What a Wicked Way to Treat the Greatest Female Artist: Why the Music Awards Community Should Reevaluate Its Racial Bias

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Do you remember back in 2009 when Kanye West stormed the MTV VMA Awards stage, snatched the microphone away from a doe-eyed Taylor Swift, and claimed that she was undeserving? I mean, who could forget? It was one of the defining moments of 2000s pop culture (and if you haven’t seen it, now is your chance!)

Even though I was a naive 12-year-old at the time, I vividly remember being furious at Kanye. How could he steal the spotlight away from America’s sweetheart? How dare he? It was nearly impossible to empathize with him in that moment—even Obama publicly called him a “jackass.”

Now, in retrospect, I can finally understand Kanye’s message. The problem isn’t necessarily a matter of opinion or just being a sore loser. It’s the symptom of a much larger, complex issue relating to the treatment of black artists in the music industry. The fact that Beyoncé, one of the best-selling artists of all time, lost a prestigious award to an up-and-coming country artist (Remember when Swift actually sang country music? What a wild time) is just one of the various examples of how black artists are marginalized, no matter how successful they are.

Let’s take a look at the past five years of Grammy winners for Album of the Year:

  • 2013: Mumford & Sons wins over Frank Ocean
  • 2014: Daft Punk wins over Kendrick Lamar
  • 2015: Beck wins over Beyoncé
  • 2016: Taylor Swift wins over Kendrick Lamar (déjà vu?)

When the 59th Grammy Awards aired on Sunday, I watched with bated breath and a hopeful heart that this year would break the overly-extended spell of whiteness. I was certain that the entertainment industry had learned its lesson after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy in 2016.

The night started off on a good note after Chance the Rapper became the first black rapper to win Best New Artist since 1999. However, the celebration felt slightly bittersweet, especially once I began to question why it took the Recording Academy a full 18 years to come to its senses.

After the ethereal, game-changing performance by the glowing and very pregnant Beyoncé, there was no doubt in my mind that she would sweep all nine awards that she was nominated for.

 

Boy, was I wrong.

Queen Bey only won two awards that night, losing to Adele for the night’s most prestigious award: Album of the Year.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Adele. The combination of her talent, charm, and humility is both refreshing and endearing. The problem I have is that a wildly successful black woman like Beyoncé shouldn’t have to jump through numerous hoops to receive the same amount of recognition that’s effortlessly gained by a white artist. Year after year, the music industry has shown us that the amount of barriers broken by black artists will never be enough.

It’s simply unacceptable that in the span of her career, Beyoncé has lost in the Grammys top four categories (Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Album of the Year) almost every year she’s been nominated. The last black female artist to win Album of the Year was Lauryn Hill in 1999. In fact, in the entire 59-year history of the Grammys, only 10 black artists have won Album of the Year.

In a recent blog post, singer Sufjan Stevens addressed Beyoncé’s snub by questioning why Best Urban Contemporary Album was awarded to Lemonade instead of Album of the Year:

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.

Even Adele believes that Beyoncé, “the artist of [her] life,” deserved the award. After dedicating the entirety of her Album of the Year speech to Bey, she continued her rant to the press backstage. “My Album of the Year is Lemonade,” said Adele. “It was her time to win. What the fuck does she have to do to win Album of the Year?”

At this point, it’s become clear that there isn’t necessarily anything left for Beyoncé to do in order to prove herself. It’s time for the Recording Academy (and the general music awards community) to acknowledge and correct its long-running discrimination. In the meantime, I guess we’ll just have to rely on Kanye to set the record straight.

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