Adele‘s biggest competition that could prevent her from earning another Album of the Year nomination and win this year isn’t Beyonce, David Bowie, Drake, or Radiohead. It certainly isn’t Frank Ocean, who didn’t even submit his music for nominations this year. Rather, her biggest competition is herself.
An ongoing pattern I have noticed over years, but have never heard anyone else bring up, is that when an artist wins Album of the Year, they set a high bar for future nominations in the category — not necessarily for other artists, but for themselves.
There are many instances of artists who follow up their own AOTY winners with another album that, even if successful, couldn’t quite meet the sales figures of its Grammy-winning predecessor. Regardless of how big of a seller that follow-up is, if its commercial success falls anywhere short of the artist’s previous Grammy-winning triumph, shut-outs are far more common than you might think.
Some notable recent examples of highly-regarded Album of the Year winners who were snubbed for their follow-ups include Arcade Fire (overlooked for “Reflektor” in 2013 after winning for “The Suburbs” in 2010), Taylor Swift (overlooked for “Speak Now” in 2010 after winning for “Fearless” in 2008), U2 (overlooked for “No Line on the Horizon” in 2009 after winning for “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” in 2004) and Norah Jones (overlooked for “Feels Like Home” in 2004 after winning for “Come Away with Me” in 2002). All of those follow-ups were hits, but none of them quite matched the commercial success of their predecessors.
In fact, every single Album of the Year winner dating back to 1998 has been unsuccessful in reaping a corresponding nomination for their follow-up album. The most recent to overcome the odds was Bob Dylan, whose “Love and Theft” (2001) album scored a nom in the top field despite falling short of the sales of his winning album “Time Out of Mind” (1997).
Out of all 58 winners of Album of the Year, only seven artists were able to reap back-to-back nominations in the same category for albums that sold less: the aforementioned Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton (for “Unplugged” in 1992 and then “From the Cradle” in 1994), Paul Simon (for “Graceland” in 1986 and “The Rhythm of the Saints” in 1991), Phil Collins (for “No Jacket Required” in 1985 and then “…But Seriously” in 1990), Michael Jackson (for “Thriller” in 1983 and then “Bad” in 1987), The Beatles (for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1967 and then “Magical Mystery Tour” in 1968), and the very first recipient, Henry Mancini (for “The Music from Peter Gunn” and then “More Music from Peter Gunn” at back-to-back ceremonies both held in 1959).
Several artists were able to score back-to-back nominations by selling as well or even better than their Grammy-winning album: Bonnie Raitt (“Nick of Time” in 1989 and then “Luck of the Draw” in 1991), Billy Joel (“52nd Street” in 1979 and then “Glass Houses” in 1980) and Stevie Wonder (“Innervisions” in 1973, then “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” in 1974, and finally “Songs in the Key of Life” in 1976). Wonder was the only one of those artists who was able to score back-to-back nominations resulting in another win — and he did it not only once, but twice.
It should be noted that Frank Sinatra (who released 57 studio albums in his lifetime), had many AOTY nominations at back-to-back ceremonies, but because he was so prolific (back in the day he was releasing as many as five albums in a calendar year) none of his nominations were for back-to-back albums.
To date Adele’s Grammy-winning “21” (which spawned three chart-topping singles, “Rolling in the Deep,” “Someone Like You,” and “Set Fire to the Rain”) has amassed sales of 11.7 million copies in the U.S. alone. “25” has sold 9.1 million copies so far, with only one number-one single (“Hello”). While these would be amazing figures for most artists, by contrast to “21” these figures could be viewed as an inability to surpass her previous album’s success.
Now this doesn’t mean Adele doesn’t have a chance at being nominated for Album of the Year. I, for one, have her predicted among my top three most likely nominees. I do, however, think her odds of winning aren’t as good as we are giving her credit for: she’s the frontrunner to win according to our racetrack odds.
To be fair, even though “25” is still shy of “21’s” sales total by a couple million, her latest effort could still eventually surpass its predecessor in sales. Plus, “25” did break the opening week sales record for any album during the SoundScan era, with a whopping 3.38 million copies sold in its first seven days, and its lead single “Hello” surpassed one billion YouTube views faster than any other video ever.
But even if “25” doesn’t match the success of “21” Adele certainly has lived up to the incredibly high expectations she set for herself. By all means, she could have been the next Carole King (“Tapestry,” 1971) or Alanis Morissette (“Jagged Little Pill,” 1995), whose follow-ups didn’t even come close to matching the sales of their AOTY-winning blockbusters. But don’t say you weren’t warned if her name doesn’t show up in the Album of the Year lineup when nominations are announced, and unless you think Adele is the next Stevie Wonder don’t expect to hear her name announced as the winner this year either.
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