Biggest Grammy upsets through the years: From Beyoncé's snub to Lionel Richie's shock win


When the 66th annual Grammy Awards kick off this Sunday, many are expecting SZA, Victoria Monet and Taylor Swift to sweep the boards.

But music’s biggest night has seen its fair share of surprises throughout the years.

As we brace ourselves for a shocker - or two, The Standard looks back on some of the biggest Grammy Award upsets of all time.

Beyoncé’s Album of the Year heartbreak

Beyoncé's 2013 self-titled visual album shook up the industry like few others when it dropped. After previously missing out on the Album of the Year for I Am... Sasha Fierce in 2008, Beyoncé seemed overdue for a win.

So Beck’s win for Morning Phase really left fans thinking – WTF? And history repeated itself again two years later when Adele picked up Album of the Year for 25 over Beyoncé's Lemonade in 2017.

While a deserved winner, Adele too was stunned by her win and kicked off her emotional speech by saying: “I can’t possibly accept this award, and I’m very humbled, and I’m very grateful and gracious, but the artist of my life is Beyoncé.”

Just when fans thought the Texas-born star would finally win the coveted award for her musical masterpiece, Renaissance, in 2023, Harry Styles’ release Harry’s House swooped in to take the top prize home.

Adele celebrates her album of the year award at the 2017 Grammys (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Adele celebrates her album of the year award at the 2017 Grammys (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black misses out

While music lovers appreciate the exceptional quality of 2007’s River: The Joni Letters, where jazz legend Herbie Hancock beautifully reinterprets Joni Mitchell's songs with contributions from Leonard Cohen, Tina Turner, and Norah Jones - Amy Winehouse’s Back To Back was a masterpiece.

The Grammys voting panel could not have known that Hancock would ultimately outlive Winehouse and that Back to Black would become her final album.

Some may argue that if any album deserved to beat the British artist’s magnum opus for Album of the Year in 2008, it should have been Kanye West’s Graduation.

Drake, Justin Bieber and Florence + Machine Best New Artist award upset

Being nominated for Best New Artist, based on 2010’s Chamber Music Society, was a major win for jazz singer-bassist Esperanza Spalding.

Despite tough competition from Drake, Florence + the Machine, Justin Bieber, and Mumford & Sons, she made history as the first jazz artist to clinch the award in 2011.

It’s not the first time the Best New Artist category has caused some upset. In 2013, Fun., a pop-rock trio on indefinite hiatus, bagged the coveted honour over Frank Ocean.

Prior to that Bon Iver had heads scratching in 2011 when they were nominated in the category, despite releasing their debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, in 2007. Even more surprising was that they trumped bigger contenders like Nicki Minaj, The Band Perry, J. Cole and Skrillex to the gramophone.

Frank Ocean missing out on Best New Artist in 2013 left many scratching their heads (PA Archive)
Frank Ocean missing out on Best New Artist in 2013 left many scratching their heads (PA Archive)

O Brother, Where Art Thou? trumps U2

In 2000, U2 appeared poised for Grammy success with All That You Can't Leave Behind, their second Album of the Year nomination since 1987's The Joshua Tree.

Yet, the music academy had other ideas when T Bone Burnett's roots-music soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? – a film starring George Clooney, inevitably took home the golden gramophone.

Ray Charles’ posthumous nod

Ray Charles received deserved recognition for a duets album released shortly after his passing.

However, while no one disputes his talent, some may question the choice of Genius Loves Company winning Album of the Year over contenders like Green Day’s American Idiot, Alicia Keys’ The Diary of Alicia Keys, Usher’s Confessions, and Kanye West’s The College Dropout – arguably several of the best music releases in the 21st century.

Lionel Richie triumphs over Prince and Bruce Springsteen

In 1984, music lovers were treated to an incredible lineup for Album of the Year, boasting gems like Tina Turner’s Private Dancer and Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual.

While everyone anticipated a nail-biting battle between Prince's Purple Rain and Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A., Lionel Richie swooped in with Can’t Slow Down, clinching the Grammy's top trophy in 1985.

The Beatles’ Revolver looked over

In 1965, The Beatles faced a setback when A Hard Day’s Night lost to Mary Poppins for Best Original Score.

However disappointment continued the following year when their iconic album Revolver was passed over for Album of the Year in favour of Frank Sinatra’s A Man and His Music, mainly featuring re-recorded tracks. Many felt The Fab Four were unjustly denied recognition once again.