Reevaluating Every Time Beyoncé Lost in a Major Category at the Grammys
In retrospect, there was a sense of finality when Beyoncé read her acceptance speech for Best Urban Contemporary Album at last night’s Grammys. Recited from a regal gold book, the monologue contained the mix of gratitude and grandiloquent social commentary you’d typically expect an artist to reserve for, well, a win for Album of the Year.
In her career, Beyoncé has lost in the Grammys four most notable categories (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist) nearly every time she’s been in the running, so maybe she sensed Adele’s clean sweep at this year’s awards. After all, a black artist has won Album of the Year only three times in this millennium. We like to imagine Beyoncé as this goddess whose presence is a gift to us undeserving mortals. But these are the Grammys.
And so it was: Beyoncé, Jay Z, and Blue Ivy were left in their seats as Adele and her cadre of mostly white collaborators took the stage to accept the Album of the Year. In her acceptance speech, she saved her most sincere thanks for the woman she beat: “[Lemonade is] so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-baring and we all got to see another side to you that you don’t always let us see,” Adele said. “And we appreciate that. And all us artists here adore you. You are our light. It was an emotionally.”
We know Beyoncé is adored, and so, one imagines, do the Grammys. Still, neither her ascent to the top of critics lists nor her seizing of the cultural zeitgeist has resulted in recognition from the Grammys, and at this point it’s not too hard to understand why. The Academy has a habit of being diverse only to a certain extent: Black culture is given a nod as long as they don’t breach that vanilla mountaintop. As a result, peak Beyoncé has so far only been good enough for wins in the Urban Contemporary category. Beyoncé has won in those top four categories only once, when “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”—a phenomenon of a song—won 2010’s Song of the Year. Below is an evaluation of her losses in non-genre categories, and whether they were deserved.
Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” loses Record of the Year and Song of the Year to U2’s “Beautiful Day” — Bands like U2, the Beatles, and Rolling Stones have a circle-jerking monopoly at legacy brands like the Grammys. Although the Bono-fronted band’s self-righteousness is now easy joke fodder, they were still something of a contemporary concern at the turn of the millennium, as their inclusion in several Now That’s What I Call Music! compilations would indicate. They were also still, I suppose, “real rock stars,” which meant that Destiny’s Child’s deliciously demanding “Say My Name” didn’t stand that much of a chance to the wind tunnel schmaltz of “Beautiful Day.” While only vainglorious heretics still deny “Say My Name,” we ought to retrospectively call “Beautiful Day” the artisanal shitstorm it was.
Beyoncé and Jay Z’s “Crazy in Love” lose Record of the Year to Coldplay’s “Clocks” — “Crazy in Love” brought to Beyoncé’s sound a Yankee fitted-wearing Jay Z and brass so audaciously retro that even the singer herself had her doubts. But the gamble worked—”Crazy in Love” became one of the aughts’ most acclaimed songs (it’s the Song of the Decade, according to VH1). And yet, it lost to Coldplay’s “Clocks.” The relationship between the two songs is equivalent to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl show last year, where Chris Martin showed up for a participation award. The Academy thought otherwise, and probably still does.
This year’s Song of the Year class also included OutKast’s (well, Andre 3000’s) “Hey Ya” and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”—both epochal efforts, and both bereft of Martin’s Grammy Award-winning, hackneyed metaphors.
Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” loses Record of the Year to Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” — Perhaps Beyoncé’s first defensible non-genre defeat. Amy Winehouse had the retro-sheen that was catnip to voters, and she fit within the wider zeitgeist, too (“Rehab” was a Top 10 hit). Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” coined a catchphrase in English and Spanish, but she had to take the L to the ascendant Brit. Winehouse took home five Grammys, losing the Album of the Year award to Herbie Hancock, the last black artist to win the honor.
Beyoncé’s I Am…Sasha Fierce loses Album of the Year to Taylor Swift’s Fearless — Beyoncé’s worst album had her biggest hit. Out of her over 60 nominations, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” is Beyoncé’s only win in the major four categories. Bey has made greater singles, but none have achieved this level of ubiquity. “Single Ladies” became her last #1 hit as well as the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit featuring Justin Timberlake—who, it’s worth noting here, still hasn’t apologized to Janet Jackson. But phenomenon can’t cancel out a messy album. Fearless was the easy winner in a weak Album of the Year class (her closest competitor? A Dave Matthews Band album).
“Halo” loses Record of the Year to Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” — Beyoncé’s much ballyhooed “Halo” also lost to Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” in the Record of the Year category. That class also included the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” and Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me,” all far better options than either two.
Beyoncé’s Self-Titled Album Loses to Beck’s Morning Phase — 25’s win stung, but this was the loss where the Grammys seemed to almost take pride in being an archaic institution. Yes, Beyoncé was clearly doomed after losing Urban Contemporary Album to Pharrell’s G I R L, but the extra shock was this pick, which was met with an indignant, resounding “uh???” People love Beck, of course, but even many of his biggest fans can’t recall a single memorable detail from Morning Phase. We remember waking up like this and misquoting Jay Z’s D’Ussé line during that December night. Beyoncé proved the album could still be an event with that surprise, yet it was banished for its 808s.
Beyoncé’s “Formation” and Lemonade loses to Adele’s “Hello” and 25 for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year — Adele, who’s as white as the rest of this list’s entries, beat Beyoncé for Record of the Year, once more for Song of the Year, and—if there were any doubts about the Academy’s geriatric tastes—Album of the Year. After the Album of the Year acceptance, the Brit did a better job of paying homage to black culture than America ever did. “What the fuck does she have to do to win album of the year?” she asked. Well, it isn’t on Beyoncé at this point.