The Black Viewer’s Guide to the Grammys

Beyoncé performs during the Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Matt Cowan/Getty Images)
Beyoncé performs during the Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Matt Cowan/Getty Images)

Stuck between the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, the Grammys have always seemed like the red-headed stepchild of the awards season. But I always look forward to the Grammys because the show always seems less uptight than awards shows that focus on movies and TV, and it’s also a chance to see some of my favorite performers, along with some new ones.


This year’s show will definitely have some pop-culture-defining moments. Here’s a quick guide to what to expect.

It’s all about Beyoncé vs. Adele.

Queen Bey, who leads all comers with nine nominations for the culture-defining Lemonade, goes up against Adele, whose sales-record-shattering album, 25, garnered five nominations. They’ll face off in three major categories: Album, Song and Record of the Year, as well as Best Pop Solo Performance.

Given the cultural significance of both albums, you’d think this would be a tough call to make as to who will win. But as The Root’s contributor Michael Arceneaux rightly pointed out, the Grammys have failed to truly honor black artists in general and black women in particular, “beyond very predictable boundaries of R&B and ‘urban contemporary.’ The Negro League subcategories, if you will.”

Now, the Grammys haven’t had to suffer through an #OscarsSoWhite moment (there was that time in 1989 when Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff protested the Grammys for refusing to televise the first-ever rap category, which the Grammys fixed the following year). But let’s look at the winners of Album of the Year (the Grammys’ equivalent of best picture). The last time a black artist won the award was in 2008, when Herbie Hancock won for a tribute album … to Joni fucking Mitchell. (No disrespect to Joni; listening to Blue was a life-changing experience, and “A Case of You” is my jam, but you get my point.) Meanwhile, Taylor Swift has won the award twice in that time. So don’t be surprised if Adele takes the top awards.

Speaking of Beyoncé … is she really performing?

According to Entertainment Tonight and various other reports, a very pregnant Bey was spotted rehearsing at a (not so well-kept) secret location in Los Angeles with her glam squad, dancers and camera crew. Grammy officials have neither confirmed nor denied her supposed performance, which works out great for them because it’ll force folks to watch.


Will Chance the Rapper keep making history?

Chance, whose Coloring Book became the first streaming-only album to debut on the Billboard charts, is also the first artist to be nominated for a streaming-only album after the Recording Academy changed its rules to finally get on board with the idea that artists and young people don’t really have any use for CDs anymore. Chance, with seven nominations, would be the first to win for an album that doesn’t physically exist in the world.


The “In Memoriam” tribute should be lit AF.

Prince in 2006  (Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
Prince in 2006 (Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

Last year we lost so many music legends that this year’s tribute could have been its own separate show. The Grammys have confirmed that Prince and George Michael will get individual musical homegoings, but details about who’s performing are sketchy. Vulture reports that John Legend and The Color Purple’s Cynthia Erivo are doing the tribute to Prince. (in case you forgot, Lady Gaga did a David Bowie tribute last year. But we wouldn’t be mad at another one.)

Expect people to go off on Trump …

This awards season, we’ve already seen movie celebs like Meryl Streep ether Putin’s Puppet at the Golden Globes, and since musicians tend to have a rebellious streak, CBS censors should be ready to push that bleep button. However, some CBS executives and show organizers are a little jittery about what artists might say when they get onstage, according to Rolling Stone. A high-level source told the magazine that the show’s organizers are scrutinizing scripts and award introductions more closely than in past years and “going out of their way to not inadvertently shoot the first bullet” against the Trump administration.


But show producer Ken Ehrlich says that they won’t stop artists from speaking their minds. “We expect that artists will have things to say, and while we’re not a forum for that, we also don’t feel that it’s right to censor them.”

… but it won’t be Kanye … or Drake and Frank Ocean.

Even if Kanye West weren’t allegedly protesting the Grammys for disrespecting black artists, he probably wouldn’t have said anything negative about the Lord Marmalade anyway, seeing as how they’re bros and all (or maybe not). Drake (and fellow Canadian Justin Bieber) also claimed to be passing on the Grammys because the awards don’t honor black and young artists. But since Drake is on tour (he’s playing in Manchester, England, this weekend), he likely wasn’t showing up anyway.


Frank Ocean didn’t even bother putting his critically acclaimed albums Endless and Blonde through the Grammy process, telling the New York Times, “I think the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated. I’d rather this be my Colin Kaepernick moment for the Grammys than sit there in the audience.”

There are other categories to watch.

Solange (Twitter)
Solange (Twitter)

Most of the Grammys’ 84 awards will be handed out before the live telecast, which means that many of the categories and artists we care about won’t be getting any TV airtime. But you can follow the Grammys on Twitter, where the real fun will be happening, anyway. Here are a few categories to keep an eye on.

Best New Artist: Chance the Rapper and singer-songwriter-rapper Anderson .Paak are the highlights of this category, and they face off against Kelsea Ballerini, the Chainsmokers and Maren Morris.


R&B Performance: Bey’s baby sis, Solange, nabbed her first Grammy nominations for “Cranes in the Sky” from her critically acclaimed album A Seat at the Table. She’ll have to beat out Rihanna’s “Needed Me,” Musiq Soulchild’s “I Do,” Ro James’ “Permission” and BJ the Chicago Kid’s “Turnin’ Me Up” to take home that first trophy.

Best Rap/Sung Performance: This category is so extra—not only does it have Beyoncé’s “Freedom” (featuring Kendrick Lamar) going up against Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli” (featuring Lil Yachty), but Kanye is competing against them and himself with two nominated songs: “Famous” (featuring Rihanna) and “Ultralight Beam” (featuring Chance the Rapper, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin and the Dream).


Best Music Film: Only Beyoncé could make us care about this obscure category. But Lemonade was one of the defining cultural movements of 2016 and is the favorite to beat The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—the Touring Years, The Music of Strangers (Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble), I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (Steve Aoki) and American Saturday Night: Live from the Grand Ole Opry (various artists).

The full list of nominees is here.

These performances will likely be the talk of Twitter.

Chance the Rapper  (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Chance the Rapper (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Beyoncé: Of course.

Adele: She’ll get a do-over after last year’s audio fiasco had her singing over what sounded like a Fisher-Price xylophone.


Chance the Rapper: #BlackBoyJoy takes over the Grammy stage.

Anderson .Paak with A Tribe Called Quest: This could be a showstopper, featuring the legendary rap group with a new-school artist who’s been called “a once-in-a-generation live act.” .Paak performed on ATCQ’s comeback album, We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service, so this will be a reunion of sorts.


The Weeknd with a couple of robots (aka Daft Punk): The Weeknd isn’t even nominated (his new album, Starboy, wasn’t eligible), so we’re not sure why he’s even playing. This will be D.P.’s first live performance in three years.

Others scheduled to perform include Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga and Metallica (!?!), Alicia Keys and Maren Morris, and a Bee Gees tribute featuring Andra Day, Demi Lovato and Tori Kelly.


The complete list of performers and presenters is here.

The 59th Annual Grammy Awards, hosted by James Corden, air at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS. 



On the topic of Beyoncé and music, am I the only one who thinks that Formation (and trap in general) sounds just like Ballad of the Green Berets. I’d even say the two songs had similar sources of success, and a similar level of musical appeal.

Beyoncé has some advantage for Album, as she’s an album artist and Lemonade has been well-acclaimed as a complete suite, but is also hurt by the fact that individual songs from album artists are often weak out of context and are limited in radio play.

Justin Bieber) also claimed to be passing on the Grammys because the awards don’t honor black and young artists.

Can we get a top ten of jokes about this? I’ll be very disappointed if none of them involve Anne Frank.