During music’s biggest night of the year, winners and performers of the 65th Annual Grammy Awards provided the most diverse representation seen in years. Many of the industry’s biggest names—including Beyonce, Adele and Bad Bunny—sat front row for notable wins in Los Angeles’ Crypto.com Arena on Feb. 6. Still, the results showed that the Grammy Awards has steps in recognizing diverse talent.
In a historic win, Kim Petras and Sam Smith received the award for best pop or group performance for their platinum-certified single “Unholy.” They are the first LGBTQ music duo to win the award, and they were also the second LGBTQ musicians to receive the Grammy in the award’s eleven-year run—performer Lil Nas X received the award in 2020 for “Old Town Road” with Billy Ray Cyrus. Notably, Petras is the first openly transgender musician in the category, and they thanked Madonna in their speech for “fighting for LGBTQ+ rights.” Smith is the first non-binary artist to win the award for best pop or group performance. Previously, Smith was nominated for “In The Lonely Hour” in 2015, with “Stay With Me” winning “Song of the Year.”
Beyonce ended the night by breaking a record as the most decorated Grammy winner in history. With 33 wins, she surpassed the late conductor Georg Solti, who won his last award in 1997. Her album “Lemonade,” critically acclaimed for its raw portrayal of Black womanhood, infidelity and African-American culture won best urban album, sparking debate about the Grammy’s lack of Black female musicians as album of the year recipients. Beyonce’s achievement served as a win after fans and critics dubbed her 2017 Grammy Award loss for “Lemonade,” a snub after Beck won for his album “Morning Phase.”
In addition to Beyonce, Black female artists shined during this year’s broadcast. The winners included Lizzo for record of the year, Samara Joy for best new artist and best jazz vocal album and Viola Davis for best audio book, narration and storytelling. Additionally, Davis became the third Black woman to join the highly respected EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) club, which consists of winners of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. In a star-studded performance, hip hop artists Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott and Salt-N-Pepa performed some of their biggest hits, including “My Mic Sounds Nice,” “Lose Control” and “U.N.I.T.Y.” Latifah ended her performance with encouraging words for aspiring female rappers.
“Don’t be a pawn, control your career, speak from the heart, say what you want to say, represent us and let’s go,” Latifah said. “Let’s get this.”
Additionally, the Grammy’s newest award category, “Best Song for Social Change,” further signified a move toward progress. Iranian singer-songwriter Shervin Hajipour won the award for his song “Baraye,” which protested the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman killed in Sept. 2022 while in police custody. Hajipour was arrested, and later released, for sharing the song. Other nominees included John Legend’s “FREE” and Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture.” A Blue Ribbon Committee judged the category, which was ratified by the Recording Academy’s board of trustees. First Lady of the United States Jill Biden introduced the special merit award, which is “now one of the highest honors a socially conscious song can receive,” according to the Grammy website.
“Shervin was arrested, but this song continues to resonate around the world with its powerful theme: women, life, freedom,” Biden told the crowd.
Despite a night of groundbreaking achievements, the Grammys still snubbed fan favorites from winning album of the year. For the fourth time, Beyonce lost Album of the Year, sending many fans to question the Grammy’s reluctance to award Album of the Year to Black artists. Since Lauryn Hill’s win in 1999, no Black female artist has won album of the year, although 11 Black female artists have been nominated for the title. Beyonce holds four nominations in different years. The results are similar for Black men. Jon Batiste won Album of the Year for “We Are” during the 64th Annual Grammy Awards, closing a 14-year gap between previous winner Herbie Hancock for “River: The Joni Letters.” Many viewers believe that the Recording Academy purposely snubs Black talent from winning prominent awards, with major artists such as John Legend co-signing this theory.
Beyonce’s highly-acclaimed album “Lemonade” lost album of the year to Adele during the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. During her acceptance speech, Adele refused her win by stating that Beyonce should have won for her “monumental, well thought out and so beautiful and soul-baring” album.
Despite breaking the record for global pre-ads in Apple music, The Weeknd’s album “After Hours” did not receive a nomination in any category during the 63th Annual Grammy Awards; in response, The Weeknd permanently boycotted the Grammy awards.
“The trust has been broken for so long between the Grammy organization and artists that it would be unwise to raise a victory flag,” The Weeknd told Variety.
Undoubtedly, each nominee of album of the year qualifies to win the award; the honor of a nomination is a massive achievement. Yet, fans will naturally start to examine why highly-acclaimed and platinum-selling albums such as “Lemonade” and “After Hours” fail to garner adequate recognition.
For example, Harry Styles’ album of the year win for “Harry’s House” has received criticism from music fans, mirroring the 57th Grammy Album of the Year controversy between Beyonce and singer-songwriter Beck. Released in May 2022, the album made 330,000 sales, the highest number of first-week sales made by a male artist in two years. Styles co-wrote all 13 songs on the album, reminiscent of Beck, who wrote all songs for his album of the year win in 2015. Beyonce’s “Lemonade” featured songs with at least three to four co-writers; for “Renaissance,” the number of contributors increased to no less than six.
The Recording Academy seems to award artists for being involved in the holistic making of an album songwriting, producing, recording—rarely basing their decision on the general public’s perception.
Beyonce’s recurrent album loss is not her fault, just as Harry’s win is not his. Instead of adhering to The Recording Academy’s rules, Beyonce has achieved something that the Grammy Awards are working on perfecting. With over ten Black artists credited as co-writers for the sixteen-track album — notable names include Pharrell Williams, Shawn Carter and Raphael Saadiq—Beyonce is far ahead of music’s biggest night in terms of celebrating Black creatives. Her seventh studio album, “Renaissance,” provided exposure to many smaller up-and-coming Black songwriters, such as Nija Charles and Leven Kali, who received their first Grammy nominations for the category Songwriter of the Year.
We cannot ignore these small wins over battles that may not be worth winning if it is to sacrifice Black creatives and their work. Beyonce may never win album of the year with an Academy that values artists’ engagement over pop culture influence, but she can provide opportunities to Black talent in ways that the Grammys cannot. The Grammys have much catching up to do. This year was a much-needed start.
Milan Parker (she/her) (24N) is a junior from Newark, New Jersey studying nursing. She is a current communications intern at The Bazelon Center for Mental Health and a staff writer for Study Breaks Magazine. Her favorite hobbies include inline skating, exploring nature and polaroid photography.