“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.”
— Commentary from Lemonade the Film.
There has never been a more obvious snub in Grammy history for album of the year than awarding Adele’s 25 over Beyonce’s Lemonade. Hear me out. I’m not part of Beyonce’s so called “Beyhive” and I’m not about to whine (as a Huffington Post contributor put it ever so eloquently).
I’m a white man. Lemonade wasn’t made for me.
It’s not meant for me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and respect it. Most of the commercial art since the beginning of time was made for me. Most female characters on the screen were put there for me. Most female voices on the radio were photographed and dressed for me.
But Lemonade the film is more than a statement about race in America. It challenged me to ask the hard questions about love and relationships. It made me reevaluate my relationship with my partner of 10 years and made me respect and appreciate her (and our relationship) that much more. It helped me understand women more than I ever had. It helped me understand and appreciate black women and black culture.
There is an undeniable race division in this country.
Many white people refuse to even attempt to accept the fact that black people have been persecuted (and continue to be discriminated against). Many white people refuse to believe there is any kind of bias against black people because they can now legally attend the same schools and can drink from the same water fountains. Oh how short our memories are. Even with the countless videos of white police brutality and discrimination (and murder!) of black men, these white people refuse to accept they are privileged if nothing more than the fact that they don’t have to be afraid when they see the police. Or are privileged simply by the fact that their parents were legally allowed to go to any college they wanted. Or purchase homes in any neighborhood they wanted. Or get loans from the bank.
And they refuse to accept that racial bias is even an issue. I hear justification after justification of “well there must have been a reason” when a doctoral university student gets pulled over in a car he owns because a frightened white woman called the cops and said he looked suspicious so they pull him over and beat the shit out of him while screaming “stop resisting.” And, as we all know by now (no matter how many ‘alternate facts’ you’ve been hearing) this isn’t, unfortunately, an isolated incident.
But this goes both ways.
Many black people (and progressive whites) refuse to accept that just because someone is white and have all the privilege their skin color affords them in our society that they don’t have struggles or pain. That they don’t work hard to get what they have. That losing their jobs, having to take pay cuts and losing their identity and quality of life because of it isn’t a real problem because they are afforded so many benefits simply for being white. Not acknowledging this reality is part of the reason why we continue to talk past one another.
We are not doing enough listening. Exploring. Understanding. You can’t have sympathy if you don’t allow yourself to be challenged to accept that your reality is different from someone else’s. Just because you feel pain doesn’t mean they can’t also. Expressing sympathy, awareness and compassion doesn’t make your struggle any less valid. It’s not a competition for who has it worse. It should be a competition for who can help others the most. Who can break out of their immediate circle and help someone completely different from them.
When these issues are so raw and prevalent in our county we need art to help us understand. To help bridge the gap. To encourage and comfort the disenfranchised. Not demonize. Not demoralize.
Lemonade does not hate on white people. It celebrates black culture.
We have been celebrating white culture for the entire existence of America (and Europe). We have been studying white history for the history of western civilization. It’s why we all know Neil Armstrong’s name but not Katherine Johnson.
Lemonade is so much more than just an album of good songs. It is a complete piece of art. It is the Dark Side of The Moon of 2016. It was created as a complete piece of art. And the film is the final product.
25 was a collection of good songs. Some great songs, but most were just good. But even if all 11 songs were “hits” it still wouldn’t deserve this high honor over Lemonade because an album should be more than just a collection of songs. The reason to release a full length album (especially in this day in age) is only if you have something to say. If not, then just release singles every month or something. Yes, I understand why record labels still put out full length albums. To maximize their marketing push and (for Adele and Taylor Swift fans) sell a boat load of CDs. For those under 20 who don’t know what a CD is – well it doesn’t matter anymore because Chance The Rapper proved you don’t need to know.
The reason Adele released an album was for marketing purposes. Beyonce released Lemonade because she had something to say.
Rick Rubin has said “the best art divides an audience.” Not many truly dislike 25 or Adele for that matter. But boy do people have opinions when it comes to Lemonade and Beyonce. 25 made history for its sales numbers. Not for it’s place in the world of music. Most people bought the album before hearing it! Sales numbers do not define quality. How many one hit wonders of the 90s sold boat loads of albums? Way too many to count. We’re not still discussing their albums two decades later.
The music world has now been separated into eras: Before Lemonade and After Lemonade. It was such a contribution that it raised the bar for music. For film. For what an album can be. For how art is created.
Who’s to say that an album is only a collection of songs?
An album used to be limited to 44 minutes. Why? Because a vinyl record could only hold about 22 minutes of music per side before serious quality reduction. But technology evolved to afford the length of a CD so people made longer albums. And with downloads and streaming album lengths are now limitless. But as we continue to evolve with technology the artists that push the boundaries are revered, renowned and remembered. The artists who stay in their comfort zones and create art for commercial sake are eventually forgotten.
Will 25 live on as one of the greatest albums of all time? No. Will Lemonade? Yes.
It was hard to see Adele standing on stage with a sea of white men.
The visual contrast between the two major contenders of this category couldn’t have been more apt. It makes me question how much Adele did for her album other than just deliver impeccable vocal performances. One of my white male friends asked me what I thought that most of Beyonce’s co-writers were men (and some of those men were white).
Let me explain co-writing for those who’ve never done it. It’s a collaborative process and Beyonce doesn’t get handed songs anymore with a panel of white men in suits barking “sing this.” You can’t listen to Lemonade and not hear Beyonce’s immense contribution to the songs. She has producer and writing credit on every song. As someone who has been in countless co-writing sessions and has made 5 full-length albums, it is a collaborative process. And this entire project was clearly masterminded and executed by Beyonce – no matter how many collaborators she brought on to help realize her vision.
And she didn’t simply bring in the “go-to” pop songwriters of LA (like who Adele did), Beyonce challenged herself artistically and musically to create songs completely outside of her comfort zone (she worked with Jack White for godsake!). Any of the songs on 25 could be on 21 or 19. Beyonce continues to challenge herself and I appreciate that as an artist.
It’s hard to believe that most of Beyonce’s vocal haters aren’t coming from a place of racial hatred or resentment.
We all remember the immense backlash after Beyonce appeared on the CMA’s with the Dixie Chicks to sing her song “Daddy Lessons” – which is a straight ahead country-pop song. The performance was blasted on social media with people screaming “you don’t belong here!” Hmm. Where was the outrage when Justin Timberlake sang on the exact same awards show with Chris Stapleton? A fellow R&B/pop singer. Oh he’s ok because he’s white? What about after Taylor Swift completely turned off country and turned on pop. She’s welcomed back with open arms. So please explain to me why Beyonce doesn’t belong there? The song she performed is as country as it gets. She’s singing about guns, whiskey and trucks. Explain to me why she doesn’t belong?
It’s difficult to accept that 25 being awarded album of the year over Lemonade was simply for the fact that it was less controversial. Maybe the mostly-white male voting group didn’t like being told that this album “wasn’t for them.” Yes, 25 is for everyone. And that’s exactly what makes it forgettable.
I’m not trying to hate on Adele. I really enjoyed 25. And all of her work. I actually was stopped in my tracks the first time I heard “Rolling in the Deep” and rushed to the nearest CD store to buy it. But when you put 25 and Lemonade next to one another and ask people to vote on them, it’s simply no contest.
Adele was incredibly gracious accepting the award. She knew she didn’t deserve this award over Lemonade.
“I can’t possibly accept this award. I’m very humbled and very grateful and gracious, but my life is Beyonce. The Lemonade album, Beyonce, was so monumental, and so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-bearing. And we all got to see another side of you that you don’t always let us see, and we appreciate that. And all us artists adore you. You are our light. And the way that you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my black friends feel, is empowering, and you make them stand up for themselves. And I love you. I always have. And I always will.”
— Adele accepting the Grammy for Album of the Year
That dude on the Huffington Post tried to explain that Lemonade didn’t deserve album of the year because there were not “hits.” Like hits = good art. How many hits did Bon Iver have? How about Beck’s Morning Phase? This argument falls completely flat when you just go back though Grammy history, uh, one year.
Other arguments come from people who have never seen the Lemonade film and have only heard one song off of the album when Beyonce performed “Formation” at the Super Bowl. They say “I shouldn’t need to see anything to appreciate an album.”
Well, as my friend and masterful singer/songwriter Chris Koza put it,
“The calendar says 2017 and music and visuals are irrevocably tied together. They have been for decades. Why is it that artists spend so much effort generating an aesthetic?
To think this aesthetic doesn’t inform or proliferate the reach or context of their song-work is short-sighted at best. Adele thanked her whole team for the “comeback roll-out.” That was a story-spin that created a wave to carry the music like the stories of Beyonce and Lemonade, or going back to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago.
“It is my opinion that the aesthetic and the story of an artist are as big or bigger of an influence on awards than the music itself. One doesn’t get into the room without a pass, and one doesn’t get a pass without being relevant and one is not relevant unless those who hand out the passes deem as such. Adele makes beautiful music – the kind of music that has won Grammys since the beginning of these awards shows. It is immaculately produced, virtuosically performed and commercially appealing. It’s really, really good!
“Over the years we’ve watched Beyonce transition from a 2-dimensional hit-making top 40 commercial artist with Destiny’s Child and earlier solo work to what I would argue into a powerhouse conceptual artist relevant and influential enough to create real social awareness and change.
“There’s a reason why some people think the term ‘BAE’ derived from Beyonce. She creates work that assimilates into the fabric of social awareness. If the price for that type of influence is not winning a Grammy, then may the awards go to other artists year after year. I’m grateful for artists that pursue their work regardless of accolades or recognition, especially the ones who will never reach even the furthest stratosphere of the Grammys.”