As we all know, last Sunday, Beyoncé was robbed.
After giving us the most dynamic, poignant, present, and moving album of the year if not the last few years, Grammy voters decided to give the award for Album of the Year to Adele for her album 25. It wasn’t shocking—this is how institutional racism works—but it was still such a miscalculation that Adele herself could not accept it.
It’s glaringly clear that the Grammys consistently dismisses black talent (examples include Macklemore winning Best Hip Hop Album over Kendrick Lamar in 2014, Taylor Swift winning Album of the Year over Kendrick Lamar last year,and the Grammys not nominating ANY black people for Best New Artist or Record of the Year in 2015). But according to the president of the Recording Academy Neil Portnow, the Grammys don’t have a race problem. In an interview with Pitchfork, he said:
No, I don’t think there’s a race problem at all. Remember, this is a peer-voted award. So when we say the Grammys, it’s not a corporate entity—it’s the 14,000 members of the [Recording] Academy. They have to qualify in order to be members, which means they have to have recorded and released music, and so they are sort of the experts and the highest level of professionals in the industry…
We don’t, as musicians, in my humble opinion, listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity. When you go to vote on a piece of music—at least the way that I approach it—is you almost put a blindfold on and you listen.
He went on to explain that the members of the academy are asked not to pay attention to popularity, sales, chart, etc., and that the votes are cast entirely based on how the members subjectively feel about it. He then went to say that Chance the Rapper winning Best New Artist should prove that the Academy is diverse and open-minded.
So this is pretty insulting! To be unable to see an issue with the fact that the last time a black person won Album of the Year was in 2008, is very upsetting. But to outright dismiss the idea of racial disparity by bragging that your listening habits are colorblind is really disconcerting! If you’re listening to Lemonade and cannot see it or refuse to recognize it as an ode to black womanhood, that’s a problem!
In attempting to sanitize the politics of the situation, not only has Portnow erased the point of Beyoncé’s art, but he’s doubled down on the assumption that whiteness is objectivity. It was just last year that Billboard published an interview with two Grammy Academy members, in which one mentioned that the voting bloc is still “too white, too old and too male.” In the same way that when the winner of Album of the Year considers the award an injustice you know there’s probably something to it, when members of the academy claim the voting body is too white, old, and male, there’s probably something to it.
Portnow can try to claim the Grammys are some democratic utopia, but as long as they continue to dismiss black artists while rewarding white mediocrity, the awards have a damn race problem in my book.