It's hard not to look at the Grammys over the past decade or so and see an insidious pattern of institutionalized racism. Every year, black artists get plenty of nominations in the major categories (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist, for those of you wise enough not to pay too much attention to this awards shit). And every year, with rare exceptions, they lose to white artists.
Even when black artists are favored to win, as Beyoncé was in 2015, they lose (in her case, to Beck). Even when they put out the most universally acclaimed album in a decade, as Kendrick Lamar did in 2016, they lose (to Taylor goddamn Swift). I would say it's like how the Falcons, the pride of one of America's greatest hubs for African-American culture, lost to the New England Patriots, the NFL's whitest team, except that the Falcons were underdogs and Beyoncé is basically the Tom Brady of pop music. She's the best at what she does and by rights should crush everyone in her path at every event that has a red carpet. And yet, inexplicably, she has only one win in the Grammys' major categories, despite being nominated in them nine times. (Her 20 Grammy wins — which, to be fair, is a pretty spectacular feat in itself — come almost entirely in the R&B categories.)
This year, on paper at least, looks like the year the Grammys should finally give Beyoncé her due. She leads all contenders with nine nominations. Lemonade, up for Album of the Year, was the most critically acclaimed LP by a major pop artist in recent memory, a boldly confrontational collection of catchy, inventive songs that cleverly turned personal themes of betrayal and infidelity into a statement on race and gender in America. Its main competition, Adele's 25 and Drake's Views, are both fine records (especially Views) but feel safe and insular by comparison.
Then there's Lemonade's key track, “Formation,” the song Beyoncé used to hijack the 2016 Super Bowl, which is up for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Compared with Adele's “Hello,” its only viable competitor, and especially compared with the other weak entries in those categories (“I Took a Pill in Ibiza”? Seriously, Grammys?), “Formation” is a monster, using hints of New Orleans bounce music and colorfully specific language (“I got hot sauce in my bag”) to celebrate African-American Southern culture and Bey's own “Texas bama” swagger. Though the track has drawn its fair share of controversy (and, more recently, a $20 million lawsuit) for the way it cribs from queer bounce culture without proper acknowledgement, it's certainly no more guilty of cultural appropriation (or outright plagiarism) than Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' “Uptown Funk,” which won Record of the Year in 2016. And like “Uptown Funk,” it just flat-out bangs. “Formation” should win both categories in a landslide.
But this is the Grammys, and the Grammys tend to play it safe, and usually “safe” means “white.” So my best guess (even though I admit I am terrible at predicting the Grammys) is that Adele will win Album of the Year and Song of the Year, while “Formation” just might manage to win Record of the Year. Although I suppose “Hello” could just as easily win that, too — or Lukas Graham's insufferably corny “7 Years,” at which point we should all just retreat into our bunkers and wait for the apocalypse. Because this year of all years, if Beyoncé doesn't win at least one major Grammy category, we're probably doomed.
Yes, I know the Grammys are just some silly awards show, and a billionaire entertainer doesn't really need more hardware. But with 25 million people tuning in, the optics of these things matter — especially now, with the alt-right lurking and ready to declare an Adele sweep of this year's Grammys (plus a win for the odious Chainsmokers as Best New Artist) to be a victory for all white people.
So this Sunday night, I'll be rooting for Beyoncé. She deserves to win big. America needs her to win big. But I'll be stocking up my doomsday bunker with extra hot sauce, just in case.