Adele is a transcendent talent. Her voice, pitched somewhere between contralto and mezzo-soprano, soars to the heavens; her delicate vibrato, as on “Hello,” conveys a purity of emotion; and my God, the lady can hold a note like no other. But the British chanteuse’s latest album, 25, was not her best, boasting a smattering of hits and a fair bit of filler. It lacked the unity of vision of, say, Beyoncé’s Lemonade—an allusion-heavy ode to motherhood and black excellence, and unfiltered critique of America’s iniquitous institutions. On Sunday night, most expected Queen B’s magnum opus to walk away with the Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
It didn’t go down that way. Adele won, and the internet was none too pleased.
This, of course, did not have much to do with Adele. She is a lovely woman wholly deserving of all the accolades she receives. She was even gracious in victory, effectively pulling a Kanye West on herself by sharing her embarrassment at winning the night’s big award over Bey, calling her “the artist of my life,” and confessing: “The way you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my black friends feel, is empowering,” as Beyoncé wiped the tears from her eyes. “You make them stand up for themselves. I love you, and I always will.”Backstage, Adele was even more candid. “The reason I felt the need to say something is because my album of the year is Lemonade,” she said. “I felt like it was her time to win. What the fuck does she have to do to win Album of the Year? That’s how I feel.”
The Beyhive, Beyoncé’s legion of online superfans, along with several of her A-list supporters, were inclined to agree. Solange, Bey’s younger sister and elevator enforcer, tweeted “wuddup frank” accompanied by a link to an essay R&B crooner Frank Ocean wrote about why he chose to boycott the Grammys.
“You know what’s really not ‘great TV,’ guys? 1989 getting Album of the Year over To Pimp a Butterfly. Hands down one of the most ‘faulty’ TV moments I’ve seen,” Ocean wrote to the Grammys producers, referencing Taylor Swift’s defeat of Kendrick Lamar last year. “If you’re up for a discussion about the cultural bias and general nerve damage the show you produce suffers from, then I’m all for it.”
Terrence “Punch” Henderson, co-president of the record label Top Dawg Entertainment, claimed that he’d spoken with his artist Kendrick Lamar, who apparently voiced his displeasure at Beyoncé’s Album of the Year snub:
The “cultural bias” Ocean referred to is not a myth. As my colleague Kevin Fallon pointed out, the Grammys have a race problem. Taylor Swift and Adele each have two Album of the Year Grammys. Beyoncé, Kanye West, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Tupac, Jay Z, Etta James, Mary J. Blige, Marvin Gaye, and Aretha Franklin have zero. Only ten black artists have *ever* won the Grammy for Album of the Year, and in recent years, black artists have been on the receiving end of some head-scratching defeats.
The last four years have seen Taylor Swift’s 1989 over Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly; Beck’s Morning Phase beating Beyoncé’s Beyoncé; Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories besting Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city; and Mumford & Sons’ Babel in lieu of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. Other puzzling choices include: Taylor Swift’s Fearless over Beyoncé’s I Am… Sasha Fierce, U2’s dreadful How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb over both Kanye West’s Late Registration and Mariah Carey’s The Emancipation of Mimi, and the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack over Outkast’s Stankonia. Hell, Kendrick Lamar lost Best Rap Album and Best New Artist to Macklemore.
But there is also pent-up anger concerning the slighting of Beyoncé, an artist that many consider to be an all-time great. Kanye West may have turned this frustration into a punchline at the VMAs, but the diminishment of black excellence by overwhelmingly white arbiters is an age-old problem, and one that the Grammys should, like the Academy, make a concerted effort to correct.