Watching the Grammys last night was a snoozefest. There’s gotta be something wrong with an awards show where the most exciting moment is the Twitter feedback on Pharrell Williams‘ hat, which now has its own Twitter account.
Sure, there were highlights. Pharrell, Grammy’s Producer of the Year, performed with Stevie Wonder and Daft Punk in an energetic performance and the night’s best performance was the hip-hop/alt-techno mashup of Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons. Sadly, though, the critically acclaimed Compton rapper whose debut good kid, M.A.A.D city was on most of 2014 best rap album lists went home emptyhanded. He lost Best Rap Album to white duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the night’s big winners in the hip-hop category with their album The Heist. It certainly seemed like a heist, even to Macklemore, who texted Lamar to say “It sucks that I robbed you,” afterwards.
The night’s sweetest moment was Jay-Z’s tribute to wife Beyonce who he thanked God for bringing into his life. Awww. But why do we as black people still require validation from the mainstream? Why, when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis win a few hip-hop Grammys, including Best New Artist (an award that has jinxed more than performer who’s gotten it) are people ready to concede hip-hop to them? J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, and poor Nas, who has never won a Grammy despite multiple nominations, are still going strong. Why, when it’s more than possible this was the peak moment of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ career?
We have “our” awards shows and in recent years, those have become more star-studded and sophisticated than ever. The same production team that does the Grammys does The BET Awards. While the Grammys and the Oscars are viewed as validation from your peers because their voters are in the same field, it’s been determined that both memberships aren’t made up of “peers” who can appreciate our work.
We can understand that any artist that creates a work of art wants for it to go beyond his or her own community.
The more exposure your work gets, the more money you can make. But there are plenty of successful artists who cater specifically to a Black audience who do well; Charlie Wilson being just the most recent example.There are also artists like Jay-Z, a Grammy winner last night for the song “Holy Grail,” with Justin Timberlake, who enjoy continued respect in the Black community but who have a fan base far beyond it.
The Grammys and Oscars are times when even the most jaded star can turn giddy during a thank-you speech. Everyone loves to get an award. But consider that Angela Bassett, a Yale School of Drama graduate, not only didn’t get an Oscar for her best performance, she has worked sporadically in movies ever since. She is among several Black Juillard and Yale School of Drama graduates, including Sanaa Lathan, who’ve never won any major awards at all. If we’re looking for the mainstream community to recognize our talent, relying on Oscar and Grammy voters isn’t the best way to do it.
Prince, a living legend by any standard, has won 7 Grammys. Alicia Keys has 15, including the Best R&B Album award she won last night. Prince has never won a Grammy for an album and at last count he’s made over 30, not including the 10 or so he released exclusively online. Alicia has released five. Do we think Grammy voters really know what they’re doing?
We look down on our own awards – whether it’s The BET Awards, the Image Awards, the Trumpet Awards, The Stellar Awards or Black Girls Rock, hoping instead to get the mainstream thumbs up instead. But Black artists should really be grateful to get props from their own, because for many of them, it was their own community that helped them get to mainstream status in the first place.
Most Black artists don’t start out being beloved by the mainstream. They are “discovered” only after the Black community gives them their blessing. The awards that we give out reflect our love and support for those artists, sometimes long after the mainstream gives a damn about them. Let’s celebrate those who celebrate us and stop looking to those outside our community to give us acceptance when we already have it with our own.