Grammy 2017 Predictions: How a night of Beyoncé wins would change the game for black artists
Despite her unrivaled ability to stop time with an Instagram post and bend cultural conversation to her will, Beyoncé doesn't have the same pull when it comes to the Grammys.
Every year since going solo, she earned her nominations, usually sweeping the R&B categories. She is actually the most nominated woman in Grammy history and second-most awarded, following Allison Kraus, if one includes her Destiny's Child wins. But big category wins stay elusive — as they do for most black women.
Beyoncé has never won record of the year or album of the year, despite making some of the most impressive and immersive pop records of the past decade. In fact, only three black women have ever won album of the year in the nearly 60-year history of the award show: Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill.
Hill's was the most recent, winning for her heart-wrenching Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999. The Grammys haven't deemed any other album by a black woman worthy in the nearly 17 years since, passing over albums by TLC, India.Arie, Rihanna, Alabama Shakes, Alicia Keys, Missy Elliott and Beyoncé, twice.
Similarly, only three black female solo acts have won record of the year: Tina Turner, Natalie Cole and Whitney Houston, her 1994 win being the most recent. A Beyoncé win here would break an over 20-year drought and get some modern recognition for black female artists who have seen their styles appropriated and reappropriated by white singers year-in, year-out.
There's literally a name for this style: "blue-eyed soul." Adele, Sam Smith and Amy Winehouse have all snuck wins in the record of the year category singing this seemingly more palatable form of soul and R&B. Meanwhile, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Rihanna and others have worked tirelessly to innovate, only to find the trophies going to white counterparts obsessing over music from years back.
Black men have found themselves snubbed in the major categories, as well — a fact that lies at the heart of Frank Ocean's and Kanye West's proposed boycott of the coming ceremony. "That institution certainly has nostalgic importance," Ocean told the New York Times of his decision, noting that the only black men to win album of the year in his lifetime have been legacy acts — namely Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock and Ray Charles.
"It just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down," Ocean told the Times.
It also bears noting that a rap song has never won in the song of the year category, and Beyoncé's "Formation" would put a trophy in the hands of Michael L. Williams II, aka hip-hop producer Mike Will Made-It, a trap mainstay and beatmaker behind the recent No. 1 hip-hop hit "Black Beatles."
Beyoncé wins in these major categories have the potential to radically change the reality that black music innovators continue to find themselves passed over in favor of white artists with slightly safer styles. At the very least, it would break the drought the Grammys' stage has maintained since Lauryn Hill.
With the rumbling boycotts and echoes of #OscarsSoWhite still front-of-mind for the this award show season, it's clear the people are thirsty to see black artists represented. Let them drink Lemonade.