When Prince revealed that Beck‘s Morning Phase won album of the year at the 2015 Grammys, it wasn’t a shock simply because Beyonce‘s Beyonce was the favorite. It was a huge surprise because, unlike most albums to nab the big Grammy honor, Beck’s latest wasn’t a terribly popular album.
Not only was Morning Phase the lowest-selling LP of this year’s album of the year nominees, but it’s the lowest-selling album to win AOTY since 2008. (Looking at total album sales up until the week prior to Grammy week for each year — so in this case, we’re taking Morning Phase‘s total sales for the week ending Feb. 1. All data courtesy Nielsen Music.)
Beck’s album takes the honor with approximately 301,000 sales to date since its release nearly a year ago. The last time an album with a lower sales total won album of the year was in 2008 when Herbie Hancock‘s River: The Joni Letters earned the honor despite having moved just 56,000 units in total at the time (as of the week ending Feb. 3, 2008).
For comparison, six out of the last 10 LPs to win album of the year have sold more than a million copies before nabbing the honor. And all but three have moved more than half a million copies before winning album of the year (Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs was also shy of that milestone).
Of course, album sales were down overall in 2014 (as is the overall annual trend), but Beck’s was especially low when compared to albums that typically nab AOTY at the Grammys.
So what to make of it? One possible explanation: Like Herbie Hancock — whose good-but-not-classic Joni Mitchell covers album is his sole win in the category — perhaps the Recording Academy felt it was Beck’s time. He’s been nominated but overlooked twice in this category, and there’s no denying he’s created one of the most consistent musical catalogs of the last few decades. This might be an award for his overall legacy, and less an award for Morning Phase on its own merits.
And perhaps, just like Hancock’s anomalous win, next year we’ll see a return to the Grammys awarding AOTY to more populist fare.