Monday, February 9, 2015


So last night, Kanye West got crazy again, once again complaining quite publicly that Beyonce didn't win something that he felt that she should have won: the GRAMMY for Album of the Year. It's really to write off anything he says, because, let's face it, he can be a  bit of cry baby when things don't go his way.

But when it comes to Beyonce, there's lots of people looking out for her, and they're generally pretty vocal about it.

One of the most well thought out defenses of her came back in December: a friend of mine and former colleague wrote a bit about Beyonce being snubbed by the GRAMMYs... when the nominations were first announced.

Beyonce was nominated in "only" one of the major categories, Album of the Year, but not Song or Record. My first instinct was: big deal. She's nominated for what is arguably the biggest award of the show, it felt churlish that anyone would complain that she isn't nominated in enough of the major categories. It felt like something from straight out of the spot-on SNL "Beygency" skit.

But then I considered that Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" -- a novelty song, albeit one with a good message -- was nominated for Song and Record, and that felt a bit weird. Why would that be nominated in any categories that Beyonce's "Pretty Hurts" or "Flawless" wasn't nominated in?

I'll be clear here. I'm not a huge Beyonce fan: I listened to her album because I am a voting NARAS member and I wanted to know what I was voting for (or against). I doubt I'll ever listen to Beyonce in one sitting again. But there's no doubt that this album was more than just an album, it was an event. An event that you could almost call the 2013/2014 equivalent of a Thriller or Tapestry. At least Jagged Little Pill! All of those albums won Album of the Year, and they were all albums that cranked out hit after hit for a year or more. From the moment Beyonce dropped the album, with no warning, in late 2013, through late last year, Beyonce kept churning out single after single in a way that doesn't seem possible anymore. This is, after all, an era of ageism (and , let's face it, she's not in her 20s anymore, sorry Beygency!) and it's also an age where the culture has the attention span of a moth. People are all about the album until the album comes out, and then it's on to the next thing.

Beyonce was ingrained in popular culture in 2014: it added a new slang term to the lexicon ("Surfbordt"), and a new catch-phrase ("I woke up like this"). For good measure, it even gave Beyonce a new nickname ("'Yonce"). She even used a remix of "Flawless" to address that elevator incident. The songs weren't just pop hits. "Pretty Hurts" was about the pressures of womanhood (and a bit heavier than "All About That Bass"), where she showed some rare insecurity. In "Partition" she showed that she actually has desires beyond just money and fame. And then there was "XO" and "Jealous" and "Flawless" and the "Flawless" remix and then "7/11." There was no album that came close to making the impact of Beyonce this year.

A colleague of mine produced a mini-doc about the year in Beyonce; she wanted it to be five minutes max; it goes on for over ten.

It was just Beyonce's year, period.

I generally gravitate to stuff that I consider more "left field." I like to go who I perceive to be the underdog, and I'd personally have an easy time voting against Beyonce, given some other choices. Like, if St. Vincent's album had been nominated, I would have been all about it. Despite the disparity in popularity levels, I could justify voting for such an extraordinary album over a sales juggernaut by a superstar, even if most people have never heard of St. Vincent.

I love Beck's Morning Phase, I listened to it yesterday actually. But if you're gonna vote against Beyonce, you really have to be able to justify that choice, and I couldn't do it with Beck, even though I'm likely to listen to that album for years to come. It's not the Album of the Year by any stretch, I was surprised it even got nominated (I thought the token "rock" nomination would have gone to Jack White or the Black Keys or even St. Vincent).

How did it win, especially up against four albums that had a much higher profile, surely sold more, and had actual hit singles? I think all of the "pop" type GRAMMY voters split their votes between Bey, Sam Smith, Pharrell and Ed Sheeran, and the voters who fancy themselves more "serious" all went with Beck. That's my guess of how it happened. A lot of times, it's a numbers game.

I also think that there's a sort of inherent contrarianism to the voting body; they don't want anyone getting too big. That's why I thought Bruce Springsteen (who I feel you can compare to Beyonce on a few levels) didn't win in 2003 for The Rising even though he was the only artist really able to address 9/11, no mean feat (Album of the Year went to Norah Jones's Come Away With Me that year, and while I love that album, I felt The Rising really should have won). Kanye West has been nominated in that category a few times as well, but has never won. I think that in some ways, the music industry fear artists getting too big. In the above Beyonce mini-doc, one of the pundits mentions that the industry is afraid of Beyonce. I think he's right.

Like I said, I'm a voting NARAS member, and I care about the GRAMMYS and the integrity of the GRAMMYs. I can defend "controversial" Album of the Year choices at times: for example, a lot of ageists were whining about Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's Raising Sand winning in 2009 (which I thought was a great choice; if Lil' Wayne won, I thought it would be a bit lame). A lot of people equate young with "relevant" (I don't) and over-35 with over the hill (obviously I don't).

But when you get a Steely Dan or Herbie Hancock win, it makes the voters look out of touch just for nominating them. I think that's what bothers me most about this: Bey will be fine. I just hope the GRAMMYs credibility will be.

It's like that time that Kanye said that "George Bush doesn't like black people." Yeah, he seemed batshit crazy, but also he didn't seem wrong. His delivery of course, was pretty awful: no, Beck shouldn't give his Album of the Year GRAMMY to Beyonce, he won, she didn't. And making a case that Beyonce is a "real artist" and Beck isn't is a bit ridiculous.  But the main point, that a major superstar got inexplicably snubbed. Well, a lot of people surely agree with him. And not just members of the Beygency.