Beyoncé’s loss reveals race problem
“What the f*** does [Beyoncé] have to do to win Album of the Year?” That’s the question that Adele and an entire nation of black people asked themselves and the Recording Academy last Sunday at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. It’s what I have continued to ask myself, and it is what I’ll ask myself until I figure out the answer.
It wasn’t long after Adele’s Album of the Year title was announced that the internet exploded with backlash against the Academy. Academy. Taking after the famous #OscarsSoWhite hashtag was #GrammysSoWhite, which highlighted the belief held by many that Adele’s win over Beyoncé was race-driven.
A black female artist has not won a Grammy for Album of the Year since Lauryn Hill took home the title in 1999. The way I look at it, there are two possible explanations for the lack of titles. Either black artists just simply aren’t as talented as their white counterparts, or there’s a race problem.
This year, Beyoncé was nominated nine times, including nominations for Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year. Beyoncé has won a total of 22 awards in her career and received a total of 62 nominations. Kanye West, Drake, and Rihanna each earned themselves eight nominations at this year’s Grammy Awards. Chance the Rapper was nominated for seven. In 2016, Kendrick Lamar received eleven nominations and The Weeknd received seven. J. Cole went certified double platinum with no features with his album 2014 Forest Hills Drive, which hadn’t been done in over 25 years. He also went certified gold with no features with his album 4 Your Eyez Only. Alicia Keys has received 39 nominations during her music career and holds 22 awards. Jay Z has been awarded 21 times, and has received over 60 nominations.
That being said, I think we all know the “not as talented” defense is B.S., so let’s get to the real problem. My personal opinion is this: Beyoncé lost because Lemonade made white people uncomfortable.
It’s no secret that Lemonade was a hard-hitting album, the likes of which we really hadn’t seen from Beyoncé before. She has produced numerous award-winning albums and chart-topping singles, but we’ve never quite seen her so unapologetically feminist and black. She gave this album her all, and black people, especially black women, took notice.
The symbolism and message in each of Lemonade’s songs are hauntingly strong. The video “Don’t Hurt Yourself” features clips of black women played one right after the other overlaid with samples from “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?”, a speech by civil rights activist Malcolm X. The video is empowering in every sense of the word. “Sorry” gave us the famous quote, “You better call Becky with the good hair,” a criticism of society’s preference for the white appearance over a darker complexion. “Freedom” is my favorite song on the album. The song emphasizes how important it is to be strong for yourself, regardless of the opinions of those around you. This message is important for young women everywhere who are faced with countless messages that they are lesser than male counterparts. The album’s most famous song, “Formation,” took the country by storm and commanded the attention of anyone who listened. In the song, Beyoncé makes it known that she is damn proud of the black woman that she is. She makes it known that there is strength in being black and that there is strength in being a woman. The title of the album itself comes from a speech from Hattie White, Jay Z’s grandmother. “I’ve had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.”
This album means so much to so many people, myself included. It is more than an album of catchy songs and great beats. It’s more than an album of heartbreak tales or teen angst. It’s an album that looks misogyny and racism in the face and refuses to back down. And if that can’t win Album of the Year, then yeah, there actually is a race problem.