This past Sunday, the Grammy Awards, like most major accolades ceremonies, got it wrong when singer Adele Adkins won “Album of the Year” over Beyoncé Knowles. It would be infallible to dismiss the massive sales and chart-topping success of Adele’s album, “25,” but as many artists were quick to note in the months leading up to the ceremony, the Grammys keep getting it wrong.
For starters, it is important to recognize the Recording Academy, the voting members behind the Grammys, as a small fraction of the world, and their decisions on who to award a gold gramophone is subjective. There have been no shortages of outrage over winners leading up to this week’s ceremony.
In 2014, online protests were sparked when rapper Macklemore beat out Kendrick Lamar for “Best New Artist.” Eyebrows were raised when Frank Ocean lost “Album of the Year” to Mumford and Sons in 2013. Equally as confusing was last year’s ceremony when Taylor Swift’s album “1984” won “Album of the Year” over Kendrick Lamar.
At first glance, the Grammy Awards upsets could just be a difference in the voting member’s palates, but music scholars like Mark Anthony Neal have said the Recording Academy may have a diversity problem.
Last year, Neal said: “In the last 10 years, there have been 17 non-white artists nominated for the Grammy Award for album of the year. Of those 17, the only winner was Herbie Hancock in 2008. His album was a collection of covers of songs by white folk artist Joni Mitchell.”
Only 10 black artist have ever won album of the year.
The dilemma is not specific to the Grammy’s either, as the controversy surrounding diversity in the 2016 Academy Awards proved. All contenders in the top four categories were white, and individuals on Twitter responded by tagging post #OscarsSoWhite in the months leading up to the award show.
Neil Portnow, the president of the Recording Academy, was interviewed the day after this year’s ceremony and was quick to excuse the voting members from any bias.
“I don’t think there’s a race problem at all” said Portnow “the (14,000 voting members) don’t listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity.”
As the outraged Twitter universe has declared vehemently following the awards, Beyoncé deserved the night’s highest honor because her album crossed at least four different genres, along with an hour-long film that was nominated for an Emmy. It was also deserving because it featured soul-bearing accounts of being marginalized and was accompanied by a sold-out world tour. Adele even felt so passionately about the Recording Academy’s mistake that she sobbed while splitting her award in half like Cady Heron from “Mean Girls.”
Adele is not alone in her disapproval of the Grammy’s blind-eye to black talents. Album of the Year nominees Aubrey “Drake” Graham, Kanye West and Justin Bieber all issued statements that they were skipping the show because the show was not “relevant or representative.” Singer Frank Ocean and Macklemore did not submit their albums for consideration in an act of protest.
Before giving up and deciding award ceremonies are pointless and impossible to change, consider what Chance the Rapper did. Before the 23-year-old graced the stage Sunday and won three awards, he had to petition even to be nominated. Chancellor Bennett’s three album catalog is all available for free on music streaming sites. The success of his most recent project, “Coloring Book,” won “Rap Album of the Year” after the board of voters levied their clause that only music for purchase was eligible.
If the audience can make big enough waves, perhaps the Grammy awards will finally come around.
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