by Dom Jones
Well, folks, the 2017 GRAMMYs have commenced and the Beyhive is still buzzing (with anger, disappointment, and shock). Adele bested Beyoncè for arguably the award show’s two biggest prizes: Record of the Year and Album of the Year. I would submit that the loss wouldn’t feel so severe had Adele’s performance not so disastrously flubbed (again), while Beyoncè’s will likely go down (positively) in history. At least Adele’s PR team has done a great job of hiding all evidence of it (you’ll be hard pressed to find the full video online anywhere), but that horrific start will be etched in all of our minds for some time to come (or until someone has an equally terrible performance). There are two main sides of this argument:
Side 1: Beyoncè’s “Lemonade” was culturally transformative, to the point that there are colleges literally teaching courses on its implications and historical references. The unapologetic blackness, references to African history pre-Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, upliftment of black womanhood, and perceived vulnerability of some of Queen Bey’s personal challenges catapulted this work from album to fine art. Adele’s “25” was a great musical piece of work, but not nearly as talked about and not for as long. Its content had no far reaching, long lasting effects, and ultimately it will not be remembered, regarded, or remarked upon in any similar fashion to “Lemonade.”
Side 2: Adele’s “25” sold over 9 million albums and went Diamond in the digital age when no one is buying records. Beyonce’s “Lemonade” sold a mere 1.9 million albums by comparison. There is no contest. Sales win.
There is a third, more ludicrous side, where those who have lost their minds argue that Adele can sing better than Beyoncè, but we’re going to ask Carlos Santana and his followers (in this regard) to have several seats, mmmkay?
There is also a fourth argument that points to the cultural bias that may pervade the Recording Academy. Lest we forget: Kendrick lost Album of the Year to Taylor Swift last year. Beyoncè has lost Album of the Year three times: to Taylor Swift, Beck, and Adele. The last black woman to win Album of the Year was Lauryn Hill in 1999 for “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and the last black person to win for Album of the Year was Herbie Hancock in 2007.
Even Adele herself, upon accepting her award, seemed to say that she didn’t deserve it. So did the GRAMMYs get it right this year? Or is the award’s show becoming more and more irrelevant?
To some extent, the GRAMMYs will never be completely irrelevant because to musicians, they are a marker of perceived success and recognition of the artist’s relevance in the industry. Chance the Rapper’s wins show that the voting members of the Recording Academy acknowledge the shift in the industry, and the slow death of the traditional record label model. Another independent artist, Fantastic Negrito, took home the prize for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Artists not signed to major label deals winning GRAMMYs in this era of music feels unheard of, but it is happening. There is an ongoing shift in our industry, whether it is welcomed or resisted. The issue between Adele and Bey has been likened to a Presidential election where Bey won the popular vote, but Adele became President because she won the electoral vote. The flaw in this argument is that Adele sold more records! Bey could have won the popular vote (had all of her fans voted aka purchased the record). I personally prefer Bey in general over Adele, as I find the power ballads overdone and played out, but I can still appreciate Adele’s viability as an artist. She’s just not my favorite of the two. To be honest, I’d be more upset that vocalists like Jazmine Sullivan were completely overlooked or that BJ The Chicago Kid was nominated in three categories, but didn’t take home one award. There are more than two dope artists out there (just like there are more than two political parties, but I digress).
Whether or not the GRAMMYs got it right this year is really up to you and your personal opinion, but I think what many of us should take away from this is that if you want your favorites to win the big awards – you have to buy their music. Sales have a strong influence on awards, and maybe it shouldn’t be that way. Maybe the focus should moreso be on cultural influence and pushing the boundaries of art, but sales are a palpable way to measure influence and popularity. As many of us chase that golden statue just as much as we are chasing a degree from Berklee, we must consider the culture of the industry of which we are a part and how our work fits into the overall landscape. This year (and every year) the GRAMMYs should serve as a lesson to us that awards celebrate the artists, but do they really make the artist? Check out this list of popular artists who have never won a GRAMMY award.
DID YOUR FAVORITE ARTIST WIN THIS YEAR? SOUND OFF IN THE COMMENTS!