The Grammys

Jay-Z's speech: Do the Grammys have a Beyoncé problem?

user avatar Author: Editors Desk Source: BBC News:
February 5, 2024 at 13:42
Getty Images
Getty Images

As her husband Jay-Z referenced in his speech on Sunday night, despite winning 32 Grammys, Beyoncé has never won the coveted prize for album of the year.

At Sunday night's Grammy Awards, Jay-Z highlighted a surprising slight hidden in the Recording Academy's recent voting record. Despite winning 32 Grammys across her remarkable career – more than any other artist – Beyoncé has never taken home the most prestigious prize of all: for album of the year. "Even by your own metrics, that doesn't work," Jay-Z said as he accepted the Dr Dre global impact award. "Think about that. The most Grammys, never won album of the year. That doesn't work."

More like this:

-       Why Fast Car became a viral moment at the Grammys

-       How Joni Mitchell forged a path for Taylor Swift

-       Why Beyoncé speaks for a generation

When the camera panned to Beyoncé, she did not respond visibly to her husband's comments, but there were a few cheers of support from the audience at LA's Crypto.com Arena. On X, the user @MJFINESSELOVER posted: "Jay-Z is 100% correct. The fact that Beyoncé has never won album of the year... is shameful." Another user, @spicebae, wrote: "We just need to go ahead and applaud Jay-Z for saying what everyone's been thinking about the nominations and Beyoncé never winning album of the year."

This enduring snub becomes even more egregious when you factor in that Beyoncé has been nominated for album of the year on five separate occasions: first in 2010 for I Am... Sasha Fierce, then a year later as a featured artist on Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster. Each of Beyoncé's next three nominations in this category – for the agenda-setting feminist missive Beyoncé in 2015, the genre-melding concept album Lemonade in 2017 and the heady dance opus Renaissance in 2023 – could have been converted into deserving wins.
 

Getty Images Jay-Z, shown on stage with Blue Ivy Carter, used his speech to ask why Beyoncé hadn't received the Grammys' album of the year award (Credit: Getty Images)
Getty Images, Jay-Z, shown on stage with Blue Ivy Carter, used his speech to ask why Beyoncé hadn't received the Grammys' album of the year award (Credit: Getty Images)
 

Lemonade in particular looked like a sure-fire album of the year winner. It explored the emotional impact of Jay-Z's rumoured infidelity through the prism of generational pain and racial inequality, making it culturally pertinent as well as musically accomplished. Across 12 tracks, Beyoncé effortlessly blended genres including reggae, rock, hip-hop, soul, funk, country and electronica. She also made a stunning accompanying visual album. When Adele won instead that year for her blockbuster third album 25, the British singer said in her acceptance speech: "I can't possibly accept this award. And I'm very humbled and I'm very grateful and gracious. But my artist of my life is Beyoncé. And this album to me, the Lemonade album, is just so monumental."

As Jay-Z pointed out, something about Beyoncé never winning album of the year just doesn't add up

Though it is never helpful (or fair) to compare female artists too closely, it is inescapable that Jay-Z’s comments came on the same night that Taylor Swift won album of the year for the fourth time. Her relatively low-key 10th studio album, Midnights, overrode strong competition from SZA, Olivia Rodrigo and Lana Del Rey, among others. Since 2000, several other female artists have won album of the year – Norah Jones, Dixie Chicks (now called The Chicks), Alison Krauss (jointly with Robert Plant), Kacey Musgraves, Billie Eilish and Adele (twice). But, as @MJFINESSELOVER noted in her viral tweet, the last time a black woman triumphed in this category came in 1999, when Lauryn Hill won with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Is some kind of racial bias to blame for Beyoncé being shut out? It definitely feels uncomfortable that just one of her 32 Grammy wins has come in a so-called "big four" category (to use the colloquial term that groups the highly coveted trophies for album of the year, record of the year, song of the year and best new artist). Beyoncé's sole big four triumph came in 2010 when Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) was named song of the year.

Her other wins have been in genre categories, including a record five for best R&B song. Any Grammy triumph is a sign of widespread industry recognition, but as Jay-Z pointed out, something about Beyoncé never winning album of the year just doesn't add up. Over the last decade especially, she has made music that defined the respective genres she has worked in – from R&B and rap to dance/electronica. But she has also made albums that transcended those genres to become pop cultural touchstones. For that reason, she is well overdue for an album of the year win. Thankfully, her creativity remains so undimmed that the Grammys should get many more attempts in the future to right this oversight.

If you liked this story, sign up for The Essential List newsletter – a handpicked selection of features, videos and can't-miss news delivered to your inbox every Friday.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Keywords
Advertisement
You did not use the site, Click here to remain logged. Timeout: 60 second