Do Top-Selling Albums Always Get A Grammy Nod?

    The Grammy Bump

    The “Grammy bump,” is a well-documented phenomenon. After an artist or band wins a Grammy, the sales of the winning record increase, often times dramatically. One of the largest bumps in the past two decades for the “Album of the Year” category occurred in 2009 where Alison Krauss & Robert Plant’s collaboration Raising Sand sold only 11,000 copies in the two weeks prior to winning the award, while in the following two weeks, it sold 109,000 copies for an 891% increase. Since 1992, the smallest rise in sales was for the The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1994 which only saw a small 12% increase. Nevertheless, as almost always, it got a bump.

    While a spike in sales from a Grammy win is expected; how many of the winning and nominated albums were already top-selling? Do the sales of an album prior to the announcement of the Grammy nominations correlate whether or not an album gets nominated? Do top-selling albums always, at least, earn nominations?

    Over the years there have been a handful of known upsets and snubs for high-selling albums and popular artists. Last year, neo-Jazz artist Esperanza Spalding, won “Best New Artist” beating out Justin Bieber, who had sold over 4 million albums at the time, and Drake, whose Thank Me Later sold 447,000 in its first week alone. Compare that to Spalding’s album Chamber Music Society, which had sold 31,000 copies at the time. In 1994, Snoop Dogg received a single Grammy nomination (he lost) for his single “Gin and Juice” in the “Best Solo Rap Performance” category despite his debut Doggystyle selling over 802,858 in its first week, an industry record at the time.

    This Year’s Crop

    This year all the nominees for “Album of the Year” did exceptionally well in sales. Adele’s 21 debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 352,000 copies. The album remained in the top three for 23 weeks, and the top five for a record 39 consecutive weeks. Born This Way by Lady Gaga sold 1,108,000 copies during the first week, making it the seventeenth album to sell over a million copies in one week. The other three nominees have all sold over a million copies of their nominated album with the exception of the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light which has sold a cool 667,000 as of early January.

    Delving back over the past five years of nominees for “Album of the Year,” reveals a similar trend of high-selling albums receiving a Grammy nod. Out of the 25 albums nominated in the past five years, four did not sell over 100,000 units in their first week but three of those four albums did go on to sell over a million units in the first year of their release.***

    Despite the majority of nominated albums selling exceptionally well, three Grammy winning albums in the past five years have been the lowest selling compared to other nominated albums they were up against. Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters sold only 53,000 upon its “Album of the Year” win, while The Arcade Fire’s Suburbs and Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant each sold far less than their competitors despite moving over 100,000 units in their first week of release.

    Best New Artist Sales Lead To Nominations?

    The “Album of the Year” award seems to be heavily filled with chart-topping, high-selling albums but the “Best New Artist” category reveals a slightly, different story. While the category is not based off a single album per-se, its nominees and winners are not always household names with top-selling releases. Albums by such recent nominees as Ledisi, Silversun Pickups, Corinne Bailey Rae, Imogen Heap and the previously mentioned Esperanza Spalding, have seen sales well under 100,000 copies in their first week of U.S. release. This is not so much the case for the nominees this year, though. Of the five nominees for “Best New Artist,” only EDM artist Skrillex failed to see his latest release pass the 100,000 units sold in the first week.

    Selling albums alone, though, does not necessarily equal hardware. Since 2000, five albums top-selling albums in the U.S. have failed to receive an “Album of the Year” nomination while two — High School Musical soundtrack and Josh Groban’s Noel — were completely snubbed from receiving a nomination in any of the categories. In those eleven years, only Taylor Swift’s Fearless won “Album of the Year” while simultaneously being the top-selling album in the United States. The last time that had occurred was in 1996 with Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. Since 1980, it’s only happened four times with the other two being The Bodyguard soundtrack and Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

    While record companies and individuals can submit work for nomination consideration to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the amount of units an album sells seems to be a major factor, with few exceptions, to the anonymous members of NARAS who vote on the winners and nominees of the Grammys. As Justin Bieber learned last year, though, just because you sell a ton of records, doesn’t mean you will be earning awards for your mantle at home. However, at least one nomination can almost always be expected.

    ***Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ did not sell over 100,000 copies in its first week of retail sales but those numbers fail to reflect the estimated 1.2 million downloads it received in its first week under their initial online pay-what-you-want model.