The Grammys’ expansion of their definition of traditional pop resulted in a spike in the number of entries in its best traditional pop vocal album category, from 55 last year to 81 this year. More importantly, they’ve made the category, which Tony Bennett has all but owned over the years (16 nominations, 13 wins), more competitive.
This category was long reserved for albums made up of songs from the Great American Songbook as well as cabaret and musical theater-style songs. But as of this year, the Recording Academy expanded the category to also include (quoting from the Academy’s category description guide) “contemporary pop songs performed in traditional pop style—the term ‘traditional’ being a reference, equally, to the style of the composition, vocal styling and the instrumental arrangement, without regard to the age of the material.”
The expansion brought in such entries as the all-star Joni 75: A Joni Mitchell Birthday Celebration (Live), Barbra Streisand‘s Walls, Elvis Costello & the Imposters’ Look Now and Bryan Ferry and his Orchestra’s Bitter-Sweet.
Mitchell won the 2000 award in this category with Both Sides Now. Ferry was nominated that same year for As Time Goes By. But those albums consisted primarily of covers of vintage traditional pop material. These albums consist of songs by Mitchell and Ferry. Streisand’s album consists primarily of new material, with just a few older songs. Costello’s album consists of new material, including three songs he co-wrote with Burt Bacharach and one he co-wrote with Carole King.
Barring the rule change, all of these albums would have competed for best pop vocal album, where their chances of landing a nomination would have been much slimmer.
Los Lobos, James Taylor, Norah Jones and Kris Kristofferson and Brandi Carlile, among others, are featured on Joni 75. This would be the second Various Artists album to win in the traditional pop category. The first, Tony Bennett Celebrates 90, which won two years ago, was also a birthday-themed salute.
Joni 75 would be the second salute to Mitchell to win big at the Grammys. Herbie Hancock‘s River: The Joni Letters won the 2007 awards for album of the year and best contemporary jazz album. Mitchell received a lifetime achievement award from the Academy in 2002.
Streisand, who received a lifetime achievement award from the Academy in 1995, has yet to win in the traditional pop category, despite 11 nominations in the category (second only to Bennett). In fact, Streisand hasn’t won a competitive Grammy in any category in nearly 33 years. Yes, Streisand is a legend and hardly needs another award. But legends have feelings too.
The versatile and deeply talented Costello has been nominated for best rock album (twice), best alternative music album (twice), best pop vocal album, best contemporary folk album and even best spoken word album.
Roger Daltrey‘s The Who’s ‘Tommy’ Orchestral is also entered. The Who‘s classic rock album Tommy was released in 1969, a full decade before the Grammys introduced categories dedicated solely to rock. (So, no, it wasn’t nominated at the time.) The Grammys made up for that by inducting the album into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
To be sure, there are also some usual traditional pop favorites on the entry list. Michael Bublé is vying for his ninth nomination in the category with Love (Deluxe Edition). Seth MacFarlane is vying for his fourth with Once in a While. Bublé is a four-time winner in this category (second only to Bennett). MacFarlane has yet to win a Grammy.
Albums by three other past nominees in this category are on the entry list: Andrea Bocelli‘s Sì (his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200), Gregory Porter‘s One Night Only (Live at the Royal Albert Hall/02 April 2018) and Susan Boyle‘s Ten. Porter was nominated last year for Nat King Cole & Me.
Because the Grammys don’t have a category for Christmas or holiday albums, such albums often wind up in this category. Two holiday albums — Pentatonix‘s Christmas Is Here! and John Legend‘s A Legendary Christmas — have an excellent chance of being nominated. Legend, a two-time winner for best R&B album, is vying to become the second African-American artist to win for traditional pop. The late Natalie Cole won twice in the category.
Trisha Yearwood‘s Let’s Be Frank, a tribute to Frank Sinatra, is entered in the category. Five-time Grammy winner Don Was produced the album. Two previous tributes to Ol Blue Eyes have won in this category: Bennett’s Perfectly Frank (1992) and Willie Nelson‘s My Way (2018).
The Kingdom Choir is entered with Stand by Me. The London-based gospel group gained worldwide attention when they performed at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Sheléa is entered with Pretty World: A Tribute to Alan & Marilyn Bergman. Streisand was nominated in 2011 with What Matters Most, her tribute to the husband-and-wife songwriting team. The Bergmans received a Trustees Award from the Academy in 2013.
Other albums on the entry list include Stephen Bishop‘s We’ll Talk About It Later In the Car, Michael Bolton‘s A Symphony of Hits, Sarah Brightman‘s Hymn, Jamie Cullum‘s Taller, Jackie Evancho‘s The Debut, Mike Love‘s 12 Sides of Summer, Simply Red‘s Symphonica In Rosso (Live at Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam) and Rick Springfield‘s Orchestrating My Life.