Few records have been as successful as Norah Jones’s 2002 release “Come Away with Me.” The jazz-influenced record was a hot seller, certified diamond in the United States after just three years. Among its many accolades, it won Album of the Year at the 45th Grammy Awards, winning all of its other nominations while at it. This year is the 20th anniversary of the album’s release, so let’s dive into Grammys history to retrace its path to victory and the competition that might almost have stopped it.
“Come Away With Me” was Jones’s first album. As the daughter of Ravi Shankar, one of the most renowned Indian composers of the past century, Jones had music in her DNA, and this release proved her musical prowess. The album was a sleeper hit, first debuting at number-139 in the US and eventually peaking atop the Billboard 200. It earned nominations for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album, as well as Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year for “Don’t Know Why.” Jones didn’t write the song, so she wasn’t credited for the Song of the Year nomination, but she did get an additional nom for Best New Artist.
She wasn’t the only heavy-hitter in her Album of the Year line-up. Eminem was nominated for “The Eminem Show,” widely considered one of his best. The album was also a blockbuster, selling over a million copies in its first full week alone. Also nominated was “Home” by The Chicks, which was also massively successful and established The Chicks as certified Grammy favorites; if was their second Album of the Year nomination following “Fly” just three years prior. Nelly was nominated for his sophomore album, “Nellyville,” which included the classics “Hot In Herre” and “Dilemma” featuring Kelly Rowland. Finally, Bruce Springsteen was in contention for “The Rising,” a successful comeback record and one of his most beloved.
All of the nominated albums were bit hits commercially, which is somewhat rare for the Grammys that often like to include one or two under-the-radar picks. Additionally, all of the nominees ultimately won at least one Grammy. Springsteen took home three, for Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song, and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. Nelly won for Best Male Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, while Eminem won for Best Rap Album and Best Music Video. The Chicks continued their streak of Grammy gold too, winning Best Country Album, Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and Best Country Instrumental Performance.
Since the race was so heavily stacked, Jones did not enter the Grammys as the undoubted front-runner, despite what her wins might suggest. Slant Magazine not only did not predict Jones for a single one of the big four awards, but pretty much deemed her a non-factor in Record and Album of the Year. Entertainment Weekly polled multiple industry insiders, and while Jones came out on top of the survey for Record and Song of the Year, Bruce Springsteen and Eminem also got a lot of votes. For Album of the Year, most people agreed Springsteen would win, especially with how “The Rising” was inspired by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Predictions that year were somewhat similar to how people were predicting Billie Eilish in 2020: many had her only for Song of the Year and Best New Artist, while some had her for all but Album of the Year and some had her for everything.
So how did Jones sweep? It might have been her sound. It’s no secret that the Grammys love young, female pop artists with artistic credibility (see also: Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Taylor Swift). And Jones was the perfect artist for the Grammys’ tastes, with a soft, accessible sound that often crossed multiple genres from pop to jazz to folk. Jones also played her own instruments and wrote some of the songs on the album, which was even more Grammy bait. And Springsteen had already gotten his time to shine, while Eminem’s harsh rap-rock sensibilities were still a bridge too far for musically conservative voters.
In the end, “Come Away With Me” remains one of the most impressive Grammy sweeps in modern history, and it’s perhaps the most iconic out of its lineup to this day, easily enjoyed by both music experts and the general public. While many would argue that Eminem and Springsteen are overdue for the top award — which isn’t necessarily wrong — 2003 just wasn’t their year to win. And hey, Eminem fans, if you’re looking for a year to bash the Grammys for not giving Em the top honor, Steely Dan and the 2001 Grammys are right there.
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