By Brian Ives
“What the f— does [Beyoncé] have to do to win Album of the Year?” That was a question asked by many Beyonce fans last night, as Lemonade lost to Adele’s 25. It was the third time she’d been nominated for Album of the Year, a category she has yet to win in.
It just so happened that the Beyoncé fan who was asking that question was Ms. Adele Atkins herself. She was speaking to the press after her GRAMMY sweep, which saw her winning five awards, including Album, Song and Record of the Year. And yet, she said, “My album of the year is Lemonade.”
Minutes earlier, Adele accepted the last two awards of the night—Record of the Year and Album of the Year, and in both of her acceptance speeches, she took the time to recognize Beyonce, but none of the other nominees. As she accepted Album of the Year, arguably the most prestigious award of the night, she looked to Beyoncé, who was sitting in the front row and said, “The artist of my life is Beyoncé. Lemonade was so monumental, Beyoncé, and so well thought out and so beautiful and soul-baring and we all got to see another side to you.” She noted that Bey’s music makes her friends—particularly her black friends—feel empowered. That’s a strong statement about a singer.
It wasn’t a terrible night for Beyoncé—Lemonade did win Best Urban Contemporary Album, and “Formation” won Best Music Video. And it brought Beyonce’s lifetime total to twenty-two GRAMMY Awards.
But Beyoncé is one of the biggest pop stars of this era—if not the biggest—and it’s something of a shock that only one of her GRAMMYs has been in the “main” categories: in 2009, “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” won Song of the Year. The rest of her awards have been in the pop, R&B, rap and urban fields, save for a 2014 GRAMMY for Best Surround Sound Album.
Lemonade, though, is as adventurous and daring as any album made by a major pop star at the peak of their popularity. Heralded by the pro-black anthem “Formation” a year ago, she performed the song the day after its release at—of all places—the Super Bowl Halftime show where she was a special guest of Coldplay. The performance upset a lot of conservatives, including one-time presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who said, “I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us and keep us alive. And what we should be doing in the African-American community, and all communities is build up respect for police officers.” (The Daily Beast has an excellent piece that delves further into the racial subtext of GRAMMY wins.)
Related: Beyonce’s Glowing GRAMMY Performance
When the album dropped soon after, it was critically hailed: Rolling Stone gave it five out of five stars, saying “This is the queen in middle-fingers-up mode.” Pitchfork gave it an 8.5 out of 10, saying it “contains some of Beyoncé’s strongest work—ever, period.” Most other reviews were similarly ecstatic. But the album ranged wildly, stylistically, as Beyoncé looked to different collaborators to help her address her famous husband’s (alleged) infidelity.
“Don’t Hurt Yourself” saw her working with Jack White; the song even earned a nomination for Best Rock Performance (and was one of the stronger nominees in the category; ultimately, she lost to David Bowie’s “Blackstar”). “Daddy Lessons” crossed country music with New Orleans ragtime jazz; the Dixie Chicks covered the song nightly on their reunion tour, and later in the year, Bey and the Chicks performed it on an award show. “Hold Up” was a collaboration with dance music kingpin Diplo and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koening, built around a Yeah Yeah Yeahs sample and sounded like an Enya song by way of Jamaica. Nothing seemed off limits, and radio formats didn’t seem to be much of a consideration; after all, the singer is in a place where her fans stop what they’re doing when a bit of Beyoncé news surfaces in their news feed. She’s in her moment, and her moment has lasted about a decade now.
Taking advantage of such a position is surely something that David Bowie would admire. Last night, a little over a year after his passing, Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, won five GRAMMY Awards: the title track, as mentioned, won Best Rock Performance; it also won Best Rock Song. The album won Best Alternative Music Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. Additionally, it won Best Recording Package (awarded to the art director, not Bowie himself). The four awards that went to Bowie himself gave him a career grand total of… five GRAMMY Awards. His only other win came in 1985, for Best Short Form Video for “Jazzin’ For Blue Jean.”
Bowie likely never lost sleep over awards—he famously skipped his 1995 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because he was touring Europe in support of his Outside album (Madonna accepted on his behalf; David Byrne of Talking Heads presented him). Beyonce shouldn’t either: At the end of the day, it’s about impact, not awards. And to hear Adele tell it, no one from this generation has made the impact that Bey has.