This was arguably the year of Beyoncé.
Her visual album “Lemonade” was widely acclaimed for its originality. She dominated the headlines after announcing earlier this month that she is pregnant with twins. But when it came time for the Grammy Awards on Feb. 12, The Recording Academy passed up Beyoncé for all three of the major awards for which it nominated her.
Instead, Beyoncé took home the urban contemporary award, which normally is not even televised. Even Adele, who won album of the year for “25” over Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” said she “could not possibly accept this award” and acknowledged “Lemonade” was “so well-thought-out, and so beautiful and soul-baring.” To audiences, it seemed unjust: Beyoncé had produced, in Adele’s words, a “monumental” album.
Now, it is easy to be frustrated solely on the basis that Beyoncé did not win. However, the problem at the Grammys this year was greater than just the fact that it overlooked Beyoncé, or even that it has overlooked many black artists over the years — only 10 black artists have ever won album of the year. The problem is that this year, the awards failed to recognize an artist who made history by performing specifically for black audiences.
“Lemonade” was monumental not only because it was performed by a strong black woman, but also because it was performed for black audiences. Beyoncé acknowledged this in her acceptance speech for the urban contemporary award, saying, “It is important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty, so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror … and have no doubt they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable.”
Her songs begin with poetry about the nature of oppression. The scenes in her visual album depict black dancers performing in black communities. Her lyrics speak to the black experience in the United States. In “Lemonade,” Beyoncé makes black bodies visible and black voices heard.
What people do not often realize, most likely as a result of white privilege, is that the Grammys tends to honor music that is written by and for white people. One common critique hurled at the Grammys is that it is too “mainstream,” which inevitably refers to a white mainstream.
Even when the Grammys awards black artists, it has historically awarded those artists who created music that catered to white audiences. In 2008, Herbie Hancock, a black jazz musician, won album of the year for an album of Joni Mitchell covers. Hancock is the only jazz musician to have ever won album of the year.
Ironically, though, the Academy honored him the only time he was not playing real jazz music, a genre steeped in black history and culture. Instead, it selected the time that he created an album filled with songs by a white artist and normally geared toward white people.
Other black artists who have won album of the year include Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Outkast, Natalie Cole and Lionel Richie. While it is admirable to award black artists, all of these artists produced not in the jazz or rap genres historically associated with black musicians, but in pop music that catered to a largely white audience.
It is true that Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” and Adele’s “25” were relatively evenly situated to win the award; both had comparably high ratings and sales figures. But what was so monumental about “Lemonade,” and what the Grammys failed to recognize, was that it asserted a place for black bodies and black voices in the mainstream.
Beyoncé was not just a black artist who did not receive an award; she was representative of an entire group of people who, again, were ignored. The Grammys had a remarkable opportunity this year to assert that black audiences are constituent of the mainstream. Instead, the Academy sent the message that music for black fans is relegated into its own category of “urban contemporary,” while music that plays primarily to white audiences deserves album of the year.
Emma Lux is a junior in the College. Still Here appears every other Tuesday.