The nominations for the 2024 Grammy Awards have just been announced by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Music fans all over the world will be looking forward to the main event on Sunday 4th February 2024, when the awards are handed out.
The Grammys are probably the most prestigious awards in the music industry. And because they’re so well regarded, they’re sometimes used as a measure of the level of success different artists have had. Beyonce, for example, has won more Grammys than anyone else, and sometimes people say she’s the most successful artist of all time because of this.
This sounds like too simple a metric, though, doesn’t it? Can looking at Grammy wins alone tell us who the best artists of all time really are? What about artists who have only released a few hit songs? Or artists who aren’t looking for a broad appeal? Surely just looking at wins alone only shows us artists who have had long careers, appealed to a wide range of people or released a huge amount of material.
Here at BonusInsider, we thought we’d look at the stats on the Grammy Awards in more depth to see if there are better ways of measuring musical success. We dug around in the numbers to find if we could remove things like career length, mass appeal and volume of musical material from the equation. We wanted to look at artists in a much more direct and clear way.
Looking at Grammy Success in More Depth
Beyonce’s a pop star with wide appeal who’s been in the music industry for 26 years. Surely, you’d expect her to pick up some awards in that time. Is she really more successful than Nirvana? Nirvana won 6 Grammys, compared to Beyonce’s 32, but who had the most impact on music and who’s had the most fans throughout the years?
While some artists have long careers and produce hundreds of records, others don’t have so many songs to sing, but maybe their impact on music is just as good or even greater, somehow.
What we decided to do first was look at the number of Grammys different artists have won in relation to the number of singles they’ve released. After this, we then looked at the number of times artists have been nominated for a Grammy, compared to the number of times they’d actually won, to see how many times they had lost a nomination.
Why Did We Look at Singles and Nominations?
We decided to look at the number of singles each artist had released because we believe that just being a prolific artist doesn’t necessarily make you a good one. There are certain artists who have had a broad appeal through the years and released a vast amount of music, and they seem to be favoured unfairly in the award stakes. Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles, for example, all seem like they might be artists who get a lot of recognition for their long careers and wide appeal.
What if you compare one of these artists to Adele? Hasn’t Adele been hugely successful in the awards without having tried anywhere near as hard?
We decided to look at the number of nominations lost to see what happens when things are put up for a vote in the Recording Academy; they vote for the Grammys and the approximately 12,000 people who vote in the Recording Academy are highly knowledgeable musicians, producers and recording engineers. They can, perhaps, give a more balanced account of who the best artists really are.
We gathered up the numbers for every Grammy winner with over 10 Grammys, and then we did the maths. We found 71 artists with 10 or more awards, and of them 49 are non-classical performing artists; these are the artists we focussed on.
Here are the biggest things we found out:
- There are lots of artists who have had a lot of success with only a relatively small number of songs. Half of our first top twenty list are artists who are sometimes forgotten about
- When the votes are cast at the Grammys, there are also lots of slightly lesser-known, but hugely influential, artists who get more recognition than they do just through their number of wins alone
- Some of the big Grammy winners, like Alicia Keys, Paul Simon and Beyonce, are still big winners with our new metrics; they might drop a few places, but they’re still at the top of their game
- Some artists you might have thought were huge drop out completely when you switch up the numbers. Ray Charles, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney are all artists who, maybe, get more recognition than they deserve based purely on Grammy wins
The Most Successful Artists by Ratio of Singles to Grammy Awards
The first thing we looked at was the number of singles compared to the number of Grammy Awards an artist has won.
Here are the most successful Grammy artists according to a ratio of singles released to Grammy Awards won. You can refer to the list at the end of the article, to see a simple ranking of artists according to the total number of Grammys they’ve won.
Here are some of the most interesting results:
- Compared to the list of artists with the most Grammy awards wins, George Harrison, Bobby McFerrin, John Legend, Bonnie Raitt, Eminem, Bruno Mars, the Chicks, Lady Gaga, and Pharrell Williams have all entered the top 20 when the release to wins ratio is applied. That’s 10 artists, and exactly half of the original top 20, replaced by analysing their success with this new metric
- Of the new entrants, Pharrell Williams is arguably the most notable, having gone to number 3 on the list from number 33. It should be noted that he has won 3 awards as a producer rather than as a singer, but his ratio of 22 singles to 13 Grammy wins is still impressive. Bruno Mars has also jumped an impressive 17 places to near the top of the list. The Chicks have also made a big jump from number 37 up to number 5
- The ten artists who left the original top 20 are Jay-Z, Kanye West, Pat Metheny, Bruce Springsteen, Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles and Kirk Franklin. They have won a lot of Grammy awards but they have also released tons of singles throughout their careers
Beyonce vs Adele
As we mentioned earlier, one notable finding is that according to this metric, Beyonce is not as successful as Adele. Adele takes the number one spot, and she is only one song off a perfect ratio! That’s quite astonishing when you look at the ratio other artists have. Adele has a ratio of 0.94, with 17 singles and 16 Grammy Awards. Beyonce, on the other hand, has slipped to 6th place, with a still impressive ratio of 0.38.
Grammys Won vs Grammys Lost
The next statistic we looked at was the number of Grammy Awards each artist had won compared the number of nominations they’d had. This gave us the number of times they had actually lost and what percent of their nominations they have won.
If we look at the total number of Grammys lost, we can easily see that there are no artists with a clean sweep (no lost Grammys), but there are some who’ve done pretty well. Those with the least losses are Carlos Santana, Ella Fitzgerald, and Roger Miller, while those with the most lost Grammys are Alison Krauss, Jay-Z, and Paul McCartney. Those “losers”, however, are also the ones with the most nominations. In other words, the more you are nominated, the more likely it is you will lose; that’s pretty logical since at every awards there are many nominations, but only one winner.
It is much more interesting to see what percentage of the nominations each artist have actually won. These are the biggest Grammy winners when we consider how many times artists have been nominated and the times they have won.
As you can see Mexican-born American guitarist Carlos Santana has had the best score over the years with 10 Grammys out of 14 nominations or a 71.43% win rate. The Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, ranks second with 13 awards and a 65% success rate at the Grammys, followed by English singer-songwriter Adele who has 16 Grammys, which is 64% of her nominations.
Interestingly, there are three entries all sharing 10th place, namely Alicia Keys, Bruno Mars, and CeCe Winans. Each of them has been nominated 31 times and won 15 Grammys, giving them a success rate of 48.39%.
Willie Nelson, on the other hand, is the biggest “loser” in this regard, having been nominated 57 times but winning only 10 Grammy awards. Other artists with a low success rate are Dolly Parton, Babyface, Paul McCartney, and Taylor Swift.
Snoop Dogg’s Bad Luck at the Grammys
Did you know that Snoop Dog has had 17 Grammy nominations without a single win? That’s right. Snoop Dogg has been up 17 times without ever receiving a win. It just goes to show that there’s no comprehensive way of ranking the success of an artist with just the Grammys alone. Snoop Dogg isn’t just a successful rap artist, he’s also hugely influential, and judging him on Grammys alone isn’t fair at all.
The methodology behind this study was relatively simple. What we did was trawl through the records on the Grammys website as well as through various other online resources to get all our raw data on Grammy Awards and Grammy nominations. We then used Wikipedia and Mojim to find out how many singles each artist had released as well.
We compiled statistics for:
- Every Grammy winner that has won over 10 Grammy Awards
- The number of singles each of these artists has released, either as a band or solo artist
- The number of times each of these artists has been nominated for a Grammy
We then looked at various comparisons and ratios to get the ranking charts we’ve shown you. You can see our input data for the top 40 artists ranked by number of Grammy Award wins at the bottom of the page.
Note that we only counted non-classical performing artists on our list.
Difficult Artists – Pat Metheny and Bobby McFerrin
Everything was simple except when it came to Pat Metheny* and Bobby McFerrin*. All the other artists in the dataset were artists with a reliable enough history of releasing songs as singles to successfully use their total number of singles released.
Pat Metheny and Bobby McFerrin are different. Pat Metheny is a band artist who mainly produces albums, and we couldn’t use his singles released total as a reliable metric. Bobby McFerrin has featured in a lot of singles, but he’s well known as a collaborative artist, and he’s collaborated on many more singles than he’s released as a solo artist.
What we did to overcome this was include Pat Metheny’s album releases alongside his single releases to give a more reliable figure. He’s always been an album artist and has been judged more according to his albums. This should be fairly reliably reflected in his Grammy history. For Bobby McFerrin, we included his singles as a collaborative artist alongside his singles as a solo artist.
In conclusion, looking at the total number of Grammy wins an artist has is a useful metric. There’s no simple way of looking at things after all, and it does give you the most basic, but perhaps the most honest account of an artist’s level of success. Who’s to say that just existing in the charts for a long time and having a broad appeal isn’t a great achievement anyway? As such, it’s still very much worthwhile to look at total Grammy wins when measuring a musician’s success levels.
We believe, however, that our study shows that it’s worth looking deeper into the numbers. Looking at the ratio of singles released to Grammys won reveals there are a number of artists who have had a big impact in relatively short periods of time. Adele is one, and she gained most of her success at the very start of her career. She’s also still loved all over the world for the work she did then as well. There’s more to think about when it comes to this metric as well.
Looking at Grammy nominations also tells you a lot about what artists think about other fellow artists. The public as a whole tends to vote in predictable ways, and they also tend to fail to give recognition to artists with a less broad appeal. The people who vote for the Grammys, however, are musicians themselves, and they appreciate good music, whether it has a mass appeal or not. This is a rather more ambiguous figure, but it does give us food for thought.