This past Sunday, February the 12th, CBS hosted The 59th Grammy Awards Ceremony. A Grammy is considered to be the most prestigious of all musical honors and as per usual, the glamorous event was filled with star-studded performances and appearances from many renowned artists from a variety of genres, including many well-known black musicians. Some of these artists, like Chance the Rapper, Solange, and Kirk Franklin, left the night with well-deserved validation of their success, shiny new Grammys in tow. However, the successes of these individuals and others like them can’t disguise the fact that it’s 2017 and The Grammys are still maintaining their streak of continuously failing black artists. Though this is certainly not a new issue, the problem was magnified during this year’s ceremony when many took to social media and other platforms in an uproar, calling out The Recording Academy, responsible for allocating Grammys, for overlooking the achievements of blacks in the music industry, even getting the hashtag #GrammysSoWhite trending on Twitter. At the forefront of this conversation was Beyoncé and the claim that she had been snubbed for what is considered to be the highest honor of the night, the award for Album of the Year.
The release of Beyoncé’s critically acclaimed album, Lemonade, was monumental. The beautifully crafted visual album shocked the world with very little promotion and delivered a great deal of depth. Lemonade is a flawlessly executed celebration of love, motherhood, blackness, and womanhood alongside suffering and heartbreak. With Lemonade’s release Beyoncé made Billboard history by being both the first woman to ever have 12 tracks charting at the same time and also the first artist to have their first six albums top the list at number one. These accomplishments don’t even begin to touch on the album’s immense cultural influence. The success of Lemonade earned it the lead in this year’s nominations at 9. Despite all of this, Beyoncé’s Lemonade did not win album of the year and scored 0 wins outside of the “urban contemporary” category. Even Adele, who ended up beating her out for the Album of the Year Award, contested the system by claiming that “[her] album of the year was Lemonade” and that “[Beyoncé] is the icon of [her] whole life”. She further questioned the Recording Academy’s decision to choose her album 25 over Lemonade by exclaiming “What the f*ck does she have to do to win album of the year?”. So far in her career Beyoncé has been nominated for 62 Grammys. She has won 22 of these and of these and 18 of them were in “urban” categories. And it’s not just Beyoncé. Revolutionaries like musical genius, Prince, and rapper, Jay-Z - who had 13 #1 albums – have never received the Album of the Year Award, only scoring in urban categories. And this is just to name a few examples.
The problem with The Grammys this year and many situation similar situations in the past isn’t overt and blatant racism. It’s rather the structural racism that maintains itself systematically. The problem is institutional in that it has the music industry so heavily relying on the influence of black and urban communities, but not paying these communities the acknowledgement they deserve considering the massive cultural impact that they have. It means black artists can only win in black spaces. They only win in the “urban categories”. Black artist perform and entertain at these awards ceremonies, they make record-breaking sales, and are at the forefront of redefining what it means to be a musician. Yet, it is these same artists who are limited to categories like “urban contemporary” regardless of the fact that they’re topping the charts and dominating the mainstream. It may not seem like a huge deal seeing as artists like Beyoncé did score in those categories, but it sends the message that black artists can be great but only for a black artist and black artists only have a chance of winning against other black artists. Music from the hip-hop, rap, and r&b genres are controlling the music scene, competing with top pop and alternative tracks. They are consistently #1 on the charts and being “urban” shouldn’t negate and limit those accomplishments. In light of such issues many artists like Frank Ocean, who withheld from submitting his recent albums for Grammy consideration, are boycotting these events that don’t seem to make space for people like them. Others are protesting like Solange who called on black artists to “Create [their] own committees, build [their] own institutions… and be the gold [they] wanna hold”. People have confronted the system and and tried uprooting the structural racism from its foundation and people have been demanding that black artists receive the respect, validation, and credit they deserve. Black artists are going above and beyond in their work so in the spirit of Adele’s exclamations, what else could there possibly be to do?
By: Adama Kamara, Staff Writer