Who Is Beck? A Man Whose Album of the Year Grammy Was Long Overdue

Photo by Peter Hapak

It's good fun to laugh at the Grammys' expense. Of all the major award shows, it's the one that seems perennially the least culturally relevant, the most out of touch — the one that showers trophies on one-hit wonders, aging jazz artists, white rappers and past-their-prime rock bands

So it came as no surprise that when Beck Hansen upset front runners Beyoncé and Sam Smith in the prestigious Album of the Year category, "Who is Beck" immediately became a trending topic on Twitter, accompanied by comments like, "Has anyone actually heard his song on the radio?", and "How did he beat Beyoncé?" Even Kanye West got in on the trash talking, saying after the awards that "Beck needs to respect artistry and he should've given his award to Beyoncé."

On the one hand, we get it. Beyoncé does deserve more wins in the major categories (she has only one, for Song of the Year for "Single Ladies" in 2010) — as do black artists in general, who have only five wins in the four top categories over the past decade. And despite the fact that Morning Phase, the winning album in question, wound up on many critics' year-end best lists, we tend to agree with writer Craig Jenkins' tweet that "Beck winning AOTY for Morning Phase but not Sea Change or Odelay is like Denzel getting Best Actor for Training Day." It's a fine album, but not Beck's career peak by a long shot.

And yet: We believe the Grammys actually got this one right. Think of Beck's win as not just honoring Morning Phase, but his entire career, which spans 12 albums of varying degrees of excellence — including two, Odelay and Midnite Vultures, that were nominated for Album of the Year but lost to Celine Dion's Falling Into You and Steely Dan's Two Against Nature, respectively. Last night's win atones, however belatedly, for those gross miscarriages of Grammy justice. (To be fair, Eminem should've really won over Steely Dan in 2001 for The Marshall Mathers LP. Odelay in '97, however, was clearly robbed.)

We also can't help but feel proud. Over the course of his 22-year career (22 years? no wonder some of the kids don't know who he is), Beck has been the quintessential L.A. songwriter, capturing the great cultural mishmash that is our city with his psychedelic blend of hip-hop, blues, folk, soul, tropicalia and rock. He's name-checked local landmarks from Cap N' Cork to Zankou Chicken and taken Jenny from JC Penny up to Glendale for a real good meal. He's a hometown boy who's made his mark, and it's about time the Grammys gave him his due. Beyoncé will just have to wait till her next album.

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