Before you read my take, go read these pieces by Dr. Brittney Cooper: http://www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/music/a8775477/adele-black-friends-at-the-grammys/
and Luvvie Ajayi: http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/2017/02/2017-grammys-recap.html
When Beyoncé’s tour de force album Lemonade won Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards last night, I began to worry about her chances for Album of the Year. Queen Bey probably already knew what was likely to happen and gave an incredible acceptance speech explaining that her intention in making Lemonade was to “give a voice to our pain, our struggles, our darkness, and our history — to confront issues that make us uncomfortable” (read full transcript), and speaking about the importance of representation within the most visible arenas of our society.
Then, one by one, all the major awards — Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and, most importantly, Album of the Year — began to be claimed by Adele. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Lemonade was being ghettoized by the Grammy voters, recognized as one of the top achievements within “black” music, but not within all music. This, despite the fact that Beyoncé put in double the work of all the other nominees by essentially creating two albums, one audio and one visual — there are significant differences in the audio and visual versions of various songs on Lemonade.
Lemonade was not only Bey’s most ambitious project to date, but also her most diverse in terms of representation of genres. From rock (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”) to country (“Daddy Lessons”) to ballad (“Sandcastles”), to her trademark contemporary and hip-hop influenced R&B, the Queen covered virtually every major genre of contemporary American popular music on Lemonade. And it is quite clear, particularly from the exquisite “Daddy Lessons,” that she was making a statement with her wide-ranging genre choices: don’t y’all forget that black music, particularly southern black music, is the foundation for American popular music. Incidentally, beyond the biggest snub of not awarding Lemonade Album of the Year, “Daddy Lessons” should have been nominated for Best Country Song and/or Best Country Solo Performance.
I loved Adele’s acceptance speech (read full transcript), and her acknowledgement that it was Lemonade, not her own album, that truly deserved to win Album of the Year. It was gracious and moving and she rightly highlighted the monumental importance of Bey’s creation, primarily for women, and even more particularly for black women. I particularly loved that she thanked Bey for showing us a part of herself that she rarely shares with the world. The world’s biggest pop star put her business out in the streets for us all to see, and I believe she did this to tell women that she understands how it feels to be betrayed, and that it’s ok to give your betrayer another chance; it doesn’t make you less of a feminist, and it doesn’t mean you don’t love yourself. Those multiple stages of grief that are represented in Lemonade — jealousy, rage, humiliation, acceptance, forgiveness — are a tremendous affirmation of so many women’s experiences, both black and non-black.
Notwithstanding its cross-racial appeal, Lemonade was clearly about black (female) self-love, and this is the reason that the Grammy voters, long biased towards white artists — exemplified in the fact that only three black women (Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston, and Lauryn Hill) have won Album of the Year in the institution’s history — did not give it the biggest prize of all. I can only assume that in their minds an album centered on and affirming black women’s experiences and subjectivity is not “universal” enough to win the top prize. This is another way that white privilege works, by making whiteness and its creative products the norm/standard without ever assigning a racial identity to them. In other words, when Adele wins AOTY, her whiteness is invisible; she’s not a “white” artist, she’s simply an artist. As she said after her win on Sunday night, “What the fuck does [Beyoncé] have to do to win Album of the Year?” I think we all know the answer to that: she has to be white.
Postscript: Yesterday excerpts from a NY Times article were circulated on Twitter revealing that senior record executives made a conscious decision not to nominate “Daddy Lessons” for Best Country Song because they felt that Beyoncé was trying to “run the table” on nominations in diverse categories. In other words, they basically punished Lemonade for its incredible diversity of musical representation. You can be damn sure that if a white artist had made an album this wide-ranging, it would be a shoe in for Album of the Year. Basically, instead of being celebrated for her range and versatility, Beyoncé was punished for straying outside her narrow “black music” lane and told to stick to “urban contemporary.”