Grammy Insider: Lady Gaga, Sting, Celine Dion & Green Day Drop Singles to Qualify for 2017 Nominations

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Remie Geoffroi
           

Introducing a new column on the behind-the-scenes jockeying for Grammy Awards glory.

In politics, it’s called “the October surprise.” But for Grammy watchers, those surprises traditionally come in September, thanks to an eligibility cutoff at the end of the month that typically leaves a torrent of last-minute superstar releases jockeying for attention before the ballots go
out on Oct. 14.

In the past, that meant marquee artists putting out albums right under the wire in the final release week of September. But these days, more acts seem content to hold their albums for the fourth quarter while getting singles out just in time to qualify for the next show (the 2017 awards take place in Los Angeles on Feb. 12).

The list of likely award-contender albums released in September has been a short one, with Usher being the only major Grammy-bait act announcing an album (Hard II Love) so far this month. But big-name singles have suddenly flooded the market, with the Sept. 9 date alone bringing Lady Gaga’s “Perfect Illusion,”Celine Dion’s “Recovering,” Sia and Kendrick Lamar’s “The Greatest” and Green Day’s “Revolution Radio,” as well as new tracks from OneRepublic, Kings of Leon, Peter Gabriel and Norah Jones. Sting’s freshly released return to rock, “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You,” is also, like most of these other singles, fronting a fall album that won’t be eligible until the 2018 awards.

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If the September album glut has moved to an October and November glut, it actually has helped albums that have multiyear livelihoods. It certainly worked for Taylor Swift’s 1989, which scored three nominations in 2015 (for its lead single “Shake It Off”) and seven in 2016 (for the album and two other singles). Theoretically, if a superstar has a late-summer single and an autumn album, they can be in the Grammy mix for two consecutive years.

“At one time you really could sense that people were thinking about that late-September date, but I think that’s waning,” says Concord senior vp publicity Joel Amsterdam, who has run the Grammy gauntlet with Paul Simon and James Taylor in recent years. “When it comes to the major pop artists, the performance on the show is what you really want now.”

Also, 2017’s album of the year field is already so crowded with obvious contenders — Adele and Beyoncé, with Drake likely for the third slot out of five — that any serious upstart is probably OK with waiting for the start of the 2018 eligibility period on Oct. 1.

And while it’s certainly possible that a major star suddenly could drop an album under the 2017 wire, it probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to The Recording Academy. “The time during which the labels and members actually submit their entries into the system closed on Aug. 24,” points out Recording Academy senior vp awards Bill Freimuth. “It’s nearly impossible to get an entry put in after that August date.” So if an artist is planning a sneak attack, the Grammys ask that he or she “puts something in there as a placeholder, and we can fix the details as they become available.” (That window has narrowed further with the most talked-about Grammy rule change in 2016: the -eligibility of streaming-only albums, which in this case likely only affects Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, Frank Ocean’s video album Endless and Kanye West’s nominally-for-sale The Life of Pablo.)

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Squeaker albums, however, face an uphill climb. “You want to have real momentum on an album when the Grammy voting happens, rather than building momentum,” says RCA president/COO Tom Corson, who has two single contenders with Sia and Kings of Leon. But the obverse is also an issue for Sia: “Frankly,” adds Corson, “it could complicate things if ‘The Greatest’ gets in the way of ‘Cheap Thrills,’ because [the latter] is certainly a candidate for song and record of the year.”

Such matters keep label and Grammy executives awake at night this time of year. And lest anyone think September is part of the Grammys’ slow season, The Recording Academy committees began meeting on Sept. 12 to debate whether the 20,000-plus recordings received actually belong in the categories in which they were submitted — a process that will culminate at the end of the month with a massive three-day committees confab at the Four Seasons in Westlake Village, Calif. Says Freimuth, “For the awards department, September is probably our busiest month outside of Grammy week.” 

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 24 issue of Billboard. 

2017 Grammys