It’s been nine days since the Grammy’s aired and I’m still registering everything that happened. In short, I found the Grammy awards and I found them…very boring. Aside from Beyoncé’s show-stopping performance, while she was 3 and a half months pregnant, nothing about the show was very impressive. In fact, the show was very predictable and overall it was a poorly produced show.
While I could go on and on about the shortcomings of Sunday’s ceremony, I’m going to focus on the tragedy that was Beyoncé’s loss of Album of the Year. Don’t get me wrong – I not discrediting Adele’s success or talent. In fact, my disappointment and frustrations are aimed primarily at the Recording Academy. To put it bluntly, Adele winning Album of the Year for 25 over Beyoncé’s Lemonade confirms that the monumental impact of Lemonade and its effect on culture for the past year was considered too radical, too “urban”, too musically diverse and too forward thinking for the very traditional and culturally out of touch Recording Academy’s tastes.
The Recoding Academy has a long history of overlooking radical and forward thinking artists work (especially in genres that are dominated by black artists like R&B and Rap) and instead placing focus on safer, more mainstream, more commercial and more “accessible” (read more white) artists and music.
For example, there was last year when Taylor Swift’s commercially successful pop album 1989 won the award over Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed conscious rap masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly. In addition, Kendrick and his widely-acclaimed album good kid m.A.A.d. city losing 3 Grammys, including Best New Artist and Best Rap Album to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and their album The Heist respectively. The duo is a mediocre rapper-producer team in comparison to the lyrical and conscious rap-genius that is Kendrick Lamar and their album is middle-of-the-road radio-friendly pop-rap. While I don’t discredit any artist’s talent or accomplishments, as a rap music and hip hop fan, there isn’t any comparison between the two artists in terms of talent and acclaim within the rap genre.
Many hip hop acts have been snubbed over the years. Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2010’s most critically acclaimed album, wasn’t nominated for Album of Year. Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP was nominated back in 2001 but lost to jazz-rock duo Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature, a traditional and safe middle of the road album. In fact, the last time that a female hip hop act won the Album of the Year was back in 1999 when Lauryn Hill Won for her still fresh sounding The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
While these snubs are in large part due to the overt genre bias exhibited by the Recording Academy as well as the Academy’s more subtle racial bias in selecting nominees and winners, they can’t be blamed entirely.
Today there is much more music being released today than ever before thanks in great part to the internet and inventions that utilize the internet. Streaming services like Spotify and video platforms like YouTube are becoming the methods that new artists are using to distribute their music to the public.
It would be impossible for The Recording Academy to take into serious consideration all of the artists who release music in a given year. So naturally, they gravitate their nominations to artists and albums that are buzzworthy in the media and commercially successful, with their critical accolades and taking a diminished importance.
In an age where there is an abundance of music available for consumption attention becomes the resource that is scarce, the one thing that everyone wants but can’t have due to there not being enough. The result is equating commercial success and media attention with critical acclaim even when it’s further from the truth.
With this being said Lemonade was a buzzworthy and commercially successful album mostly due to Beyoncé herself. But what made Lemonade the critically acclaimed and culturally monumental album that it is, is that it was an audiovisual declaration by an artist who, after nearly 20 years as a commercially successful and culturally relevant entertainer, released a work that showed a side of herself many artists with comparable careers are hesitant to show.
Lemonade was a cultural movement for many black women (and black men) simultaneously empowered them while at the same time humanizing one of the industry’s most notoriously private and celebrated entertainers.
Adele’s acceptance speech for Album of the Year was dedicated to Beyoncé. Her declarations about Beyoncé and Lemonade is proof of how even she, as a fellow BeyHive Premium member, believed that the award was rightfully Beyoncé’s. Adele even elaborated on her speech in her press interviews following her win, summing up her disappointment by saying “What the f*** does Beyoncé have to do to win Album of the Year?”
If you take a closer look at Lemonade’s Grammy nominations, much of the work on the album was recognized, with “Formation”, “Hold Up”, “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, and “Freedom” all securing nominations. On the other hand, “Hello” was the only song from 25 that garnered Grammy nominations. How could a significant portion of Lemonade be recognized with nominations, but not be worthy of the night’s top award?
In my eyes, the snub to Beyoncé also came in the form of being awarded the award for Best Urban Contemporary Album (an award that didn’t exist until 2013) which can best be summarized as a bastard subcategory of R&B that the Academy created to exclude the musically eclectic albums of non-white artists from the pop category. This segregation is once again due to the overt genre bias and subtle racial bias of the Academy’s voting process. If Beyoncé was a white artist, a change in a few lyrics and in subject matter would result in Lemonade being categorized as a pop album and her nominations would have reflected that.
If Google “urban contemporary music” you’ll find that it’s basically every popular music genre under the sun (pop, rock, EDM, R&B, etc.) with the modifier that it caters to/is performed by primarily to African American artists.
But if it caters to/is performed by non-white audiences, it’s just called pop music. Beyoncé is a pop star in every sense of the word. She’s one of the biggest stars on the planet. She’s also one of the most accoladed artists as well. She’s the most nominated female artist in Grammy awards history and the second most accoladed female artist, with 22 of those gramophone trophies to her name. But a closer look at her awards and one will notice that all but 1 of her Grammy awards are in the R&B and Pop categories. The only general category Grammy that she’s won is Song of the Year, which she won for Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) in 2010.
As one of the most accoladed artists in Grammy history, it’s surprising that she’s only won a single general category award. The Grammy’s invite Beyoncé to the annual ceremony year after year to perform and shower nominations on her, but when it comes time to give credit where it’s due, they Grammy’s would rather take the safer, more traditional route when selecting a winner.
Over the years we’ve seen Beyonce grow from a commercial R&B entertainer while in Destiny’s Child and in her early solo work, into a conceptual artist who is a master of her craft as an artist and performer and continually pushes to challenge herself artistically. In the years to come, Lemonade will likely stand among Beyonce’s best work and will eventually be considered Beyonce’s magnum opus. So while the grammy’s missed the opportunity to award what is a classic album by one of the biggest artists of our time, the effect that Lemonade had on the music industry and pop culture won’t be forgotten.