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Do the Grammys have a Race Problem?

Beyonce, Adele and Chance the Rapper at the 59th Grammy Awards

After a surprise shutout by Adele at the Grammys, the Recording Academy has received criticisms after Beyoncé lost in several major categories to Adele. There has been an outpour of response from the music industry with many taking to social media.

Prior to the award night, Beyoncé had been nominated for nine awards, a high amount that would have contributed to a record-breaking career high; only to go home with two for “Best Urban Contemporary Album” and “Best Music Video Performance.” Adele had been nominated for five awards, three in the same category as Beyoncé. Adele would win all three for “Album of the Year,” “Record of the Year” and “Song of the Year.”

Before the Grammys, rapper Frank Ocean wrote a blog post detailing why he would not be appearing at the Grammy Awards despite having two major albums and a potential Prince tribute performance. He quoted “cultural bias” and how he has been a successful black artist without the award is the ultimate tribute to Prince’s legacy. He detailed his boycott of the show, with a particularly scathing criticism on the Grammy’s:

“1989 getting album of the year over To Pimp A Butterfly. Hands down one of the most ‘faulty’ TV moments I’ve seen.”

At the awards, a visibly shocked Adele publicly commented in her speech how Beyoncé, “the artist of [Adele’s] life,” should have won the award for “Album of the Year” instead. Later in the pressroom, Adele said, “What the f**k does she have to do to win Album of the Year?” This thought was resonated by many artists.

Solange Knowles, Beyoncé’s sister, tweeted “waddup frank” with a link to that particular Tumblr post. The winner of “Best R&B Performance” later tweeted more thoughts like, “there have only been two black winners in the last 20 years for album of the year.” The tweets have since been deleted.

Folk artist Sufjan Stevens put his thoughts simply on his website: “Friendly reminder: don’t be racist.”  He wrote the following dialogue as well:

Q: WTF is “Urban Contemporary”?
A: It’s where the white man puts the incomparable pregnant black woman because he is so threatened by her talent, power, persuasion and potential.

Indie rock artist St. Vincent tweeted, “Re: Beyoncé and the Grammys. What Sufjan said” in support. Arcade Fire’s Win Butler tweeted, “If we have any respect for albums Lemonade is the album of the year.” Others like Diplo, Sia and Eric Andre took to Beyoncé’s side as well.


In recent response to the criticism, President of the Recording Academy Neil Portnow gave his remarks in a recent interview with Pitchfork.

“We don’t, as musicians, in my humble opinion, listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity. When you go to vote on a piece of music—at least the way that I approach it—is you almost put a blindfold on and you listen.”

Beyonce and Neil Portnow at the 59th Grammy Awards (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for NARAS)

Portnow denied a race problem, citing that Chance the Rapper won “Best New Artist” simply because the membership of the voters is diverse and open-minded. Compared to the Oscars, who has received great backlash due to little racial diversity, Portnow denies the connection to #OscarsSoWhite as well.


He also compared the Grammy vote to the U.S. election through popular vote. His response to diversity and voting was simple:

“So to anybody that is unhappy with the results or even feels that there could be a stronger representation of any genre or ethnic group, bottom line is very simple. Just become members, join and vote.”

This isn’t the first time the Grammy’s have had a race problem. Many award shows have struggled with recognizing diversity and this has been a hot topic for the past few years. While the Grammys do nominate more people of color, compared to the Oscars, very few actually walk away with those awards. Compared to the past twenty years, 35 artists of color were nominated for “Album of the Year” with only five walking away winning.

Do award shows like the Grammys have a race issue? Was Beyoncé snubbed? Do awards really matter like Frank Ocean said? Let us know your opinions.



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