How many times is Beyoncé going to make an Album of the Year before she actually wins the Grammy for doing so?
By Meena Anderson
On Sunday’s Grammy awards, Beyoncé made history with the most Grammy wins of all time, surpassing Georg Solti by winning her 32nd Grammy for Best Dance/Electronic Album. But fans are raging online about her Album of the Year loss, again, and rightfully so, as many believe.
There are many factors contributing to my personal feelings about this upset. This was not the first, second or even third time in her career that Beyoncé has been up for AOTY and lost: it’s happened four times: I Am … Sasha Fierce in 2008;Beyoncé in 2013; Lemonade in 2016; and now, Renaissance.
I’ll be the first to admit, I wouldn’t consider myself a die-hard member of the Beyhive. However, as a Black woman, I understand why Beyoncé and her music are important to our culture at large. Her career and talent have for decades been a shining example of Black female success in the face of what is ultimately an anti-Black industry. It’s important to reconcile her immensely successful career and the fact that she is undoubtedly well-awarded for her music—she’s won the most Grammys of all time, after all—with the fact that she has consistently been snubbed by the Recording Academy for this particular award.
While I was less than thrilled at Harry Styles winning AOTY for what I personally think is an unremarkable album, and tabling his insensitive (but clearly not malicious) “this doesn’t happen to people like me” remark in his acceptance speech, at its core the issue is with the Recording Academy itself. Regardless of its announcements of adding “diverse members” in recent years, the Recording Academy has regularly snubbed Black women over the duration of its 65-year history.
Only three Black women have ever won the Grammy's Album of the Year: Natalie Cole for Unforgettable…With Love in 1992; Whitney Houston for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1994; and Lauryn Hill for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999. And there have been multiple occasions where Black women have been up for one of the big four awards: Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Song of the Year and Record of the Year, and lost to, objectively less popular, white artists—just think of SZA in 2017 and Janelle Monaé in 2019.
In an interview with Variety, one voter said the reason he didn’t vote for Renaissance was because “the fact that every time [Beyoncé] does something new, it’s a big event and everyone’s supposed to quake in their shoes, it’s a little too portentous.”
But Renaissance is a big event—as was Lemonade, as was Beyoncé. Throughout her career and, specifically, in her three most recent solo albums, Beyoncé pays homage to her Southern roots and centers her identity as a Black woman as a source of pride. Renaissance took her tradition of reverence of Black culture a step further by celebrating Black queerness in all its glory, joy and richness. The sheer number of samples, Danube Dance, Robin S., Kevin Aviance and many more, is obviously indicative of Beyoncé and her creative team’s dedication to her craft of celebrating Blackness in all its forms.
The Grammy's Album of the Year snub is not about whether she’s overrated or not (Though, I personally feel that Beyoncé is quite appropriately rated given her success and massive fanbase). It’s not about how often she wins other awards (I wouldn’t be writing a whole thinkpiece about the Grammys if Bad Bunny or Kendrick Lamar won AOTY). This is about the Recording Academy constantly applauding Black women for their hard work, but when it comes down to making it official, it rewards people like Harry Styles instead.
While Beyoncé’s incredibly rich career is about honoring diversity and Blackness, I feel the the Grammy Awards clearly are not—and it needs to change.