BY CONNER BRYAN
Again. He’s about to do it again.
The thought must have passed through thousands of minds at the same time when at the 2015 Grammy awards viewers saw Kanye West mount the stage. The act was a near repeat of the stunt he pulled during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards when, fueled by Hennessy and a strong opinion, West took the microphone from Taylor Swift’s hands and announced to the audience that “Beyoncé had one of the best music videos of all time!”
His outburst was almost universally condemned as inappropriate, and he was about to do it again.
It came at the biggest moment in the show: Prince had just given Beck the award for Best Album of the Year for “Morning Phase.” Kanye hopped on the stage, made a beeline for Beck. The cameras scanning the audience made apparent the chagrin on their faces.
Yet, I cannot help but think that his outburst this year was justified. Among the nominees that Beck beat out for Best Album: Beyoncé’s self-titled album.
Beck is a great artist, and “Morning Phase” is a good album. It was no surprise to me when he won Best Rock Album of the Year. He should not have beaten Beyoncé for Best Album.
“Beyoncé” was released without prior notice or promotion on December 13, 2013. Year-end best lists that had already been completed made room for it. It experimented with the concept of an album by pairing each song with a video. Her experiment was highly lauded, the videos themselves winning awards. It won overwhelming approval from a wide range of audiences and phrases like “I woke up like this” quickly entered the zeitgeist.
Beyoncé had the best album of the year, so why were the Grammys reluctant to give her credit?
Grammys’ Record through the Years
Think back to the 2013 Grammy Awards. In the largest upset of the awards season that year, Mumford and Sons’ “Babel” beat out Frank Ocean’s “channel ORANGE” for album of the year. In that year, as in this one, the losing artist’s album had received overwhelmingly positive scores from critics, while the winner had a less stellar record. Metacritic, a site that aggregates prominent critical reviews into one composite score based on a 100 scale, ranked “Babel” at 63; “channel ORANGE” received a 92.
The 2014 Grammys. In the rap category, the highly favored album “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” by Kendrick Lamar (Metacritic score of 91) failed to take the Rap Album of the Year title; it went to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for “The Heist” (Metacritic score of 74), also defeating rap heavyweights West, Jay Z, and Drake. Even Macklemore confessed that he did not understand this decision, later posting to Instagram that Lamar “should have won [in my opinion].”
There is also the fact that, despite its prominent popularity among viewers, awards given out in the Rap category – a category that is predominantly black artists – have often lagged behind other categories in terms of screen time and were not televised at all during this year’s ceremony.
At a December show in Phoenix, West said, “I’m 36-years old and I have 21 Grammys. That’s the most Grammys of any 36-year old. Out of all of those 21 Grammys, I’ve never won a Grammy against a white artist.” While his claim may not be the rule, his 53 Grammy nominations go to show that his talent – and thus his suggestion of bias against black artists – are not coincidences
I also have to consider that the upsets of these past three years – some more upsetting than others (really? Mumford and Sons?) – are more than upsets, considering how linked they seem. They are denials of true talent.
With all the bias against powerful black artists, who are the Grammys truly awarding?
And the Winners Are…
“The GRAMMY Foundation was established in 1988 to cultivate the understanding, appreciation and advancement of the contribution of recorded music to American culture,” their website reads.
“Beyoncé” was more than a contribution to American culture. It modified the stance of women in the music industry with its feminist ethos and evolved the genres of R&B and pop by incorporating hip-hop and electronic elements in surprising ways. It was – and remains – an impactful cultural
“At this point, we tired of it. What happens is, when you keep on diminishing art, and not respecting the craft, and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration,” West said when prodded about his actions after the Grammys.
I think of the astounding, inspired literary feats in American history that have been banned for their “obscenity,” and I shudder. Looking back now, it is easy to see that the values of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Howl” trump their supposed obscenity. How foolish were the people who held them back in the first place, just for what they appeared to be.
I can only hope a similar mistake is corrected before it is too late, because when great art is denied on any basis, the wins are superficial and everyone loses.
Kanye quote from 2009 MTV Music Video Awards < http://www.mtv.com/ontv/vma/2009/>
The Grammy Foundation info <http://www.grammy.org/grammy-foundation>
Kanye after Grammys quote <http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2015/02/kanye-beck-grammys>
Kanye performing in Arizona quote <http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-juice/5820083/kanye-west-addresses-grammy-album-of-year-snub-watch>
Album review scores via <metacritic.com>