The industry's grand tradition of rushing out albums to meet the Grammys' end-of-September deadline may have seemed like a quieter-than-usual affair this year, but there were a few smartly timed arrivals.
On Sept. 25, Fetty Wap's self-titled debut hit stores, possibly to capitalize on the New Jersey rapper's white-hot summer. That same day Hamilton's original cast recording was released digitally, qualifying the Broadway soundtrack for a possible album of the year nomination. Ryan Adams' Taylor Swift tribute, 1989, also came out that week -- theoretically, two versions of the same record could compete for album of the year.
Grammy rules dictate that recordings must be available for national commercial distribution to be eligible, and preorders don't count. In the past, acts like U2, Diana Krall and Muse satisfied that requirement without cannibalizing their Billboard 200 potential by issuing early vinyl versions in limited quantities -- ensuring the LPs wouldn't sell enough units to chart. In 2014, RCA went even further with that scheme, making Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics available on vinyl at select FYE outlets -- about 30 of the chain's 320 stores -- in September, weeks before its release. In the end, Franklin's 38th album wasn't nominated.
This year, it appears Janet Jackson's Unbreakable tried to bum-rush the deadline. Oct. 2 was its street date, but according to sources, BMG quietly put physical versions on sale at a national retail website a few days earlier. Nielsen Music supports that claim, recording fewer than 100 copies scanned for the week ending Oct. 1, the period before Unbreakable's official release.
Through a statement to Billboard, The Recording Academy says Unbreakable is ineligible for 2016 album nominations (though June-released lead single “No Sleeep” is eligible in relevant song categories). BMG declined to comment.
This article was originally published in the Oct. 24 issue of Billboard.