Taylor Swift is no stranger to breaking records. On Sunday night’s Grammys she became a four-time album of the year winner, smashing her tie with record holders like Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra. It’s a historic win that is not without controversy though.
Before, the coveted Grammy has gone to the likes of Jon Batiste, Bruno Mars, Adele and Beck — just to name a few. This year’s nominees ranged from Swift, SZA, Batiste, Janelle Monáe, Boygenius, Olivia Rodrigo and so much more.
However, the top contenders for the award were easily the ones who’d had the biggest year in music — SZA and Swift. Swift edged SZA’s “SOS” out with “Midnights” and became the first ever musician to win the award four times. But online critics argued that the SZA snub was yet again an indication that Black women in music are still historically being shut out of the prestigious award. A Black woman hasn’t won the award since Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in 1999. This is despite Beyoncé being nominated four times for paradigm-shifting albums. How did “Lemonade” not get its flowers? The last Black person to win the award was Batiste in 2022.
This idea that Black art and artists are undervalued at the Grammys didn’t go unnoticed during the night. Jay-Z, the most Grammy-nominated artist alongside wife Beyoncé, shared this sentiment when he went on stage to receive the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award for his contributions to music. The Brooklyn rapper said in his acceptance speech that the Grammys have come a long way since the rap music categories weren’t televised in the late ’80s and when he boycotted the awards when fellow rapper, the late DMX released two No. 1 albums and was completely shut out of the awards.
“We want you to get it right; we love you, but we want you to get it right — at least get it close to right,” Jay-Z said on stage with daughter Blue Ivy Carter beside him. “Some of you may get robbed . . . Some of you don’t belong in the category.”
Jay-Z clarified that “obviously, it’s subjective, because it’s music and its opinion-based,” but his biggest gripe with the Recording Academy is how someone like Beyoncé could be the musician with the most wins of all time but still not be awarded album of the year.
“I don’t want to embarrass this young lady, but she has more Grammys than everyone and never won album of the year,” he said. He continued, “So even by your own metrics, that doesn’t work. Think about that: The most Grammys – never won album of the year.”
Beyoncé has been the center of conversation around album of the year snubs since her self-titled album “Beyoncé” was beat out by Beck’s “Morning Phase” in 2015. Then, in 2017 when the singer lost to Adele’s “25,” the British singer used her thank you speech to acknowledge Beyoncé’s critically acclaimed “Lemonade.”
“I can’t possibly accept this award, and I’m very humbled, and I’m very grateful and gracious, but the artist of my life is Beyoncé,” she said. “And this album to me, the ‘Lemonade’ album, was just so monumental, Beyoncé, so monumental, and so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-bearing . . . All us artists here f**king adore you.”
Things were supposed to be different, be better when Beyoncé dropped her disco and house-infused “Renaissance” in 2022. Last year, critics predicted that she would finally take home the award that would show her domination in pop music but instead, Harry Styles’ “Harry’s House,” took home the top prize. In his acceptance speech, the British artist said, “This doesn’t happen to people like me very often.”
People online slammed Styles’ choice of words – i.e. “people like (him)” – claiming that he failed to understand his privilege as a white man because the majority of album of the year winners have been white men like Styles. People also began questioning how much more it would take for a Black woman to win the award again when someone like Beyoncé, the artist with the most nominations and wins, can’t even win the award.
According to candid secret ballots, some Recording Academy voters didn’t want to vote for Beyoncé to win album of the year because of the belief that she always wins. So it is unclear what really defines what a successful and deserving album of the year looks like to Grammy voters. Along those lines, last year SZA released “SOS,” which was the longest-running No. 1 album in the country (before Morgan Wallen’s album dethroned it) and stayed on the charts for 10 weeks, which also made it the longest-running No. 1 album from a female artist that decade. Not only did it break Billboard records, but it also was critically successful with a Metacritic score of 90. Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” also had similar cultural value, along with her $500 million world tour and concert film related to the album.
Only three Black women have won the award since the Grammys began, with the most recent win for a woman 25 years ago. But before Lauryn Hill’s Grammy sweep, Whitney Houston won the award in 1994. And before Houston, it was Natalie Cole in 1992. Overall, only 11 Black artists have won album of the year, including Wonder, Michael Jackson and Ray Charles.
Even Grammy-winning rapper Drake, who notoriously has criticized the Grammys for years and has openly talked about boycotting the awards altogether posted Sunday night on Instagram, “All you incredible artists remember this show isn’t the facts — it’s just the opinion of a group of people whose names are kept a secret,” he said. “Congrats to anybody winning anything for hip-hop, but this show doesn’t dictate s**t in our world.”
During Drake’s 2019 Grammy acceptance speech, the rapper even questioned the need for the awards at all because it is an opinion-based profession, not a factual one. “If there is people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need this right here, I promise you, you already won,” he said.
While Swift’s win for “Midnights” might be a reflection of culture’s obsession with her, her billion-dollar Eras tour, her fanfiction-like romance with NFL’s star player Travis Kelce and being named TIME’s person of the year, shouldn’t this same standard be applied to stars like Beyoncé and SZA? What’s stopping the Grammys from awarding them for their critical and commercial success too?
As Jay-Z said, Black artists cannot rely on the Grammys to validate them and they have to “forget the Grammys for a second.” He continued, “You’ve got to keep showing up until they give you all those accolades you feel you deserve, until they call you ‘chairman,’ until they call you a ‘genius,’ until they call you ‘the greatest of all time.’ You feel me?”