The Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album has become a major award in recent years. Lately, it’s been awarded to albums that have profoundly influenced the musical landscape, sometimes even more than the Album of the Year winner. So what does it take to win the Grammys Best Pop Vocal Album?
When people think of pop music, they naturally think of market appeal (pop is short for popular, after all), and that’s true to some extent for vocal pop album winners. All but one of the 29 albums that won this category made it into the top 10 of the Billboard 200. Of those 28, 24 peaked somewhere in the top five and 21 in the top three. Half of the winners were number one albums. Additionally, winning artists are usually among the biggest stars of their winning years. The list of vocal pop album winners includes huge names in pop music history like Adele, The black Eyed Peas, Taylor Swift, Celine Dionand Justin Timberlakeas well as more recent phenomena such as Ariana Grande, Billie Eilishand Doua Lipaand veterans like Sting, Ray Charles, Joni Mitchelland James Taylor.
Acclaim is often a factor at the Grammys, but the Pop Vocal Album category is somewhat lacking in that department. The highest Metacritic score for a pop vocal album winner (excluding reissues) belongs to Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia,” which scored an incredible 87. However, it’s the only album so far over 85 to win the category. The last four albums have all been in the 80s category, indicating universal fame, but albums like The Black Eyed Peas’ “The END” Sam Smith“In the lonely hour”, Ed Sheeran“Divide” and John Mayer“Continuum” had mixed reactions. So a big album can impose itself here without getting the most acclaim.
Another common factor for most winners is producing multiple hits. “Future Nostalgia”, “1989” by Swift, “The END”, Bruno Mars“Unorthodox Jukebox” and Lady Gaga‘s “The Fame Monster” dominated pop radio, which could have helped expose the albums to a wide range of voters. Pop radio is probably most useful with older voters who might be more disconnected from what’s more specialized or popular on the internet.
But perhaps the biggest factor in most wins is the strength of the artist year as a whole. 2015, for example, pretty much belonged to Taylor Swift with the magnitude of “1989” on the charts and on radio. Ariana Grande’s personal life coincided with two major album eras in 2018 and might have helped put her “Sweetener” on top. Or take 2017, which was undoubtedly the year Ed Sheeran’s “Divide” took the world by storm with singles “Shape of You” and “Perfect.” The thing is, many voters might vote for the artist to recognize their success, rather than the music itself. This factor is consistent for the vast majority of winners, ranging from the last (“Sour” by Olivia Rodrigo) to the first winner (The Beatles‘ ‘Sergeant. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”).
So if you’re looking to win a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album, be sure to have a banner year with a commercially successful album. Even if your album isn’t the best seller of the pack (take Dua Lipa or Ariana Grande’s wins), great radio airplay and massive promotion can easily get you to the finish line.
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