Since debuting in 1959, the annual Grammy Awards have become the most prestigious music awards show in the U.S.
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences hands out dozens of trophies every year. But for every Grammy category that’s subject to endless speculation and debate, there’s another one you’ve probably never heard of.
Part of that, of course, is that the telecast doesn’t spotlight every single person who wins an award, so a lot of these categories are mostly known to industry folks. But it’s also because the Grammys have had some strange, niche and questionable categories over the years.
The Grammys are aware of this. In 2012, the number of categories went from 109 to 78. As of this year, that number is back up to 83. Here are 10 — five former, five current — categories you didn’t know existed.
Categories That No Longer Exist:
Best Disco Recording
While we’re hardly disco snobs, this might be the most embarrassing Grammy category simply because it existed for one year. It was created in 1980, by which point disco as a genre was already on the decline. Realizing their error, the Recording Academy axed it after just one person — Gloria Gaynor — nabbed the trophy. She would survive, but the category would not.
Best Polka Album
While polka was a culturally relevant music genre when the Grammys started in 1959, it’s astounding to think this category persisted until 2009. How many people were even making quality polka albums into the 21st century, you ask? Well, how’s this for an example: Every year from 1988 to 2009, only three artists won the award. And one of them, Jimmy Sturr, has 18 best polka album wins to his name. Apparently unwilling to fuel his polka power grab any further, the Grammys ended the category in 2009.
Best Performance by an Orchestra or Instrumentalist with Orchestra – Primarily Not Jazz or for Dancing
Here’s a category that just rolls off the tongue. So let’s break it down. This category honors a performance — not the song itself — from an entire orchestra or a solo instrumentalist backed by an orchestra. Key caveat: No one can dance to this recording! Or at least when the orchestra recorded this performance, they shouldn’t have intended the music for dancing purposes. And let’s keep in mind that best orchestral performance was an entirely separate category alongside this one, so…why did this category exist? The Grammys must have asked themselves that same question, because after 1964, it was gone.
Best Pop Instrumental Album
Instrumental pop albums (shout-out to Herb Alpert!) were certainly relevant in the ’60s, but pretty much went out of vogue with Lawrence Welk. It’s not crazy that an pop instrumental album category existed, but it is crazy that it existed until the 2015 Grammys — especially since there was a best pop instrumental performance category until 2012. For the 2015 Grammys, we just have best instrumental album, best New Age album and best jazz instrumental album — which means there’s still more than enough room at the Grammys for albums of background music that often don’t even hit the Billboard 200.
Best Contemporary (R&R) Solo Vocal Performance – Male or Female
In case you’re wondering, the R&R in the title stands for “rock n’ roll.” So yes, the Grammys invented an abbreviation for rock that never quite caught on. This category only lasted three years, from 1966-68, before they stopped calling rock music “R&R” like an out-of-touch grandfather.
Best Improvised Jazz Solo
While this isn’t a ridiculous category, you gotta wonder how exactly the Grammy voters can confirm the nominated performances were, in fact, improvised. How do they know the artists aren’t writing these solos ahead of time and then just pretending to improvise in the studio or on stage? And if you play a few bars of a familiar melody during an improvisation, is it suddenly no longer improv? It’s a distinction worth asking — until 2009, this was best jazz instrumental solo, which was more inclusive.
Best Boxed/Special Limited Edition
If you love music but can’t carry a tune, play an instrument or operate studio equipment, this is your best shot at winning a Grammy. Obviously a lot of design talent goes into this category, but it is the Recording Academy that created the Grammys — so it’s odd to have a category entirely pertaining to design.
Best Album Notes
Especially when it comes to career-comprehensive collections, album liner notes can become essays on par with a college thesis. But did you know that every year, someone gets a Grammy for writing liner notes to CDs that no one is buying? The real travesty, however, is that Kanye West‘s Yeezus wasn’t nominated for this category. Yeezus was the 4’33” (also commonly interpreted as composer John Cage’s four minutes and 33 seconds of silence) of album notes.
Best Historical Album
This category is essentially best reissue. Did you know someone gets Grammys for putting compilations together and/or adding bonus tracks to existing albums? In other words, take a classic record, slap some demos on it and you got yourself a Grammy.
Best Surround Sound Album
Apparently producer of the year, best engineered album and best remixed recording weren’t enough — in 2005, the Grammys created a special category just to honor surround sound. FYI, it’s one of the few categories open to both classical and non-classical albums.