Which artists should have won Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist this past decade at the Grammys? Of course, it’s deeply subjective, but we took a look back at the biggest upsets that stung fans the most over the last 10 years. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
Looking back, the little-known 26-year-old jazz genius Esperanza Spalding deserved to win Best New Artist in 2011, with a boldly experimental masterful sound in the typically conservative, male-dominated field.
“If we go back in the music’s history, there are very few people who are accomplished in all of the areas that Esperanza is,” drummer, composer, and producer Terri Lyne Carrington told NPR. “She’s a virtuosic bass player. Her voice is capable of acrobatics. Her compositions are not easy. Her lyrics are poetry. And she puts it all together in a way that’s commercially appealing. She’s setting an extreme example for young women in music.”
At the time, though, fans of Justin Bieber, Drake, Mumford & Sons and Florence & The Machine had a lot to say about her winning. Bieber, then 17 years old, tweeted to his fans, “of course I wanted to win. Its been & still is a dream to win a grammy. Was I upset…yes. But I was happy for her also. Someone said to me tonight its not your successes that define u but your failures. I lost..but I don’t plan on this being my last chance.”
That same year, Eminem went home with only two awards of 10 nominations, for best rap album (Recovery) and best rap solo (“Not Afraid.”)
“No one seriously thought he’d break the record for most wins (eight) in a single night, a gold standard jointly held by Michael Jackson and Carlos Santana,” wrote entertainment journalist Ben Wener. “But no one thought he’d go home with so few trophies, either.”
A pure rap album has never won the Grammy’s most prestigious category — the only artists of the genre to ever win Album of the Year were Lauryn Hill (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, 1999) and OutKast (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, 2004).
Fans of Frank Ocean felt he was snubbed back in 2013, when Mumford & Sons’ Babel won over the more culturally relevant and statement-worthy Channel Orange for Album of the Year. Ocean also lost to the catchy band fun. for Best New Artist. Ocean’s debut album received critical praise and peaked in the Billboard 200, and the Recording Academy was reportedly not happy with his on-stage performance of “Forrest Gump.”
Ocean called the awards ceremony “dated” and out of touch with Black artists and said that the high-profile snub was his Colin Kaepernick moment. “That institution certainly has nostalgic importance. It just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down,” he said. “I think the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated.”
Over the years, there have been a number of high-profile Kendrick Lamar snubs. He’s lost more than half of his nominations. In 2014, Macklemore won Best New Artist over Kendrick Lamar, prompting Macklemore to send him an apology text. Lamar’s Good Kid M.A.A.D City also lost in the Album of the Year Category to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. And in 2016, To Pimp a Butterfly lost to Taylor Swift’s 1989 for Album of the Year. In 2018, his Pulitzer Prize-winning DAMN lost to Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic for Album of the Year.
Beck’s Morning Phase Album of the Year win over Beyoncé’s Beyoncé almost prompted another Kanye West outburst in 2015, and the Beyhive went crazy on Twitter. Beyoncé dropped in the middle of the night in December of 2013, complete with 17 music videos.
It was the first time in his career that Beck had won Album of the Year, after being nominated twice before, for 1996’s Odelay and 1999’s Midnite Vultures. The singer recalled to the BBC the Grammys incident on a night which stimulated “a mixture of shock and amazement.”
“Eternally, there was this circus of media and the things that Kanye was saying and Beyoncé fans who were angry and that’s something that you don’t ask for,” he recalled. “But it’s like: ‘What did you expect?’ Ha! You know, it’s the music business. You’re walking right into the center of the whole thing – it’s a circus.”
It’s impossible to talk Grammys upsets without mentioning Adele’s 25 win over Beyoncé’s groundbreaking visual Lemonade in 2017, which prompted an impassioned on-stage speech from Adele about how Beyoncé should have won.
Both albums were pretty equal in terms of critical acclaim and record sales. While Adele’s 25 has trumped Lemonade’s sales, crossing the 20 million mark worldwide since its release in late 2015, Lemonade was the third best-selling album of 2016 in the U.S. The second best-selling was 25. Adele won three awards in 2012 when she came out with 21, which led many music journalists and fans to predict Lemonade would be the clear winner.
Regardless, it was nice to see women supporting other women on stage that night.
“I’m very humbled and I’m very grateful and gracious, but my artist of my life is Beyoncé,” Adele said in her speech. “And this album to me, the Lemonade album, is just so monumental. Beyoncé, it’s so monumental. And so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-baring and we all got to see another side to you that you don’t always let us see. And we appreciate that. And all us artists here adore you. You are our light.”
What upsets can we expect in 2020? We’ll have to tune in on Jan. 26 EST to find out!
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