Confusion surrounding the album of the year winner at the 65th Grammy Awards overshadowed much of the fanfare of the night. Many people – myself included – assumed that the Recording Academy would honor Beyoncé’s rich celebration of Blackness and queer identity in Renaissance, or Bad Bunny’s beautifully layered Un Verano Sin Ti, with the coveted award. Instead, neither had the luxury. The Recording Academy recognized Harry Styles’ Harry’s House as the best album of 2022.
Sure, it was confusing, but it wasn’t unexpected. American standards of artistry are inherently white standards of artistry. Art that truly troubles is rarely rewarded.
Beyoncé’s Renaissance explores the nuances of Blackness, queerness and their intersection. The album is dedicated to Beyoncé’s late Uncle Johnny, who loved house music and was openly gay. The album is pure, unadulterated fun. Each song expresses an abundance of joy.
Similar to Renaissance, Un Verano Sin Ti is grounded in location, time and love. It is a mosaic of every aspect of Bad Bunny’s identity. It’s anchored in the waves of the Caribbean, rooted in the land of Puerto Rico and oozing with sincerity and admiration.
The subject matter and musical composition of either album would have you believe that either should have won the award. The double snub sends the message that Beyoncé and Bad Bunny – despite their long-cemented commercial success and status as cultural mainstays – should not expect their work to be recognized critically. Beyoncé has been nominated for album of the year four times without a win, for four bodies of work that have fundamentally shifted popular culture: I Am…Sasha Fierce, Beyoncé, Lemonade and Renaissance. It is the expectation that Beyoncé and Bad Bunny should be humbled as artists, that their works should be chopped up into little categories and rewarded morsel by morsel; that is disturbing.
I’m not suggesting that their albums need validation in the form of a mass-produced trophy made from a metal alloy, but I will suggest that each piece of art has two parts: artist intent and artist impact. The impacts of Renaissance and Un Verano Sin Ti are undeniable. Before Renaissance world tour tickets went on sale, Ticketmaster admitted that “fan demand already exceeds the number of tickets available by more than 800%.” 4.2 billion on-demand audio streams cemented Un Verano Sin Ti as the most streamed album of 2022. It’s obvious that these albums resonated with people and articulated emotions that would be difficult to contend with on one’s own. Both bodies of work facilitated a global communal experience. Shouldn’t that count for something?
The Recording Academy “recognizes excellence in the recording arts and sciences.” You can’t help but wonder how they define excellence.