/contemporary R&B artists and albums rarely win. In fact, in the past 20 years, they prevailed only twice: Lauryn Hill and Outkast. Hill’s album was widely considered to be a masterpiece of the genre, replete with deep, powerful lyrics and a social awareness that made it universally accessible. And Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” was an ambitious, double release that spawned the huge hit “Hey Ya!”

However, we cannot forget who the majority of Grammy voters are – conservative music industry insiders who often go for the safe choice or the reigning veteran in this category. Just look at past winners Steely Dan, Mumford and Sons, Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Santana and the “O’Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. They all beat much more popular nominees. “Beyoncé” may have great reviews (though we don’t need to be reminded how little reviews matter in this category, do we?) and sales, but it also contains raunchy content that may turn off many of the stodgy voters. If they have a perceived “safer” option — and they will with Jack White, Coldplay, Sam Smith and the “Frozen” soundtrack etc. — they will take it.

Sales and popularity of an album usually mean little in this category. Oftentimes NARAS will nominate the most popular album of the year, but it rarely triumphs. Yes, works by Taylor Swift and Adele recently accomplished this feat, but Beyonce’s self-titled album didn’t match the impact.

Swift is a feel good, cutesy country singer with very accessible, safe singles. Adele is a powerful adult contemporary/pop singer performing very soulful, throwback-sounding songs that laughed in the face of all of the manufactured pop/mainstream hip-hop stuff that dominated the airwaves when she reaped the top Grammy. She really did serve as the “Anti-Pop Star” and was heavily rewarded because of it. But beyond those two, the winner is typically an album that failed to make much of an impact sales-wise at all.  

NARAS often ignores huge superstars and divas in this category. One thing people need to remember is that NARAS voters are kind of snobs. They hardly ever jump on the “what’s popular” bandwagon, especially in the general field categories, which is exactly why we often see the biggest hits and albums/artists of the year ignored. Last year at this time, Justin Timberlake was declared a lock for the Album of the Year win. His “The 20/20 Experience” sold almost a million copies its first week, garnered mostly positive reviews, and he was everywhere promoting it. However, he failed even to receive the nomination. Similarly, artists like Kanye West (who has 21 Grammys), Eminem, Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey and Rihanna have all lost this category, despite having multiple general field nominations in years past while dominating the music scene. 

Lastly, Beyoncé is not overdue! This is the most frustrating argument that has popped up a few times in the Gold Derby music forum. Some people really believe NARAS is dying to give her this award. Please explain how an artist with 17 Grammys is overdue? Granted, most of her wins were in the R&B field, but voters honored her in the general field when “Single Ladies” won Song of the Year. 

This year Beyonce has not had a “Single Ladies”-sized hit. In fact, she hasn’t really had a huge hit single from the album at all. Sure, “Drunk in Love” performed decently, but it was no “Crazy in Love” or “Irreplaceable.”

Beyonce was nominated for Best Album only once in the past: “I Am … Sasha Fierce” (2009). Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, Eminem and Kanye West all have more bids in the category and have never won. In addition, more prolific artists such as Madonna and Diana Ross have fewer nominations than that! 

No, Beyoncé is not overdue, and will not be perceived as such. Can she win?  Of course … anything can happen. She is just not the lock many are declaring.

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