A White Man Explains Beyonce and The Grammy Loss

Beyonce Performing at the Grammys

“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.

                   +Why I Paid $17.99 for Beyonce (and Refuse To Buy Other Downloads)

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.”

Lemonade is a generation defining masterpiece. It is not merely an album of the year. It is the album of our time.

36 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    I’m 1/4 African-American.

    Is it for me?

    My son is 1/8 African-American.

    Is it for him? What if it was my daughter?

    • LadyMusicLawyer

      Not-white members of the Academy need to turn out and vote – to add their voice to Grammy selection process. I think too many don’t bother to vote and the awards reflect that. But if everybody voted, might have different results.

      • Versus

        So people only vote for the artists who match their own skin color?

        • Brad Johnson

          Do people read. I feel people have a perception, read the title and a few blurbs and spit what ever is on their mind.

          Short answer No.

          We should acknowledge Black genius will always be punished by White mediocre e.g. Macklemore vs. Kendrick Lamar album of the year. Another are white artist in the 50’s that stole ‘black music’ music. Google it.

          Both artist are great, but you cannot deny if you were a teacher and both students submitted their work.. I would honestly say Beyounce won.. considering she tackled tough issues, made a video for EVERY song and was creative in the process.

    • freeyonce

      did you listen to it?!? it being for blk people means that it speaks to us, it doesn’t mean you HAVE to listen or like it because you’re black. jfc.

  2. Amanda

    Wow! Thank you. I couldn’t agree more. Ive watched Lemonade 8 times… still moved to tears every time. She definitely deserved album of the year. I appreciate how gracious Adele was in acknowledging that truth.

  3. Lorraine Nebo

    I don’t think those two albums should have competed against one another. I think
    Beyonce should have won best female hip hop Album of the year and Adele should have gotten the best pop Album of the Year. 2 different styles of music should never compete. It’s not fair to the artists. There are more people that are into pop than hip hop , or more into hip hop than pop. It’s not fair. And you know if anybody stands up to say black lives matter, their will be people in higher rank positions that will want to try want to sweep that one under the carpet, but instead it has put more fuel to the flame.

    • Rahkua

      you’ve missed the point…and obviously have NOT heard Lemonade. It is the furthest from a “hip-hop album” that you could get.

    • freeyonce

      hip-hop?! lmaooooo. first, beyoncé’s not a hip-hop artist, she sings r&b. and lemonade had everything from rock to country on it. it’s not about what “people” are into. the grammy committee decides on the categories and winners and album of the year, in particular, is supposed to go across genre. it’s (supposed to be) about who had the best music of that year, period. the genre-specific categories have their own place.

  4. Randy Legend

    My comments are not a critique of Beyonce or Adele’s music, because I haven’t listened to either album. But consider this, the NFL had the national anthem protest which was a big political stance and the viewers responded by turning off the t.v. Why? Because the purpose of football for most people is entertainment, escape, relaxation…not a political news show. So, maybe people want to just listen to music for entertainment, escape, relaxation, and not to be “educated”, or whatever. But what do I know, I think Milli Vanilli should get their Grammy back. I mean, it’s not like anyone doesn’t lip synch.

  5. Tony

    I never heard the song on the radio. I looked up the lyrics and was surprised at the obscenity and sexual innuendo.
    I guess she lost because that’s not art.

    Whereas, Adele has sold 9 million of her album compared to 2 million for Beyoncé.

    Adele is the clear winner, I’m sorry that she lowered herself to give credit to Beyoncé’s lurid song and album.

    • Dan

      Right. Interesting point. Interesting, ignorant, short-sighted point. Because merit of this award depends on whether-or-not you happened to be listening to the radio… Or that art can’t be obscene or offensive… or that Album of the Year depends on album sales. If you took a second to read the academy’s definition it specifically states Album of the Year award is “without regard to album sales or chart position”

      In 1967 the winner was The Beatles ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’, which was vastly outsold by The Monkees ‘More of the Monkees’. Did they make the wrong decision?

      What I find offensive is your train of thought…

      • Paul Resnikoff

        Maybe Tony’s making a different point. Adele’s music traversed farther than Beyonce’s. More people purchased (and probably viewed) her music during the voting period.

        Both artists had powerful marketing machines behind them. Beyonce may have had a bigger one.

        So why did one connect a lot more than the other?

        • Dan

          Then maybe that is what he should have said. Instead of Beyonce “lost because that’s not art”. Or that Adele should be the “clear winner” because she sold more albums. Both statements are flat out wrong.

          No one is arguing that Adele “connected” with more people… she sold more albums, charted higher, etc. That is not the point. Album of the Year is supposed to award outstanding artistic achievement (NOT album sales), which notably is a subjective criteria… but in terms of a whole artistic statement, cultural impact, critical praise, not just a vehicle for singles… all these intangible elements adding up to “artistic achievement”, ‘Lemonade’ feels vastly superior. The public knows it, thus the controversy. Adele sure as hell knew it…

  6. Karel Martel

    This piece is just an elaborate – and, admittedly, eloquent – way of saying “if you don’t like this album by a black artist you are a racist”.
    There is no real difference between Adele and Beyonce. Both their music is devoid of any substance and pushed through the masses’ throats by means of excessive marketing. Pretending otherwise is simply misguided.

    • freeyonce

      lemonade was a surprise album that was only streamed on tidal and available at a high purchase price. what marketing? if all you read was “you’re racist” from this, that says more about you than the writing. i disagree with some of it, but it is way more nuanced than that. jfc.

  7. Khutso Choma

    I am South African and truly speaking, in my entire existence have never heard something so bare, honest and hard throbbing as Lemonade.
    Adele is a vocalist and Beyoncé is an artist.
    You cannot pit them against each other.
    Lemonade is a Bible to us, whatever race or walk of life this album speaks to you.
    The Grammy voters should be ashamed of themselves.

  8. Kim

    Lemonade is not “album of the year”. It is “album of the decade”

  9. Terry

    This is an embarrassing pile of shit. Ari Hernstad needs to be put in a straight-jacket.

  10. Matt G

    I find it interesting that the author did not bother to analyze or quote anything from Lemonade itself. The reader is simply supposed to take it on faith that the album is a work of art and deserving of the Grammy. Why? Because the author says so? He should justify his position with reason and analysis not just conclusory statements.

  11. Death of the editor

    Well said, Ari. Just like good music, a good article stirs up the ‘comments’ pot.

  12. Mateja

    I’m a white woman from central Europe. I bought both albums in question. I personally prefer 25. I understand that Lemonade might be more relevant to black people, but I find it really overrated and not even Beyonce’s best album.

  13. America's Worst Nightmare

    Main problem here is that Black people are still looking for validation from white people on a stage built for white people, by white people.

    We don’t need the validation of white america and the minute that we collectively figure this out the powers that be in this business are going to be in big trouble.

    Instead of trying to be noticed on their stages, we’re going to just start building our own.

    Maybe separate but equal wasn’t so bad after all…..

  14. Versus

    “the best art divides an audience.”

    What’s the evidence for this criterion?
    Are people so deeply divided about the value of Bach or Miles Davis?

    • Dan

      To answer your question… yes. Perhaps not in hindsight, but yes the history of music is filled with examples of artists ahead of the curve who made artistic statements that were not fully understood at the time by all music fans & divided their audiences. The Beatles abandoning their teen pop songs. Dylan going electric. NWA. Public Enemy. And yes, even Miles Davis moving on from traditional jazz to fusion…

  15. tower888

    Though I find your opinion on this topic to be interesting, it is still an opinion. Music appreciation is subjective. There is no factual way to quantify if one piece of art is better than another. Please don’t state your opinions as facts. We get enough Of that from Washington these days..

  16. ©

    Ari, you are making an accusation that is both insulting and unreasonable. There is zero evidence that race had anything to do with Adele’s win.
    I don’t understand why you came to the conclusion you did but I feel sorry for you. You are inserting race as an issue in this situation when it otherwise was not, making you an actual racist.
    Why can’t Adele have just won because the people voting liked it more? Why is it so unreasonable that the voters did not appreciate Lemonade in the same way you did? How can you of all people objectively say that one singer/songwriter is better than another when its clearly subjective? And why why why make it about race? Should you not be judging the music by its content and not creator?
    The crazy thing here is that I don’t even like Adele or Beyonce that much. I’m just a fan of your writing and I am just shocked you took such a divisive stance on an otherwise opinion based competition.

  17. ©

    Also, by even arguing this you are validating the Grammy’s. I have never cared about them. More influential and important artists have not won anything than have. Why are you making it seem like the Grammy’s matter?

  18. Dawn

    Thank you for this thoughtful, intelligent & anti-racist review. Really for acknowledging that not every price of media is by or for white people. You inspired me to buy a hard copy of the CD & I’m enjoying & learning even more!