I’m not here to white knight Beyoncé. Lord knows Kanye has had that job on lock for about a decade. I do, however, feel I need to lend my voice to this discussion.
I was going to keep my thoughts to myself on this issue, because I get tired of being That Guy. But I feel compelled to write about it because, as usual, if I don’t say it, it appears not to be said. On the other hand, I’m also tired of talking about White People’s Things like they owe it to us to be fair. No, they don’t, which is exactly why they created White People’s Things.
Unlike for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I can’t find the exact demographics for the voters of the Recording Academy, but I’m willing to put my head on a chopping block to say that I’m sure it’s majority White and male. I’m sure the same applies to the executives and the staff. So when we look at who wins and why, the first thing we need to address is race.
That said, according to the president of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow, a White male, “I don’t think there’s a race problem at all. Remember, this is a peer-voted award. So when we say the Grammys, it’s not a corporate entity — it’s the 14,000 members of the academy. They have to qualify in order to be members, which means they have to have recorded and released music, and so they are sort of the experts and the highest level of professionals in the industry.”
Again, another White person deciding when systemic racism issa problem. Sorry, you don’t get a vote. Of course you wouldn’t see a problem, because you are a part of the privileged class. Who decided you get to be president? Who controls the money? Who decides who performs? The Grammys are essentially an awards show for Black music, yet by the looks of the telecast, there’s very little Black representation. All American music is Black music. All American culture is Black culture. Everything else comes from somewhere else.
Bruno Mars, a talented Latino dude, who was featured more prominently than any other performer on the Grammys the other night, agrees:
“When you say ‘black music,’ understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop, and Motown. Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, black music means everything,” he said.
“It’s what gives America its swag. I’m a child raised in the ‘90s. Pop music was heavily rooted in R&B from Whitney, Diddy, Dr. Dre, Boyz II Men, Aaliyah, TLC, Babyface, New Edition, Michael, and so much more. As kids this is what was playing on MTV and the radio. This is what we were dancing to at school functions and BBQs. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for these artists who inspired me. They have brought me so much joy and created the soundtrack to my life filled with memories that I’ll never forget,” he added.
“Most importantly, they were the superstars that set the bar for me and showed me what it takes to sing a song that can get the whole world dancing, or give a performance that people will talk about forever. Watching them made me feel like I had to be as great as they were in order to even stand a chance in this music business. You gotta sing as if Jodeci is performing after you and dance as if Bobby Brown is coming up next.”
On the flip side of the Latino perspective, we have the opinion of Carlos Santana who shockingly seems to agree with Portnow that race wasn’t a factor in Adele winning:
I am really surprised that Carlos said this. This is the same cat who called the Grammys “racist” in 2011. Why can’t he see that it’s a factor here? What he said is so problematic for a multitude of reasons. I respect him as an O.G. in this game. He was even gracious enough to invite me to play with him onstage a couple times, but a statement like this from an artist with as much clout as he is reckless and damaging. It helps to justify the thinking of people like the president of NARAS that the Grammys doesn’t have a race problem.
First off, the notion that Adele won because she can “sing, sing” is way off base. By saying this makes it seem like every artist who wins Album of The Year, or any other Grammy for that matter, wins because they are a superior artist. Santana knows better than this. The Grammys, by and large, is a popularity contest tailored to White tastes. We don’t live in a meritocracy where the best always get what they deserve. To the contrary, we are living in a society where qualifications are a liability, and the more mediocre you are, the more likely you are to succeed. See the recent presidential election to corroborate that.
And is Santana suggesting that Adele is that much better a singer than Beyoncé is why she won? So is that why Beck beat Beyoncé out for Album of the Year, too? Beyoncé is not an “Urban” artist. She is the world’s biggest Pop star, and has been for about 15 years. I know Adele is the current crowned queen of blue-eyed soul, but Beyoncé is authentically soulful. She’s lived the experiences that the Blues is all about. And though I often feel her material doesn’t always reflect it, she has an amazing voice. Celine Dion thinks so. Now Celine can sing, sing. Her instrument is flawless. She attended the Grammys the other night mostly to watch Bey. And watch Celine’s reaction from this concert in 2002 damn near every time Beyoncé opens her mouth.
It’s hard enough to get on stage flatfooted and sing. It doesn’t make it easier when you’re doing an intricate dance routine whilst performing. And to make it look effortless is the icing on the cake. To reduce Beyoncé to someone who is “very beautiful to look at” and “music to model a dress” is not only sexist, but falls in line with centuries of White men who have objectified Black women.
Even Adele doesn’t agree with Santana. Of Beyoncé she said:
“I can’t possibly accept this award. The Lemonade album was just so monumental, Beyoncé. It was so monumental and well thought-out and beautiful and soul-baring… we appreciate that. All of us artists here adore you. You are our light.”
She goes on to say backstage…
Beyoncé has been Adele’s icon her whole life. Perhaps that may have been a factor in Adele choking during her performance, I don’t know. I do know I’ve never seen that happen to Beyoncé. I’ve seen Beyoncé fall down the stairs because her heels were too high. I’ve seen her hair get caught in a fan. But I’ve never seen her choke like that. She does not stop. If you fuck up during a performance, keep going. It’s likely no one will notice. It’s called “professionalism.”
“My album of the year is Lemonade, so part of me did die inside as a Beyoncé fan — not going to lie. I was completely rooting for her, I voted for her. I felt it was her time to win. What the fuck does she have to do to win album of the year?”
What does she have to do? I think Solange hit the nail on the head.
— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop