Grammys, you have a task: give Beyoncé album of the year

The math is clear, so let’s start there.

If Beyoncé takes home at least four awards during Sunday’s 65th Annual Grammy Awards, the singer, songwriter, producer, dancer, actress, designer and hot sauce lover will become the most successful person in Recording Academy history. Winners than Michael Jackson, more than Paul McCartney, more than Stevie Wonder and U2 and Aretha Franklin. And with nine leading nominations this year — a haul she tied with husband Jay-Z for the most nominations of all time (88) — Beyoncé could set the record even if she loses more Grammys than she wins sitting amidst the Stars gathered in the Arena.

But for all the different routes that could take her to her 32nd Grammy — Georg Solti, the late classical conductor, holds the current record at 31 — many eyes will be on just one award: Album of the Year, for which Beyoncé is nominated for “Renaissance,” her sprawling and meticulous homage to the history of black and queer dance music.

It’s her fourth time contending for the Grammys’ flagship award, having previously won for 2008’s “I Am…Sasha Fierce,” 2013’s “Beyoncé,” and 2016’s “Lemonade,” all losing Album of the Year had. (You’ll remember the loss of “Lemonade,” when Adele said in her acceptance speech that she shouldn’t have won.) Indeed, Beyoncé’s dozens of wins at the Grammys threaten to obscure the fact that pop history’s most ambitious superstar keeps coming up empty goes out the main general categories of the ceremony; All but one of her 28 wins — for Song of the Year, which she won in 2010 as the author of “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” — were in genre-based categories such as R&B songs and urban contemporary album.

That should change on Sunday.

It’s not that the genre accolades don’t matter or don’t tell part of the story of Beyoncé’s rise; Certainly no other duo or group recorded a better R&B performance the year Beyoncé’s old band Destiny’s Child won for the slinky and bold “Say My Name.” But the narrow focus of these awards is out of sync with the broad spectrum and heavy drive of Beyoncé’s music, which reaches a dizzying new height on “Renaissance.”

Speaking to The Times last fall about his years of working with Beyoncé, songwriter/producer The-Dream said: “This is probably her best record. There is no way around it for me. This is one of them ones.”

A woman in a black leather dress accepts an award on stage.

Beyoncé accepts the award for R&B performance at the 63rd Grammy Awards 2021.

(Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Large-scale yet meticulously planned, obsessed with tradition while poised for the future, “Renaissance” is a masterpiece of both form and emotion, featuring some of Beyoncé’s best vocals – growling, sensual, playful, angelic – amidst arrangements , which draws inspiration (and the occasional sample or interpolation) from a deep archive of disco, funk, techno, afrobeats, hip-hop and ballroom music. Performances and contributions from Grace Jones, Honey Dijon, Nile Rodgers, Skrillex, Syd, Sheila E., Raphael Saadiq and the late Donna Summer create a vibrant intergenerational conversation about love, sex, family and the quest for liberation that Jason King , incoming dean of USC’s Thornton School of Music, compares himself to the Oscar-nominated film Everything Everywhere All at Once.

“I think Beyoncé absorbed the energy of multiversal possibility,” says King. “It conjures up an alternate reality that serves as a testament to the power of what recorded music can be.”

Song after song, the thrill comes, which is why the ’90s house outing “Break My Soul” is Grammy nominated for Record and Song of the Year, while three other tracks – “Virgo’s Groove”, “Plastic Off the Sofa” – are nominated” and “Cuff It” – have competed for various R&B awards. But the way “Renaissance” ties together, with its intricate transitions and clever callbacks, is the real wonder to behold; it’s by far the most album-like of the 10 LPs competing for album of the year.

Still the Grammys’ equivalent for best picture despite the fragmentation caused by digital streaming, the winning formula for Album of the Year has always been an ebb and flow of commercial power, critical acclaim and cultural impact. And while Beyoncé’s impact is clear — just look at the frenzy that erupted on social media this week when she announced her upcoming world tour — the critically acclaimed “Renaissance” isn’t the biggest blockbuster in the category. Bad Bunny’s “Un Verano Sin Ti” has almost five times as many streams; Adele’s 30, Harry Styles’ Harry’s House and Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers also has more to offer.

Dan Runcie, who writes the popular music business newsletter Trapital, points out that Beyoncé’s decision not to release music videos for the songs on “Renaissance” (at least not yet) may have shortened the album’s time to market. Still, it’s not just critics who bang the drum for Beyoncé; An informal poll of Grammy voters and industry executives showed widespread support for “Renaissance” to win Album of the Year.

“She’s one of our biggest artists and she’s never won an album award,” says Lenny Beer, editor of Hits magazine. “Their new music is both contemporary and nostalgic, accessible and progressive. Your time is now.”

So what are the obstacles in their way? For one thing, the Recording Academy has never shown much love for dance music in the major Grammy categories; Their constituency of more than 11,000 music professionals includes many players and engineers with a vested interest in preserving the practice of recording “real” instruments in carefully maintained physical spaces. (Note that French dance duo Daft Punk won 2014’s Album of the Year with an LP, Random Access Memories, which they specifically described as embracing old-school studio vibes.)

As an institution, the Grammys have also proven wary of the kind of highly collaborative record-making associated with “Renaissance,” whose acclaimed writers, producers, and performers number several dozen. “They tend to celebrate the individualistic folk writer,” King says, referring to artists like Adele, Taylor Swift and Beck, whose “Morning Phase” beat “Beyoncé” to album of the year — and whose music was an idea emphasizes, albeit illusory, the narrow personal autobiography over the more expansive, multi-faceted narrative that “Renaissance” unfolds.

Of course, the faces of these past Grammy winners can’t help but evoke the racial component, which also plays a role here. No black woman has won album of the year since Lauryn Hill in 1999 with “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”; Only two other black women, Whitney Houston and Natalie Cole, have won the category in the Grammys’ 65-year history, an absurd distortion of its relevance to the pop music field as a whole. That failure is one of the reasons a growing number of prominent black artists, including Drake and Frank Ocean, are refusing to participate in the annual ceremony and other academy rituals.

Do these concerns about lack of representation mean that a long-overdue win for Beyoncé — whose career has progressed well without a Grammy for Album of the Year — would benefit the Academy at least as much as the artist?

“To see Beyoncé up there on stage with that trophy — I think that would help with the perception issue,” says Runcie. “At the very least, it could stem further decline.” The academy says it admitted nearly 2,000 new members in the past year, 44% of whom come from “traditionally underrepresented communities.” And speaking of inclusion, there’s plenty of reason to cheer for other potential winners: “Un Verano Sin Ti” would be the first Spanish-language project to win Album of the Year; Brandi Carlile’s In These Silent Days, which some respondents expect to triumph, would be the first winning album by an openly gay person.

These achievements are important; The music industry is making room for more. But “Renaissance” extends beyond that conversation, even as Beyoncé plays a crucial role in it.

Smart, funny, happy, passionate and such, So enjoyable, “Renaissance” is already the album of the year. The Grammys need to catch up on that reality. Grammys, you have a task: give Beyoncé album of the year

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