Though we’re deep into the week, folks are still buzzing about this year’s Grammy awards. The show, which included powerful performances by Beyoncé and Chance the Rapper, brought in 26 million viewers, and triggered scores of tweets, articles, and debates.
This year saw Adele and Beyoncé going head-to-head in the major categories–Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Album of the Year–and well, we know how that turned out. It was a clean sweep for the British singer, who couldn’t hardly believe she bested Queen Yonce.
“The Lemonade album, Beyoncé, was so monumental, and so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-bearing,” Adele gushed from the stage. “You are our light.”
Backstage the singer had an even more important question: “What the f–k does she have to do to win Album of the Year?”
And seeing how Beyoncé has lost the category three times, it’s a valid question.
For many, the debate about Beyoncé’s Lemonade versus Adele’s 25 was colored by race. As I argued here on EBONY, the Grammys have a history of overlooking Black genius in favor of projects that are commercially safe (read: White). I wasn’t the only one who thought Bey’s Lemonade was too Black for Recording Academy voters, though. On CNN Kevin Powell said the album “made a lot of people uncomfortable, because it is so political, so spiritual, so unapologetically Black,” and John Caramanica of The New York Times called Adele’s sweep and Beyoncé’s snub “#GrammysSoWhite come to life.”
Despite the discussion–and the fact that it’s been nearly a decade since a Black artist won Album of the Year, and just 10 have won in 59 years–Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, asserts the Grammys don’t have a race problem.
In an interview with Pitchfork, Portnow argued the Grammys can’t possible be racially biased because awards are voted on by those in the industry (and, I suppose, that somehow makes them immune to things like implicit bias).
“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,” he said. “It’s always hard to create objectivity out of something that’s inherently subjective, which is what art and music is about. We do the best we can. We have 84 categories where we recognize all kinds of music, from across all spectrums.”
Portnow went on to say that, as musicians, members of the Recording Academy don’t see race when evaluating music.
“We don’t, as musicians, in my humble opinion, listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity. When you go to vote on a piece of music—at least the way that I approach it—is you almost put a blindfold on and you listen,” he argued. “It’s a matter of what you react to and what in your mind as a professional really rises to the highest level of excellence in any given year. And that is going to be very subjective. That’s what we ask our members to do, even in the ballots. We ask that they not pay attention to sales and marketing and popularity and charts. You have to listen to the music. So of the 14,000 voters, they listen, they make up their minds, and then they vote.”
In spite of Portnow’s claims that Recording Academy voters are colorblind in their voting, Caramanica argues the members “skew older and more traditional” and regularly reward White acts over younger, Black artists.
Whether the Recording Academy has a race problem or not, it’s clear that if the Grammys continue to pay it safe, more artists–like Frank Ocean, Drake, and Kanye West this year–will begin to out of the process all together.
Britni Danielle is EBONY’s Entertainment/Culture Director. Follow her on Twitter @BritniDWrites