Beyoncé Snubbed Again: Antiquated Awards Shows Must Go

Beyonce’ lost Album of the Year…again. This isn’t news. In fact, it’s as dependable as the Earth rotating around the sun.

Let’s talk about why.

Beyonce wears a silver and gold gon, with black gloves and stands in front of a microphone while holding a gramophone shaped award.
Beyoncé accepting the award for Best Dance/Electronic Album at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards

Beyoncé lost Album of the Year… again. This isn’t news. In fact, it’s as dependable as the Earth rotating around the sun. Despite this, I’m as disappointed this year as I was in 2010, 2015, and 2017. It denies all logic. How can one be the most winningest artist, yet never have won Album or Record of the Year? Her continuous record-breaking is a mockery if the biggest award of the night is held just out of her reach.

Beyoncé has been nominated for a total of 79 Grammys. She’s won 32, which makes her the most awarded artist in Grammy history. Each year, the Grammys totes out Beyoncé’s groundbreaking amount of awards as a way to pacify her fans. We’re never surprised when she loses. In fact, many Black fans started predicting her probable loss as soon as Renaissance won Best Dance/Electronic Album. 

To be clear: Renaissance deserved every win that it got. Renaissance was produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, during a time when people around the world were forced to isolate. Beyoncé sought to inspire joy and escapism in her listeners with the album’s release and it worked. The seamless arrangements (that Cuff It-Energy-Break My Soul run is undefeated!) invoke the club era. The disco and house beats transport us back to the ’70s, a time when Black and queer artists were pioneers of the craft.

Renaissance is Beyoncé’s seventh album to debut at number one on the US Billboard 200 Chart and is certified platinum. Critics have lauded the albums cohesiveness along with her incredible vocal performance. It’s the most critically acclaimed album of 2022 and was named Album of the Year by numerous publications, including the L.A. Times, NPR, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and The New York Times. The Recording Academy itself gave Renaissance a record-breaking nine awards, of which it won four.

Beyonce-in a multi faced silver helmet stars at the camera, her eyeshadow and lips are both a light purple.
Beyonce in the “I’m That Girl” Official Trailer.

There’s no reason why Renaissance lost Album of the Year, barring the obvious. The Recording Academy wants to keep Beyoncé in the lane they place Black artists in. Any time she tries to break free, they find new ways to punish her for doing so. What lane is that, you may ask? Friends, it’s the categories of “R&B”, “Rap” or “Urban Contemporary”. If you pay attention to Beyoncé’s history of Grammy wins, you’ll see a pattern. Of Beyoncé’s 32 Grammy wins (both as a group and an individual), 24 fit into these three categories, with “R&B” seeing Beyoncé win 18 Grammys.

Another way to read these numbers? 75% of Beyoncé’s Grammy wins are for “R&B”, “Rap” or “Urban Contemporary”.  

Interestingly enough, Beyoncé’s Grammy snubs seemingly coincide with her deep dive into her own culture. There’s no doubt that as her career has progressed, Beyoncé’s moved towards art that is narratively driven. Art that explores the varied and joyful culture and legacy found in Black art. 2013’s Self-Titled was an exploration of Bey’s own womanhood, sexuality and sensuality after becoming a mother in 2012. As we know, Lemonade saw Beyoncé dive deep into her own emotional turmoil following the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. 

Lemonade is perhaps the first time we see Beyoncé begin to explore how generational and racial context can be applied both to her own journey and to her music. She specifically wanted to show how the historical impact of slavery created Black families that have been almost socialized not to be together. Within her own family, Beyoncé explored themes of breaking generational curses. Those curses include a history of broken relationships and a forced relationship between a slave owner and an enslaved person. Bey even tackles Jay-Z’s cheating on her as she also reckoned with her father, Matthew, cheating on her mother Tina.

Beyonce smiles as she walks past a department store, wearing a yellow, ruffled dress.
Beyoncé in the visual album for Lemonade.

It was the first time that Beyoncé’s music was so openly Black and many people were shocked. There was even an SNL skit about how shook white people were to realize Beyoncé was Black. Lemonade was her first album that showcased her incredible versatility, crossing genres including reggae, blues, rock, soul, funk, Americana, country, trap and more. The album remains Beyoncé’s most acclaimed studio album, having been named the the greatest album of the 2010s. It’s number 32 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Best Albums of All Time. It even won a Peabody (the industry’s Pulitzer equivalent) and yet, of its nine Grammy nominations, the only ones it won were Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best Music video (Formation). 

Lemonade was followed by Beychella, aka Homecoming, her HBCU-inspired Coachella performance, Netflix film, and live album. Another link to Beyoncé’s unapologetically Black experience, and another way in which she sought out, highlighted and lauded Black creatives across musical (and dance) disciplines. Beyoncé, for two weekends, turned a white-dominated desert music festival into a celebration of a uniquely Black experience. 

This was quickly followed up by Everything is Love, an album exploring themes of Black love, wealth, power and pride. The cover art, showcasing Jasmine Harper and Slick Stewart, two of her dancers, in front of the Mona Lisa, with Jasmine picking Slick’s hair is another peek into Beyoncé’s mind. She works to blend her two worlds — her Blackness and her massive wealth. Signifiers of wealth like mansions, diamonds, and Lamborghinis are interspersed within messages of Black capitalism, reparations, and uplifting Black people. This project, like many of Beyoncé’s, was nominated for and won Best Urban Contemporary Album. 

A woman in a brown sports bra and a male are in front of the Mona Lisa. The woman is parting the male's hair with a pick.
Jazmine Harper and Slick Stewart. Cover Art for Everything is Love.

In 2019, Beyoncé starred in Disney’s live remake of The Lion King, voicing adult Nala, and gave us a corresponding album The Gift. The Gift was produced by African producers and celebrated African and Black music traditions. The project promoted unity across the diaspora serving up themes of self-worth, ambition, power and parenthood. She worked to connect Black people who have historically been denied a connection to our own past and yet somehow managed to maintain that heritage anyway.

Black is King, the connected visual album, tells the story of a young prince, exiled from his country after his father dies. Like Simba, the prince ages and reclaims his throne after a journey of self discovery, finding love and guidance from his ancestors. The Lion King is a riff on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but in Black is King, Beyoncé connects that traditional story to the diaspora’s journey of finding, reclaiming and loving our culture and heritage. Black is King won two Grammys: Best R&B performance (Black Parade) and Best Music Video (Brown Skin Girl). 

Renaissance’s release at the end July 2022 was a breath of fresh air. It’s an album that is as political (“Voting out 45, don’t get out of line”) as it is sexual (“And I need more nudity and ecstasy”) and is her most experimental. Beyoncé reached out to dance legend Grace Jones and actress and activist Ts Madison — just one small example of the focus on Black queerness in this album — to help create two of the album’s standout tracks. Renaissance sparked conversation about the often underappreciated contributions of Black and queer artists to one of music’s most popular sounds. It forced people to confront the fact that dance music is Black music. 

Grace Legend in a black sleeveless dress, with purple headdress, purple eyeshadow and gold head, ear and neck jewlery.
Grace Jones

Despite the critical and commercial success of Beyoncé’s Blackest albums to date, the number of Grammy nominations and wins began to drop. Her critics became louder too. Many posited that it “seemed as if Beyoncé was only dabbling in different genres as a way to flood the awards system to guarantee a win”. This blatantly ignores that all music is influenced by Black culture and likely originated within Black communities. Other artists receive massive accolades for daring to explore outside of their normal genres. Yet Beyoncé has regularly faced criticism for doing the same. 

Last night’s loss is just one more confirmation of what we have always known: Black excellence has always been too much for whiteness. It should also tell us that we need to stop seeking white approval for art that is specifically made as a love letter to us. Every year, the (largely white) voting bodies behind these awards tell us that they don’t listen to most of what they’re voting on. They’ll literally refuse to vote for people who they feel “win all the time” or “experiment too much”, or have “too much hype”. That last sentence is damning considering Taylor Swift, one of the most hyped artists of all time, has won AOTY a whopping three times!

The cycle remains. Year after year, fans of Black artists are pacified with tributes like last night’s tribute to Hip Hop or claims of “history-making” wins. Lizzo’s well-deserved win last night was the first time that a Black woman won Record of the Year in over 2 decades. Beyoncé’s historic 32nd win makes her the most decorated artist of all time. When our faves are snubbed in the major categories like Album of the Year, we vow never to return to the Grammy viewing stage. And year after year we break that promise in vain, hoping that our greatness will somehow convince white mediocrity to give us our flowers. Last night should be the last time that we allow them to play in our faces like this. 

This phenomenon extends beyond The Grammys. In 2021, we witnessed perhaps one of the most egregious examples of how these white awards bodies capitalize on the ways in which Black people love and show up for our own. Chadwick Boseman’s posthumous Best Actor Oscar nomination (the first and only time a Black actor has been nominated posthumously) was one of the most anxiously awaited wins of the year. We watched as his grieving widow, Taylor Simone Ledward-Boseman, went on an award’s ceremony tour, accepting awards in the name of her late husband, breaking down into tears every time-with the memory of his death still fresh.

Taylor Simone Ledward-Boseman and Chadwick Boseman.

Boseman won almost every “Best Actor” award leading up to the Oscars that year: Critic’s Choice, Golden Globe, SAG, AACTA and many local critic awards. It was as if he was guaranteed the win and Black people tuned in with the expectation that he would. And that makes sense because that’s what usually happens when one wins the other “Best Actor” awards. The Academy gifted attendees Chadwick Boseman NFTs. It even held the Best Actor presentation until the end — a spot normally reserved for Best Picture. But at the end of the night, the award went to Sir Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins was not even allowed to accept the award via Zoom due to his concerns regarding COVID. 

Harry’s House winning Album of the Year instead of Renaissance only further cements the Grammys’ history of celebrating perceived white queerness (because despite his terrible outfit choices and his “challenging” of gender norms, Styles is a cishet straight man) over a true celebration of Black queerness. Renaissance is a celebration of blackness, queerness, black music history and self-love. Styles profits off “breaking gender norms” by wearing ill-fitting outfits that make him look like an uncooked chicken. This even as Black male artists and athletes have subverted gender and sexual norms in much more personal ways for years. Prince and Dennis Rodman come to mind immediately.  

Beyoncé’s loss to Harry Styles is perhaps even more insulting when one considers that Bad Bunny was also in contention. Perhaps the largest artist of the year, Bad Bunny was the only artist Beyoncé should have lost to. Nothing about Harry’s House was new, interesting, challenging or even musically complex. It’s generic, shopping center pop music. It’s safe. Even worse is the fact that the executive producer of the Grammy’s, Ben Winston’s daughter is featured on the album’s lead track. Does that not smack of some form of collusion?

Bad Bunny

In the Grammys’ 65 year history, 50 of the winners for Album of the Year have been white. 35 of them have been white men. 12 of them have been Black, and of those 12, only two of them have been Black women. This also tells us quite a bit about other types of diversity at the Grammys, doesn’t it? Where are the Asian and Hispanic winners? Black women have been told that we have to work twice as hard to receive even half of the credit that our white counterparts get. To work even harder when we’re up against white men and Beyoncé is nothing if not evidence of that truth. 

The Grammys and most awards platforms mean nothing without Black artists and Black views. I say we stop giving our time and talent to these shows. That’s the only way we’ll make significant change.

Let’s be real: Beyoncé doesn’t need the Recording Academy’s validation. I hope that she and Jay-Z stop submitting themselves to that body for judgment. As long as two of the biggest names in our culture continue to show us that our worth is not determined by our own achievements, success and celebration within our own community, but depends on a validation that can only be received from whiteness, our community will continue to seek that validation — and it will continue to hurt us when we don’t receive it. 

If Black is truly King (and it is), we must let our greatness speak for itself. You can continue to show your love for Beyoncé by streaming Renaissance. And of course, trying your best to get tickets to the Renaissance World Tour.

Best of luck Bey fans, and may the odds be ever in your favor. 

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