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Beyoncé only won an 'urban' Grammy last night - here's why that's a problem

I’mma let you finish but…

AS YOU HAVE no doubt heard by now, Adele’s 25 was named Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards last night.

In doing so, Adele defeated Beyoncé, whose visual album Lemonade had been tipped by many to take the night’s big prize.

Adele, a lifelong Beyoncé stan, was well aware that she had upset the apple cart and used her time on the podium to pay tribute to the “beautiful and soul-baring” album that was Lemonade.

Backstage, she told the press that she felt the award belonged to Lemonade.

Also I feel like it was her time to win. My view is kind of, “What the f**k does she have to do to win Album of the Year?”

Indeed.

This was Beyoncé’s third time being nominated for and losing Album of the Year. In 2010, her album I Am… Sasha Fierce was nominated for the prestigious accolade, but lost out to Taylor Swift’s Fearless.

She was nominated for the night’s top honour five years later for her now infamous ‘surprise album,’ but was pipped to the post by Beck’s Morning Phase. (Beck’s victory outraged many at the time with Kanye West going so far as to suggest that Beck give his award to Beyoncé.)

But last night was supposed to be different. After all, 2016 was the year of Beyoncé. You couldn’t swing a cat without stumbling upon Beyoncé swanning around in her ruffled yellow gown, swinging a baseball bat.

giphy (8) Source: Giphy

With Lemonade, she crafted a singular work that wasn’t so much an album as it was an event.

She celebrated blackness and womanhood, and explored the thorny concepts of pain, betrayal and infidelity. She added phrases like, “Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation,” “Becky with the good hair,” and “I slay, okay” to the pop culture lexicon. She inspired countless GIFs.

She delivered a number of breathtaking public performances, including a 16-minute medley at the MTV Video Music Awards, a daring Black Panthers tribute at the Super Bowl. She was behind the highest-grossing concert tour of 2016.

She was vulnerable. She was empowering. She was political. She was human. She was superhuman. She was Beyoncé. 

In the end, she reaped an impressive nine Grammy Awards nominations for her efforts including nods for Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

It was hers to lose, right? Surely the Grammy Awards adjudicators would finally relent and recognise her excellence as an entertainer and visionary?

Er, not so much.

giphy (7) Source: Giphy

Beyoncé lost all her categories, bar two: Best Music Video (Formation) and Best Urban Contemporary Album.

The latter stung. Over the course of her career, Beyoncé has won 22 Grammy Awards, but virtually all of her success has been confined to traditionally black categories like R&B and rap. The urban categories.

In fact, with the exception of Single Ladies being named Song of the Year in 2010, recognition in the mainstream categories has been slow to come for Beyoncé.

This is reflective of a wider problem with the Grammy Awards.

Over the past few years, many music fans have voiced their frustration at black artists like Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé being overlooked for major awards in favour of acts like Mumford & Sons, Taylor Swift and Macklemore.

(For the record, a black artist hasn’t won Album of the Year since 2008. A black female artist hasn’t won since Lauryn Hill triumphed in 1999.)

As this thread neatly illustrates, the Recording Academy has largely failed to recognise some of the biggest musical acts in the world — Beyoncé, Kanye West, Rihanna and Jay-Z, to name but a few — outside of the R&B and rap categories.

Hmm, isn’t that curious?

Beyoncé, Kanye, Jay-Z and Rihanna aren’t niche artists. They’ve sold millions upon millions of albums. They’ve topped the charts. They’re so famous that they basically don’t need surnames, for crying out loud.

And yet the Grammys, ever conservative, continues to keep them at arm’s length and treat them as genre artists, instead of bona fide superstars.

The result? An awards ceremony that is now being accused of “cultural bias” and out of sync with popular music trends.

As Frank Ocean wrote in an open letter to Grammys producers over the weekend:

I’VE ACTUALLY BEEN TUNING INTO CBS AROUND THIS TIME OF YEAR FOR A WHILE TO SEE WHO GETS THE TOP HONOR AND YOU KNOW WHAT’S REALLY NOT ‘GREAT TV’ GUYS? 1989 GETTING ALBUM OF THE YEAR OVER TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY. HANDS DOWN ONE OF THE MOST ‘FAULTY’ TV MOMENTS I’VE SEEN.

Solange shared the open letter following Beyoncé’s loss last night.

With Lemonade, Beyoncé evolved as an artist and continued to set the standard for contemporary pop stars. She created an album that resonated with women and people of colour, and dominated the cultural conversation for the better part of the year.

Adele’s 25 was also a superlative pop album. But was it as vibrant and exciting as its predecessor? Not quite. Was it a patch on Lemonade? Adele didn’t even seem to think so.

Here’s a fact: Gotye, Kings of Leon and Sam Smith have all won Record of the Year. Beyoncé is zero for five in the same category.

For an artist who, as she sings in Formation, “causes all this conversation” to be consistently ignored while flash in the pan artists like fun. and Gotye are readily embraced is frustrating, to the say the least. It suggests that the Grammys has a blind spot at best and a race problem at worst.

This year’s awards ceremony may be done and dusted, but the Grammys would do well to spend some time reflecting on the criticisms being leveled their way.

And you know what we find is a good album to listen to when we’re reflecting on poor life choices? Lemonade.

giphy (9) Source: Giphy

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About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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