At last night’s 65th Annual 2023 Grammy Awards, Beyoncé won her 32nd Grammy and became the most awarded artist in Grammy history, but she should have ended the night with 33 Grammys and the award she has yet to win in her decades-spanning, groundbreaking career: Album of the Year.
One could argue last night’s show was the best Grammys production in recent memory, and almost all of our faves in the music industry actually turned up for the biggest celebration in music. (Missed you, Rih. Missed you even more, Meg.) It was meant to be a night to remember for a number of reasons, including an all-star commemoration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, but mainly because it was supposed to be the year that the Recording Academy finally got it right. Six years after her third consecutive Album of the Year loss, Beyoncé was once again nominated for the show’s most important category, and with Renaissance in the ring, there was no way she could lose…right?
As the host and treasurer of the Beyhive (I’ve seen his membership papers), Trevor Noah made sure to acknowledge Beyoncé as often as he could, celebrating her at every turn. Even before she arrived at the Crypto.com Arena, she’d already won three Grammys (Best Dance/Electronic Recording, Best Traditional R&B Performance, and Best R&B Song), and the room was buzzing with excitement at the prospect of her fourth win for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album. Even after learning that Beyoncé had become the most decorated Grammy winner in history, fans of Beyoncé who know that the Recording Academy continually does her dirty in major categories were still wrought with anxiety.
We were upset about her I Am…Sasha Fierce loss in 2010. (Kanye West more than others.) We were confused by Beyoncé losing out to Beck’s Morning Phase in 2015. Even Adele didn’t feel like 25 deserved to win over Lemonade in 2017. But this year, even in a super stacked category that included Lizzo, Kendrick Lamar, and Bad Bunny, Beyoncé’s fans, friends, and peers alike were sure that she had the AOTY win in the bag. How could we not? This was Renaissance!
I don’t need to explain the cultural impact of Renaissance, but I absolutely will. Beyoncé’s seventh studio album was released in July 2022, and it has been in heavy rotation for legions of Beyhive members, dominating TikTok, and topping the charts almost every day since. The first of a mysterious trilogy production, Renaissance was a passion project for Beyoncé recorded mid-pandemic with the sole goal of bringing joy to a world in dire need of an escape from a harsh reality. Beyoncé said that was inspired by the energy and vitality of the club scene — particularly the underground ballroom world and 1970s Black dance culture — and its lyrics spoke to that vivacious spirit, with songs like “Break My Soul” and “Church Girl” offering the timely reminder us that life is, in fact, worth living after all. After a cultural breakthrough like Lemonade (2016), the world wasn’t sure how Beyoncé could top the genre-spanning project, but Renaissance is the true culmination of Beyoncé’s life work and talent. She’s never sounded better than the vocal acrobatics of “Plastic Off the Sofa” and “Virgo’s Groove,” never had more fun than on the vogue-inspired outros on “Heated” and “Pure/Honey,” never been more confident than the humble-brag of “I’m That Girl” and “Alien Superstar.” Renaissance is Beyoncé’s best, most complete work yet, and she knows it.
The Recording Academy knows it, too; it’s why the Grammys viewership spiked 70% after she finally arrived at the event, and why they spent so much time hyping her up during the show. And that’s also why it’s so egregious that, for the fourth nomination in a row, the voters shut her out of the AOTY category yet again — this time giving the honours to Harry “This doesn’t happen to people like me very often” Styles and his third studio album Harry’s House. Cue the collection confusion. (No, literally — the crowd audibly gasped when Beyoncé wasn’t named the winner.)
We’re fully aware that Hollywood award shows are a racket; it’s been years since we’ve allowed ourselves to get personally invested in industry events like the Oscars, Golden Globes, and Emmys because we already know how they operate. Overlooking Black and brown people is their MO, so we’re almost always disappointed but never surprised. In fact, the Grammys have only awarded Album of The Year to three Black women (Lauryn Hill, Whitney Houston, and Natalie Cole). Still, when it comes to the Grammys, the repeated violations towards Beyoncé actually hurt. They feel intentional and malicious because the Recording Academy and the Grammys know that she is the gold standard of music and entertainment and has been for decades now. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t use her name for clout in their broadcast every chance they get.
From her debut in the girl group Girls Tyme to 2013’s surprise release of her self-titled album that changed the way musicians dropped their new projects, to the sheer force of Renaissance’s cultural impact (even without visuals!), Beyoncé has simply always been that girl. And as much as we, her passionate fanbase, knows it, so do her peers in the industry. You can’t speak to any musician in Hollywood about excellence without her name coming up in every conversation. She is your favourite musician’s favuorite musician (Lizzo dedicated her win for Record of The Year to Bey last night), an inspiration to all and a reminder that the secret formula to making timeless art is God-given talent, consistent dedication to her craft, and work. Knowing all that we know about Beyoncé and having had the good fortune to experience her as an artist for all these years, there shouldn’t be any doubt about who she is and what she means to music, to the world. Yet, many members of the Recording Academy actually resent her for being on top.
When it comes to the Grammys, the repeated violations towards Beyoncé actually hurt. They feel intentional and malicious because the Recording Academy and the Grammys know that she is the gold standard of music and entertainment and has been for decades now.
“With Beyoncé, the fact that every time she does something new, it’s a big event and everyone’s supposed to quake in their shoes — it’s a little too portentous,” an anonymous member of the Recording Academy shamelessly admitted to Variety before the Grammys.
“I didn’t vote for either Adele or Beyoncé in any of the top categories,” revealed another. “I love Beyoncé’s album and have been a fan of Adele, but I feel that they have already won a lot of Grammys.”
It’s been like this for years: people hate Beyoncé for being the best and actively want to punish her for it. After the great debacle of 2017, when we saw Beyoncé run herself ragged to promote Lemonade and still lose the AOTY award, there was a noticeable shift away from her usual method. She disappeared from the public eye, mostly minding her billionaire business except to pop up every now and then with passion projects like Ivy Park and Black is King. Even when Renaissance dropped, Beyoncé just kinda left us alone to enjoy the work, reappearing seven months after its release to announce a world tour. She obviously isn’t playing the game the same way anymore — what will happen when other stars take a page out of her book and lose faith or interest in the establishment and simply choose not to participate in industry politics?
Awarding Beyoncé with 32 Grammys but never giving her AOTY simply doesn’t add up; they know her music is incredible, but somehow never outstanding enough to win AOTY? Beyoncé is an artist first as well as a Virgo (a consummate professional and perfectionist to her core), so these losses will fortunately never affect the work itself — Beyoncé will always make quality music — but they do expose the clear biases of the Recording Academy and, subsequently, threaten its legitimacy as the supposed authority of music. If the Recording Academy voters can’t recognise greatness, or even worse, recognise greatness but refuse to give it its due time and time again, we can’t trust their jurisdiction. If we can’t trust them, we don’t need their validation. If we don’t need their validation, we don’t need the Grammys.