Beyond handing out shiny future dust collectors to overdressed, oddly dressed, or under dressed people, the real purpose of award shows seems to be giving everybody something to bicker about that really isn’t important at all — a refreshing change from the rest of our lives.
This year’s Grammys featured instant classic performances by Tracy Chapman, who joined Luke Combs on a duet of her 1988 masterpiece “Fast Car,” which he covered last year. And then there was Joni Mitchell, at 80 and a decade after a brain aneurysm that nearly killed her, singing a powerfully moving rendition of “Both Sides Now.” That song — a big hit for Judy Collins more than 50 years ago — lands very differently when you have more years behind you than in front of you.
But Jay-Z had perhaps the most memorable moment that didn’t include a musical performance. On hand to accept the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award, Jay brought his older daughter Blue Ivy on stage with him. After some perfunctory thank-yous, a shoutout to the late DMX, and recalling how the Grammys have often disrespected hip-hop and its artists by announcing most of their categories before the televised portion of the show, Jay got down to what was really on his mind.
”We want y’all to get it right — at least get it close to right,” Jay-Z said to academy members about choosing its winners. “Obviously, it’s subjective because it’s music and it’s opinion-based and … I don’t want to embarrass this young lady, but she has more Grammys than everyone and never won Album of the Year. So even by your own metrics that doesn’t work.”
That “young lady,” as Jay put it, is Beyoncé, his wife.
Because she didn’t release an album last year, Beyoncé was not nominated for any Grammys this time around — not that she doesn’t already have plenty of them. With 32 awards so far, she’s the most honored artist ever. She’s won statues in an array of categories including R&B, urban, dance/electronica, rap, and pop. She’s won song of the year. But Beyoncé has come up empty for the Grammys’ most prestigious prize, Album of the Year.
“I Am … Sasha Fierce” lost to Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” in 2010. Beyoncé's eponymous 2015 album was bested by Beck’s “Morning Phase.” When Adele’s “25″ copped AOTY over Beyoncé's “Lemonade,” no one seemed more upset than Adele. “I can’t possibly accept this award,” she said while accepting her second AOTY award. “And I’m very humbled and I’m very grateful and gracious. But [the] artist of my life is Beyoncé. And this album to me, the ‘Lemonade’ album, is just so monumental.”
And then last year, “Renaissance,” Beyoncé's ebullient celebration of queer Black culture, came up short against “Harry’s House” by Harry Styles.
A lot has been said about Grammy voters habitually overlooking one of the most dominant performers of the 21st century. That includes how no Black woman has won AOTY since Lauryn Hill’s solo debut “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” and that was in 1998. And then there’s this dismal statistic — in the Grammys’ 66-year history, only 11 Black artists have gone home with AOTY.
But generally speaking, the Grammys have a tendency to get it wrong especially in its biggest category. Among those who’ve never won AOTY — Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Madonna, Mariah Carey, The Rolling Stones, and Nirvana. Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2018, making him the first hip-hop artist ever recognized. But that same album lost AOTY to “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars.
Then there’s Prince. “Purple Rain” lost AOTY to Lionel Richie’s warm bowl of crossover oatmeal, “Can’t Slow Down.” That same year, “Purple Rain” won Academy Awards for best song and best original musical, now called best original score.
Beyoncé isn’t filling stadiums worldwide because she has the most Grammys. But even with all she has achieved, I don’t doubt that she still craves the unique music industry coronation that only comes from winning AOTY. And she probably will someday, though hopefully it will be for something worthy and not one of those make-up awards, like Al Pacino finally winning an Oscar for the mostly forgotten “Scent of a Woman,” instead of “The Godfather, Part II,” his greatest performance.
So until it’s her name in the envelope for the Grammys’ most coveted prize, perhaps Bey, Jay, and her millions of fans can find some small solace knowing that by not winning an AOTY award she’s still sitting among some stellar and legendary company.