Grammys 2013: The Traditional Pop Showdown

The Grammy category Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album is rarely one of the most interesting races on the entire ballot. Tony Bennett almost always wins if he's nominated. But this year is different. Michael Buble, who has won three times in the category (second only to Bennett's 11 wins) is facing two pop music legends, Carole King and Paul McCartney.

It's an inter-generational battle: Buble, 37, vs. King and McCartney, who are both 70. It's a battle of a current chart-topping hotshot against pop music royalty.

Buble is nominated for his first full-length holiday album, Christmas. King is nominated for her first seasonal album, A Holiday Carole. McCartney is nominated for his low-key album of standards, Kisses On The Bottom. (This marks the first time since the category was introduced in 1991 that there are only three nominees, rather than the usual five.)

If the award was given strictly on the basis of sales, Buble would run away with it. Christmas has sold 2,644,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Moreover, it's showing every sign of becoming a holiday perennial. Kisses On The Bottom has sold 243K copies. A Holiday Carole has sold just 119K.

But Grammys aren't awarded strictly on the basis of sales (though let's be honest: It never hurt).

Buble also has an edge because of his track record in the category. This is his sixth nomination. This is the first nomination in this category for both McCartney and King.

But there's a hitch: No Christmas album has ever won in this category. Bennett's only loss in the category came three years ago when his holiday album, A Swingin' Christmas, lost to Buble's live album, Michael Buble Meets Madison Square Garden.

Seven other holiday albums have been nominated, only to come up short on Grammy night: Barbra Streisand's Christmas Memories, Sarah McLachlan's Wintersong, Bette Midler's Cool Yule, James Taylor's James Taylor At Christmas, Josh Groban's Noel, Barry Manilow's In The Swing Of Christmas and Susan Boyle's The Gift.

This seeming aversion to Christmas albums could also complicate things for King, who is vying to win her first Grammy since her historic sweep in 1972 when she won four Grammys in one night. She was the first female artist to sweep the "Big Three" awards: Album, Record and Song of the Year. (In all the years since, just two female artists, Dixie Chicks and Adele, have equaled her feat.)

McCartney used the Grammy telecast last year to launch his album. He performed "My Valentine" in a segment with Diana Krall and Joe Walsh. Though the album didn't sell as well as expected, it received warm reviews. He has a fairly good chance to win on Feb. 10, though betting against Buble is probably almost as foolhardy as betting against Bennett.

McCartney or King would become the third pop/rock legend to win in this category. The first two were Joni Mitchell, who won for her 2000 album Both Sides Now, and Rod Stewart, who won for his 2004 album Stardust…The Great American Songbook Volume III.

Trailing Bennett and Buble on the list of top winners in this category are Natalie Cole, who has won twice, and Mitchell, Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Patti Page, Harry Connick Jr. and k.d. lang, who have each won once. (lang won for a 2003 collaboration with Bennett.)

A year from now, Stewart is expected to be a finalist in this category with his current hit album, Merry Christmas, Baby. If Buble or King doesn't become the first artist to win in this category with a holiday album, perhaps Stewart will be.