How Badly Did the Grammys Rob Beyoncé Last Night?

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Let’s get this out of the way first: the Grammys, as a system to determine what the best music in a given year might have been, are a joke. Like, at the 29th Annual Grammy Awards in 1987, the Chicago Bears—the football teamnearly stole the award for “Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals” from Prince, who released “Kiss” that same year. Awards shows like the Oscars and the Emmys are generally inadequate when it comes to honoring different kinds of art, and the sheer amount of music recorded in any year, plus the wide diversity in genre, tone, expectations, styles, and tastes, makes true apples-to-apples comparisons impossible.

With all that said, however, it’s tough to swallow the fact that Beck’s Morning Phase pulled off the stunning upset of taking “Album of the Year” honors in a category that featured Beyoncé, whose self-titled album stunned the world when it was secretly released overnight in December 2013. 

That’s an opinion shared by at least one famous artist, of course: Kanye West, who famously interrupted Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009 to insist that Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” should have won the top award that year. This year, as soon as Beck’s name was called, he made a play like he was going to grab the mic again: 

After the show, West explained his stance on the award more fully

“If they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us,” the rapper said. “Flawless Beyoncé video, and Beck needs to respect artistry, and he should have given his award to Beyoncé.”

Kanye West can be, as the president of the United States said after the Taylor Swift incident, a “jackass” sometimes. Check out the reaction from Beyoncé and husband Jay-Z when Kanye approached the stage:

Regardless of whether you consider West’s joke—and subsequent statement—to be inappropriate, however, it’s hard to argue with his point. Beck’s Morning Phase is a fine album, a solid contribution to the artist’s expansive catalog, but it’s also far from monumental. If one were to compile “Beck album power rankings,” it’d be hard to put it above Mutations, Odelay, Midnite Vultures, Sea Change, or Mellow GoldMorning Phase is, essentially, Beck’s sixth-best album, which speaks in part to the substance of his career (every artist should have a sixth-best album that strong!), but also to the fact that the Grammys aren’t really clear what they’re honoring. 

Because Beyoncé’s album is monumental in a way that few albums are. Indeed, Beyoncé’s album is monumental in ways that very few albums may ever be again. Released in the middle of the night with no advance warning or fanfare, with a fourteen-track musical component and a whopping seventeen full music videos, Beyoncé’s self-titled “visual album” is not just a flawless piece of cohesive work, it’s also an advancement that argues for the continued relevance of the album as an art form in an era in which there’s less and less reason for it to exist.

Albums have never really made sense, except economically for the music industry: as a consumer, if you love “Twist & Shout” or “Call Me Maybe” or whatever, the idea that you should have to pay for a dozen other songs that aren’t the one that you want in order to have it is bizarre. But the rent on a record store is the same whether you’re selling singles for $1 or albums for $15, and a single or a full album take up the same amount of space in the bins, require the same number of employees to sell, et cera, et cera. The album, as a format, made sense in an era of record stores and physical media. 

It makes much less sense in an era of digital downloads, when, for the most part, every song is available for $1.29 from iTunes and albums are merely the province of the superfan. 

But when Beyoncé released Beyoncé, the math shifted a bit: the price of the album was the price of a cultural moment, a surprise album by one of the biggest stars in the world, featuring a massive production team and number of guest artists (Jay-Z, Drake, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell, and more). Plus there was the value-added proposition of the seventeen videos that make the album something much more than just a collection of songs. And the fact that it was Beyoncé at the height of her powers, with a statement record that challenged preconceptions of what a woman like Beyoncé had to say, made it much more than a gimmick. When the history of digital music is written, Beyoncé will be a chapter with color plates.

Morning Phase, meanwhile, is more likely to be a footnote. A fine record, released by a fine artist, but just one of many fine albums that came out in 2014. There have been albums like Morning Phase before, and there’ll be albums like Morning Phase again.

Because there’s no objective way to compare music, the Grammys always tend to look at things like sales and cultural relevance in determining who gets the awards (that’s why the Chicago Bears somehow found themselves nominated alongside Prince and Sade in 1987, and why Sam Smith’s Tom Petty-aping “Stay With Me” won a songwriting award). And the fact that the context of Beyoncé’s album was ignored is, presumably, what Kanye West was frustrated about. Those things matter when it’s time to honor a novelty hit like Meagan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” but when Beyoncé is on the stage, the industry is comfortable giving the award to a guy like Beck.

And what “a guy like Beck” refers to is a point that can’t really be ignored when discussing the other context of the award: itmakers in the music industry come from all races and ethnicities, but “Album of the Year” award winners, for the most part, are white. The winners since 2008? Beck, Daft Punk, Mumford & Sons, Adele, Arcade Fire, Taylor Swift, and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. The last black artist to win “Album of the Year” who was born after 1941 was Outkast, in 2004, and in the 57 years of Grammy Awards, only 12 “Album of the Year” winners have been black artists (3 of them have been Stevie Wonder). Only two hip-hop albums, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by Outkast, have been so honored. Awards like “Record of the Year” are even more egregious—the last black artist who wasn’t recording a duet with a white star to win the award was Seal, whose “Kiss From a Rose” won in 1996. 

That context is important when considering that an objectively significant Beyoncé album lost the “Album of the Year” award to the sixth-best Beck album, and when considering the headline-grabbing reaction from Kanye West. If West sees Beck’s sixth-best album take the award over Beyoncé, in the same year that a movie like Selma and performances like those from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chadwick Boseman, and David Oyelowo were all overlooked by the Oscars, and if he sees a mainstream entertainment industry that’s happy to take in the money that black artists generate, but unwilling—whether you’re talking about Beyoncé or Ava DuVernay—to honor their achievements, it’s hard to argue with him.

(Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)

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  • Riza

    Beck writes all his own music. Beyonce changes words in songs someone else wrote and calls them her own. He’s a musician. She’s a performer. Why are we having this debate?

    • Sammi Luester

      No, she writes all of her own music too, and she plays a couple of instruments. She’s just as much of a musician as he is.

      • Guest

        You’re getting your knees dirty.

      • Guest

        Your knees are getting dirty.

      • sam

        no she absolutely doesn’t. Writing all the music means the instruments in the background, the beat and the lyrics. She probably does almost none of the above.She’s a very good karaoke singer

      • BettyCrackhead

        No. She does NOT write ALL of her own music. Look it up. Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic for instance wrote “Halo”.

        And then there’s this…

        BTW… can you please post videos of her playing these instruments you claim?

    • bored

      That is WAY too bald a distinction (between musician and performer). There are differences, to be sure, but to say that Beyonce is not a musician is inaccurate. At the very least, she’s an extraordinarily talented singer, and even if she collaborates with others, that doesn’t make her less of an artists. Just doing something all by oneself doesn’t make it good. Beck is a nice guy from what I’ve seen, but he’s actually not much of a musician by any technical standard (and he’s a terrible singer by any technical measure). I’m not a huge fan of either (I think Beck is more of novelty act beloved by indie rock fans, who tend to be more image-conscious and tone-deaf than they like to admit). The Grammys suck; that’s why the debate is not worth having. How many Grammys did Zeppelin win in the 70s?

      • Yup

        No doubt that the Grammys suck. But I don’t think this is really about the Grammys but the bigger picture of things of how entertainment and art ( and pretty much everything else) from coloured people aren’t being recognized and “othered” into a box that’s not as worthy of their awards (or recognition, in other instances)

  • Richard Elmore

    Beyonce and Kanye are both wortless jokes, thinking they deserve the world. He compares what he does to the American soldier, then he needs to get his sorry ass in uniform and head over seas so we can watch him come back like the whiny little bitch that he is.

    • Be Peaceful.

      Being in a war zone or killing someone should not be a measure of your worth.

      • Richard Elmore

        Tell Kanye who has compared what he does to our American Military. Kanye is nothing but a worthless pansy cry baby. If not for our Military you would not be able to speak freely or live freely so you can take your ignorant bleeding heart liberal crap and move to another country.

    • alexis martinez

      Richard Elmore..strapping on a gun and running of to some country to kill people for the benefit of some oil company has NOTHING to do with this.. fuck the military…they have been screwing the American people since the Korean War.. if there are any sorry asses it is you

  • Jim

    This is all true, but you can’t write a piece about race and the Grammys without mentioning the performances from last night. Yes, the Grammy voters don’t give major awards to black artists very often. But, I think a line has to be drawn between the voters and the people that put on the actual show.

    The awards show has become a major ratings event, maybe more relevant than ever thanks to twitter. And that show is more and more a concert with a series of performances than it is an awards show. Case in point, it seemed like all of the speeches last night were ended with ominous “wrap-it-up” music very quickly.

    The show itself featured black artists prominently. Kanye performed twice. Common and John Legend closed the show after Beyonce’s performance. Mary J Blige blowing Sam Smith off the stage. Pharrell and Common both referenced Ferguson, and “hands up, don’t shoot”. Beyonce’s entire group of background singers were black, along with all of the musicians during the closing performance.

    Perhaps we’ve reached a point where these things aren’t noticed. Grammy history is so full of awards going to the wrong artists winning awards, that a memorable performance is probably a more lasting achievement. In that regard, Beyonce, and other black artists certainly won the day.


      Sour grapes over the Grammy’s isn’t going to get people to burn Ferguson again. Folks can’t accept a decision… spoiled, entitlement mentality. Even at Texas Monthly.

    • Catie

      Just because the producers turned it into a political statement doesn’t mean Beyonce deserved album of the year. Beck’s album was amazing. He can play a bunch of instruments, while I don’t think she plays any. He writes his music while she had about ten writers on her album. Compare his lyrics to hers. Artistry? Also…. Annie Lennox… The best part of the evening…

    • grammysstink

      wait, wait, wait a minute. Hasn’t Kanye won 21 Grammys? Didn’t Michael Jackson, Prince, Beyonce, etc clean up many Grammys over the years? I call bullshit on this. Also the Grammys are a joke. Most of the real music in this world isn’t even recognized by this ridiculous music industry joke. Give me a break.

  • Steve

    oh shut the fuck up

  • John Tasca

    Are you kidding me? Beck’s 10th best album would be better than any of beyonce’s best album. Beck is a complete artist, while beyonce sure know how to dance, but that’s all. Beck wrote, produced and performed, while beyonce need’s 4 writers for any of her songs. If that was “the voice” I would agree with you, but that’s a music award, my dear friend. By the way, who gives a **** if her album was released overnight?

  • Joe Phillips

    What the hell is “et cera, et cera”?

  • SoSayethTheBored

    Too bad the Grammy isn’t for BEST MARKETING GIMMICK.

  • Guest

    Yeah, well I got something to tell you: all those “white” people you think are winning to often? Yeah, they actually made great albums. They all poured their blood, sweat, and tears into crafting amazing albums. Pointing out race trends at awards shows isn’t bringing up a good point; it’s just making you look bitchy and immature. I bet you my entire life savings that if MLK was alive today, he would NEVER be okay with people doing that.

    Now personally, I thought Morning Phase and BEYONCÉ were EQUALLY strong albums. They both took their albums very seriously and worked their butts off to construct good and inspiring albums. If it were possible, I would give AOTY to BOTH albums, saying that they tied.

  • ari

    Aside from pulling the “race card” the bottom line of what Kayne did was not respectable and rude. How hard is it to hold your comments until after the show. If this is such a respectable award show then Kayne should no longer be able to attend future Grammys for pulling a stunt like this.

  • Spasmolytic

    Let me guess, Beck’s Grammy is indicative of ‘white privilege’?

  • DAng

    Hrm, I don’t care what people say, Beck totally deserved the award for album most likely to be hold music in 5 years

  • Math

    Considering that whites are 6x more of the population than blacks, and that of 12/57 is about 20%, the numbers suggest that black artists actually have won more awards than we would suspect statistically…

    • Catie

      I was thinking that exact thing.

  • waltereg0

    Selma wasn’t robbed, it was a mostly boring film that altered major political figures. The biggest problem with the film was David Oleyowo. His portrayal of MLK needed to be the dramatic high point of the film, and his performance was fairly pedestrian. He looked and sounded like MLK but gave little emotion. Many of the scenes were just two people talking and MLK looking pensive. The best performances in Selma came from smaller characters who stole the movie, in particular the elderly man whose adult grandson is killed by police in a restaurant in front of him.

    • Elizabeth Sanders

      I agree 100%. It was a great portrayal of a monumental moment in history. But the acting was just good. Good isnt worthy of an Oscar. I was very disappointed.

  • Kenneth Nielsen

    When you start from a hyperbolic statement that Beyonce’s album “Stunned the World”, it becomes difficult to consider what comes next a serious disscussion on the merits of her music. I believe the world has many more issues on it’s collective mind than American popular music. Even in the small world of music an album of well written, produced and performed music by a well known and liked entertainer can hardly be called stunning unless you have devalued the word stunning as much as people have devalued the word awesome to mean, “it was good”. If a Grammy is the indicator of what is “Best” in music then the Beatles are the biggest fraud in popular music history having never won one themselves. To think that in order to avoid giving a black woman an award they picked Beck as the great white hope, well I guess it’s time to break out the tinfoil hats and beware the Illuminati. It’s a freaking award show. People vote, someone wins, someone loses. And the next day the sun comes up and us regular people get on with the work of living our lives while the pop royalty licks their wounds.

    • Job

      The Beatles won nine Grammys.

  • crescentdave

    You make an absolutely valid point about Black artists being overlooked in album and record of the year departments. You then screw the pooch by repeating “6th best album by Beck” as if sheer repetition proves your personal POV. It doesn’t. It just makes it sound childish and petulant. In truth, unless there’s some sort of objective measuring stick (fan’s votes, sales, whatever) there shouldn’t be any album, any record, any performance of the year. Use those now empty placeholders for a few more genre awards. Or do “by a male/female artist/goup” breakdown. It really shouldn’t be too difficult to tighten this one up.

  • Fedupfogey

    So if the black artists don’t get the awards the Grammys are racist and unfair? The Oscars are just as bad? Is there some kind of quota for awards and accolades? Who cares what race won except the real haters and race baiters? Maybe the real reason these narcissistic losers don’t win is because they are not as talented as they think they are! In REAL life not everyone gets a trophy for participating! Shut the f$@& up and go away! If i hadn’t already cancelled my subscription I damn sure would do it now TM!

  • Kevin C

    This is a TERRIBLE ARTICLE!!!
    YOU SUCK! What a joke…

  • Tired of stupid people

    This is getting RIDICULOUS… music isnt about color. .. stop making awards and everything about race/ethnicity. How name latinos have won albumn if the year… Santana? So who should be complaining Latinos or Blacks. Maybe Beyonce’s albumn wasnt great. I dont own it. Did she make this albumn specifically to win awards or does she make music because she has a passion for it? She shouldn’t expect to win just because she is Beyonce and she is black. Well i always considered her white not black. All this because im black i desever every award and every mthing in the world needs to stop.

  • Gunslinger

    I think we can all safely assume that singers/performers like Beyoncé don’t exactly write all their own material. Once they get to a certain level in R&B, pop, hip-hop and rap fame, their record company takes over and hires an army of star writers, producers, guest musicians and singers to maximize the album’s selling potential.

    If I got a bunch of world-famous painters to collaborate on a giant oil-on-canvas painting and then won an award for it under my name, isn’t that a more a case of me commissioning an award-winning painting than if I painted it myself? If we’re talking about pure artistry here, Beck likely wrote and produced the entire album very nearly all by himself. I’m not saying Beyoncé isn’t a top-notch singer. She is. But I’m more comfortable calling her a “performer” rather than an “artist.”

    • Ba

      Arguing that one deserves an award more than the other because he played more instruments isn’t a valid argument in my opinion. Just because you have the ability to play an instrument doesn’t mean you make “better” music than a vocalist (many of whom consider their voices as instruments, like rappers, but that’s going down another dark road). For some to say that because an artist gets production help and others contribute to the lyrics means you’re not a true artist, then you’re also telling me that Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, the Beatles, even Leonardo daVinci aren’t artists either.

      the fact of the matter is the better album rarely wins album of the year anyway, and I enjoyed Beck’s album…just not as much as Beyoncé’s

    • Guest

      I am sure that Beck produced a wonderful album; and using the criteria of writing all the material – “Prince” should have won AOY several times over. Art is subjective.

  • Truthbomb

    Beyonce – 16 different songwriters, producers and musicians on her album. She got MINOR credit for “lyrics”. Played exactly ZERO of the musical instrumentation on the album.
    Beck – Wrote, produced and arranged every word and note on his album.

    Beyonce is a performer/singer.
    Beck is an artist.

    Rationalize it all you like but the numbers don’t lie.

    As a point of reference, I’m more a fan of Beyonce than I am of Beck… but the truth is the truth, whether you like it or not.

  • angeleyes

    I quit paying attention to the Grammys when they started giving awards for Rap.
    So annoying.

  • sorry

    That the abominably dull and tuneless Mumford and Sons were ever even considered for an award nullifies any credibility the Grammys might claim for the next million years…:-) A truly horrible band. Do people really enjoy being bored? :-)

  • Guest

    3Dan Soloman, Beck writes ALL of his music. Beyonce is a “singer” with many people to help her in her collaborations. This is the worst editorial I have read on this Grammy incident. You disgrace Texas #dansolomandisgrace #fail #ashamedyouareatexan

  • alexis martinez

    I’m amazed by the utter arrogance of one writer after anther stepping with up with weak justifications for being critical of Beck for not surrendering his award to Beyonce.. Let’s get real…Beyonce has 17 of these Grammy trophies…her INDIVIDUAL net worth is estimated at over 600 million bucks…She has scores of award and accolades…MTV. NAACP, etc ..She is earned every bit of her QUEEN B title…and all of this before her 34th birthday. She draws millions adoring fans in almost 100 concerts in the the last year. So her album didn’t win…gee poor Beyonce… she was snubbed…REALLY? c’mon now…Meryl Streep knows snubs.

  • Madrigalian

    Lets see, Kayne West’s keen eye for talent led him to marry a woman whose only discernible talent is the ability to suck %&*# on a camera phone.

    Yeah, let’s let him pick the winners.

    As for the rest of the article, I guess I am just trying to figure out what a Beyonce is.

  • dang123

    Grammys recipients are voted on by peers in the recording industry, the award has nothing to do with music sales, popularity, or public opinion, end of story.