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Are the Grammys, Oscars and Awards Shows Racially Biased?




by G. Brown

It’s been four days and still the upset at the Grammys ripples through the music industry and fandom.

At the heart of the issue, how English singer Adele beat out America’s own Beyoncé in several key categories including Album of the Year. The reasons are as varied as the people tackling the argument. Some people take the view of legendary musician Carlos Santana that Adele is just a better singer.  Santana said, “I think that Adele won because she can sing, sing. With all respect to our sister Beyoncé, Beyoncé is very beautiful to look at and it’s more like modeling kind of music ― music to model a dress ― she’s not a singer, singer, with all respect to her.”  His opinion caused him so much grief as the Beyhive swarmed him on social media that Santana later issued an apology.

Even this year’s winner Adele seemed to think Bey should have won. While accepting one of her five Grammys last Sunday night, the “Hello” singer said, “For me my album for you was Lemonade, so a piece of me did die inside as a Beyoncé fan. I’m not going to lie, cause I was completely rooting for her — I voted for her.” Beyonce was moved to tears by Adele’s speech.  Others have been move to a far different emotion–anger.  Fans and some music industry insiders screamed foul and claim that racism robbed Beyonce of awards.

But Recording Academy President Neil Portnow dismisses the allegations of racial bias.  Portnow said, “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 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. 

So Portnow’s defense is Beyoncé’s peers voted against her.  But was the award really decided by her peers.  Sure, they’re music industry members, but how do the 14,000 academy members break down race and gender wise?   According to RollingStone “Grammy voters are white. And male…Perhaps not coincidentally, Beyoncé chose the Year of Trump to make her most explicit statement on African-American pride, particularly in “Formation,” in which she sings: “I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils.”  As RollingStone points out, it’s hard for an academy made up of mostly White men to grasp the cultural revelations of  Black pride and  female strength that “Lemonade” was championing.

While Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” may have launched a cultural moment, Adele’s “25” album was simply more popular as weighed by sales.  RollingStone says, “Grammy voters were far more likely to have actually heard the Adele album (which has nearly 20 million sales worldwide, including more than 9 million in the U.S.) than Lemonade (not even 2 million).”

In a year where the presidential race has us questioning everything about race, is the Grammys upset just another residual of that mindset?  Portnow proffers that if the Grammys were racially biased, then how could Chance the Rapper have won?  While Chance did beat out White artists like Maren Morris and The Chainsmokers in some categories, he primarily went up against other Black performers in categories like Best Rap Album.   There’s a fallacy in logic when you try to say that 5 minorities won awards  and that proves you’re not racist when you may have given out 100 awards total. Many point to the Grammy’s history as proof that there is a racial bias citing only 10 Blacks have won Album of the Year in the awards 59 year history.

What do you think….did Adele deserve to win over Beyoncé?  Did the academy kind make it a Black vs. White thing and intentionally pit the two singers against one another?  Are people just over reacting or is there an underlying racial bias?

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