by Tony Pierce
“When I get nervous, I tell the truth,” Jay-Z joked Sunday night in front of 18,000 members and guests of the Recording Academy while winds howled around the Crypto.com Arena and record rains dumped onto the City of Angels.
Mr. Carter, was clutching a special all-black Grammy he’d just been handed, The Dr. Dre Global Impact Award. He was using the bulk of his three-minute acceptance speech to criticize the 65 year-old music ceremony for an ongoing laundry list of snubs Black artists have noticed year after year.
The legendary New York rapper listed a pair of Grammy “boycotts” he and others participated in over the years, beginning in 1998 when DMX had two #1 albums but received zero nominations. Jay, who had been nominated, stayed home out of protest (but watched on TV anyway).
“We want y’all to get it right,” the producer and mogul said as he and his 12-year-old daughter, Blue Ivy, stood awkwardly next to him.
“We love y’all. We love y’all. We love y’all,” the billionaire prefaced, decked out in a black Givenchy black wool jacket, no tie, black cotton poplin shirt, accessorized with a black broach on his satin lapel with an ultra-rare Tiffany-stamped Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Chronograph strapped on his wrist.
Everyone knew what time it was. It was time for him to lay it down and defend his wife Beyoncé, and her notable Grammy snubs. “Obviously, it’s subjective because it’s music, and it’s opinion-based,” he said, not sounding nervous at all. “I don’t want to embarrass this young lady, but she has more Grammys than everyone, and never won Album of the Year.”
With 32 trophies from her early days with Destiny’s Child to her iconic solo career and collabs with her hubs, Beyoncé holds the record for most Grammy wins. Only one other artist has been awarded over 30 of the gold-plated gramophone, the late classical conductor Georg Solti, who received 31.
Quincy Jones has 28, Stevie Wonder has 25, Michael Jackson got 13. But unlike Bey, they all won Album of the Year, which, believe it or not, is rare for Black artists.
Since 1959, when the Grammys began and the category was introduced, only 11 Black musicians have won Album of the Year. And only one, Stevie, has received that accolade multiple times (3).
As mudslides ravaged the Hollywood Hills on Sunday night, flooding swelled on the notorious LA freeways, and the handsome governor of California declared LA County a State of Emergency, Taylor Swift was presented with her fourth Album of the Year accolade.
Perhaps Beyoncé is ‘too Black’ for the diverse, yet still mainstream Recording Academy.
In 2015, when Beyoncé lost out to Adele for the top prize, the British singer tearfully took to the stage surrounded by over a dozen white men who are credited on her album, 25, and poured out her heart to her hero. “I can’t possibly accept this award, and I’m very humbled and very grateful and gracious, but my life is Beyoncé, and the album to me, the Lemonade album, Beyoncé, was so monumental and so well thought out,” the singer said in her thick cockney accent. “And so beautiful and soul-bearing, and we all got to see another side of you that you don’t always let us see, and we appreciate that. And all us artists adore you. You are our light.”
Backstage that night, Adele elaborated, saying, “I thought it was her year. What the f*** does she have to do to win Album of the Year?”
Beyoncé was up for the top award four times: in 2010 for “I Am…Sasha Fierce,” in 2015 for “Beyoncé,” in 2017 for “Lemonade,” and last year for “Renaissance.” Each was a solid album that sold millions of albums, made several top 10 year-end critics lists, and whose singles have become radio staples and concert sing-alongs.
“I Am…Sasha Fierce” went 6x platinum and produced a whopping nine singles, including “If I Were a Boy,” “Halo,” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” It lost out that year (2010) to 20-year-old Taylor Swift’s “Fearless,” the then-country star’s sophomore album whose hits included “Love Story” and “You Belong To Me.”
A few months prior to that Grammys, you may recall the infamous moment at the MTV VMAs when Kanye jumped on stage to protest Swift beating Beyoncé for Video of the Year.
In 2015, Kanye again climbed the stage, uninvited, when Beck’s “Morning Phase” beat out “Beyoncé.” Ye quickly retreated back down the stairs and sat down laughing, but his tongue-in-cheek protest was understandable. God bless Beck, but really?
Beyoncé gave us “Drunk in Love,” what did “Morning Phase” give the world? Can you name one song? Can anyone, including Beck fans, name two tracks from that 2014 LP? “Morning Phase” appeared on the top of one magazine’s best-of list. One. “Mojo.” And… the Grammy voting tally.
“Lemonade” lost out to Adele’s 25 in 2017. A fair fight. “25” was #1 around the world, went 11x platinum, and she is an undeniably glorious singer. “Lemonade,” in many people’s minds, is Beyonce’s finest achievement, which is why Adele was so torn. She knew.
But did Harry Styles know in 2023 when “Harry’s House” bested “Renaissance”? He says he didn’t. “You never know with this stuff,” the X-Factor UK third-place winner told the press after winning Album of the Year last year. “I don’t think you can look at any of the nominees and not feel like they’re deserving. I feel like when… I look at this category, it’s all people who have inspired me at different times.”
That night, MTV News contributor Danteé Ramos, who tried to be diplomatic, had to keep it real.
“Well, you know, I’m a part of the Beyhive, so obviously, I feel the pain,” she said on MTV shortly after Styles — a music video darling — won it all. “I do understand that Harry’s album did come out earlier. I do understand that that was probably the song and album of the summer for a lot of people. It’s unfortunate because we all believe that Beyoncé put her foot into this project and deserved it… And I told y’all in my last MTV News report that I would do a revolt against y’all for not [awarding Album of the Year to] Beyoncé, so I gotta get ready to put my shoes on.”
She has to keep making records.
So, to answer Adele’s blunt, foul-mouthed question: what does Beyoncé have to do to win Album of the Year?
She has to keep making records. Tony Bennett, the universally beloved favorite the entire family could enjoy, had to wait until he was 68-years-old to get his only Album of the Year trophy when he recorded his “MTV Unplugged” record in 1994.
Bob Dylan was 57-years-old when the Grammys finally got around to giving the nod to The Bard for 1997’s “Time Out of Mind,” the LP that contained “Not Dark Yet,” and “Make You Feel My Love,” which Adele would later cover to great success.
At 42-years-old Beyoncé has 15 years to go before she reaches Dylan’s 57 milestone. Crazy? Yes. Crazier when one imagines all the classic records Dylan reeled off in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s before Grammy voters finally threw him that bone.
What if Beyoncé showed off her vocals in a way that you couldn’t turn away from?
Taylor Swift isn’t going away any time soon, Billie Eilish has never had problems winning awards, and Ed Sheeran could be a spoiler one year too. Bey has to keep being Bey.
One thing she might consider is this: The Renaissance Tour and subsequent documentary was often — lazily — compared to Swift’s Eras Tour and her popular concert film. But one thing (among many) that makes Beyoncé always shine above Swift is her voice.
Perhaps Beyoncé is “too Black” for the diverse, yet still mainstream Recording Academy, which refused to air any of the Rap categories on its broadcast despite that genre being as groundbreaking and popular as ever. What if Beyoncé showed off her vocals in a way that you couldn’t turn away from?
How about a Beyoncé album of her deep cuts, hits, and American songbook classics featuring just herself and a guest pianist? A parade of accompaniment from Stevie Wonder, Jon Batiste, John Legend, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Janelle Monae, Yuja Wang, Emily Bear, Isaiah J. Thompson come to mind.
Make it as stark as “Thelonious Monk Alone in San Francisco” and as intimate as Prince’s “Piano and a Microphone.”
And do it before Taylor gets at it first.
Tony Pierce is a writer living in Hollywood and host of the Hear in LA podcast where he goes to every neighborhood in LA and hears from the people.