Beyoncé is being crushed under the weight of her excellence.
Sadly, the absurdity of being celebrated one moment and snubbed the very next is familiar territory for the 41-year-old singer.
In Grammy’s history only three Black women have won album of the year — Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston and Lauryn Hill. Beyoncé still hasn’t joined their rank.
It was 1999 when Hill won for her masterpiece, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” Beyoncé's first solo effort, “Dangerously in Love,” dropped four years later. In the time since she has put it all on the floor and been nominated for album of the year a total of four times — and lost every one. It’s a record that flies in the face of her talent and impact.
An abridged review.
Her first loss was to Taylor Swift in 2010. That album, “I am … Sasha Fierce,” received mixed reviews, but it was a glimpse into the sort of conceptual artist Beyoncé, the former girl group lead, was evolving into. On it, she played with her alter ego, the leotard-sporting confidence queen Sasha, on dance hits like “Diva” and “Single Ladies.” The bow to Swift wasn’t a wounding blow, but it left a bruise to be studied.
Next came 2013′s “Beyoncé,” which dropped without warning or a traditional music industry marketing campaign. On it, the singer seemed to be shedding the very idea of an artistic go-between. She simply went for it, peeling back layers of pop princess armor in favor of the quirky, the random, the confessional and the feminist.
This was the thinking woman’s Beyoncé. The one Michelle Obama wanted to be. And still that album lost to Beck at the 57th annual Grammy awards. It was another clear miss, but not necessarily a miscarriage of justice (depending on your level of standom). It was only her second time out. She’d have more to give. Great artists always do.
Oh, but “Lemonade.”
Beyoncé's magnum opus dropped in 2016 and announced itself immediately as her best work. In it she blends marital strife, Louisiana’s zydeco, a phantom named Becky and more in a sonic and visual gumbo fans didn’t realize they were starving for.
Pop Beyoncé took a back seat to pop-off Beyoncé. This was artistry on a level that felt dizzying and intimate. She spoke directly to Black women, all women, everybody. The third time had to be the charm, right?
But, of course, it wasn’t.
“I’m very humbled and I’m very grateful and gracious, but my artist of my life is Beyoncé and this album for me, the ‘Lemonade’ album, was just so monumental,” said Adele while holding her album of the year statuette on the stage of the 59th annual Grammy awards. She went on to praise Beyoncé for baring her soul. “All us artists here, we f---ing adore you. You are our light.”
From her seat in the audience, Beyoncé mouthed the words “I love you” to Adele, who was gripping the award that even she didn’t think belonged to her.
In that moment Beyoncé, who for years kept her personal life to herself outside of song, had tears in her eyes. Who didn’t?
The loss felt personal. The music was personal. And the Recording Academy rejected it, refused to acknowledge the unapologetic genius of “Lemonade” outside of the confines of the urban contemporary genre.
The message seemed clear: Beyoncé was good enough, but not the best. Or, for those less cynical and perhaps for the singer herself, the lesson was more hopeful (but somehow more exhausting) — Beyoncé would always be great, so why make a stink.
But for her part, the singer didn’t internalize the industry’s blatant bias. In a rare interview with Harper’s Bazaar in 2021, before the release of “Renaissance,” she had a laser-like focus on the future.
“One day I decided I wanted to be like Sade and Prince. I wanted the focus to be on my music, because if my art isn’t strong enough or meaningful enough to keep people interested and inspired, then I’m in the wrong business. My music, my films, my art, my message — that should be enough,” said Beyoncé.
Which brings us to her latest indignity. No shade to Harry Styles, but “Renaissance,” a house music dance party that celebrated cultures on the margins, should have been undeniable. It should have been enough. Yes, she broke a long-held record. But, while well deserved, even that enormous feat felt like a drop in a bucket for an artist who consistently tops herself.
“I’m trying not to be too emotional. I’m trying to just receive this night,” said Beyoncé while receiving her record-breaking 32nd Grammy for best dance/electronic recording.
About an hour later she lost the top prize. There she was once again standing in the crowd clapping along with everyone else. You almost want her to shout, to storm out. But Beyoncé would never. How she receives this fourth defeat is anyone’s guess. Whether she cried in the limo ride home or couldn’t care less as she partied till the wee hours. What we do know is that she has a massive world tour on the horizon and fans will expect the best.
And Beyoncé always brings it.