Music | March 15, 2021 10:50 am

How the Grammys Quietly Confirmed the Death of the Album Last Night

Record of the Year was the final award handed out — an atypical choice for music's biggest night

LOS ANGELE(L-R) Billie Eilish and FINNEAS, winners of Record of the Year for 'Everything I Wanted' and Best Song Written For Visual Media for "No Time To Die", pose in the media room during the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards at Los Angeles Convention Center on March 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Billie Eilish and FINNEAS, winners of Record of the Year for 'Everything I Wanted' and Best Song Written For Visual Media for "No Time To Die", pose in the media room during the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards at Los Angeles Convention Center on March 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
Getty Images for The Recording A

More people might be talking this morning about Beyoncé making history at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, or how, just as we predicted, the changes to the show’s format made it one of the most enjoyable in years. But one of the most notable changes at this year’s Grammys signaled something a little more sinister — that the album, in the Recording Academy’s eyes at least, is dead.

This year’s ceremony swapped the order of its Album of the Year and Record of the Year awards, opting to hand out the latter at the end of the show instead of Album of the Year, which has traditionally closed out the proceedings. The implication is that Record of the Year — which recognizes the performance of a single song — is now the night’s biggest award, something that was reinforced by the fact that each Record of the Year nominee got a special clip package dedicated to them throughout the night, the same way the Oscars typically highlight each Best Picture nominee. Album of the Year nominees were all but ignored; two of them didn’t even get to perform during the broadcast (three if you don’t count Coldplay’s Chris Martin playing piano behind Brittany Howard during the show’s “In Memoriam” segment).

The obvious takeaway here is that the Grammys see the album as a dying art form, one that has surrendered its relevancy to the single thanks to the streaming-dominated world we now live in. And it’s true that singles tend to have more impact these days than full albums, particularly with younger listeners who grew up shuffling Spotify playlists instead of flipping a record from Side A to Side B.

But the emphasis on Record of the Year over Album of the Year could also be a way for the Recording Academy to cover its own ass by shifting focus from a category where it has been notoriously out-of-touch. Much ado was made about Beyoncé winning her record-breaking 28th Grammy, but the singer — arguably the most important pop star of her generation — has never won Album of the Year. In fact, no Black artist has won in the category since 2008. Hip-hop has been largely ignored in the Album of the Year category (the most recent hip-hop record to win it was Outkast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below in 2004). And since the award was first handed out in 1957, only 10 artists of color — from any genre — have won the category.

They may try to convince us that albums are becoming increasingly irrelevant, but it could also be that the Recording Academy is trying to divert attention away from its own failings.

You can check out a complete list of winners from this year’s Grammys here.