I’ll admit it: after watching Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly get snubbed for the Album of the Year award in 2016, I had to sit out watching the Grammys this year. TPAB is a masterpiece, incorporating jazz, hip hop, funk, spoken word, and soul. The record touches on a variety of pertinent topics from depression to systemic oppression without ever feeling preachy or forced. To top it off, Lamar gave a jaw-dropping performance at The Grammys in a prison jumpsuit with his hands shackled: a powerful visual message about America’s mass incarceration problem.
Watching live as TPAB was passed over in favor of Taylor Swift’s 1989 was painful. While I definitely enjoyed dancing to a handful of Swift’s fun synth pop tracks, there was no way the album deserved what is generally considered the highest accolade of The Grammys. So, in 2017, when I heard that The Grammys selected Adele’s 25 instead of Beyoncé’s Lemonade for Album of the Year, I was severely disappointed but not at all surprised.
Even Adele expressed that she believed that Beyoncé should have won in her place. When accepting her award, Adele said on stage, “I can't possibly accept this award. The Lemonade album was just so monumental.”
Lemonade blends and transcends genres. Though it was heavily an album about her process of coming to terms with Jay Z’s infidelity, the album also discussed issues of racism and misogyny. In my opinion, the audio itself would be enough to make Lemonade deserving of Album of the Year—but Beyoncé went a step further and made it an hour-long visual album, chock-full of symbolism.
Adele wasn’t the only artist who expressed her disapproval of The Grammys’ decision. Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens wrote a post on his blog to The Grammys titled “Friendly reminder: don’t be racist.” He then continued with the following:
“Q: WTF is ‘Urban Contemporary’?
A: It’s where the white man puts the incomparable pregnant black woman because he is so threatened by her talent, power, persuasion and potential.”
St. Vincent tweeted her support of Sufjan’s statement, writing, “Re: Beyoncé and the Grammys. What Sufjan said.”
Before the 2017 award show even happened, Frank Ocean posted on his blog that he would be boycotting The Grammys, citing their choice of 1989 over TPAB as Album of the Year as one of his reasons:
“If you’re up for a discussion about the cultural bias and general nerve damage the show you produce suffers from then I’m all for it,” Ocean wrote. “Have a good night.”
So, do The Grammys have a race problem? Absolutely. It seems that The Grammys would rather praise standard love song albums by white women than groundbreaking albums tackling social issues by African American artists.
In 2015, Raquel Cepeda wrote in Rolling Stone, “White people rejoice! You've managed to cold-jack yet another awards season … this year the Grammy Awards promise to be a throwback to that time when Shirley Temple got down in blackface.” Cepeda writes that no black artists were nominated for Best New Artist or Record of the Year, but infamously problematic white “rapper” Iggy Azalea was nominated in both of those categories.
Citing the award show’s racism, Drake, Kanye West, and Justin Bieber all boycotted The Grammys this year. The Grammys’ choice of 25 for Album of the Year definitely won’t help to change the growing popular opinion that the show has a race problem. Hopefully in 2018 black artists will get the recognition they deserve, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.