By Akancha Gurung
During this year’s Grammys, I doubt anyone was expecting Adele’s acceptance speech for Album of the Year to become a dedication to Beyoncé’s Lemonade but I fucking loved her for it. The genuine respect and love that exists between these two amazing women in such a fiercely competitive and sexist industry is heartwarming but, for me, her speech was also a signifier of so much more. Yes, it is a woman recognising another woman’s talent but, crucially, it’s a white woman recognising a black woman’s talent, admitting that Beyoncé deserved the award more. Upon re-watching the speech on YouTube, I read the comments accusing Adele of ‘white guilt’ and, frankly, my response is to call bullshit. Throughout the speech, never once does she demean her own talent in order to praise Beyoncé’s (and rightfully so). It’s not about that but rather about recognising the racism that is systemic within the GRAMMYs.
Think I’m stretching too far? How about this. Since the Album of the Year category was first introduced in 1959, the recipient has been a black artist a total number of twelve times, Stevie Wonder having won on three separate occasions. So, really, only ten black artists have won that category in fifty-eight years. Of those ten, only three are women, with Lauryn Hill having won in 1999. No black person has won that award since 2008 and it sure as hell isn’t due to a lack of talent.
It’s a narrative that I think stems back to the 2009 VMAs, encapsulated in that iconic moment where Kanye West interrupts Taylor Swift’s acceptance of Best Female Video, stating (as we all know) that Beyoncé should have won instead. Whilst that was a jackass move, I think it hinted at a growing awareness of racism within the entertainment industry – I mean, for God’s sake, how did Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’ music video beat ‘Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)’, especially since the latter features choreography so iconic and popular that it still persists to this day?
Adele also states that the way Beyonce’s Lemonade makes her ‘black friends feel, is empowering’ and that it makes them ‘stand up for themselves’ which is another crucial factor. She recognises and understands that Lemonade is an album created by a black woman to support and empower the black community, specifically other black women. Having been released during a time characterised by an increase in police brutality against black people and the consequent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement (as well as the racial unrest caused by Trump’s divisive politics), I think to honour Lemonade would have been to honour and recognise the racial politics which motivate the album.
In the press room afterwards, Adele wryly asked ‘What the fuck does [Beyonce] have to do to win Album of the Year?’ (Apparently, the answer is to not be black.) But, frankly, Beyoncé shouldn’t have to do anything – it’s the outdated GRAMMYs that need to change.