Christopher Cross’ 1981 Grammy Sweep Was the Best That He Would Do

In the history of the Academy Awards, only three films have won the Hollywood equivalent of the royal flush — collecting statues for best picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay — and it’s safe to say all have held up fairly well: “It Happened One Night,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Silence of the Lambs.” But where Grammys are concerned, only once has a single artist triumphed in all the general field categories in a single year, and the legacy of that win is a bit more complicated.

In February 1981, soft rock staple Christopher Cross found himself up for six Grammys, including the so-called “big four”: album (for his self-titled LP), song and record of the year (for “Sailing”), as well as new artist. His competition, especially in the album of the year category, was stiff and included Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and Pink Floyd’s masterwork “The Wall.” And yet, against all odds, the 29-year-old Texan took up a permanent position at the podium, collecting all four of the top Grammys, and a fifth one for arrangement.

His time at the top didn’t exactly end there, but Cross’ subsequent commercial decline was still shockingly swift. After a moderately successful follow-up album and an Oscar win for his theme to “Arthur” the next year, Cross proceeded to fall off the pop music map completely, so much so that his historic Grammy night started to seem like something of a curse. (Of course, the less superstitious among us might point to the fact that MTV launched later that same year, quickly birthing a flashier, more Hollywoodized model of pop stardom that seemed to neither suit nor particularly interest an unassuming everyman like Cross.)

This week, both Billie Eilish and Lizzo stand a chance to repeat Cross’ achievement with nominations in all four major categories, the first artists to have that shot since Sam Smith in 2015 (he tapped out with three-quarters of the set and then, like Cross, added an Oscar for original song a year later). Should either of them pull it off, it’s hard to imagine a similar fate in store. But as a wise man once said, “It don’t matter, lose or win / You can deal ’em again.”

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