Lemonade Didn’t Win Album Of The Year Because White People Don’t Know How To Not Be White People
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS
I chose not to watch the Grammys last night. Not because of any type of protest or performative apathy, but because my wife had a work-ish commitment that left me with my daughter all weekend, and it’s impossible to get any writing done when the Feminist Octopus is around. Sunday evening from 8pm to 2am was the only time I had to finish a chapter I wanted to complete by the end of the week.
I did, however, take a brief break to watch Beyonce’s performance live. It was a spectacle. Depending on your perspective, it was either sublime or self-consciously overindulgent. (Or both.) Either way, there could be no doubt in anyone’s mind that, whether you personally believe Beyonce merits this type of reverence and attention, we were watching the person considered by the people in the room to be The Most Important Person In The Room.
This is a status Beyonce has possessed since the surprise December 2013 release of Beyonce and cemented last year with Lemonade. Of course, there are those who’ve attempted to qualify her position as one that only exists within some sort of Black American (and specifically Black female American) bubble; citing other artists who perhaps match or surpass her in album sales, touring revenue, and critical hardware — a tired and transparently racist effort to somehow minimize the fact that the music industry’s HNIC is 1) a Black woman and 2) a Black woman whose art, while racially transcendent, is speaking directly to and created specifically for Black women.
There can also be no rational doubt that Lemonade — the biggest and most ambitious album from the world’s biggest artist — dominated 2016. And its sovereignty didn’t just extend to the airwaves. Its extended and mysterious rollout, the paralyzation of time that occurred when it debuted, the visual art accompanying it, the conversations and conspiracy theories spawned from it, the critical assessments of it (and the conversations about who was “allowed” to even assess it), the myriad interpretations of its lyrics, themes, and imagery — its cultural supremacy was total. Shit, there are fucking syllabi devoted to both understanding Lemonade’s context and using it as a springboard for an education on womanism.
And it losing out to Adele’s 25 — a nice and decent and popular album from a nice and decent and popular woman — last night was a message:
“Your best doesn’t matter here”
Perhaps this message was unintentional. Maybe they just believed that 25 was just better. A better representative of the year in music. A bigger success. A more important album. But even a lack of malicious intent does nothing but reinforce the concept of pervasive invisibility. That we could be on their stage, defying gravity and time and age and common sense while waving our pregnant-as-fuck bellies in their faces — with our cute-ass-fuck babies serving as our impromptu hype men — and they still don’t see us.
To her credit, Adele did what she could to acknowledge this invisibility in her acceptance speech. (And, for the record, I get why people may have been turned off by that. But isn’t this exactly what we ask White people who claim to be friends and allies to do? To acknowledge their privilege and use their status and position to call out other White people? Perhaps she didn’t communicate it as best she could, but those types of heartfelt appreciations — particularly ones existing in a cultural and racial minefield — are rarely perfect. I’m not sure what else she could have done or said.) But it’s little consolation for the inescapable reality of the moment.
Naturally, there are going to be people who’ll use this as more proof of why we (Black people) need to stop depending on the Grammys and the Oscars and the Emmys and other similar types of awarding for validation — a predictable ask for self-empowerment that seems logical but is inherently faulty. Because its recognition, not validation, that is sought. Validation exists to fill an internal deficit. Recognition is ultimately just desiring a level playing field and concretized rules that apply to everyone and make sense. In this context, it’s demanding that White people somehow remove their goggles of Whiteness and allow themselves to see what’s right in front of their fucking faces. Not just for our sake, or even their’s specifically, but just so they’ll maybe possibly finally get things right.