On Tuesday (April 21), my colleague Keith Caulfield forecast that Fetch the Bolt Cutters will enter the Billboard 200 next week inside the top 10.
When critics and fans agree, which doesn't always happen, Grammy voters usually come on board. Ten albums have received a rating of 92 or higher on Metacritic.com and also reached the top 10 on the Billboard 200. Of those 10 albums, seven wound up with a Grammy nomination for album of the year. And two other others were represented in other top Grammy categories—record or song of the year.
The seven albums that meet these two criteria that received album of the year nominations are Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly (a 96 Metacritic rating), Lamar's DAMN. (95), OutKast's Stankonia (95), Bob Dylan's Love and Theft (93), Beyoncé's Lemonade (92), Frank Ocean's Channel Orange (92) and The White Stripes' Elephant (92).
The three albums that fit these two criteria that did not receive album of the year nominations are D'Angelo and the Vanguard's Black Messiah (95), which nonetheless received a record of the year nod for "Really Love," Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (94), which nonetheless received a song of the year nod for "All of The Lights" and Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker (92).
The Nominations Review Committee, which determines the final nominees in the Big Four categories, will likely want to make sure female artists are well-represented in album of the year, following ongoing criticism concerning the disproportionate number of female artists nominated in major categories. Other albums by female artists that may be vying for such consideration include Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia, The Highwomen's The Highwomen, Miranda Lambert's Wildcard, Selena Gomez's Rare and Summer Walker's Over It.
It will be interesting to see if the Recording Academy categorizes Apple's album as pop or alternative music. The Grammys have gone back and forth on Apple. Tidal (1996) vied for a best pop vocal album nomination (though it didn't get one; it was released just two months before the end of the eligibility year). When the Pawn… (2000) was nominated for best alternative music album, Extraordinary Machine (2005) for best pop vocal album and The Idler Wheel… (2012) for best alternative music album.
If Fetch the Bolt Cutters is slotted as alternative, it would have a good chance of winning that award. Apple would become only the third female solo artist to win in that category, following Sinéad O'Connor (1990's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, which was the first winner in the category) and St. Vincent (2014's St. Vincent).
Here's how the Grammys define their alternative category: "This category may be defined as a genre of music that embraces attributes of progression and innovation in both the music and attitudes associated with it. It is often a less intense version of rock or a more intense version of pop and is typically regarded as more original, eclectic or musically challenging. It may embrace a variety of sub-genres or any hybrids thereof and may include recordings that don't fit into other genre categories."
So what makes Apple's album so special?
In his current First Stream column, Jason Lipshutz, Billboard's senior director, music, noted: "…Apple’s fifth album is loose, weird and yearning, a sometimes cacophonous and wholly absorbing project centering on the 42-year-old’s exploration of the expectations society had foisted upon her in her youth, and the skin in which she has learned to live…"
In a subsequent piece that he co-authored with Christine Werthman, Billboard's managing editor, Lipshutz offered another reason he admires the album: "In the eight-year gap between Fetch the Bolt Cutters and its 2012 predecessor, the music industry has been taken over by streaming. Buying full-lengths has largely become a thing of the past, playlist placement is more critical to success, and as such, a good chunk of popular music is designed to continue a vibe rather than disrupt the flow. Part of the appeal of Fetch the Bolt Cutters is that it thrashes against such a languid approach to creative output, and instead has arrived as a bold, cacophonous ball of beautifully expressed thoughts."
Apple has won only one Grammy to date. "Criminal," a No. 21 Billboard Hot 100 hit from her debut album, won the 1997 award for best female rock vocal performance. Apple's only nomination in a Big Four category to date came that same year when she was nominated for best new artist. Paula Cole won the award.
Here are two bonus facts about Apple you may have forgotten: In 2002, Apple teamed with Johnny Cash to record a version of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Water" for his album American IV: The Man Comes Around. Their collab received a Grammy nod for best country collaboration with vocals.
Apple also bubbled under the Hot 100 in 2013 with an evocative version of the film classic "Pure Imagination" (from 1971's Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory). Apple's version was used in an ad for the Chipotle restaurant chain.