Steve Pond, The Wrap, March 14, 2021
A few minutes away from pulling off a triumphant awards show during a pandemic, the Grammys reverted back to their old habits. And for the second time in the last four years, the show ended with a white winner apologizing to the Black artist she’d defeated for the top award of the night.
In 2017, it was Adele telling Beyonce that she “can’t possibly accept” the Album of the Year Grammy for “25,” because Beyonce deserved it for “Lemonade.” And this year, it was Billie Eilish telling Megan Thee Stallion that she thought about writing an acceptance speech that would explain why Megan deserved the Record of the Year award for “Savage,” but abandoned that idea because she was so sure that “Savage” would win.
But “Savage” didn’t win — Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted” did, a year after she had swept all the top awards at the 2020 Grammys. While the teenage star to all appearances enjoyed her victories last year, she was clearly troubled by her win this year — and maybe the Recording Academy should be, too, because it simply continues the trend that Black artists have more trouble than they should winning in the four general categories — Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist.
Beyonce, for instance, set a record on Sunday night with her 28th Grammy, which made her the winningest woman in Grammy history. But of those 28 wins, she has precisely one in the general categories, a Song of the Year award for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” in 2010. This year’s show was typical: She won in the video, Rap and R&B categories, but not in the Record of the Year or Song of the Year categories, in which she had three nominations for “Black Parade” and for her contributions to “Savage.”
Taylor Swift’s win in the Album of the Year category for “Folklore” was less shocking, since she was one of the favorites going into the show. And H.E.R.’s unexpected win for “I Can’t Breathe” in the Song of the Year category was a sign that the Academy will embrace Black artists in that category — especially since if you take that category title literally, it’s easy to see that her passionate song written after the death George Floyd indeed fits the bill.
But the night did leave an odd aftertaste, and a real question: How many more sheepish white artists have to feel bad about their wins before the Grammy voters start giving those big awards to people who don’t have to apologize for winning them?