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Friday, June 14, 2024
The Observer

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The Grammys’ race problem

On Sunday, music’s biggest night took place, and while many stars took the stage, who was actually celebrated?

Fans of music across the United States eagerly sat by their televisions this past Sunday watching their favorite artists walk the red carpet, take the stage and ideally, win coveted awards.

While performing, artists embraced their individuality (Miley Cyrus with the self-love anthem, “Flowers”), took us deeper into new eras (Dua Lipa with her unreleased track “Training Season”), reminded us of some of the year’s biggest hits (SZA with “Snooze” and “Kill Bill”) and brought us to tears (Tracy Chapman singing alongside Luke Combs with his cover of her 1988 hit, “Fast Car”). 

Jay-Z also took the stage, becoming the second recipient of the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award. After thanking the Recording Academy, he reflected upon his career and upbringing in Brooklyn. He then took a pause and shifted the tone of the night as he said, “You know, some of you gonna go home tonight and feel like you've been robbed. Some of you may get robbed. Some of you don't belong in a category. No, when I get nervous I tell the truth.”

Beyond the obvious nod towards his wife, Beyoncé, who holds the most wins in Grammys history (32) and is tied for the most nominations in Grammys history (88), fans could not ignore a topic that has loomed over nearly every award show recently: race. It's one that the Recording Academy has desperately tried to resolve: renaming "Best Urban Contemporary Album" to "Best Progressive R&B Album” and creating the highly anticipated implementation of “Best African Music Performance”.

In these and many other categories, the Grammys saw themselves inviting many Black artists to Crypto.com Arena, though they were noticeably absent from mainstage coverage, with the night’s biggest awards (Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Album of the Year) all going to white artists. Even SZA, who led the pack this year with nine nominations, only received one award during the three and a half hour broadcast, running to receive it after performing and seemingly almost missing her chance to thank those involved in the making of the Best R&B Song, “Snooze”.

For the past five Grammys cycles, each year’s most nominated artist has been Black: Lizzo in 2020 with eight nominations, Beyoncé in 2021 with nine, Jon Batiste in 2022 with eleven, Beyoncé again in 2023 with nine and most recently, SZA in 2024, also with nine nominations to her name. And in every year, excluding Jon Batiste in 2022, these artists fail to receive any major category trophies, but thrive in categories such as R&B, Pop and Dance/Electronic. This phenomenon is observable going back to 2012, with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Jay-Z being highly advertised for their high nomination totals, given prominent performance spots in the show, only to get shut out of the big awards. Seemingly fed up by this, Jay-Z reminded us again of his wife who in an almost 30-year career has never won any main category Grammys.

“She has more Grammys than everyone, and never won Album of the Year. So even by your own metrics, that doesn’t work. Think about that. The most Grammys, never won Album of the Year. That doesn’t work,” Jay-Z said.

That’s not to ignore the wins of artists like Victoria Monét who won big at the 66th Grammy Awards, becoming the 10th Black woman ever to win Best New Artist. She shows that there is a glimmer of hope for Black artists, and especially Black women, being able to win big during music’s biggest night. Her speech offered a glimmer of hope for diversity at the award show.

“I moved to LA in 2009 and I like to liken myself to a plant who was planted, and you can look at the music industry as soil. It can be looked at as dirty or it can be looked at as a source of nutrients and water. My roots have been growing underneath ground, unseen for so long. I feel like today, I’m sprouting, finally above ground,” Monét said.

Here’s to hoping for more room for artists to shine, to acknowledge their hard work and contributions to the industry and for an abundance of sprouts to emerge on music’s biggest night.