Grammys Are Not Equal Opportunity Award Show: Black Artistry Neglected Once Again

Oluwa Jones '15 Assistant Opinions Editor

As Prince presented the award for Album of the Year at this year’s Grammys, he said, “Albums still matter. Like books and black lives, albums still matter.” Following his introduction, Kanye West walked onto the stage as Beck was accepting the award, shook his head and walked off stage.

This, of course, was a reference to the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when he interrupted Taylor Swift. Once again, Kanye wanted to tell everyone that the wrong person won and that the award should’ve gone to Beyoncé. He went on to explain to Ryan Seacrest that he has nothing against Beck: “I just really didn’t want to take away from Beck’s moment … So I just walked back down because, you know, it was kind of a joke, like the Grammys themselves.”

Kanye is right. The impact of Beyoncé and this album have been huge. Beyoncé’s debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, making Beyoncé the first woman to have five consecutive albums debut at No. 1. The album received more critical acclaim than any album from that year, including Beck’s. Spin, Billboard, the Los Angeles Times, GQ and Slate all chose “Beyoncé” as the best album of the year.

To this day, industry experts are still impressed by her ability to release a new album and 17 new music videos in the dead of night without anyone leaking the news. The album was also a brave artistic statement in which the singer addresses her marriage, her insecurities, jealousy, postpartum depression, motherhood, her sexuality, flawlessness and female empowerment. This album had all the makings of an Album of the Year. Beyoncé is at the peak of her fame and at the height of her powers, yet she still failed to beat a white man.

In a brilliant article published in The Fader entitled “10 Reasons The Grammys Are As White As You Think They Are,” Aimee Cliff notes the racial bias in the Album of the Year Award. Since the Grammys began in 1959, “only 10 of the 56 awards handed out for Album of the Year have gone to black artists,” a number that amounts to fewer than 20 percent and fails to represent “the influence black artists have had on the music industry.” The last African American to win AOTY was Ray Charles in 2005, and he won posthumously. According to the Grammy Awards, no living African American has been able to produce a great album in over 10 years.

Some argue that Beyoncé lost because the voting pool was split between her, Pharrell and other nominees, allowing Beck to win under the radar through a plurality. This means that the process of selecting a winner is flawed, as Beck hasn’t been relevant in nearly 20 years – and even then he was a one-hit wonder. Grammy choices don’t always have to go with the most popular artist, but their choices ought to at least make some sense.

Another story that’s getting less media attention is the fact that the award for Best Rap Album has now gone to a white man again for the fourth time in six years. Eminem has won more Grammys for Best Rap Album than anyone else, ever, at six wins. His music is misogynistic, violent and immature. If he were a black artist making the same music he would be treated differently.

The Grammys’ tendency to favor white artists who make black music was made even more clear last year when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis beat Kendrick Lamar for this award. The negative backlash was so strong that Macklemore actually had to apologize, a move that was both insincere and embarrassing. In his defense, he should never have been put in that position, been nominated in that category or won over Kendrick. Additionally, this year’s awards show marks the first time in 10 years where the Recording Academy decided to cut all the hip-hop categories for time, while all other categories dominated by white artists such as pop, rock, and country were televised — revealing another racial bias.

Race affects the way the Recording Academy perceives and selects winners. Beyoncè’s album got more critical acclaim and sold over 10 times as many copies as the winner. Even though it is just an award show, the event still represents a prestigious institution in which popularity and talent play no factor in who gets recognized. Beck winning Album of the Year is a part of a long tradition of undervaluing black talent and black people more broadly.