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GREIN ON GRAMMYS: WHAT GENRES TEND TO WIN ALBUM
OF THE YEAR?


If Black Panther wins Album of the Year, as your Grammy Nerds have fearlessly predicted, it will become the third rap album to take that marquee award. The first two were Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

That representation is a little light for a genre that has been at the forefront of contemporary music for more than three decades. The geezers out there may remember that the Grammys were also slow to embrace rock. Even so, rock was ahead of rap at a roughly comparable point. By the late ’80s, when rock had been at the forefront for more than three decades, four rock albums had won Album of the Year. (A fifth won in February 1990.)

I categorized all 60 Grammy-winning Album of the Year winners by genre. For the most part, I went along with where the Grammys slotted the album (or tracks from the album in the years before the 1994 introduction of genre album awards). I diverged in a few cases for consistency’s sake. I then ranked the genres based on which have taken the top prize most often. I have comments on some borderline cases.

Why am I not surprised that pop came out on top?

Pop (20 awards)

  • Blood, Sweat & TearsBlood, Sweat & Tears (1969) This album blended elements of pop, rock and jazz, but this is probably the best place for it.
  • Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
  • Carole King’s Tapestry (1971)
  • Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years (1975)
  • Billy Joel’s 52nd Street (1979)
  • Christopher CrossChristopher Cross (1980)
  • John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy (1981)
  • Toto’s Toto IV (1982)
  • Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down (1984). This was a blockbuster in both pop and R&B, but it tips pop. Over the course of the album’s two-year run, Richie was nominated in the pop male category for both “All Night Long (All Night)” and “Hello.” He wasn’t nominated in the R&B male category either year.
  • Phil CollinsNo Jacket Required (1985)
  • Simon’s Graceland (1986)
  • George Michael’s Faith (1988). This was also on the pop/R&B bubble. Michael was nominated in the pop male category for “Father Figure.” He wasn’t nominated—or even entered—in the R&B male category.
  • Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard soundtrack (1993). Ditto. Houston won in the pop female category for her megahit “I Will Always Love You.” She was nominated, but lost, in the R&B female category for her cover of “I’m Every Woman.”
  • Celine Dion’s Falling Into You (1996)
  • Steely Dan’s Two against Nature (2000)
  • Norah JonesCome Away With Me (2002). This album has jazz notes, but it won for Best Pop Vocal Album.
  • Ray CharlesGenius Loves Company (2004). This album also has R&B appeal, but it won for Best Pop Vocal Album.
  • Adele’s 21 (2011)
  • Taylor Swift’s 1989 (2015)
  • Adele’s 25 (2016)

Rock or Alternative (11 awards)

  • The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). You may think of this as pop, but for the Grammys in 1967, this was a walk on the wild side.
  • George Harrison & Friends, The Concert for Bangla Desh (1972). This brought Clapton and Dylan, among others, their first Grammys—in any category.
  • Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (1977). This is on the line between pop and rock, but I think it tips rock, if only because of “Go Your Own Way.”
  • U2’s The Joshua Tree (1987)
  • Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time (1989). The album won for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female.
  • Eric Clapton’s Unplugged (1992)
  • Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill (1995)
  • Santana’s Supernatural (1999)
  • U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2005)
  • Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs (2010)
  • Beck’s Morning Phase (2014)

Traditional Pop (seven awards)

  • Frank Sinatra’s Come Dance With Me! (1959)
  • Judy Garland’s Judy at Carnegie Hall (1961)
  • Barbra Streisand’s The Barbra Streisand Album (1963)
  • Sinatra’s September of My Years (1965)
  • Sinatra’s A Man and His Music (1966)
  • Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable With Love (1991)
  • Tony Bennett’s MTV Unplugged (1994)

R&B (six awards; also see the four R&B/pop crossover albums listed in Pop)

  • Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions (1973). “Living for the City” won the 1974 award for Best R&B Song.
  • Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974). This album won for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male—the Grammys didn’t have genre album categories back then—but its success stemmed from R&B. “Boogie On Reggae Woman” won in the R&B male category.
  • Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life (1976). Same as above. “I Wish” won in the R&B male category.
  • Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983). Same as above. Jackson won performance Grammys for pop, rock and R&B that year. Neat trick. The album achieved universal success, but it’s worth noting that its biggest hit and arguably most classic track, “Billie Jean,” won in R&B.
  • Quincy JonesBack on the Block (1990). “The history of R&B from be-bop to hip-hop” was the album’s clever marketing tag.
  • Bruno Mars24K Magic (2017). I would call this pop, but R&B radio and fans embraced it wholeheartedly, so who am I to argue? It won for Best R&B Album.

Contemporary Folk or Americana (four awards)

  • Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind (1997)
  • Various Artists’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack (2001). This album didn’t compete in a genre category (it won Best Compilation Soundtrack Album). If you had to put it in a musical genre, I think this is the one, though you could also say country.
  • Robert Plant/Alison KraussRaising Sand (2008)
  • Mumford & SonsBabel (2012)

Jazz (three awards)

  • Henry Mancini’s The Music From Peter Gunn (1958)
  • Stan Getz/João Gilberto’s Getz/Gilberto (1964)
  • Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters (2007)

Country (three awards)

  • Glen Campbell’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix (1968)
  • Dixie ChicksTaking the Long Way (2006)
  • Swift’s Fearless (2009)

Rap (two awards)

  • Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998). This won for Best R&B Album, but today most view it as hip-hop.
  • OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)

Dance or Electronica (two awards)

  • Bee Gees & Various Artists’ Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (1978)
  • Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories (2013)

Comedy (two awards)

  • Bob Newhart’s The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart (1960)
  • Vaughn Meader’s The First Family (1962)

And what if Black Panther comes up short? Hey, that could easily happen. If Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy or Drake’s Scorpion wins, rap scores nonetheless. If Brandi Carlile’s By the Way, I Forgive You wins, it’s another award for contemporary folk or Americana. If Kacey MusgravesGolden Hour wins, it’s another award for country. The other three nominees—which are thought to have less of a chance to win—are Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, Post Malone’s beerbongs & bentleys and H.E.R.’s H.E.R.

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