clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

5 Grammy wins that prove how unpredictable — and controversial — the awards can be

Adele over Beyoncé? Macklemore over Kendrick Lamar? What were the Grammy voters thinking?

The 59th Annual Grammy Awards
lol. she should have lost to Beyoncé
Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

One of the only things that’s consistent about the Grammys is that Grammy voters will always find a way — no matter the award — to upset people.

It’s almost like the awards were specifically designed in a laboratory to participate in the ridiculous Grammys voting process; these are folks who regularly select winners such as Herbie Hancock and Steely Dan while ignoring forces of nature like Amy Winehouse or Beyoncé.

Indeed, given some of the Grammys’ past upsets, you’d be forgiven for wondering if the awards’ voters reside in a subterranean bunker between ceremonies — emerging only once a year, when they’re summoned by an intern with a canary and a lantern, to rile people up with some seemingly out-of-nowhere recognition. Consequently, the Grammys have become known for their unpredictability and “unique” honorees.

Here are five of the most egregious Grammy wins in recent memory:

5) Adele beats Beyoncé for Album of the Year (2017)

This was a garbage fire.

At the 2017 Grammys, Adele took home three of the Grammys’ four biggest trophies — Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year — beating Beyoncé in all three categories. And by the end of the night, Adele herself had declared, during her Album of the Year acceptance speech, that her album 25 didn’t deserve to beat Bey’s Lemonade. I’d have to agree with her. Lemonade was a game-changing and absolutely stunning album.

But the Grammys have a keen tradition of overlooking Beyoncé.

Adele’s win over Beyoncé in 2017 recalled a similar scenario from the 2015 Grammys, when voters gave Album of the Year to Beck’s Morning Phase over Beyonce’s visual album Beyoncé.

Bey’s self-titled album was, at the time, the most sonically daring project of her career and of 2014. It mixed slippery electronic synths with R&B to achieve a sound we hadn’t previously heard from her. From the sleazy glam of “Partition” to the sweaty “Blow” to the dreamy “XO,” the singer gave us everything we didn’t know we wanted.

And go ahead, just try to name one song from that alleged “best” album of 2014.

4) Esperanza Spalding beats Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence and the Machine, and Mumford & Sons for Best New Artist (2011)

Looking back at the 2011 competition for Best New Artist, there’s one name that sticks out: Esperanza Spalding. Spalding, a jazz artist and bassist, didn’t have the fanfare of her fellow competitors Justin Bieber and Drake, nor did she have an inescapable song like Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over.”

Yet she managed to score a huge upset and beat the competition. And her win was so gripping that she incurred the wrath of Beliebers, who edited her Wikipedia page and changed her middle name to “Quesadilla,” among other things.

3) Steely Dan beats Eminem and Radiohead (and everyone else) for Album of the Year (2001)

The 2001 Grammys were good for Steely Dan and weird for everyone else.

We should have known something was up early in the evening, when Steely Dan defeated NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, Madonna, and Britney Spears in two pop categories: Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group, and Best Pop Vocal Album. The band’s momentum continued later in the ceremony, when their album Two Against Nature won Album of the Year over Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP and Radiohead’s Kid A.

Lots of people watching the Grammys hadn’t even heard of Steely Dan — who hadn’t really been popular since the 1970s — which is why ABC News referred to the group as “stealing” their Grammy wins.

2) Macklemore beats Kendrick Lamar for Best Rap Album (2014)

This win was so mystifying that Macklemore literally apologized for it. Apologizing for winning an award is the most un-rap, anti-hip-hop thing you could do.

”I was like, ‘You won. Why are you posting your text message? Just chill. Take your W, and if you feel you didn’t deserve it, go get better — make better music,’” Drake, whom Macklemore also beat out, told Rolling Stone. “It felt cheap. It didn’t feel genuine. Why do that? Why feel guilt? You think those guys would pay homage to you if they won?”

1) Herbie Hancock beats Amy Winehouse for Album of the Year (2008)

Amy Winehouse had a once-in-a-lifetime kind of voice. I am content with knowing that it will be decades, at least, before I hear another voice with that same dusty, creaky beauty.

Teaming up with producer Mark Ronson, Winehouse tapped into some kind of dark magic to create Back to Blacka collection of songs that were just as stunning (Winehouse wrote them) as her vocals.

In 2008, she won Grammys for Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year; the only category she didn’t win was Album of the Year.

She lost not to Kanye West’s deliriously spectacular Graduation (which would have been understandable) but to Herbie Hancock’s album of Joni Mitchell covers.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.