You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Grammys’ Album of the Year Prize, Once Earmarked for Elders, Now Favors Youth

In the 2000s, seven out of 10 winners were over 40. In the 2010s? Zero. So Madonna and Springsteen fans shouldn't get any hopes up.

In the run-up to the 2020 Grammys, you’ll often hear comments about how Madonna’s “Madame X” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Western Stars” is a shoo-in for an album of the year nomination, if not a win, because the Recording Academy especially likes to reward veterans in that category, as kind of a career achievement nod.

Well, sure … if you haven’t been paying attention for the last decade.

The blue-ribbon committees that narrow down the nominations for the top categories have lately made a point of excluding veteran acts — probably correctly surmising that if they include even one so-called heritage artist, there will be a huge bloc of more traditionally inclined voters that will flock to that elder statesman. And that’s the kind of scenario at least some Academy insiders have been desperate to avoid, ever since a reunited Steely Dan beat a heavily favored Eminem for album of the year in 2000, right when the latter rapper enjoying his cultural summit. (Never mind that “Two Against Nature” was actually an excellent late-career work; that’s to re-litigate another time.)

It’s only in the last decade, though, that the shift away from veterans has become especially apparent. In the ’90s, the trophy went to Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones and Bob Dylan; in the first decade of the 21st century, Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, Robert Plant, Santana and, yes, Becker & Fagen were among the top prize’s winners. But those days were wiped aside in the 2010s: Not one artist over 50 has won the award in the last 10 years — after six out of 10 winners were 50+ the previous decade.

In fact, the average age of winners dropped by a whopping 20 years between the 2000s and the 2010s. This decade, the average album-of-the-year recipient was a youthful 29.3… down from an AARP-eligible 50.8 years old in the 2000s.

Sorry, Madge and Boss buffs: Your heroes are fighting an impossible tide when it comes to an award that, this year, may well go to a (soon-to-be) 18-year-old.

Variety surveyed all the album of the year winners for the last three decades to confirm this marked demographic shift. Here’s the data, with the age of the individual winners at the time of their triumphs. (For group efforts and soundtracks, we picked a frontperson or most prominent contributor… and in the case of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” where that person was the late Ralph Stanley, that did up the average a bit.)

THE 1990s

1990 – Bonnie Raitt (40)
1991 – Quincy Jones (57)
1992 – Natalie Cole (42)
1993 – Eric Clapton (47)
1994 – “The Bodyguard” soundtrack (Whitney Houston: 30)
1995 – Tony Bennett (68)
1996 – Alanis Morissette (21)
1997 – Celine Dion (28)
1998 – Bob Dylan (56)
1999 – Lauryn Hill (23)

Average age in the 1990s: 42.2. (Six out of 10 winners were over 40.)

THE 2000s

2000 – Santana (Carlos Santana: 52)
2001 – Steely Dan (Donald Fagen: 53)
2002 – “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (Ralph Stanley: 74)
2003 – Norah Jones (23)
2004 – OutKast (28)
2005 – Ray Charles (74)
2006 – U2 (Bono: 45)
2007 – Dixie Chicks (Natalie Maines: 32)
2008 – Herbie Hancock (67)
2009 – Robert Plant & Alison Krauss (Plant: 60)

Average age in the 2000s: 50.8. (Seven out of 10 winners were over 40.)

THE 2010s

2010 – Taylor Swift (20)
2011 – Arcade Fire (Win Butler: 30)
2012 – Adele (23)
2013 – Mumford & Sons (Marcus Mumford: 26)
2014 – Daft Punk (Guillaume Emmanuel de Homem-Christo: 39)
2015 – Beck (44)
2016 – Taylor Swift (26)
2017 – Adele (28)
2018 – Bruno Mars (32)
2019 – Kacey Musgraves (30)

Average age in the 2010s: 29.3. (One out of 10 winners was over 40.)

More Music

  • Jason Derulo

    Jason Derulo Celebrates Music Career Milestone, Reveals Action Movie Ambition

    Warner Records celebrated one of its own on Thursday night (Nov. 21), presenting Jason Derulo with a plaque commemorating 190 million overall sales worldwide. The event at the Argyle in Los Angeles came on the heels of his latest release, the EP “2 Sides” (Side 1)” and also marked other milestones. Variety caught up with [...]

  • Trippie Red album cover

    Album Review: Trippie Redd’s ‘A Love Letter to You 4’

    Of the SoundCloud Class of 2016-17, Trippie Redd is just about the last man standing. Lil Pump and 6ix9ine had flashes of mainstream glory but quickly combusted (or worse), Lil Xan and Lil Tracy never quite seemed to get off the ground, and two of the biggest, XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, are no longer with [...]

  • Sam Hunt Country and Pop Hitmakers

    Sam Hunt Apologizes for ‘Selfish’ Decision to Drive Under the Influence

    Country singer-songwriter Sam Hunt, who was arrested in Nashville on charges of driving under the influence and possession of an open container early Thursday morning, tweeted an apology for the incident Friday afternoon. “Thursday night I decided to drive myself home after drinking at a friend’s show in downtown Nashville,” he wrote. “It was a [...]

  • Queen and Slim soundtrack

    Album Review: 'Queen & Slim: The Soundtrack'

    “Queen & Slim,” the film, traffics in sudden tragedy and symbolic terror as it portrays the violence of self-defense and self-awareness in stark, painful terms. It deserves an equally audacious score and soundtrack, a job that has gone to another Devonté Hynes, the British singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer and director in his guise of Blood [...]

  • Michael Jackson in concert in Milton

    Michael Jackson Music Biopic in the Works From 'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King has struck a deal with the Michael Jackson estate for the pop star’s life and music rights, with plans to make a feature film based on both. King has tapped “Gladiator” and “The Aviator” screenwriter John Logan for the project. The film currently has no studio or distributor attached. The [...]

  • Beck

    Album Review: Beck's 'Hyperspace'

    Veering dangerously close to the atom heart of the mainstream does something to an artist of adventure. It can make a superman weak in its presence, like Kryptonite (it took years and Tin Machine for Bowie to recover from “Let’s Dance”), or build a stronger artist by moving ever more consistently into success’s center square, [...]

  • The Edge, Adam Clayton and Bono

    U2 Tops Rolling Stones, Ed Sheeran as Highest-Grossing Touring Artist of the Decade

    U2 topped the Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift as the top-grossing touring artist of the 2010s, according to data from Pollstar. U2 grossed more than a billion dollars — $1,038,104,132, to be exact — although that number is likely to grow, as the group is currently on its “Joshua Tree 2019” tour in Australia, New [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content