There are no more excuses; and this is nothing new. You can say Beck released an amazing album. You can even say the Grammy’s are irrelevant in regard to the pulse of music today. You might be right. But, the Grammy’s are still largely watched and discussed and that makes them relevant and political in our pop-culture obsessed contemporary world. We all choose to listen to whatever music we want on our own time, but it means something to see that music get celebrated in such a major way. As Azealia Banks said, it shows all people out there watching what/who is worthy of praise and what/who falls short. These decisions almost always represent and uphold “white supremacist capitalist [hetero]patriarchy” - a phrase bell hooks began using many years ago and remains equally relevant now.
In an industry run mainly by rich, white men, Beyoncé breaks all the rules. Even before coming out explicitly with her feminist consciousness, she was surrounding herself with women — and even more notably, other black women and women of color — in spaces where these same women were underrepresented. From dancers, band members, and business associates, Beyoncé has long celebrated powerful women of color and taken control of her own career in ways that hardly any other black female artist has been able to do while also maintaining a similar level of superstar success. And this is why she scares the Grammy’s. And that is exactly why they did not award her Album of the Year at this year’s Grammy’s. It was one of the biggest snubs of all time, but it also comes off as the Grammy Awards punishing Beyoncé for breaking all those tried-and-true rules of white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. All this exposition is to say, in the clearest way possible: Beyoncé’s snub for Album of the Year this year for BEYONCÉ is some serious racist and sexist bullshit.
Beyoncé broke every rule about what she could and was supposed to release with BEYONCÉ. She created an album with 14 songs and 17 videos in secret and gave it to the world with no press tour, endless teaser singles, or any fanfare at all. This alone is unheard of. The fact that she is a black woman doing things that would prove difficult even for white men in the music industry is truly remarkable. That alone is enough reason to award BEYONCÉ Album of the Year. Further, the album is sonically, lyrically, visually, and politically daring. Aside from 2 (possibly 3) more traditionally commercial songs, the album consisted of sounds and vocals we have never heard from Beyoncé — or anyone else for that matter — before. It drew on music and themes of the past and pushed them to places we didn’t know they could go. That’s what great art does. And Beyoncé’s spectacular art literally stopped the world. As she said on Nicki Minaj’s “Feeling Myself”: “Changed the game when that digital dropped / Know where you was when that digital popped / I stopped the world / Male or female it makes no difference / I stopped the world / World stop…Carry on.”
Unfortunately, to the Grammy’s it looks like it does make a difference. They were never going to give Beyoncé their most coveted award for an album that criticized and vilified the music industry in general (“Ghost,” “Haunted”); proclaimed unequivocal black feminism (“***Flawless”); celebrated unabashed and unashamed powerful female sexuality (“Rocket,”Blow”); exposed the racialized side of poverty in the U.S. (“No Angel”); and critiqued the audience’s own objectification of the black female body (“Partition,” “Jealous”), among many, many other things. People often tell me that when teaching “Politicizing Beyoncé” I’m reaching too far or making something out of nothing - they insist Beyoncé isn’t political. On the other hand, the Grammy’s find her album too political to award. Interesting dichotomy, but one that most black women in the U.S. are all too familiar with.
And Beck released a perfectly fine album. But at the end of the day, that is all Morning Phase was. Fine. And Beck is a white man, so that means his perfectly fine music gets elevated to savior status. That’s not to say Beck hasn’t released great music in the past - he has. But despite being lauded by pretentious music critics everywhere, Beck’s Morning Phase was kind of a mid-tempo snooze. Beyoncé makes music and historic moments that stop the world; and Beck makes music that might very well put the world to sleep.