Beyoncé’s Grammy snub and the glass ceiling on black art

Beyoncé and Adele went head-to-head four times at the Grammy Awards on Sunday night. Both were nominated for album of the year, song of the year, record of the year, and best pop solo performance. In every category, Adele was awarded the Grammy. Every time, Beyoncé, the peerless pop music icon of our time, was told she came in second at best.

This should be a shock. While Adele’s singular voice, talent, and devotion to her craft are undeniable, Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” was as complete an artistic statement as we have seen in our fractured pop moment — a one-of-a-kind visual album comprised of genre-crossing track after track, conceived and produced on a scale unrivaled by any artist, living or dead. It was also a pitch-perfect rallying cry for black women to get in formation, their allies behind them, and forge a way forward despite the human imperfections of the men in their lives.

And yet, sadly, it isn’t. Unequaled artists have long bumped up against the glass ceiling that awards shows impose on black excellence.

This happened last year, of course, when Kendrick Lamar lost to Taylor Swift for album of the year. Lamar had won for best rap album and best rap song for his masterwork, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” but despite higher critical acclaim and an undeniable political relevance, the album did not win in the mainstream category. The message was clear: Making the cut into the nominations for album of the year should be perceived as victory enough for artists of color, even if they go on to lose to white artists.

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