Just moments after winning her second Grammy Award for Album of the Year last year, Adele lamented to reporters that, in fact, “[her] album of the year is Lemonade. What the f— does [Beyoncé] have to do to win Album of the Year?”
Earlier today, the nominees for the 2018 Grammy Awards were announced, and for the first time ever, the majority of the artists nominated in the General Field category (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist) are people of colour. Almost all of them hail from the R&B and Hip Hop genres.
Bruno Mars, Childish Gambino, Luis Fonsi and Danny Yankee, Jay-Z, and Kendrick Lamar have multiple nominations for The Recording Academy’s highest honours, while Alessia Cara and Khalid are nominated for their contribution to Logic’s “1-800-273-8255.” They are joined by Lil Uzi Vert and SZA for Best New Artist, which was awarded to Chance the Rapper last year.
This is huge for an Academy that has historically snubbed artists of colour from the General Field—usually giving them awards in the hugely specific, often times racialised, genre categories of Best Rap/Sung Performance, Best Urban Contemporary Album, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album. But, even then, the Grammys came under fire after Macklemore’s pop-leaning album The Heist won Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city in 2014.
This habit has become glaringly obvious in the past few years. Consistently, white artists have been awarded over critically and commercially successful artists of colour.
With both of their acclaimed albums, Beyoncé and Kendrick were meant to break the racial barrier that the Grammy’s had faced, but both times, the Recording Academy had stuck with their tried and true ways of awarding white pop/rock musicians instead.
Last year, Beyonce, who was the most nominated artist that night for her album Lemonade, was beaten by Adele. Her sole wins were for Best Music Video and Best Urban Contemporary Album, sparking criticism from many viewers and industry professionals. Ken Ehrlich, the show’s executive producer, admitted that they decided to put that category, which isn’t usually televised, on the main broadcast partially because “[he] wanted to have something that maybe Beyoncé had a better chance of winning.”
The year before, Taylor Swift’s 1989 beat out Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly for the top honour, and in 2015, Beyonce’s self titled LP, which changed the way music was released, was upset by Beck’s Morning Phase.
In fact, the only official rap album to win Album of The Year was in 2004 with Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Lauryn Hill’s win in 1999 was technically considered R&B). The Grammys have nominated so few Asian musicians that a Google search about the inquiry turns up results for the Academy Awards, which makes Bruno Mars’ nominations (Mars is Filipino and Puerto Rican) in all three General Field categories even more monumental.
Frank Ocean, who in 2013 was beaten by Mumford & Sons for the Album of the Year, posted a scathing letter to the producers of the ceremony on Tumblr, calling them out on the apparent inherent racial bias at the awards—even refusing to submit both Endless and Blonde for Grammy consideration, in protest. He has also said to The New York Times that “[it] doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from.”
But this year, the numbers can’t be ignored. In Nielson Music’s mid-year report, the tracking company had declared that the combined genre of R&B and Hip Hop had become the most consumed musical genre in the United States for both physical sales and streaming (over 30% of music streamed on on-demand streaming services are R&B or Hip Hop). These figures are also reflected in the Billboard charts, where 9 of the 13 songs that have hit #1 this year have been by R&B or Hip Hop artists.
The President and CEO of the Recording Academy told Billboard that he believes “[the academy] very successfully hit the nail on the head where music is today in 2017 and 2018 with respect to genre and culture and society. Hip-hop and urban music are proliferating across the world.”
Although Record of the Year is certainly going to go to a musician of colour, it is now up to the Recording Academy to decide whether or not they will award the deserving artists they have snubbed in the past. The question remains—is this a change for good, or an asterisk in Grammys history?