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February 4 was a big night for Taylor Swift, as she took home her fourth Album of the Year Grammy for “Midnights,” an achievement no other performer has ever managed. The Grammys handing out a fourth Album of the Year trophy to anyone is a big deal. But, strangely enough, Swift’s path to victory this time was arguably smoother than all of her previous wins.
Swift was aided by a couple of factors. The first and perhaps most obvious was that 2023 was simply the year of Taylor Swift. “Midnights” was a huge success commercially, achieving over 1.5 million album units in its first week, her biggest week ever at the time and a remarkable achievement for anyone’s 10th studio album. She followed that with the iconic Eras Tour, which is already the highest grossing tour of all time despite not being over yet. Additionally, the album produced multiple hit singles, including the number-two hit “Karma” and the eight-week chart topper “Anti-Hero.” As such, Swift’s cultural impact was just so great that she could be considered the undeniable artist of the year who thus deserved to win major prizes.
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Now, that’s not to say the album itself wasn’t deserving. “Midnights” was critically acclaimed, scoring 85 on Metacritic. It is clear that pop voters, who are the strongest base of the Recording Academy, also saw “Midnights” as more deserving than the other pop albums nominated. Olivia Rodrigo’s “Guts,” for instance, was more critically acclaimed, but her brand of teenage angst proved less impactful to voters than Swift’s more adult-focused pop music.
There was also SZA’s “SOS,” which many expected would win. However, SZA’s underperformance in the R&B categories (she only won two of her four nominations there) likely showed limited enthusiasm from R&B voters, perhaps due to the album leaning towards hip-hop; R&B voters seem to skew traditional, hence why they go all out for artists like Robert Glasper and Bruno Mars. Pop voters actually seemed to like “SOS” though, giving it a win for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance — over Swift, in fact.
However, pop voters tend to go for more straightforward pop records (consider last year’s Pop Vocal Album and Album of the Year winner “Harry’s House” by Harry Styles). That’s where the more rock-influenced “Guts” and the R&B-hip hop amalgamation of “SOS” probably failed for them. It could be argued that the Grammys preferring the more conventional pop record is a shame. After all, many Album of the Year also-rans have been amazing albums that thrived on experimentation and pushing the envelope.
“Midnights” is also not one of Swift’s most innovative albums. So in reality, while voters definitely seemed to enjoyed the music, the win was likely more for Swift the artist rather than for the recording itself. It looked like all the stars were aligned to give her another win in the category.
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