Beyoncé’s legacy is cemented with or without an album of the year award
The singer made history at the 65th Grammys, but the awards show still struggles with properly honoring Black artists
Let’s be honest: Beyoncé doesn’t have to win another Grammy award. After nabbing her history-making 32nd trophy at this year’s ceremony, she’s officially the greatest of all time in the music institution’s eyes.
Still, there’s one thing she doesn’t have: the Grammys’ highest prize, album of the year.
Each year, fans and critics debate the qualifications for album of the year. Does the album need to sell well? Does it need to be culturally relevant or significant? Does it have to have high production value and cohesion? Does it need to be transcendent? Renaissance, Beyoncé’s seventh studio album, checks all of the boxes. The album pays homage to the LGBTQ+ community and the Black, Latino and queer pioneers of dance music. It also inspired pop-up dance parties around the world, viral dance challenges, and a slew of fan-made remixes that even caught Jay-Z’s eye, only further highlighting the communal aspect Beyoncé hoped to foster with the album. And throughout the project’s 16 songs, full of musical homages, globe-hopping sonic vibes, and seamless transitions, Renaissance sounds as good as it makes listeners feel.
So, what happened at the Grammys? And more importantly, why does it keep happening?
Renaissance’s album of the year loss marks the fourth time Beyoncé has been bested in the category. Each year that she’s been up for the honor (2010, 2015, 2017, and 2022), she’s also been the ceremony’s most-nominated artist — but not the most awarded. Of Beyoncé’s 32 Grammy wins, nearly all have come in the “Black” categories, such as R&B and hip-hop, despite clocking multiple nominations in the “Big Four” grab bag, pop, and rock categories. Despite Renaissance’s critical and commercial success, Beyoncé’s latest album of the year snub displays the institution’s clear misunderstanding of the impact of Black music in popular culture, thus inching the Grammys and its governing body closer to losing its credibility altogether.
In recent years, the Recording Academy has placed an emphasis on being a more inclusive institution that’s reflective of the music industry’s evolution, both within its voting body and among the pool of nominees. In 2021, it announced that more than 2,700 new members joined the Recording Academy as a means to increase its diversity efforts and bolster transparency in voting. Ahead of this year’s show, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. acknowledged “there’s still more to do” when it comes to making the academy’s membership more reflective of the artists making music today. “If they don’t join, then we can’t change anything,” he told Andscape.
Mason might just be right. Last week, Variety interviewed five Grammy voters who anonymously discussed their selections for this year’s “Big Four” categories: song of the year, record of the year, best new artist, and album of the year. Though the sample size was limited, the voters’ answers highlighted the biases still present within the institution while it also crusades for change. One of the voters (described as “a music business veteran in his 70s”) said he didn’t vote for Renaissance for album of the year because “every time [Beyoncé] does something new, it’s a big event and everyone’s supposed to quake in their shoes,” adding that reactions to Beyoncé in general are “a little too portentous.” To many, it felt like this voter believed that Beyoncé — and by extension, popular Black artists of her stature — needs to be humbled by the very institution that should be embracing her, and that her fame somehow negates the quality of her artistry.
The snub also came as a shock, because of the hype the Grammys itself created about Beyoncé’s impending historic moment. From host Trevor Noah fanning out about her throughout the show, to the giant setup from TV personality James Corden as she broke the record for most wins, the whole thing felt like a setup. To not reward the most-decorated winner in the institution’s history after making it appear as though her coronation would be capped by her first album of the year win felt downright insulting. And the spectacle of the record felt more like the Recording Academy’s self-aggrandizement rather than a celebration of Beyoncé’s album. Was it simply chasing headlines about making history at its event with a Black woman as the subject? Was it hoping that by celebrating a Black woman so adoringly, everyone would forget about the academy’s lack of inclusivity?
Though Beyoncé likely won’t admonish the Recording Academy for yet another album of the year loss (or continually relegating her music to historically Black genres), artists have become more vocal about the racially-coded categorization of their art at the Grammys. After winning his first Grammy in 2020, Tyler, The Creator said that he felt “half and half” about the acknowledgement. “Whenever [Black artists] do anything that’s genre-bending … they always put it in a rap or ‘urban’ category,” he said, adding that his nomination and win for best rap album “felt like a back-handed compliment.” Rapper Drake, who did not submit his work for consideration this year, said that fan bases and adoration were more important than the Grammys — while accepting a Grammy in 2019. For the second year in a row, The Weeknd also opted out. It will be interesting to see if Beyoncé will do the same in years to come.
This isn’t to say that Harry Styles’ album Harry’s House, this year’s album of the year winner, is undeserving of such an accolade. Much like Renaissance, Styles’ effort hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart, it was home to a No. 1 single, and it saw fans across generations enjoying the material, both in real life and on social media.
But it was not Renaissance.
Those who admire Beyoncé are in awe of her because of the quality and dedication she puts into her craft, and a win in this category would help to solidify those attributes as recognized by her peers. Not only does Beyoncé evolve with the landscape of music, she continues to rewrite the rules of what is possible within it. She didn’t (and doesn’t) need to campaign for an album of the year Grammy; her legacy is already cemented. But if music’s “biggest night” wants to remain just that, they’ll have to get real about ensuring Black artists are treated fairly in a system that needs their creativity, but has historically tried to exclude them at the top.