Like most other major 2017 media events, the Grammys are all about overall narrative, and no single category among the awards tends to dictate the overall story of the night more than album of the year.
Unlike some of the other major award shows, where winners feel largely pre-determined and upsets are rare, front-runners only lead the pack so much at the Grammys, and all nominees go into the night with at least an outside shot of going home with the hardware. So when the show is done, there'll be five potential lead stories to headline remembrances of the proceedings.
What would it mean about the Recording Academy's voting -- and maybe about popular music in general -- if each of the five nominees for the biggest category at music's biggest night captured top honors? Let's take our best guesses.
What a win means: Traditionalism still holds strong at the Grammys.
No matter what the year and no matter what the competition, an album like Adele's 25 will always be a logical choice for Grammy album of the year. A blockbuster of unprecedented proportions -- and seemingly impossible scale for 2017 -- from an industry-beloved artist, 25 basically checks all the boxes: It's a pop record, but with the necessary critical signifiers (confessional songwriting, technical vocal prowess, classic-sounding production) to still curry favor with the rock crowd. It wouldn't be the boldest choice, and many fans would argue that previous albums19 and 21 (the latter winning the award in 2012) were more deserving, but if a sketch artist was to draw up the ideal AOTY winner for the Grammys, it'd still look a lot like 25.
What a win means: Time for a change at the Grammys (and elsewhere).
Beyonce is a three-time nominee for album of the year, previously losing the award to Taylor Swift in 2010 and (somewhat infamously) Beck in 2015. Her case for it this year may be her strongest yet: Having settled into the role of critical darling as well as world-conquering pop star with he surprise self-titled record, she releasedLemonade last year to her most unanimous acclaim to date, and awesome sales numbers to boot.
Those numbers don't come anywhere near that of 25, mind you, but while Adele is the poster girl for traditional Grammy success, Beyonce is the face of Grammy progressivism: Lemonade is the most explicitly message-driven of the AOTY nominees, and arguably the most sonically adventurous as well. A vote for Queen Bey will be a vote for modernization at the Grammys -- and perhaps a vote for greater activism in general, as some insiders have speculated that anti-Trump sentiment will spur the Academy to lean towards Lemonade for political reasons.
Justin Bieber, Purpose
What a win means: Blockbuster pop is the new blockbuster rock at the Grammys.
Despite having previously won the award in 2010 for Fearless, Taylor Swift's album of the year victory with 1989 at the '16 Grammys came as something of a surprise to some. Despite the prestige and the continually staggering sales, 1989 was, at its core, a very mainstream pop record. Such records haven't often fared well in 21st century album of the year voting -- artists with major commercial success have had better AOTY odds if they come from the rock world, like Santana, U2 or Mumford and Sons.
But as much of a sea change as 1989's win might've portended, it'd be nothing compared to the implications of a Purpose victory. While Swift was an industry darling almost instantly, Justin Bieber would've been considered virtual anathema to the Grammys' major categories as recently as an album ago, as his music was largely dismissed as disposable teen pop and his troublemaking public persona earned him little adult respectability. But Purpose had songs strong enough to carry a redemption story -- and to place him back at top 40's center, with a trio of Hot 100-toppers that forced the grown-ups to pay attention, too. A win for Bieber one year after 1989 took top honors would cement that such pop success is now as meaningful a path to the Academy's good graces as similar rock success was ten years ago.
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