“We love y’all, we love y’all, we love y’all—we want you to get it right.” 

While accepting the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter used his speech to criticize the Recording Academy—the voting body that selects the annual recipients of the coveted Grammy awards. Alluding to the Academy’s historical oversight of artists of color, he denounced its treatment of his wife, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter: “Think about that: the most Grammys, never won Album of the Year. That doesn’t work.” 

Beyoncé’s snubs weren’t isolated occurrences. Foreshadowing the night’s fate, Jay-Z addressed all the artists of color in the room: “Some of you are gonna go home tonight and feel like you’ve been robbed. Some of you may get robbed.” With a stab at the rest of the room, he added, “Some of you don’t belong in the category,” referencing the Academy’s propensity for honoring certain white artists over their often more deserving peers of color.

Jay-Z’s indictment hit the nail on the head, as the 2024 Grammys upheld its time-honored tradition of paying Black women dust while rewarding white mediocrity in their stead. The biggest upset of the night? SZA took home no wins in the three of the “Big Four” categories for which SOS (2022) and lead single “Kill Bill” were nominated: Record of the Year (ROTY), Album of the Year (AOTY), and Song of the Year (SOTY).

This was a repeat offense for the Grammys after an especially nasty snub in 2018, where SZA was passed over for Best New Artist in favor of Alessia Cara. As SOS entered the 2024 show with a season-high nine nominations, universal critical acclaim, and consistently exceptional chart performance, the expectation was that the Academy would leap at the opportunity for remediation, and SZA would rightfully sweep. 

With SOS, SZA presented a bitingly vulnerable discourse about desire and loneliness. Her unique, emotive vocals anchored the album throughout, whether awash in desperation on “Kill Bill” or coming up for air on “Snooze,” which just spent an unprecedented 30th week at #1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. Despite critics knocking the album for its length, citing a weaker second half and a bloated tracklist, the general consensus was that, as Pitchfork wrote, SZA had “solidified her position as a generational talent” with SOS.

The album went on to win two R&B categories and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, but walked away without a single win in the general field. Audiences were left reeling as Taylor Swift’s Midnights (2022)—an album that, despite its cultural ubiquity last year, was widely criticized for its tired Antonoffian production and substandard writing—took home AOTY. 

The upset incited a familiar slew of criticisms against the Academy. Many were aghast that, between two projects with drastic disparity in quality and experimentation, the “safe” album came out on top. But this outcome is familiar to female artists of color, who are accustomed to working twice as hard for half as much recognition—in fact, the same had played out just the year before. 

As Jay-Z highlighted, despite nominations in three of the four major categories at last year’s Grammys, Beyoncé went home empty-handed in the Big Four for her monumental album RENAISSANCE (2022). Lauded by longtime fans, casual listeners, and critics alike for its widespread impact, RENAISSANCE—with its thoughtful and innovative integration of house music—was a love letter to the Black and Brown queer visionaries who pioneered the genre. Her fourth nomination and subsequent loss for AOTY was a twist of the knife seven years after Lemonade (2016) was passed over for Adele’s 25; Adele herself admitted in her acceptance speech that her win was undeserved when compared to Beyoncé’s work. 

The consistent neglect of Beyoncé and SZA is only a fragment of the Academy’s, and the industry’s, long-standing exclusion of Black women. As Jay-Z pointed out, Beyoncé’s contradictory Grammys history of having the most wins without ever touching AOTY simply “doesn’t work.” 

It’s an unsettling coincidence that this year’s pass-up of SZA marks 25 years since a Black woman was last recognized for the biggest honor of the night, with Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998) taking home AOTY in 1999.

Black women—and Black artists generally—have continuously been shortchanged in the years both preceding and following Miseducation. Undeniably one of the most dominant performers of the ’90s, Mariah Carey did not win another Grammy after Best New Artist in 1991 until more than a decade later, when The Emancipation of Mimi (2005) took home three R&B wins yet won nothing in the three general categories it was nominated for. And, despite recent stains on her legacy, Nicki Minaj has left an indelible footprint on rap music, yet has twelve losses (most egregiously for Best New Artist in 2012) and zero wins to her name. 

The Academy’s consistent devaluation of Black artists has not gone unnoticed. Artists have been speaking out for years, but have largely gone unheard and ignored by the institution. Jay-Z noted in his speech that despite his own nomination and subsequent win, he boycotted the ceremony in 1999 over the Academy’s failure to recognize fellow rapper DMX’s genre-defining two-album run. In 2017, Frank Ocean declined to submit Blonde in any category, calling the decision his “Colin Kaepernick moment” and telling The New York Times that “[the Academy] just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from.” Minaj too has been openly boycotting the ceremony for years. And in 2020, Sean “Diddy” Combs declared that “Black music has never been respected by the Grammys,” mere months before the Black Lives Matter movement swept the country.

Despite these powerful displays of protest and solidarity, little substantive change has occurred. The 2020 surge of Black Lives Matter activism prompted the Academy to invite 2,300 new members “from wide-ranging backgrounds, genres, and disciplines” to its member class, but that diversification effort yielded no change in voting habits. One year later, in 2021, The Weeknd accused the Academy of “corruption” among secret voting committees when his chart-topping After Hours (2020) was shut out of all categories despite being the indisputably most successful and influential release of the year. 

The 2021 ceremony’s media firestorm and record-low viewership prompted the Academy to roll out further changes to voting processes, including eliminating anonymous voting and redoubling their efforts to diversify the voting body. Despite these attempts to restore audience and industry trust—and maintain cultural relevance—there’s been no newfound accountability with the removal of anonymity. Furthermore, the demographics of the voting body have not meaningfully changed, remaining three-quarters white and three-quarters male; without affecting real change, the Academy’s desire to appear inclusive becomes equal parts hypocritical and performative.

However, to ascribe the Grammys’s failures to issues on an institutional level is to fail to recognize the explicitly collective nature of the Academy, and the role it plays in the continued exclusion of artists of color. It is imperative to acknowledge the failures of the Academy as a collection of individual voters whose choices are ostensibly meant to represent the cultural mainstream. The thing is, they don’t represent the cultural mainstream; they reflect the sociopolitical background that begets it, and that background is steeped in the same biases and misconceptions that line the fabric of society. 

It is convenient to dismiss the Grammys as a conspiratorial body hell-bent on excluding worthy Black artists in favor of their comparatively mediocre white counterparts. It is much more difficult to acknowledge that the choices of the voting body are manifestations of their everyday biases in aggregate. 

Compared to their white peers, Black artists face an uphill battle to succeed due to structural barriers within the industry, but the prospect of actually receiving recognition for that success is even more dire. Pop culture has long held radically divergent definitions of success for different groups of artists. White artists and their work face a relative lack of criticism and a higher tolerance for mediocrity; Black artists are expected to continually experiment with and innovate between genres to “earn” a nomination. They’re ordered to reinvent themselves in ways white artists never are; this does not preclude artists of color from being pigeonholed into racialized categories and excluded from the more prestigious general categories. 

Artists of color who do achieve a degree of mainstream acclaim are nevertheless perceived to have an “upper bound” to their potential. In a Variety interview where 2023 Grammys voters disclosed their ballots, one business veteran in his 70s wrote: “With Beyoncé, the fact that every time she does something new, it’s a big event and everyone’s supposed to quake in their shoes—it’s a little too portentous.” By contrast, white artists who exhibit little growth are free to win again and again, breaking records with impunity. That same year, another voter quipped: “I’m a huge Coldplay fan […] This isn’t their best album, but I would love to see them get a Grammy.”

With the voting body forming an echo chamber of prejudiced thought, the deterioration of critical music journalism has only magnified the circulation of bias and disregard for quality. Pitchfork, the most prominent surviving source of media criticism, recently laid off all its staff. Publications like Rolling Stone have softened their approach and outlook on music to court increasing commercialization and survive the changing digital landscape.

As critic Chris Richards wrote in the Washington Post: “The world of music journalism will continue melting into the ambiguous shape of publicity, perpetuating the flattery death-spiral that results from big publications needing access to big stars more than the other way around.” The hyper-commercialization of media has fundamentally blurred the boundary between an album the median voter enjoys and the “best” album. 

Commercial justifications also run rampant in after-the-fact discussions on snubs and wins—sales and chart performance are increasingly used to justify the selection of one album over another.  In that same Variety interview, another voter explains their AOTY selection: “Harry’s House. Did I personally listen to it a ton? No. Did it make itself known in every TikTok? Absolutely.” 

With the onslaught of boycotts and mockery, Jon Batiste’s 2022 AOTY win for We Are (2021) came both as a reputational godsend for a flailing Academy and a rare win for the arts over the charts. The first album by a Black artist to win since Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters (2007) in 2008, the infectiously passionate jazz-soul record stood out as a unique cross-genre effort amid a deep field of pop competitors. His win—as well as the other Big Four winners, all artists of color—presumably signaled that the Grammys were taking a step forward from a blighted status quo. Yet, as evidenced by Beyoncé’s snub in 2023 and SZA’s losses in 2024, the Academy has done little but continue to run in place.

All the while, though, Black artists have been sprinting forward. Artists of color will continue, as they have been, to innovate and excel—the onus is on the Academy to grapple with how to do their art justice. As they stand, the Grammys have little to do with the music and a lot to do with the people and principles that pop culture wants to prioritize. Artists and audiences aren’t calling for an end to the Grammys. We just want to recognize and reward the right people, a responsibility that falls both on the institution and more broadly on us as a culture. It’s a difficult process to reckon with and tear down the biases that run through mainstream media, but it’s one that has been long overdue. 

To echo Jay-Z: “We just want you to get it right—or, at least, close to right.” 

Ajani Jones
Ajani is a junior in the college majoring in linguistics. He is the Editor-in-Chief. He is also really, REALLY excited for the Percy Jackson TV show and will not shut up about it (still won't).

Tina Solki
Tina's day job is being the Voice's design editor, but she moonlights as a sophomore in the SFS studying Business and Global Affairs. Ask her about her favorite Amy Winehouse song. You'll get a different answer every time.

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