As is the case every year, the Grammy Awards overtook social media with a flood of hot takes regarding nominees and winners. People love music, and after a year of falling in love with new albums, it only makes sense that people’s passions rise when the day of the awards ceremony finally arrives. There are a few categories, however, that are overlooked each year. Among these categories, which are typically cut from the evening ceremony and made part of a daytime broadcast, is the category for Best Musical Theater Album, and a trend in its recent winners suggests a laziness on behalf of Grammy voters.
In 2020, the nominees in this category were Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Hadestown, and Oklahoma!, as well as The Music of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — In Four Contemporary Suites. In the end, Hadestown ended up winning. Anaïs Mitchell’s musical retelling of the Opheus and Eurydice myth manages to tackle themes of love, climate change, and the dangers of capitalism, winning eight 2019 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Therefore, it may seem unsurprising that it would also have a wonderful cast album. Research into the subject, however, highlights a somewhat concerning trend.
That is not to say that Hadestown did not make a wonderful album that deserves recognition. It's definitely well–produced, and all of the actors make the sublime score their own. Sincerity and emotion drip the from album, making it clear that Anaïs Mitchell and the other members of put their hearts and souls into it. With a release date delayed on four separate occasions, the album is steeped in effort.
Nevertheless, it's not perfect. Some of the songs, such as “Road to Hell” and “When the Chips are Down” are slowed down in a way that strips them of the energy they hold on stage, and some of the best vocal moments, such as in “Flowers," are removed without explanation. Meanwhile, the cast recording of the Oklahoma! revival features wildly transformed orchestrations and a masterful reworking of the “Dream Ballet.” The cast recording of Indecent, arguably the best theatre–related album to be released in a year, wasn't even nominated.
Nevertheless, even if the Hadestown cast recording were the absolute best album, the concern still remains. Over the past few years, it appears as if the winner for Best Musical Theater Album at the Grammys is always the Best Musical or Best Revival of a Musical winner at the Tony Awards. Since 2000, only five of the winners of Best Musical Theater Album have not fallen into one of these categories, and in all five cases, each were nominees. Moreover, since the recording of Beautiful: The Carol King Musical won in 2015, all of the winners also received Best Musical or Best Revival in the summer.
During the 20th century, an era in which musicals had a seemingly permanent place in the mainstream, this sloppy trend wasn't the case. Though Tony winners often did well at the Grammys, they didn't always win, which isn't entirely surprising. After all, a cast recording is a different art form than a musical. To suggest every Best Musical has a cast album deserving of a Grammy would be like saying every film adaptation of a New York Times Bestseller automatically wins an Oscar.
This prevailing trend of always selecting the Best Musical Winner suggests a laziness on the behalf of the voters. It’s no secret that musical theatre is far from being popular—that's absolutely fine. Nobody has to love all music, but all Grammy voters should listen to the albums on which they are voting. After all, if the voters are disinterested in the musical theatre category, you can only wonder how many of the other “minor” awards receive minimal effort. The Best Audiobook award, for instance, is almost always given to the memoirs of famous icons, such as Michelle Obama, which begs the question: did the voters only look for names they recognize?
In the end, everyone knows award shows don't always represent the opinions of the general public. So complaining about them is often pointless. However, the people involved in the so–called “minor” categories—who in fact outnumber those involved in the “major” ones—deserve respect as well.