Saturday, November 14, 2009

Grammy Album of the Year - Predicting the Nominees, an Analysis

Grammy Awards nominations will be announced December 2 and, like usual, I'll be making my predictions in the days ahead. First though, I wanted to do some analysis of the Album of the Year (AOTY) category--Grammy's biggest prize--to see if I can improve my chances of getting all 5 nominees right.

One of the most critical factors I've read about (and seen myself) is what I'll call the "genre theory." The genre theory states that AOTY generally favors spreading its nominees across multiple genres, rather than having multiple nominees of the same type of music. Accepting this, it would follow logically that the album that wins a genre category would be the most likely choice to also receive an AOTY nod.

I did an analysis of the last 5 years of nominees to examine this theory, and it holds pretty well, although there are some exceptions. My top observations:

1) Of the 25 albums nominated in AOTY, 21 of them won a best album award in a genre. The exceptions: Year of the Gentleman (2008), FutureSex/LoveSound (2006), Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005), Love.Angel.Music.Baby (2005).

2) In three of the five years, the AOTY nominees all came from different genres. The exceptions were 2005 and 2006, which both had two pop AOTY nominees--Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and Love.Angel.Music.Baby in 2005 and FutureSex/LoveSounds and Continuum in 2006.

Let's look at those exceptions then more closely:

1) Year of the Gentleman. Ne-Yo's album was a contemporary R&B nominee, but it lost the award to Mary J. Blige's Growing Pains. I would chock this up to another important Grammy principle--one that's useful for predicting winners, but may generally be useful for nominees too--which is that the veteran has the advantage over the newbie. So Blige, who hadn't won in this category before, probably won based on her body of work. Ne-Yo actually won this award in the previous year for Because of You.

2) FutureSex/LoveSounds and Continuum. Justin Timberlake and John Mayer were both nominated in pop and AOTY categories. Mayer won the pop award. What strikes me is that although both "pop" albums, they are really quite different. This could be an argument for splitting the pop album award into two like R&B is--traditional (Mayer) vs. contemporary (Timberlake). So in a way, this still supports the genre theory.

3) Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and Love.Angel.Music.Baby. This one is the most interesting exception. Both of these albums were nominated in pop and AOTY and won neither. Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway was a pop nominee, but didn't get AOTY. It's pretty amazing then two albums nominated in pop that didn't win made it through to AOTY. Like the 2006 nominees, the McCartney and Stefani albums support my within-genre theory (McCartney being traditional and Stefani contemporary). Clarkson sort of falls somewhere in between these two, being a new face, but singing pretty traditional pop/rock songs. Also Clarkson is the newbie of the bunch, with Stefani having been around since 1996 with No Doubt and McCartney being the music legend that he is.

Finally, I examined which specific genres performed the best. Here's the breakdown:

1) Pop - 6 nominees (1 winner)
2) Rock - 5 nominees--one each year--and 1 winner
3) Rap - 4 nominees (3 of which were Kanye West) and no winners
4) Contemporary R&B - 3 nominees (no winners)
5) Country - 2 nominees (1 winner).
6) Alternative - 2 nominees (no winners)
7) Contemporary folk - 1 nominee and winner
8) Contemporary jazz - 1 nominees and winner
9) R&B - 1 nominee

Here then are my five AOTY prediction principles derived from this exercise:

1) Make all 5 picks come from different genres.
2) If you are going to predict two albums from the same genre, they should be pretty different.
3) Include a rock nominee, and probably a pop one.
4) For split genres, favor a "contemporary" contender over a "traditional" one.
5) If it comes down to two similar albums from the same genre that both look like they have a fair shot, favor the veteran, which is the one most likely to win the genre and thus have the best shot of also being picked for AOTY.

Finally, if you want to start thinking about this and apply these principles yourself, here's a longlist of potential AOTY nominees with the genre (I believe) they were submitted under:

Beyonce - I Am...Sasha Fierce (contemporary R&B)
Black Eyed Peas - The E.N.D. (pop vocal)
Dave Matthews Band - Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King (rock)
Bob Dylan - Together through Life (contemporary folk/Americana)
Eminem - Relapse (rap)
Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown (rock)
Whitney Houston - I Look to You (R&B)
Diana Krall - Quiet Nights (jazz vocal)
Lady GaGa - The Fame (electronic)
Maxwell - BLACKsummers'night (R&B)
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (alternative)
Regina Spektor - Far (pop vocal)
Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream (rock)
George Strait - Twang (country)
Taylor Swift - Fearless (country)
U2 - No Line on the Horizon (rock)
Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak (pop vocal)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz (alternative)


John said...

I love your breakdowns of the Grammys, and look forward to them each year. Sadly, I think Fearless is a lock for the Country selection, even though there have been much better albums released. It's as much a mainstream game as it is an honoring of quality.

Tyler said...

My predictions for the five are
Taylor Swift Fearless
Beyonce- I am Sasha Fierce
Lady Gaga- The Fame
U2- No Line on the Horizon

and for the fifth spots its between
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz
Whitney Houston - I Look to You

I can't see either Kayne West or Eminem getting nominated

Is the album circus within the time that it could be nominated for Album of the year if so it could knock out The Fame

A1 said...

Go Gaga and Beyonce!
and Yeah Yeah Yeahs thats an awesome album too!

ww_adh said...

John - Thank you so much! I think I get a little carried away using the Grammy Awards as a dataset, but it's fun to see what can result. I didn't bother adding a 6th principle, because it's so obvious, but "commercial viability" is certainly an important factor.

Tyler - That's a pretty good slate. I think mine will probably look a lot like that. You don't have a "pop" choice in there, but I think this may be the year we don't see a pop AOTY nominee, if only because most of the year's big pop albums are going to end up in other genre categories. Consider putting Maxwell into your mix.

A1 - Indeed. Beyonce has never been nominated for Album of the Year. I think it's time.

rcLoy said...

I think they would go with Beyonce even though I would much prefer Gaga. Taylor would a sure win for those country genre thingy by the look of what she got for the CMA. Love your article. XD

ww_adh said...

Thanks RcLoy. I think both Beyonce and Lady GaGa could be nominated, as well as Taylor Swift.