Of Course America Couldn’t Let Beyoncé Win Album Of The Year
The white music establishment can’t celebrate Beyoncé, and maybe she doesn’t need it to.
When Beyoncé lost to Adele for the Grammys’ Album of the Year, I felt about it much like I felt when the Senate confirmed Jeff Sessions. I knew it would happen — there was no way an album that featured Black Lives Matter imagery was ever going to win such a huge award from a predominantly white establishment, they wouldn’t have the courage — but a part of me was praying that today would be the day that white people surprised me. Guess what, they didn’t. And as I watched Adele reluctantly take that Grammy, even the look on her face told the story that America is bogus. This country will always build its culture on the backs of Black people, and congratulate itself for doing so.
Beyoncé was allowed to win Song of the Year when she wore her Black identity like a circus. White men and women could happily scream, “All the single ladies!” and pretend to pat their weave in the club because to them that’s all we were. We were caricatures, angry and intimidating ladies with fake hair that disparaged men because no one men wanted us, anyway. Yet, as soon as she took hold of her image and declared her roots — you mix that creole with that Negro, make a Texas bama — she went from America’s favorite bouncy Black girl to something divisive. When it became clear that her work was inspiring women, Black women especially, she became something worth demeaning. White men, white women, and even Black men were suddenly offended by her sexuality and hyper-aware of her marketing team, shifting her success away from her and to her husband, Jay Z, and the invisible white people behind her.
When it became clear that her work was inspiring women, Black women especially, she became something worth demeaning.
Not only her team, but Beyoncé herself labored to create Lemonade, striking us with profound images like Beyoncé ascending out the water like the Goddess Oshun, her “hot sauce in her bag swag” as her unbridled anger, as well as various rich and haunting scenic shots of the South. When “Formation” premiered, it was Beyoncé and Beyoncé alone who sat on top of a sinking cop car, and it was her voice that told tricks to slay or get eliminated while a police line raised their hands in surrender to a little Black boy who danced. It was with this release that Beyoncé became more than “some pop singer” by any means. She’d become what she’d always wanted to become: a true artist. And with that, she could not win Album of the Year. She’d win Urban Album of the Year, sure, the eternal and demeaning asterisk that tells the world, “this is a black album created for black people, pay it no mind…BUT OVER HERE, ADELE.”
I feel her speaking to me, showing me how to reclaim the power in our troubled history.theestablishment.co
Lemonade was, in many ways, a low-key Blues album. Like the greats before her, Beyoncé had harnessed her pain, Black pain, Black women’s pain in order to create a cultural revolution. Black folks have always done this — metabolized our pain through music — and white folks have always taken that inspiration, stripped it of its specific Blackness, and reaped the benefits. Just last week, I sat around with some friends and family, listening to Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters as my mother told stories of how the infamous Rolling Stones were such fans of the duo that they literally named their band after Waters’ “Rolling Stone.” From the guitar riff to pop mechanics, our roots make up the DNA of of every genre played today. Adele and her award-winning album are no exception.
Like the greats before her, Beyoncé had harnessed her pain, Black women’s pain, in order to create a cultural revolution.
I’ve always loved Adele, but even she has long admitted what we all know: She is the quintessential white artist with a Black sound. This is the backbone of the Industry, how Elvis climbed on the back of Big Mama Thornton to become an icon. How David Bowie found his sound. How Madonna became Vogue, George Michael yelled “Freedom!”, and Eric Clapton can be hailed as one of the greatest guitarists to ever live while he copied Chuck Berry and BB King. This industry has always packaged a Black soul in whiteness and sold it to millions — thus dulling this soul, making it easier to look at through eyes clouded by white fragility.
Beyoncé, whose soul emanates the vitality of Afro-roots, can not be easy for the delicate to observe. When she stepped on the stage covered in imagery of Ancient Nubian lore, she embodied Isis, Bastet, Oshun, even the Virgin Mary. She was a fertility goddess being rolled down the Nile into the heart of its continent. She was our ancestors roaming through our kingdoms and empires that white supremacy has long tried to bury. She spiritually careened through the audience, parading Black womanness and motherhood. She chipped at the corners of my heart. Her vulnerability was my strength as well as millions of others women like me and through her art, she brought unbridled joy and pride. It must be hard for the white supremacist establishment to have to watch the very thing it has so long tried to murder. I can imagine that this must feel as if Beyoncé is shoving its own terrible misdeeds and therefore its inadequacies down its metaphorical throat.
It must be hard for the white supremacist establishment to have to watch the very thing it has so long tried to murder.
This discomfort and terror made it impossible for the white establishment to celebrate Beyoncé, and I for one embrace its disregard. I look for no white validation when it comes to Lemonade. Beyoncé won more than a Grammy could ever hope to give. She won by becoming a vessel for spiritual and emotional awakening and healing. She re-imagined what albums could do, what music videos could do. She forever changed the game, and made us stronger.
So, win that shit!