Of all of the traditional award shows — Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, Tonys — the Grammys are by far the most interesting to watch. I’m definitely more invested in my favorite musical artist than I am the movies or shows that struggle for my attention. Plus, an opportunity to catch a performance from the likes of Beyoncé or Childish Gambino is always a yes for me. However, I also appreciate the Grammys because they don’t have nearly as many issues with inclusivity as their stage and screen counterparts. (A bittersweet byproduct of racism is that people of color are seen as more valuable for their musical contributions than their ability to tell stories that viewers can relate to. But that’s another post for another day.) Still, the Grammys — which released its full list of 2019 nominees today — are far from perfect. So despite the people of color representation in their Big 4 general categories — Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist — it’s hard for me to get my hopes up.
The Best New Artist category is honoring some of several of the Black women that I’ve had my eye on for years. Chloe x Halle, the prodigies and Beyoncé proteges that have been tackling the entertainment industry from all fronts with recurring roles on grown-ish and debut album that is also nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album. H.E.R. can no longer live in obscurity now that she’s being recognized by the highest awarding body in her industry. Meanwhile, Jorja Smith is a safe choice in this category, with a palatable sound that music lovers across the board can enjoy.
Record (awarded to a singular song’s performer) and Song (awarded to the songwriter) of the Year categories, in a good way, felt like business as usual — despite having 8 nominees instead of 5 — in terms of which artists of color/songs would be honored. Ella Mai’s inescapable “Boo’d Up” was in the Best Song category. Cardi B’s “I Like It,” which had an international appeal rivaling “Despacito,” got a Record of the Year nod along with Post Malone’s “Rockstar” which features 21 Savage. Childish Gambino’s callout of anti-Blackness, “This Is America” appears in both categories. As does Drake’s “God’s Plan” and the official song of Black Panther, “All the Stars” by Kendrick Lamar and SZA.
However, the Album of the Year was full of pleasant surprises. First of all, it also expanded to make room for 8 nominees like the rest of the Big 4. I fully expected to see Drake’s Scorpion in the running as he is a Grammy favorite. Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy makes sense, too, given the huge year she’s had. Black Panther: The Album which was produced by Kendrick Lamar? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really good album. But the Grammys ignore really good albums all the time. I don’t even know if Black Panther will get the Oscar nod it deserves, so its soundtrack showing up in the running for music’s highest honor is a little disorienting. I was also shook that the Recording Academy did right by Janelle Monae in honoring Dirty Computer, which both slapped and amplified the voices of queer and other marginalized peoples. She deserves every award as far as I’m concerned.
I know I should be happy about this inclusive group of nominees, but, again, I’m not holding my breath for any of them to win outside of their genre categories. The Recording Academy has a habit of dangling those glistening, golden gramophones — especially for the honor of one of their Big 4 general categories — right over the heads of artists of color, only to bestow the winning honor upon someone white. Let us never forget that Beyoncé, who has made at least two of the most groundbreaking bodies of work of our generation (her 2013 self-titled album and 2016’s Lemonade), still doesn’t have an Album of the Year win. This is an unforgivable sin. In fact the last Black artist to win Album of the Year was Ray Charles, who won posthumously in 2005. Bruno Mars took it home earlier this year, making him the first person of color in 13 years to do so. Please excuse me for having some trust issues heading into 2019.