The much-discussed favourite within the album of the yr class going into the sixty fourth Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday night time (Apr. 3) was undoubtedly Olivia Rodrigo’s Bitter, the blockbuster debut effort from 2021 breakout singer/songwriter Olivia Rodrigo. However it wasn’t Bitter, nor equally well-performing and critically acclaimed units from Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X or Doja Cat, that took house the highest honors on the night. That distinction as an alternative was accepted by Jon Batiste, the veteran do-everything jazz-soul artist, for his We Are album — a No. 86-peaking set on the Billboard 200 albums chart, with solely a handful of mainstream opinions to its credit score.
How did an album with such comparatively modest business and significant success overcome so lots of 2021’s largest albums? Listed below are 5 causes which may start to elucidate it.
1. Nomination momentum. Somewhat meta right here, however typically recognition breeds recognition with award exhibits — and going into the voting, no artist was extra acknowledged within the nominations at this yr’s Grammys than Jon Batiste. The singer/songwriter/instrumentalist scored a staggering 11 nods for the night, together with a further Large 4 nomination in track of the yr (for “Freedom”), and style nods that ranged from greatest R&B efficiency to greatest improvised jazz solo to to greatest American roots track.
Such numerous nominations (three greater than another artist on Sunday) is sure to seize consideration, and maybe a lot of ballots from future voters who would possibly’ve in any other case not been acquainted: If you happen to’re performing some mild analysis however don’t have time to take a look at all of the nominees you don’t already know, you’d be extra probably to take a look at the artist with 11 nominations than one with only a handful (or solely the one, within the case of Taylor Swift and Evermore). You may additionally be extra more likely to vote for them, since anybody with that many nominations clearly has some probability of profitable the highest prize.
2. Musician’s musician. As with Jacob Collier’s surprising AOTY nomination for the 2021 awards, we overlook typically that the Grammys aren’t primarily a vote of music followers and even of music critics or commentators, however of music makers themselves — performers, writers, producers, instrumentalists and others. Jon Batiste is principally all of these: He carried out on and co-produced all of We Are, wrote or co-wrote all however a few the album’s tracks, and performed bass, keyboards, piano, strings, mellotron and even the theremin (!!) over the course of the LP. It’s a particularly spectacular one-man effort all through, and one that’s certainly much more staggering should you’re a fellow performer, author, producer and/or instrumentalist, with maybe a good higher sense of the complete magnitude of Batiste’s effort and achievement on the album. (And whereas the album wasn’t lined extensively in lots of publications, it did typically obtain good notices when reviewed.)
3. Alt-pop singer-songwriter overlap (and burnout?). Pop singer-songwriters (with a bit bit of other edge) have triumphed in album of the yr for every of the previous two years, with Taylor Swift’s Folklore taking house high honors in 2021 and Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, The place Do We Go? doing so in 2020. Each of these artists have been nominated once more in 2022 (Evermore for Swift, Happier Than Ever for Eilish), as after all was Rodrigo, who in some ways may very well be thought-about the inventive progeny of these two megastars. Whether or not the three artists ended up siphoning votes from each other this yr, or whether or not their basic dominance over the previous few Grammys (Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, not a world faraway from these albums, additionally secured the highest prize in 2019) simply left voters craving one thing a bit completely different, the presence of all of them might have been a minor hinderance to any one in all their particular person possibilities.
4. Broad-ranging demographic possession. We additionally typically overlook as music followers — notably mainstream, pop-oriented music followers — that it’s not simply pop-world Recording Academy members who vote in these awards. It’s additionally musicians and behind-the-scenes creators from R&B, from jazz, from roots genres, even from instrumental rating composition: all of which, by the way in which, have been fields the place Batiste was nominated final night time. If you happen to’re a voter who wasn’t essentially occupied with modern pop stardom, you actually solely had one artist to vote for — until you rely Tony Bennett, nominated alongside fashionable hitmaker Girl Gaga for his or her comparatively slight vocal jazz collaboration Love For Sale. That’s a number of diffuse votes for Batiste to probably scoop up, and primarily based on Sunday night time’s outcomes, it seems he received a number of them.
It’s hardly unprecedented in Grammy historical past — even on this century, the place veteran non-pop performers like Herbie Hancock (River: The Joni Letters, 2008) and Alison Krauss (Elevating Sand with Robert Plant, 2009) and even the American roots compilation soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ O Brother The place Artwork Thou? (2002) have all emerged victorious in album of the yr. Nevertheless, with winners the previous decade typically coming from extra modern mainstream artists, it would’ve taken a mix of a crowded yr and the lately expanded Large 4 classes (from 5 nominations to 10) for the timing to be proper for an additional surprising winner from completely exterior of the highest 40 sphere.
5. Trade connections. Even should you’re not essentially the most important pop star, it all the time helps to be an artist everybody is aware of and everybody likes, for one motive or one other. That’s definitely the case with Batiste, who additionally straddles the worlds of movie (co-composing the soundtrack to Soul together with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) and TV (serving as bandleader on The Late Present With Stephen Colbert), and is an everyday performer at award exhibits and tribute concert events, in addition to charity and social consciousness occasions. And talking of The Late Present — it’s additionally price noting that Ross was basically taking part in for the house crew on Sunday night time, with the identical community who broadcast the Oscars (CBS) additionally internet hosting his major nightly gig. Each little benefit issues throughout award season, and for Batiste, they added as much as probably the most stunning (if nonetheless largely explicable) album of the yr win on the Grammys in a few years.