How Sara Bareilles beat JT for a Grammy top-album nod

9:54 PM, Jan 20, 2014   |    comments
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Singer Sara Bareilles performs at the People's Choice Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Jan. 8, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Photo: Kevin Winter, Getty Images)



(USA Today)-- The Grammy Awards aren't supposed to directly reflect commercial success, though there's usually a pretty strong correlation. But every year's nominations offer a few surprises.

Justin Timberlake, for instance, had 2013's top-selling album with The 20/20 Experience and picked up seven nominations. Yet Sara BareillesThe Blessed Unrest got nominated for album of the year and The 20/20 Experience didn't, even though Timberlake's album outsold Bareilles' 10 to 1 (2.44 million vs. 245,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan).


"What I've been hearing this year, more than usual, is that it's not so much a surprise what did get nominated but what didn't," says Bill Freimuth, the Recording Academy's senior vice president of awards.

Bareilles isn't a Grammy unknown: She has received three previous nominations, and single Brave is up for best pop solo performance. But despite its No. 2 debut on theBillboard albums chart last July, The Blessed Unrest is the least commercially successful of the category's nominees. Also, the album didn't get nominated in any of Grammy's genre fields, unlike the other four contenders: Taylor Swift's multi-platinumRed (up for best country album), Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city (rap album), Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' The Heist (rap album) and Daft Punk's Random Access Memories (dance/electronica album).

For Grammy's four marquee categories - album, record and song of the year, as well as best new artist - the nominations process isn't a straight popular vote.


After a first round of voting by the academy's membership of recording industry professionals on 1,294 album-of-the-year submissions, auditing firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited provided a nominations review committee with a list of the 20 albums receiving the most votes. It's unknown if Timberlake's album made this short list, though, with all his other nominations, including a pop-vocal album nod, there's a good chance he did.

The committee of formally selected voting members gathers in Los Angeles to listen to the music from the general categories.

"For the album category, if you'll forgive the anachronism, we needle-drop," Freimuth says. "We typically listen to four or five entire songs and touch on the rest of the album. Then there's some discussion followed by a secret ballot."

Those ballots go directly to a Deloitte representative in the room, so no one on the committee knows the results until the final nominations are announced.

The winner, decided by the academy's entire voting membership, will be announced on Sunday's awards show (CBS, 8 p.m. ET/tape delay PT).

Sometimes the surprise nominations win. In 2008, jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock'sRiver: The Joni Letters, a tribute to singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, took home the top-album honor over higher-profile albums by Kanye West and Amy Winehouse, who won record, song and new-artist trophies that year.

Simply getting the nomination could make voters who previously discounted Bareilles reassess The Blessed Unrest.

"She's not going to bring in the Pitchfork audience or have a universal acclaim, just because of the type artist she is," says associate editor Jason Lipshutz, who called The Blessed Unrest "lyrically daring and serious-sounding" in his review for the trade publication. "This is definitely an artistic statement that a lot of people are considering now that it has been nominated."


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