I wasn’t really surprised that Adele swept the big awards at the Grammys: Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Record of the Year. Did I hope that Beyonce would win at least one of them? For sure. Did I think Beyonce deserved to win over Adele? Yes, I did. But I was still unsurprised when Adele swept. It’s one of the reasons I dislike the Grammys as a representation of musical acceptance or respectability. The Recording Academy is racist. When Will Smith talked about it, people were like “Oh, he’s just trying to reconnect to his black audience.” When Kanye West talked about it, everyone was like “STFU Yeezy.” When Frank Ocean talked about it, people were like “why is he picking on POOR TAYLOR SWIFT?” But now that Beyonce got snubbed for arguably her greatest album – coincidentally her most political and racially-charged album – I guess people are just realizing, oh right, the Grammys are pretty racist.
Part of me thinks that the realizations are dawning on people even more this year because Adele – the winner! – spent a lot of time on stage talking directly to Beyonce and using her time to honor Queen B. Then backstage Adele talked about how much Bey’s Lemonade meant to her as a woman and as an artist. When the old white dude voters of the Recording Academy heard their girl Adele talk about it, I think it might have dawned on them that maybe they made some mistakes. Maybe it takes a white ally for people to really “get” that the Grammys have a long history of not acknowledging black artists in general. #GrammysSoWhite and #GrammysSoRacist should absolutely be things now. I do believe that the #OscarsSoWhite drama helped build a larger conversation about diversity and inclusion in film, and now we need a larger conversation about race and music.
(To be fair though – the Grammys have a terrible history of acknowledging the truly groundbreaking, generation-defining and genre-shifting albums in general, black, white or brown. The Grammys’ history is littered with examples of now-iconic artists and albums being snubbed for sub-par flash-in-the-pan one-hit wonders.)
People are now wondering aloud if Beyonce should or will boycott the Grammys from here on out. I feel the same way about this issue that I feel about all of these one-sided conversations about oppression, bigotry, racism and sexism: why is it always on the victims to do or say something? Why should Beyonce say anything, boycott anything, or be responsible in anyway for the Recording Academy’s issue? The Recording Academy president should be the one issuing statements. Grammys voters – all of those white dudes – should be talking about how they’re going to make changes with how they vote and who gets to vote and how artists are recognized.
PS… some people took issue with Adele telling Beyonce “The way that you make me and my friends feel — and the way that you make my black friends feel — is empowering. You make them stand up for themselves and I love you, and I always have and I always will.” This stirred a lot of heated debate online, which I mostly ignored because… tempest in a teapot. I think we have a knee-jerk reaction to hearing “my black friends” because we always hear it in a context of someone justifying a racist act or statement, i.e. “I can’t be racist because I have black friends.” But look at what Adele was saying in context – and yes, granted, she could have said it better – she’s saying that as much as she loved, respected and appreciated Lemonade, she knows that there are parts of it she will never “get” because she’s not a black woman. Which is a fundamental part of the story of Lemonade: an African-American artist made an album for black women, telling a specific story about race and sex and love and power and heartbreak. Adele was acknowledging to Beyonce that there’s a fundamental part of Lemonade that she will never understand, but that she (Adele) is still listening and growing and trying to understand.