Beyoncé BLOOPED us all last year with the surprise release of BEYONCE, her fifth studio record and, as far as I’m concerned, the best album she’s ever made. As we know by now, the album dropped as a complete surprise right after we had all been scalped to death by the mid-season finale of Scandal. She sold 828,773 copies worldwide in three days and just generally left the children gasping for air. While I was trying to understand the situation this time last year I remember thinking, “Welp, Beyoncé just snatched up all the Grammy awards!”
And it’s true: this year she was nominated for Album of the Year, Best R&B Performance, Best Urban Contemporary Album, Best R&B Song, Best Music Film and Best Surround Sound Album. Six nominations is all fine and well, but the problem for many critics is that Beyoncé is constantly stuck in the historically black categories, which some rightly see as evidence of a broader racial divide within the music industry. As Chris DeVille at Stereogum points out, “The Record Of The Year nominees: All white. The Song Of The Year nominees: All white. The Best New Artist nominees: All white,” all categories where Beyoncé should have been nominated.
I think it’s well worth calling out the musical racism at the Grammy Awards, or why white artists always come out on top. But — seriously and for real — does anyone give a fuck about the Grammys? Literally anyone? Do you think Beyoncé looses sleep at night worrying about Grammy categories? No she does not. She lifts Blue IV out of her gilded playpen and logs into her Bank of America account, laughing at all the zeros in it.
Today, the Grammy Awards are more about publicity and bland commercialism than they are about celebrating interesting new ideas in popular music. Winning a Grammy is not automatically a fabulous career boost. The Grammys are about record sales, sure, but what they are not about is talent and artistic prowess. They are about what is on the radio not the more interesting, less-commercial music you’ll stumble onto on a blog. Will anyone be talking about Iggy Azalea in 5 years? In 10 years?
I’m reminded of Chris Rocks’ insightful remarks that Hollywood is a white industry, that it’s an industry that privileges white people just like basketball is a black industry. This is deeply problematic, and it’s even more troublesome if you don’t see what’s wrong with it. Throughout the history of popular music we have seen countless examples of white singers profiting 10-fold on black sounds and black singing styles. Though this doesn’t make the Grammys musical racism any less unfortunate it should make you wonder why we need to judge black talent with a measuring stick that wasn’t meant for us in the first place.
“Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?,” Chuck D rapped. I sure as hell do not. Okay cool, so the little sticker they add to your record when you win (to sell more copies) is pretty cute and it sounds nice and impressive to have won 200 Grammy Awards and that’s a neat thing to put in your Tinder profile. But that’s not where legends are made. Legends are made on stages. They’re created through their timeless performances and rabid fan base. Legends are above earthy categorizations and are only measured against their last success.
That’s why we need to focus more on artistic talent, innovation and creativity and less on how a black artists’ work is perceived and graded by a board of white guys in suits. BEYONCE is a critically acclaimed record on all counts, and one or two extra Grammy awards or nominations won’t cement her artistic legacy.