Study: Grammys Change Artists

Research finds more innovation on the next album
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 17, 2022 12:50 PM CDT
Study: Grammy Win, or Loss, Affects the Artist's Music
Billie Eilish holds her collection of new Grammys in January 2020.   (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

A few of the ways that winning a Grammy Award—or even being nominated for one—changes life for artists are obvious. They're even more famous, have greater leverage when cutting deals, and often watch their record sales skyrocket, the BBC reports; Adele's 21 had a 207% increase after winning best album in 2012, despite already being a worldwide hit. But for those who say it's all about the music, there are effects to be seen there, too. Winning a Grammy appears to embolden artists to innovate on their next album, research suggests. On the other hand, nominees who aren't called to the stage can withdraw artistically to the familiar, displaying less creativity.

Three university researchers—from Yale, Stanford, and Emory—analyzed winners in the four main categories from 1959 through 2018. They settled on a typical sound for each genre by using Spotify metadata and the AllMusic database. That, in turn, allowed them to determine how much an album deviated from "typical." Grammy recognition may give artists the confidence and clout to buck record companies that want the most commercial product possible, the study suggests. "Think about Fleetwood Mac going from Rumours to Tusk," said professor Giacomo Negro, a co-author. "The songwriting is more sparse, and you even have influences from post-punk. It's a very different album."

Examples can be found from the Beatles, who changed direction after Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, to Billie Eilish. Eilish swept the major categories with her 2019 debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Instead of playing it safe, her follow-up, Happier Than Ever, got lyrically deeper while musically touching bossa nova and grunge rock, per the BBC. But the research found it can work the other way, too. Artists who were nominated but lost next made albums that were less special, echoing other music in the genre. "By implication," the study said, "the award system apparently exerts a chilling impact on artistic differentiation." (More Grammy Awards stories.)

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