If you were on social media last night, it might have seemed like the entire world (i.e. every like-minded person you follow) waited around until 11:30pm to see who would be awarded the biggest prize of the night, Album of the Year. And, surprising a grand total of no one, the Recording Academy got it wrong. But what else is new?
Let’s get one thing straight. Adele is fine—there’s no knocking her talent, and she’s probably got one of the five or so strongest voices on the face of the Earth (this time unqualified). But let’s be absolutely real: 25—which was released, like, 15 months ago— wasn’t anyone’s favorite album of last year. Hell, it wasn’t even Adele’s favorite album of last year, as she basically told the Grammy voters that they fucked up during her acceptance speech. She was even waxing poetic about Lemonade after the show’s conclusion. Again, I would never knock on Adele’s talent, and “Hello,” “Water Under The Bridge” and “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” are all very good songs. But, again, not the best album. “I just really think 25 was my favorite album,” said no one ever.
It would make perfect sense for Adele to take home Song of the Year, or even Record of the Year, for “Hello.” Even though it did come out long as shit ago, that song was and remains inescapable, and I would call anyone who claims they hadn’t heard that song before—if those people exist—a liar. But Album of the Year? Come on, man. The Grammys aren’t exactly a beacon of progressive musical progress, but every so often (Arcade Fire’s surprising Album of the Year win for The Suburbs as the shining example), they get something right. But as the old adage goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
There’s so much music out there, and it’s such a subjective field that a Grammy is never a ‘definitive’ award, per sé, even in the way that an Academy Award is for film. It’s moreso the effect of making the best of what we’re given. But Lemonade was not only one of the best albums of the year, it was a chance to acknowledge one of music’s biggest stars on a level that she’s never been acknowledged before—and one which she without question deserves. (Somehow Beyoncé, in the midst of all her adoration, has never won Album of the Year.)
Which ushers in, perhaps, the greater issue: There is clearly something fucked up with the voting population, because, somehow, in this era of hip-hop and R&B dominance that we find ourselves in… no modern artist of color has taken home the ceremony’s biggest prize since Outkast in 2004, for Speakerboxx/The Love Below. (Not counting Herbie Hancock’s random win or Ray Charles’s posthumous victory for obvious reasons.) How is this possible? That is the entire length of Kanye West’s solo career. That is four Beyoncé albums, come and gone, without being awarded the top prize. A Black woman hasn’t won the award since Lauryn Hill in 1999 (!).
A few years ago, Frank Ocean’s nominations for Channel Orange checked a box, and the award Best ‘Urban Contemporary’ album was even created and added to the televised slate to give him some much-deserved attention. But when it came time for that night’s biggest moment? He lost to Mumford & Sons. OK.
The show itself, meanwhile, serves a tremendous purpose. The performance last night from A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, and Anderson. Paak was incredibly powerful, and stole the show. Sturgill Simpson, the least recognizable of all the AOTY nominees, got an important performance on national television in front of millions of potential new fans. The performance aspect of the show is always the most exciting—in part, because we’re typically so disappointed by who comes away with the night’s biggest prizes. Like last year: Kendrick Lamar’s performance, in support of his masterful To Pimp A Butterfly (one of the best rap albums ever) was incredibly memorable, as he performed with shackles around his wrists. When the night ended though, Kendrick did not win the top prize. The Grammys instead made us listen to a self-congratulating speech (which we later learned was filled to the brim with faux-outrage) from Taylor Swift for 1989, which, again, is really quite a good pop record. But Album of the Year? I don’t know.
There are deserving winners for sure. The last time Beyoncé was nominated, she came up short to Beck, for his album Morning Phase, which really was a tremendous record, fully instrumented and performed by the man himself. But as much as I, personally, enjoyed that record, it was even less penetrating in culture, generally, than Adele’s winning album from last night. The Grammys are constantly lauding themself as ‘Music’s Biggest Night’, or whatever the fuck it’s slogan is these days. But if you’re nominating the sonic mouth vomit that is “Seven Years” by “Lukas Graham” for anything, what the hell do you know? If The Chainsmokers are accepting an award on behalf of David Bowie, what the fuck is happening? When the majority of the viewership isn’t in agreement with the choice for the big winner, then who is your show speaking for? A bunch of voters who don’t know—or maybe don’t understand—what they’re voting for? Something clearly has gone wrong with this process. But, luckily, it’s not like it really matters anyway.